Friday, November 21, 2014 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Car heads north on U.S. 101 on December 26, 2010. (Garrett/Flickr)
Leave it to Berkeley, a liberal bastion in northern California that’s taken pioneering steps to tax sugary drinks and ban Styrofoam takeout containers. It’s now moving forward with a novel way to address climate change: make people feel guilty about driving.
This week, in a 7-2 vote, its City Council approved a draft ordinance that would require warning labels at fueling stations, even electric-charging ones. The labels would link driving to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Their message: a car’s burning of fossil fuels hurts the planet.
“These labels are analogous to the health warnings placed on cigarettes,” Max Gomberg, chairman of the the city’s Community Environmental Advisory Commission, wrote in a memo that notes his group got the idea from the non-profit environmental activist group 350.org. He said making information about the link between driving and heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions “available at the point of purchase may contribute to behavioral changes to reduce motorized vehicle use.”
Gomberg said Berkeley is falling behind its target of reducing residents’ carbon emissions 33 percent from 2000 levels by 2020, saying it’s only 8 percent of the way there so far. So he said “more action is needed.”
Even in Berkeley, there was opposition. “The city’s proposal compels speech in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, wrote in a June letter to the city. She said: “Far less restrictive means exist to disseminate this information to the general public without imposing onerous restrictions on the businesses.”
Gomberg, noting the oil-lobbying group has threatened a lawsuit, said the costs of the labels would be minimal and partially offset by penalties against stations that fail to post them.. To cut implementation costs, he said the program would not require inspections but would follow up on verified public complaints. Before the council casts a final vote, however, the city’s attorney will try to craft legally defensible language for the proposal that won approval Tuesday.
Not to be outdone, San Francisco is drafting a similar ordinance that its Board of Supervisors could approve next year. In fact, Berkeley is looking to use the same label language that’s being considered by its Bay Area neighbor: “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that a typical passenger vehicle burning one gallon of fuel produces on average almost 20 pounds of tailpipe carbon dioxide (CO2), which the EPA has determined is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.”
Thursday, November 20, 2014 | By National Geographic News | No Comments
Several aging coal plants are being reconfigured to burn natural gas.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Chinese shop in Beijing on September 25, 2011. (Trey Ratcliff)
As global warming compels countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, new research says the era of cheap and abundant energy will end sometime this century and prompt a new way of living: “involuntary simplicity.”
The public needs to be prepared for this “energy descent” and “a persistent step-wise downshift” in consumption, says University of Michigan environmental psychologist Raymond De Young. He discusses the topic in a report in the November edition of the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
What will it look like? DeYoung expects many Americans will likely live in much smaller homes that contain far fewer consumer goods, and because of declining fuel availability, many may not be able to afford car ownership or air travel. He says they’ll rely more on locally grown foods.
“Frankly, it may not be possible for members of Western societies to maintain anything close to a contemporary life pattern,” he says.
That’s not all bad, he argues. Though a resource-limited future will be more austere, he says people will still be able to live well. He says the coming downshift may even provide an opportunity for them to “reconnect with nature and other people in ways that provide durable well-being.”
His forecast may seem difficult to fathom given the current boom in U.S. oil and natural gas production and the decline in gas prices, which are now below $3 a gallon in many parts of the country. Yet he says that while fossil fuels will likely be extracted for years to come, their extraction will slowly decline as countries shift toward less polluting forms of energy.
A report today describes the urgent need for such a global shift. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change and limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the world’s man-made carbon emissions will need to drop to net zero between 2055 and 2070, according to the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Resources Institute. Global greenhouse gas emissions, which have grown by more than 45 percent since 1990, will need to fall by at least 15 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050, says the Emissions Gap Report by 38 scientists from 22 research groups across 14 countries.
“Unfortunately, the world is not currently headed in the right direction,” says Andrew Steers, president of the World Resources Institute, an environmental research group. “But, with the growing momentum for global climate action, we have the opportunity to close the emissions gap.”
De Young expects technology “may help ease a societal transition but will not eliminate the need for one,” adding people will likely be forced to consume less of just about everything.
“This is not at all what the popular folk mythology of resource apocalypse predicts,” he says. “It lacks Hollywood’s sudden and catastrophic collapse motif. The change is more likely to emerge slowly over many decades.” He says behavioral scientists will need to help people cope with a new normal and envision an alternative future.