Last week in President Obama’s inaugural speech he addressed the most serious threat our planet has ever faced, climate change, when he said, “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
It is exciting and hopeful to hear our nation’s leader pledge to put us on the path to conquer global warming and combine it with the economic recovery the US so badly needs. Now we need to back up these words with some actions. What can we do to lead a green industrial revolution?
Well we’re already seeing some promising actions from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Did you know the DOD is the largest single consumer of energy in the world? The agency spends approximately $20 billion on 3.8 billion kilowatt hours of electricity and 120 million barrels of oil per year. That’s a lot of energy, and sometimes fossil fuels are bought from countries hostile to U.S. interests. So the U.S. military is turning its eyes to renewable energy. Fortunately they are not starting from scratch; they currently have about 80 megawatts of installed renewable energy capacity. However, the good news is that a report released this week by Pike Research forecasts this number to quadruple to 3,200 megawatts by 2025. The research firm quantifies the increase in renewable energy use to a predicted almost $1.8 billion in 2025 of U.S. military spending on renewable energy programs, including conservation measures.
All of this green spending can have lasting positive effects on the industry overall. For example, as the demand for solar cells increases, it encourages the building of more solar cell manufacturing plants. Due to economies of scale, the cost of producing solar cells can decrease, and the new lower costs are passed on to the private sector. Additionally, the solar industry, because of large sales from the U.S. military, has more funds available to conduct research and development into better and cheaper solar cells, which can drive down the price permanently.
It is encouraging to hear and see the U.S. take steps towards leading a green industrial revolution. Is there more that can be done? Absolutely! But we have to recognize these constructive efforts as they are brought to light.
According to a recently released report by the World Wildlife Fund, 58 of the United States’ Fortune 100 companies set goals in 2012 to either reduce greenhouse gas emissions or use more renewable energy in their operations. However, oil and gas companies are lagging far behind in this movement. Eight of 11 domestic energy companies on the Fortune 100 have not set internal energy goals.
This is in direct contrast to 68 of the planet’s 100 largest companies who recognize the impact of global warming and are making investments in greenhouse gas reductions and renewable energy goals. Sadly, energy companies represent the lowest participation rate of any industry worldwide. The few exceptions are Hess and Chevron who have both set renewable energy and greenhouse gas targets, and ExxonMobil who set a greenhouse gas target.
Why have three quarters of the nation's industrial companies voluntarily set some sort of environmental target? There are a variety of potential reasons including: policy pressures, public relations or perhaps even the forward thinking that sees renewable energy’s potential to someday be less expensive than, or at least competitive with, oil and gas.
And why haven’t most oil and gas companies voluntarily set environmental targets? It may be because the very products they put on the market directly contribute to climate change. There is also a lack of urgency to act; little pressure comes from investors or policies. An example of a type of policy that was successful in the past is the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, which worked by making large companies publically accountable for which potentially toxic chemicals they use and where they are released. Then the information is posted on the EPA’s website for anyone to see.
The planet would really benefit from a similar policy focusing on oil and gas company emissions, or better yet, a broader climate change policy such as a national carbon tax or cap-and-trade program. There are other options that could pave the way towards a cleaner energy future. The federal government could require that a certain percentage of electricity come from renewable sources and offer further tax incentives for wind and solar production. Many companies are setting their own internal goals, but for others such as the majority of the oil and gas industry, they’re not going to do anything about increasing efficiency and reducing their carbon footprints until someone makes them.
Wind turbine blades currently have some challenges that impact their cost effectiveness. First, most wind blades are made of fiberglass, and the molds to manufacture these blades cost millions of dollars to acquire. Transporting the massive manufactured blades also poses a challenge as they cannot be assembled on site. Furthermore, fiberglass places limitations on the size of the rotor diameters, which means the turbines are smaller and heavier so they are less able to capture wind at lower wind speeds in places such as the US Midwest.
