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Aggressive Action Needed to Stop Global Warming

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Message Mary Ratcliff

Throughout 2007 the signs of global warming became inescapable and a realization that the world climate is changing much faster than ever imagined has started to sink in. Politically we are stymied because we seem to be incapable of mustering the will to truly address the problem.

That excellent energy bill that was just signed by George Bush? When you look at the fine print, the vast portion of the funds set aside to help combat global warming are devoted to technology for sequestering carbon instead of promoting efficiency or developing clean, renewable energy sources.

Of all the options described [1. efficiency, 2. renewable energy, 3. extracting CO2 from the atmosphere, and 4. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)], only CCS is being vigorously pursued. The U.S. Department of Energy has allocated roughly $2 billion to CCS projects that are going on now in 41 states. More than a dozen universities are researching the pros if not the cons. Several prominent environmental organizations have enthusiastically endorsed the plan, even before a decade of necessary research has begun. It is no exaggeration to say that CCS has become a bandwagon — or a juggernaut.

...The CCS plan was devised by the coal industry, but has the financial support of many of the world’s most powerful corporations, an all-star cast from the oil, gas, mining, railroad, and automobile industries: American Electric Power, the American Petroleum Institute, Aramco Services, BP (formerly British Petroleum), Chevron, ConocoPhillips, The Electric Power Research Institute, ExxonMobil, Ford Motor, General Electric, General Motors, Marathon Oil, Peabody Energy, Schlumberger, Shell Oil, Southern Company, and Toyota, among others. They, in turn, have lined up support within academia and the corporate environmental organizations.

The coal industry is betting its whole future on the CCS plan: “Coal is going to be the answer and is the answer, and carbon capture and sequestration is the answer to climate change,” says Steven F. Leer, chief executive officer of Arch Coal, Inc., the nation’s second-largest coal company, after Peabody Energy. If the CCS plan fails, the coal industry will fade into history, at least in the U.S., where carbon dioxide emissions are causing cancellations of new coal-fired power plants.

Our government, captured by corporate interests has decided that the only way we will be allowed to deal with global warming is by an enormous boondoggle designed to enrich the corporate interests who could care less about the future of the world. Even worse, the actual reduction of carbon emissions that will come from this bill are a joke in addressing the problem. (emphasis mine)

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, between 1990 and 2005 U.S. annual CO2 emissions rose from 5529 megatonnes to 6432 megatonnes. In other words, between 1990 and 2005, U.S. CO2 emissions grew exponentially at the rate of 1.01% per year. If that modest 1.01% growth-rate were to continue from 2008 through 2020, the cumulative CO2 emissions during the period would total 84,557 megatonnes and during 2008-2030 the cumulative total emitted would be 164,041 megatonnes. Therefore we can see that by 2020 the 2007 energy law will have reduced total U.S. CO2 emissions by 2017/84557*100 = 2.4% and by 2030 the reduction will be 7679/164041*100 = 4.7%.

At this rate and pace, we might as well as kiss our keesters goodbye.

If we seriously wanted to do something about global warming, what would we do? Lester Brown, the head of the Earth Policy Institute, has a plan that would reduce the world's carbon emissions by 80% by 2020. And how does he propose we do this? In Brown's plan, what he calls Plan B 3.0, an essential ingredient is reducing our dependence on coal. Because as you must realize, it's not just our country with a carbon addiction problem, but the world, because experts estimate that more than a thousand new coal plants will be needed to keep up with the demand for more energy.

Here's his recipe for solving the problem:

1. Push energy efficiency:

It's easy to ridicule the "switch a light bulb, save the planet" school of environmental planning, but Brown points out that by making the most of efficiency improvements in lighting and appliances, we could reduce power demand sufficiently to obviate the need for 1,410 coal plants. That's more than the 1,382 coal plants the International Energy Agency predicts will be built by 2020.

2. Put renewal energy production on a wartime footing:

If we start pumping out new wind turbines with the same industrial urgency the U.S. produced tanks and bombers in World War II, Brown writes, we could generate 3 million megawatts of wind power by 2020, enough to meet 40% of the world's energy needs. Solar thermal, plug-in hybrid and geothermal technology are all part of Plan B.

3. Tax carbon aggressively just like we are taxing cigarettes today:

To push the transition to a cleaner, more efficient economy — the Plan B economy — Brown argues for a worldwide carbon tax to be phased in at $20 per ton each year between 2008 and 2020, topping out at $240 per ton. That might seem excessive, but Brown points out that even a carbon tax higher than $240 per ton wouldn't cover all the environmental and health costs of burning fossil fuels, from climate change to air pollution–related illnesses.

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Mary Ratcliff is a senior writer and editor at The Left Coaster and Pacific Views.
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