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Climate Change Series | Part III: Ideas

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | July 25th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT
This post is part of a series aimed at providing one perspective to the broad topic of climate change.  Overall, this series will include mention of the causes of climate change, how it affects us and personal ideas from the writer on approaches that can be taken to solve this complex and global issue.  Facts are facts, but any personal views expressed throughout this series are those of the writer alone.  For this particular post, it is important to note that the author, Jordan Lewis, is the former president of UM’s Young and College Democrats. His sources are disclosed below this post, however.                                                                                                                                                                                                                     —————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

The President’s Plan

 Last month, the President unveiled his plan for addressing climate change. It sets us in the right direction but in my opinion does not come close to solving the problem adequately. It is, however, cognizant of the political divide and does not require any action from Congress, only Executive Orders.

  • President Obama’s plan to direct the EPA to work with state and local governments to limit carbon pollution at power plants is a common-sense but still significant move.
  • The President set a goal to double wind and solar energy by 2020.
  • The FY 2014 budget will increase research by 30%.
  • The President set a goal to have a performance equivalent of 54.5 MPG by 2025.
  • The administration released plans to make rural utilities more sustainable, and to help make electricity generation more efficient.
  • The administration will also develop fuel standards for heavy trucks in the future.
  • The federal government will consume 20% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

While these measures are positive, and show a commitment to fighting climate change, they aren’t aggressive enough to lower our footprint to responsible levels.

 

A Responsible Plan For Now and In the Future for the USA

We need to take aggressive steps to combat climate change. Here are some policy ideas to help mitigate climate change:

 Efficiency:

  • Encourage automobile makers to enhance MPG standards, sooner. The technology exists to produce 40-MPG compact cars immediately, and President Obama’s proposal of 54.5 MPG could and should be met sooner. We can and should aim higher. Provide incentives that make electric vehicles, hybrids, and other efficient vehicles affordable on the marketplace.
  • Provide more tax-incentives for energy-efficient appliances and machinery.
  • Encourage sustainable agricultural practices, with a lessened reliance on fertilizers.
  • Set higher efficiency standards for electricity generation (like the Obama plan at power plants).

Rebuild Our Country

America’s infrastructure is in need of repair. A stimulus package would create millions of jobs and make our country stronger and more energy-efficient.

Build efficient roads and bridges.

Invest in renewable energy projects. Solar and wind powered energy sources are available and are not being used to the extent in which they could be used. Allocate funds for research.

Invest in Mitigation Strategies

  • Climate change will bring about many of the negative impacts as explained above. We need to invest in strategies that protect against some of these impacts.
  • Explore building seawalls along our coasts to mitigate sea level rise.
  • Explore crops that are more adept to warmer climates.
  • Build irrigation systems that save water, including microirrigation (as used in Israel)
  • Erect buildings that can sustain extreme winds and other forces of nature.

Engage in global pacts to reduce carbon emissions

  • By not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, it indicated that we were not willing to take significant steps to reduce climate change.
  • By entering into international agreements, we will spread goodwill that will encourage other countries to limit their emissions.

Reduce our dependence on coal and oil

Coal and oil are dirty fuels that form a major part of carbon emissions. Carbon is the most utilized fossil fuel in the world but also the dirtiest. Oil is ubiquitous in American transportation and industrial production.

Reducing our dependence on oil saves consumers money, enhances national security, and will reduce air pollution in our cities.

We should make it a priority to phase off coal and oil use as soon as possible. In order to fill our energy needs, we can utilize natural gas. Natural gas is the cleanest burning fuel and is generally abundant in the United States. There are significant environmental hazards to natural gas extraction. Natural gas extraction involves a technique called hydraulic fracturing, in which chemicals, water, and sand are blasted into wells in order to draw gas to the surface. This has threatened our water supplies and allowed gas to seep out into homes. Americans must know what chemicals are used in these fracking techniques, and safeguards set in place to protect our water supply.

Finally, natural gas should be used as a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Avoid the production of wasteful synthetic fuels, including Keystone XL  

Synthetic fuels, such as tar sands, require additional energy input, and present enormous environmental damages. Keystone XL is a tar sands project. Let’s discuss the Keystone XL Pipeline:

