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Win-win Opportunity for Climate Prosperity and Life Op-ed 07-01-08

Win-win Opportunity for Climate Prosperity and Life Op-ed 07-01-08

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Published by Michael P Totten
Op-Ed by Michael P. Totten, Chief Advisor, Climate, Conservation International, providing factual examples of how climate solutions are available that could be achieved while spurring economic prosperity, human well-being and slowing species extinction. It will require replacing last century's sub-optimal legacy policies, subsidies and regulations with 21st century market-based incentives, and policy and regulatory innovations.
Op-Ed by Michael P. Totten, Chief Advisor, Climate, Conservation International, providing factual examples of how climate solutions are available that could be achieved while spurring economic prosperity, human well-being and slowing species extinction. It will require replacing last century's sub-optimal legacy policies, subsidies and regulations with 21st century market-based incentives, and policy and regulatory innovations.

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Published by: Michael P Totten on Apr 01, 2009
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July 1, 2008Win-Win Opportunity for Climate, Prosperity and Life on Earth
ByMichael Totten
 
Eighty percent of Americans recently polled believe America is on the wrong course –militarily, economically, socially and environmentally. The wrong course is being miredin a $3 trillion Middle East war that was avoidable, as was the deaths of a more than half a million human beings. The war’s other unintended adverse consequences include theU.S. dollar’s fallen value, a 500 percent jump in world oil prices, an economic recession,and declining government support for health, education and the environment. If thecurrent $120 cost per barrel of oil persists, Americans will pay out $1 trillion every 30months for foreign oil imports.Americans also overwhelmingly believe the government is on the wrong course inrefusing to reduce planetary risk from a dangerously destabilizing climate.
 Human processes
now rival natural processes, emitting greenhouse gases equivalent to thevolcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo (one of the largest in the past century) every 44hours! The USA is the only country in the world refusing to ratify the Kyoto Treaty.President Bush also reneged on his 2000 presidential campaign pledge to cap emissionsof these radiatively active gases. Instead, the Administration and key members of Congress have been defiantly opposed to emission reductions. They assume,inaccurately it turns out, the only available options are expensive clean-up systems whichdivert funds from generating more economic output.This is evident in the current Congressional debate over climate legislation, as it wasevident in the U.S. Delegation’s opposition to reduction targets at the March 2008 UNclimate talks in Bangkok. In citing recession fears as a reason for taking no action norsetting any future reduction targets, the Administration and many Congressionalmembers are verging on willful disregard of or callous indifference to the immense andsteadily expanding pool of directly obtainable and financially attractive mitigationoptions. Actions so abundant they could result in saving half or more of the potential$200 trillion projected to be spent on energy worldwide over the century. Put moresoberly, failure to change course will squander this $100 trillion dollar bonanza on morecostly, polluting and insecure options, while also failing to capture a lodestone of ancillary benefits from deep CO
2
reductions, rural and urban employment growth,poverty alleviation, cleaner air and water, and enhanced security.A case in point is the 2004 Department of Defense-funded report,
Winning the Oil Endgame, American Innovation for Profits, Jobs, and Security
. The military has goodreason to assess whether America can wean itself of vulnerable and risky foreign oilimports experiencing volatile price hikes that are hemorrhaging the nation’s economiclifeblood. Oil wars, as in Iraq, are costly, unpopular, and demoralizing. The reportshows they are also entirely avoidable.In the wake of the 1970s OPEC oil embargo and gas price spikes the Congress mandateda doubling of vehicle fuel efficiency. That single action accrued U.S. consumers’ multi-
 
