Event: Carl Pope Talks Climate Change Hope

Event: Carl Pope Talks Climate Change Hope

Many Sources; Many Solutions & What You Can Do

Carl Pope, longtime environmentalist and former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club, came to Palo Alto on November 2nd to talk to Acterra about the new book, Climate of Hope. The 264-page volume, co-written with financier and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, presents climate change in a different way from what you often hear in the media, which tend to dwell on the most dramatic results of change, such as hurricanes and floods.

Climate Change: Problems & Solutions

Pieces of the Problem Pie

The main point of the book, and of Pope’s talk, is that there are many causes of global warming, but are also many solutions.

According to Pope, global warming, like a fever, is a symptom—not the disease itself.

“If you go to the doctor and he or she says, ‘you have a fever,’ that’s not enough,” said Pope. “You want to know what the illness is, so you can take care of it.”

Rising temperatures and climate change come from an increase in greenhouse gases, including CO2, and there are ways to mitigate these. The “hope” part is that some projects are already underway, and they are not necessarily being done by national governments.

Pope and Bloomberg don’t believe you must give up prosperity to achieve big results. You just need to frame the situation as a win/win by giving companies and governments tools to become richer, healthier and safer by doing things that also help cool down the planet.

Many Causes of Global Warming

Pope stood before a huge screen and pointed to a pie chart. On it, the pie was cut ino several different colored slices, which represented “Sources of Major Pollutants”-worldwide, as reported by the US EPA. He pointed to the orange one, the largest slice, which represented “Fossil Fuels”—31 percent of the circle.

Climate Change: Problems & Solutions

Fossil fuel combustion at its worst, but not the whole problem

“Some people think the main cause of global warming is fossil fuels,” said Pope. “But it’s actually less than a third.”

He called out the other sections, including “Methane” (27 percent), “Forestry” (15 percent), “Black Carbon” (17 percent), “Nitrous Oxide” (5 percent), and “Halocarbons” (5 percent). Then, he described the issues with each segment and presented some possible solutions.

For example, the 15 percent for Forestry relates to loss of tropical rainforest, with its ability to absorb CO2. The problem is, about half of the timber cutting business in the tropics is illegal.

“Governments need to work to enforce a ban on contraband logging,” Pope said. 

The Methane Issue

Methane (27 percent) is a heat-storing gas that is 25 times more potent than CO2 over a hundred-year period. It’s generated from several sources, including herds of cows and rice paddies, but Pope talked about how the oil and gas industry is responsible for a significant portion of it, too.

Climate Change: Problems & Solutions

Methane going up in smoke

“An oil company can drill for oil and then burn off (flare) the natural gas without having to pay,” Pope said. “We need to ‘charge for what you get’ to lower the numbers on this kind of methane release. There are no consequences of these environmentally destructive actions now.”

Luckily, methane remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter time than CO2—about 16 years—so, if we can stop releasing it, the problem will diminish. A mass switch to vegetarianism would have an impact as well, but that kind of sacrifice was not the subject of Pope’s talk—or the book.

Black Carbon & Nitrous Oxide

Black carbon (17 percent) is a byproduct of cooking over dirty fuels, such as kerosene. Sadly, many people, mostly women, use these fuels out of necessity all around the world to cook for their families. According to Pope, about 10 percent of these women will die from exposure to these toxic chemicals, and the entire planet is absorbing the black carbon into the atmosphere.

Climate Change: Problems & Solutions

Black carbon is often linked to key tasks like cooking

“Ironically, methane, which is natural gas, could be used as a clean cooking fuel,” said Pope.

Nitrous oxide (5 percent) is found in fertilizer, which is routinely overused by farmers. Why? Per Pope, farmers use it to grow lots of corn, which needs lots of fertilizer. The corn is then processed into corn syrup – an $80 billion industry.

“It would be better to grow something we want that uses no fertilizer,” said Pope.

There are many ways to improve farming techniques to keep more carbon in the soil. These are discussed at length in the book.

Halocarbon Danger & Hope

Halocarbons (5 percent) are very dangerous refrigerants used in air conditioning systems. They are successors to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were banned years ago. This helped close the hole in the ozone layer. Per Pope, implementing the Kigali Accord, which was adopted by 170 nations in Kigali, Rwanda, on October 16, 2016, to phase out halocarbons, would go a long way.

“It’s the first climate pollutant we can get rid of,” said Pope.

Burning coal is a major contributor to CO2 in the atmosphere. Much has already been done to reduce coal use. The price for wind and solar has been dropping quickly, and natural gas is also replacing coal in some plants.