The US Department of Energy's advanced research projects agency (ARPA-E) project aims to address these limitations by researching and developing architectural fabrics in lieu of conventional fiberglass. These tough, flexible fabrics would be tension-wrapped around a metal frame and specially designed to meet wind blade operations’ demands as well as allow for easy maintenance. The project will span three years and be comprised of a team from US electrics company GE, Virginia Tech University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
If successful, these advancements in blade technology will enable larger, lighter turbines that allow tapping previously unsuitable moderate wind speed markets. The new approach also has the potential to overcome earlier manufacturing and transportation limitations since the wind turbine components can be built and put together on site. According to GE, this new blade design could reduce blade costs 25%-40%, making wind energy as economical as fossil fuels without government subsidies.
Expanding wind capabilities and lowering its costs as an energy source represents forging a course towards a clean energy future.
The anemic U.S. economy could get a boost from a surprising source. A study released last week calculated that 70,000 new jobs could be created by the Atlantic Wind Connection over a 10-year span as the offshore wind industry grows. The project includes installing an immense transmission backbone along the East coast connected to a chain of offshore wind farms, and is supported in part financially by Google Energy. The aforementioned jobs would be created by manufacturing, building, operating and maintaining wind turbines, and an additional 40,000 jobs would be needed to serve the supply chain.
The 110,000 jobs directly created by the industry and supply chain do not take into account 50,000 jobs that could be generated from the additional economic activity effect. That is when workers in the area use local businesses to meet their daily needs such as grocery stores and housing.
The project entails construction of a 380-mile power line from Virginia to New Jersey that enables up to 7,000 megawatts of electricity to be produced from offshore wind farms. That’s enough electricity to power over 2 million homes in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Backers of the Atlantic Wind Connection commissioned the study by information and analytics company IHS Inc. which concluded that large-scale wind development along the Atlantic seaboard would also have a combined economic impact for the states of $19 billion and increase local, state and federal government revenues by $4.6 billion.
Wind energy generates more than just renewable energy; it creates actual jobs too and during a time when the nation’s flagging economy badly needs them.
The desire for renewable energy world-wide is on the rise according to a pair of recently released studies commissioned by wind turbine manufacturer, Vestas. Eighty-five percent of global respondents want more renewable energy in the market, says the Global Consumer Wind Energy Study. And 49% of those surveyed would be willing to pay more for renewable energy. The survey also illuminated that 45% believe climate change is one of the big three challenges facing the globe.
The survey polled 24,000 respondents in 20 countries and also found that 62% would buy products from companies who use wind energy. Almost three quarters of consumers indicated they would feel more positive if companies used wind as its primary source of energy.
The second study examines what companies do voluntarily for renewable energy production. Bloomberg New Energy Finance writes the Corporate Renewable Energy Index, which found that global investments in renewable energy capacity are overtaking those of fossil fuels; $237 billion compared to $223 billion. Furthermore, companies are increasingly committing to renewable energy. They purchased 40% of renewable energy last year.
The trend of businesses planning for climate change is not news to readers of our blog. However, it is encouraging to see companies actually making investments in renewable energy. It only makes sense as it lowers their risk. So these studies point to both consumers and corporations demanding more renewable energy. Isn’t it time governments join the trend too? The scale goes from smaller to larger effects when consumers, businesses, and governments work together to lower global carbon emissions. We are looking forward to a clean energy future powered by renewable energy sources.
Just when we were about to succumb to the gloomy picture that is global climate change, a ray of hope breaks through the clouds. A technical report released this month by the U.S. Energy Information Agency calculated that energy related U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, which account for about 98 percent of total CO2 emissions, for the first four months of 2012 decreased to around 1992 levels.
The dramatic decrease is attributed to a switch from dirtier burning coal to cleaner natural gas. Almost everyone in the energy and environmental industries believes the shift could have major long-term implications for U.S. energy policy.
Scientists didn’t predict the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. falling to its lowest level in 20 years in part because the decrease is not attributed to legislation limiting greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The switch to natural gas was driven by the market.
The state of the economy, increasing efforts for energy efficiency and a growing utilization of renewable energy are certainly aspects that contribute to lowering U.S. carbon emissions. However, at the moment, the lion’s share is due to the current low price of natural gas. There has been an upsurge in shale gas drilling in the northeast, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, which has made natural gas more affordable than coal per unit of energy generated. Gas production is on the increase because of the modernization of the process of hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, where highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals are inserted to fracture shale rock which releases natural gas.