  • Tar sands are a mixture of sand, clay, water, and a viscous oil-like substance called bitumen, which can then be refined to produce oil. These tar sands are abundant in Alberta, Canada.
  • The tar sands project has caused massive deforestation and environmental degradation in Canada. In order to fully reach these tar sands, it will require the destruction of an area larger than Florida[1].
  • Each barrel of tar sands produces three types the amount of greenhouse gases as regular oil.
  • Tar sands are an environmental hazard, containing arsenic, mercury, lead and other carcinogens. It endangers aboriginal communities and the communities by which the Pipeline would pass by.
  • The Keystone XL Pipeline would run across America’s Rockies and through areas vital to ensuring our food supply. The most critical area it would cross is the Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies 30% of the water used for irrigation for agriculture[2]. A spill of this corrosive, toxic oil would threaten our nation’s breadbasket for a significant time to come. Early portions of the pipelines have already leaked, three times in South Dakota. There were 12 spills in this past year.
  • The tar sands would be refined in America but shipped overseas. It would not reduce dependence on foreign oil.
  • The tar sands project could actually cost Midwest farmers 20 cents per gallon in higher fuel costs[3].
  • Major unions oppose this project because there are few decent, permanent jobs to oppose the pipeline. It will create 35 permanent jobs (according to the State Department) while creating 51 coal plants worth of carbon[4].
  • Other nations are opposed to allow such a pipeline in their sovereign territory.
  • NASA scientist James Hansen described the Keystone XL as “game over for the climate.”
  • Simply put, President Obama’s plan to reduce the impact of climate change will be a mere paperweight if he approves the Keystone XL pipeline.

Enforce legislation to limit carbon emissions for industry

Despite efficiency increases and sustainable-use strategies, Congress should develop a plan to limit emissions from industry and factory groups. Cap and trade systems and carbon taxes are among the options that have been considered throughout the world. Cap and trade sets limits on carbon pollution and uses a market scheme where firms can purchase more credits on the open market. Such a proposal passed the House in 2009 but was not voted on in the Senate. A carbon tax scheme would place a tax on carbon emitters that could be offset by lowering other taxes on citizens. In terms of limiting carbon emissions, the carbon tax may have more might. Neither is politically feasible at the moment.

Utilize urban planning techniques and mass transportation

The government should emphasize sustainable urban planning strategies. The benefit of sustainable cities is that transportation costs are lower, for consumer products and transportation to work. Less land is required, allowing more land to be set aside for green space. Finally, the cities provide an opportunity to utilize effective mass transportation systems. Our systems should be made to run on renewable fuels and should be attractive for residents to travel on.

Research techniques to remove carbon from the atmosphere

We need to prepare for climate change getting worse in the future. Thus, we must invest in research to find sequestration methods that are effective. Sequestration removes carbon dioxide from power plants (carbon capture and storage) and the environment and stores it in the Earth or other place that will not contribute to climate change. Carbon capture technology is already being implemented, but other sequestration techniques are still under study.

Encourage contraception and population controlA way to fight climate change would be to provide low-cost contraception to developing countries. This would not only lower demand for fuels and climate footprint, but also improve standards of living and the status of women. It’s a win-win.

Engage in Reforestation practices in the United States and across the world

The United States should invest in setting aside land to allow native forest to regrow, adding to biodiversity and taking carbon out of the atmosphere. We should encourage other nations to protect their forests.

Encourage personal responsibility and the 3 R’s

As a society, the American people should look to make changes in our lifestyle to lower our carbon footprints. We should buy less, reduce, reuse, and recycle. We can reuse a lot of household items and keep them out of landfills. By recycling products, we save energy that would be used to make them. We could make one less trip on an airline this year. We should look to purchase goods that are recyclable and use paper instead of plastic and Styrofoam. We should look to kick our habit of buying plastic water bottles that are expensive, carbon intensive, and clog up landfills. American tap water is cheaper, cleaner, and healthier than most bottled water. Finally, we should look to eat less meat. Consumption of meat produces carbon dioxide at several levels. Land is cleared in many developing countries to raise cattle, removing carbon sinks, and with the burning of trees, releasing it into the atmosphere. Up to 45% of all of the land on the Earth is occupied with livestock grazing[5]. Cattle also require larger grain (100 times more water) inputs than other crops. Finally, cattle belch methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the environment.

Encourage the purchase of locally made products

We can also reduce our carbon footprint by buying locally, at farmers markets and mom-and-pop stores, rather than from overseas. Cargo ships account for 3% of carbon emissions, but that’s small compared to the footprint of a commercial airliner. Buying local helps the environment and local businesses. Everybody benefits and it puts people to work. With the trade deficit so starkly in favor of China, it’s time to put our resources to work to encourage the purchase of more American products, including enforcing the label “Made in x” for all products coming from overseas.

 

Climate change is a threat to us, our children, and our grandchildren. We need to fight for a future and press our leaders to limit emissions in order to have a liveable world for the next generations.

Sources:


[1] http://ran.org/what-are-tar-sands

[2] http://www.nrdc.org/land/files/TarSandsPipeline4pgr.pdf

[3] http://www.tarsandsaction.org/keystone-xl-facts/

[4]http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/04/17/1885621/keystone-pipeline-will-create-only-35-permanent-jobs-emit-51-coal-plants-worth-of-carbon/

[5] http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/15/we-could-be-heroes/