“Coal is going away not because of a government ‘war on coal,’ but because it is no longer financially competitive,” said Pope.

Pope told two anecdotes to show this change.

Climate Change: Problems & Solutions

Up on the roof–positive change

“In eastern Kentucky, the Museum of Coal Mining needed a new system to heat their building. They looked at the options and ended up installing solar panels, which saves them $10,000 a year!”

“The CEO of the CSX Railroad said recently that the company will no longer be replacing its coal hauling cars. This was a big business for them, but he sees that coal is going away, not next year, but he’s not sure about it in 20 years.”

Regarding wind energy, Pope said it was the cheapest electricity ever, and would remain that way regardless of what the leadership in Washington tries to do to preserve old, dirty industries. There are many opportunities for businesses, such as Anheuser-Busch, to adopt renewable energy sources.

“Anheuser-Busch stated they would get 100 percent of their electricity from renewables,” Pope said. “This isn’t because customers care, or it makes the beer taste better—it’s just good business.”

Climate Change: Problems & Solutions

Fertilizers–too much of a good thing

New Energy=New Employees

Another reason to move to renewables is that it allows you to hire the best new employees.

“Young college graduates are asking employers about their companies’ environmental credentials during job interviews,” said Pope.

Regarding the growth in electric vehicles, Pope thinks we’ll be able to clean up the fleet in 10 to 15 years. However, his point is that although this is an important activity in the overall scheme, there are many other causes of climate change, and we can and should address them all.

What We Need to Do to Succeed

Pope recommended three major things we need to do:

  1. Continue innovating quickly.
  2. Create insurance to help people who lose their jobs when technology changes.
  3. Make businesspeople work hard for a profit.

We may think that change is gradual, but sometimes it seems to happen overnight.

Climate Change: Problems & Solutions

Some change is already under way–banning halocarbons

“In the 1916 Macy’s Day Parade, there were eight horses for every car, said Pope. “In the 1920 parade, there was one horse.”

And, he further related, in 1920, there were 118,000 well-paid professional harness makers. In 1928—zero. The horses were gone. The workers moved on to other jobs—it was the 1920s and there was a strong economy.

The 1930’s were a different story, however. After the 1929 Stock Market Crash, a lot of jobs disappeared. Per Pope, it was a period when innovation froze. What helped move things along were programs like Social Security. What also helped was making credit available, so, for example, farmers could electrify.

“In the late 1930’s, 95 percent of farms gained power because they could get affordable loans,” Pope said, as an example.

Innovation for Today

Today, Pope proposes that we use similar programs to help people who are displaced by technology.

Climate Change: Problems & Solutions

The best change–coal goes away because it no longer makes economic sense

“We need the people who make the money from innovation to share with the folks who lose in progress,” he says. “That keeps innovation alive, and helps people adjust and move forward in the inevitably changed world.”

If we make it too easy for companies to earn big profits without big effort, they lose motivation to do the right thing.

“We need to pay attention to who we pay off,” says Pope. “Or they’ll just steal.”

Room for Some Cautious Optimism

The bottom line is that you won’t convince people to do the right thing for the climate by making it sound like a sacrifice or by scaring them. There are immediate payoffs and advantages to making changes now.

However, despite the many good things happening to mitigate some climate change, Pope warns that we need to move fast. We can’t set a goal of zero sea level rise or weather disruption, he added. No matter what we do, some change is coming—in fact, it’s already here.

Climate Change: Problems & Solutions

Read the book, but more importantly, live the book

“We need to worry about serious unraveling of the system,” Pope said.

But he thinks the likely scenarios are a bit less dire, even with the current politics in Washington. For one thing, the two countries with the largest populations—China and India—are working hard to make big changes now.

“Those two nations are not major petroleum producers, and they have lots of wind and sun, so they have a great incentive to invest in sustainable energy,” Pope said. “At a symposium in New Delhi last August, Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal stated that he wanted to move to all electric vehicles by 2030, and it’s actually starting to happen. Things are moving very fast.”

Pope is currently the principal adviser at Inside Straight Strategies, which focuses on the links between sustainability and economic development. He also serves as Bloomberg’s senior climate advisor. That means he has ideas that are down-to-earth and make good business sense.

There’s only so much Carl Pope could cover in a fascinating hour, but to get much more insight into what’s happening to mitigate climate change, read Climate of Hope and keep a positive attitude—there’s a lot happening now, and much more to come. And you can be part of it.