While natural gas is a cleaner-burning energy source than coal, it is not emission-free. There is still some carbon dioxide emitted and drilling can have environmental impacts such as contamination of ground water, air quality risks, migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, and surface contamination from spills and flowback.
There are also concerns that the rise in use of natural gas could stall renewable energy efforts. The ultimate goal should still be a mix of increasing energy efficiency and clean energy with the balance kept to a minimum of natural gas.
So the upshot is that the U.S. energy picture is far from perfect, but the news concerning a drastic decline in U.S. carbon dioxide levels is welcome and positive because it reminds us that there is still time to turn around the fate of the planet’s climate.
More than a couple of our past blog posts have covered how increasingly extreme weather is the product of climate change. However, have you stopped to ask yourself what that really means? How will climate change affect us and future generations? What things that we currently enjoy will be unavailable to our children?
A recent article covers some things that global warming is likely to ruin for our kids; things such as coffee, chocolate, strawberries. And the list isn’t limited to agricultural food items. Say goodbye to blazing fast Wi-Fi. Also your favorite vacation spot or even your home may be underwater in a few, short decades time. The country you live in may disappear. The article has some shocking images of Greenland melting away.
So what’s it going to take to help preserve the Earth as we know it? Global carbon emissions need to be reduced 80% by 2050. The U.S. has already pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by approximately 17%. Eventually legislation will be enacted increasing the goal to a 30% reduction in 2025 and a 42% reduction in 2030, with the ultimate goal of reducing emissions 83% by 2050.
Do your part in reducing carbon emissions and getting us closer to meeting the goals outlined above. Start by switching your Internet browser to www.envirosearch.org. Your regular, daily Internet search activities will begin contributing to renewable energy, reforestation, and energy efficiency projects. Then go to www.carbonfund.org for ideas on how to reduce your carbon footprint and offset carbon emissions. By working together, and each doing our part, we can change the fate of the planet.
A recently published study out of the University of Michigan examined Generation X’s views on climate change and found them to be largely unconcerned with the issue.
The Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY) releases a quarterly research report and has followed the same 4,000 people for 25 years. Originally, in 1987, 5,900 students were selected from a national sample of 7th and 10th graders in 50 U.S. public school systems.
Generation X now comprises 32-52 year olds who are the most well-educated and scientifically savvy generation in U.S. history. However, the LSAY shows dwindling interest in climate change as it is a complex and long-term issue. The study compared responses from 2009 and 2011 and found that a scant two percent of those aged 37 to 40 follow climate change "very closely". This was a 50 percent drop from 2009 results. Over half said they follow climate change "not closely." More than 40 percent say they have only a "moderate concern" about global warming.
The most disturbing part of the report points to a disregard for future generations. Most do not see climate change as an immediate problem that requires their attention to address. A large percentage, 66 percent, said they aren’t sure that global warming is happening. About 10 percent even outright deny global warming is actually happening.
Why is Generation X disengaged, disinterested, or even openly disbelieving regarding climate change? The answer is as multifaceted as global warming itself. Disinterest in climate change is surely due in part to a massive and unprecedented disinformation campaign by oil and gas interests and conservative media outlets spanning more than a decade, even as the overwhelming scientific record points squarely to climate change. Some experts theorize issue fatigue may be the cause when a problem is long-standing. Others point to the complexity in understanding the underlying causes and potential solutions for climate change as a barrier to engagement with the issue. Still another potential answer is the distraction by other timely public policy issues. For example, interest in the economy experienced an upsurge following the Great Recession that began in 2008 to the detriment of environmental issues.
Whatever the reason, there is something every person in all generations can do to help save our planet. One easy and fast way to protect the environment is to switch your Internet browser to www.envirosearch.org. You'll be contributing to renewable energy, reforestation, and energy efficiency projects through you regular, daily Internet search activities. Another simple step is to use an emissions calculator to determine your personal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. Then reduce your carbon footprint, plant a tree, or offset your carbon emissions.
Download and read the entire study here http://lsay.org/GenX-4.pdf.