2hundred billion dollar savings at the gas pumps, was instrumental in collapsing OPEC’shigh oil prices, and lifting the nation out of a recession.Advanced technology innovations now enable another doubling of the nation’s vehiclefleet efficiency, with similarly immense gas pump savings. Compared to oil at $120 perbarrel, the cost of the vehicle efficiency improvements can “deliver” oil services at a costequivalent to $15 per barrel. The efficiency gains could reprise their 1970s role indramatically lowering oil demand and, hence, collapsing skyrocketing oil prices.Combined with comparably large energy and monetary gains by improving the efficientuses of natural gas, the Pentagon report concludes that three-fourths of U.S. oilconsumption could be eliminated. The U.S. transportation sector accounts for 30% of CO
2
emissions, so the efficiency gains not only save money, dampen the recession, andenhance national security, but achieve dramatic reductions in CO
2
emissions and other airpollutants at
no
cost!The remaining one-fourth of oil could be satisfied through reliance upon local andregional biological wastes to produce ethanol or biodiesel fuels. Most promising for thelong-term is the unfolding success story of ultra-efficient, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles(PHEVs) connected to the utility grid, and getting fuel economy over 100 miles pergallon-equivalent. Electric motors are more efficient than gas engines, and PHEVsharness this advantage by increasing a vehicle’s battery capacity and decreasing the gasengine size.The electricity sector accounts for 40% of the nation’s CO
2
emissions, and harborssimilarly vast energy efficiency gains. A 2007 “deep-dive” assessment by consultingfirm, McKinsey Global, found 75% of the nation’s electric demand growth through 2030could be satisfied with efficiency improvements at lower cost than erecting new powerplants. Highly successful states like California and Vermont have several decades of market-driven innovative regulatory outcomes in this regard, by realigning the financialinterests of utilities so their profits go up when they implement efficiency improvementsresulting in customers’ energy bills going down. Remarkably, the efficiency gains havecut California household utility bills by $1000 per year, while California’s utilitysystem’s CO
2
emissions are 50% lower than the U.S. average!Taken together, efficiency gains throughout America’s stock of buildings, factories,vehicles, farms, and manufactured appliances, lights, office equipment, and consumerelectronics could cut in half the nation’s one trillion dollar annual energy bill. Theknock-on effect of deep reductions in CO
2
emissions would be achieved, again, at
no cost 
 to taxpayers and ratepayers.Even more impressive
system
efficiencies can be captured by connecting PHEVs to thegrid. Combining the vehicle and electricity sectors through an increasingly advanceddigital grid, or
smart network 
, provides one of the most compelling technical innovationsin the 21
st
century. A recent government assessment concluded that the existing U.S.electricity system has sufficient generating capacity (1 trillion watts) to power 84% of thenation’s 200 million cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs for 33 miles per day, whichencompasses the average daily driving cycle for most motorists, if the vehicles werePHEVs. This could result in the following potential benefits:
 
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 Energy and National Security
– PHEVs could reduce gasoline consumption by 90 billiongallons per year, or more than half of U.S. oil imports;
Oil Monetary Savings
– more than $270 billion per year in gas pump savings;
 Avoided Emissions
– reduce
total
U.S. CO
2
emissions by 27%, as well as 80 to 100% of urban smog, noxious pollutants, and lung-damaging particulates.As grid-connected PHEVs become an increasing percentage of the U.S. fleet they alsoprovide critical battery storage for intermittent wind and solar electricity generation.Research indicates PHEVs comprising 8%-38% of the fleet could provide operatingreserves or storage for wind and solar. This would enable already competitive windpower to generate half of U.S. electricity – as much as coal currently generates.What about the existing 2 billion tons of CO
2
emissions per year from America’s 330billion watts of coal-fired plants (plus 400 million tons of CO
2
from natural gas-fueledpower plants)? Retrofitting
existing
coal plants with carbon capture and storage (CCS),when commercially viable in five to 10 years, is projected to double or triple thegenerating cost of electricity. The mitigation cost would amount to $100 per ton of CO
2
,or upwards of $200 billion per year for all coal-fired power plant emissions. It would becheaper for utilities to shut down the oldest and most polluting plants, especially sinceefficiency improvements can replace the electricity services at well below just the cost of the CCS retrofit.
 New
advanced coal plants with CCS systems, when commercially available in 5 to 10years, are expected to increase electricity costs by 75 percent. This would reduce the costto $40 per ton of CO
2
, or upwards of $50 billion per year nationwide.In addition to efficiency services displacing many existing and proposed coal plants,given that reducing a molecule of CO
2
has the same value anywhere on the planet, it isfiscally responsible to pursue other least cost emission reduction options for fossil fuelplants. The
 Report on the Economics of Climate Change
prepared by former World Bank Chief Economist Sir Nicholas Stern highlighted an immediate and highly cost-effectiveoption to waiting for several-fold higher cost CCS: reducing emissions from tropicaldeforestation in developing countries.Most people are unaware that 20% of total global annual CO
2
emissions are releasedduring the burning down of tropical forests. This is an area the size of England, and aCO
2
pollution level greater than released by the world’s entire transport sector. In thewake of this vast destruction scientists also estimate that some 16 million plant andanimal species populations go extinct.Very little revenue is generated from a large percentage of the 30-plus million acres of tropical forests burned down each year. So little in fact that farmers and ranchers wouldactually accrue several times more income by leaving the threatened forests standing, andselling the “mitigation services” of the stored carbon for as little as $5 to $10 per ton of CO
2
in the global carbon trading market. That is 10 to 20 times less expensive thanretrofitting existing plants, and 4 to 8 times less costly than new coal plants with CCS.Some 300 to 400% more CO
2
emissions are released from tropical deforestation thanfrom all U.S. coal plants. Even if a climate-friendly energy system is adopted worldwide,failing to halt deforestation is expected to increase the atmosphere’s concentration of 

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