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Cap-and-Trade Gold in the Golden State

Cap-and-Trade Gold in the Golden State

Golden Gate BridgeObama and McCain have both stated that climate change requires decisive action. Both support cap-and-trade, putting a limit (cap) on greenhouse gases and enabling the market to work by allowing the trading of permits.

How would this work in the United States? We will all learn from California’s progress with its enacted law – AB32 Climate Solutions Act. The implementation is detailed in the 93-page Climate Change Draft Scoping Plan.

By requiring in law a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, California has set the stage for its transition to a clean energy future.

Since the law was enacted in 2006, the lead implementing agency, the California Air Resources Board (ARB), has been getting an earful from everyone from concerned citizens to industry lobbyists. It moves forward publishing data from the California Climate Action Registry, facilitating 12 major action teams, conducting public workgroups, and drafting plans which get more feedback in public meetings. The ARB Board will next meet to review the proposed Scoping Plan on Novembers 20 and 21.

Climate change is already impacting everything in California from draughts that cause agricultural loses to water shortages that impact industry. But instead of seeing the glass as half empty, the California Plan states, “This challenge also presents a magnificent opportunity to transform California’s economy into one that runs on clean and sustainable technologies, so that all Californians are able to enjoy their rights to clean air, clean water, and a healthy and safe environment.” Cleantech will be a major winner.

The plan is ambitious because California’s population in 2020 is forecasted to be double the 1990 level. The Climate Solutions Act will require that per capita CO2e emissions be reduced from today’s 14 tons per year to 10 tons per day by 2020. The total state cap for 2020 is 427 MMTCO2e. Keys to success will include:

  • Green buildings with improved construction, insullation, energy efficient lighting, HVAC, equipment, and appliances.
  • Electric utilities that use at least 33 percent renewable energy.
  • Development of a California cap-and-trade program that links with other western states and Canadians provinces to create a regional market system.
  • Implementation of existing State laws and policies, including California’s clean vehicle standards, goods movement measures, and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

The Plan shows that California has learned from the Kyoto implementation. California’s scope is much broader, covering 85 percent of the State’s greenhouse gas emissions from six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). AB32 calls for incremental improvements all the way to 2050.

The transportation sector – largely the cars and trucks – is the largest contributor with 38 percent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity generation is 23 percent. Industry 20 percent. Commercial and residential buildings are 9 percent.

Look for economic growth in a number of areas. New buildings will increasingly be LEED certified, often at the Silver level. Building efficiency retrofits will be an active area employing contracts large and small.

Distributed power generation will grow. Combined heat and power will be actively deployed. Process efficiency will continue.

Renewable energy will experience strong growth including wind, solar, geothermal, and bioenergy. Ocean power pilot projects will continue. Controversial new power from nuclear and petroleum coke gasification with CSS will be considered. In-state coal power generation is history in California. Using out-of-state coal power will continue to decline as GHG emissions are priced into the equation.

Wind continues to grow in California and the nation. A fascinating read is the Department of Energy (DOE) report, entitled 20 Percent Wind Energy by 2030, which identifies the real feasibility of the United States reaching meeting 20 percent of its energy requirements from wind by 2030. A path to over 300 GW of wind power by 2030 is detailed.

California and much of the nation is blessed with an abundance of sunlight. The Utility Solar Assessment (USA) Study, produced by Clean Edge and Co-op America, provides a comprehensive roadmap for utilities, solar companies, and regulators to reach 10% solar in the U.S. by 2025 with both PV and CSP.

C02 costs are not likely to significantly increase the cost of fuel, but rocketing oil costs have changed the game. Use of corporate flexible work programs, commuting, and use of public transportation are now at record levels in the state and will grow in popularity.

California High-Speed Rail (HSR) is likely to be on the California ballot this November, with a price tag that will be a fraction of the cost of expanding highways and adding an airport. HSR would link major transit systems throughout the state, and save billions in fuel costs and emissions.

AB32 is also likely to reach its goals because cars will increasingly outsell SUVs and trucks in California. By 2020, electric cars and plug-in hybrids may experience and explosion of popularity. New low-carbon fuels are likely to be widely used.

California is working closely with six other states and three Canadian provinces in the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) to design a regional greenhouse gas emission reduction program that includes a cap-and-trade approach. ARB will develop a cap-and-trade program for California that will link with the programs in the other partner states and provinces to create this western regional market. California’s participation in WCI creates an opportunity to provide substantially greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from throughout the region than could be achieved by California alone. AB32 may give the United States a head-start in its own cap-and-trade program.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.