What Would Ronald Reagan Do About Climate Change?

This provocative question is raised by a new website, Climate Conservative, that launched today.  The site challenges some of the ideological dynamics about climate change and encourages conservatives to look beyond the echo chamber of talk radio to the facts and history of climate change.  It traces conservative thinking about environmental action through conservative thinkers from Edmund Burke to Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and relates how such thinking should apply to tackling the problem of climate change.

The website features some radio ads that are set to go on air in selected markets this week as well.  The ads highlight steps President Reagan took on international environmental cooperation, remarkably, described in his own words.  For instance, Reagan overruled skeptics about the effects of ozone-depleting chemical to pursue the Montreal Protocol to remarkable effect.  It’s a fantastic parallel to the current need of conservatives to take on climate skeptics and do what’s environmentally and economically right for the country.

From Shop Floor to Top Floor

From factory floors to corporate boardrooms, energy efficiency is top of mind for a growing number of businesses and their employees. Leading companies are pioneering new energy efficiency strategies that result in greater productivity, robust financial savings, and a lower carbon footprint. Today, we released a major study that examines key practices of a diverse collection of corporations at the vanguard of innovative energy efficiency solutions.

The report, From Shop Floor to Top Floor: Best Business Practices in Energy Efficiency, features insights from detailed research and analysis collected over nearly two years. The study represents the centerpiece of our Corporate Energy Efficiency Conference next week in Chicago.

The Other Carbon

Most development and analysis of climate change policies have focused on reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs), which are widely recognized as the major contributors to climate change. And as we blogged about last year, far less attention has been given to black carbon (BC). However things may be changing. Inspired by University of California – San Diego professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan’s Foreign Affairs article, “The Other Climate Changers,” the United States House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming held a hearing last Tuesday to investigate the impacts of black carbon pollution. The takeaway message from this hearing is that BC policies should be complementary to efforts to reduce GHG gases. Reductions in emissions of black carbon would have near-term effects on reducing global warming that are not possible from actions directed at carbon dioxide and other long-lived gases. Reducing BC is good for the environment, public health, and creates jobs. We recently published a detailed primer on BC science and policy.

Both professors Ramanathan and Tami Bond of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign gave an overview of the science of black carbon – uncombusted materials like soot and smoke. A growing body of evidence indicates that soot and smoke are major contributors, possibly second only to carbon dioxide, to human-induced global warming. BC warms the air by absorbing sunlight in the atmosphere, changes rainfall patterns and, when deposited on snow and ice, accelerates melting. According to Professor Ramanathan, BC’s warming effect is around 40 to 70 percent of that of carbon dioxide. However, unlike carbon dioxide, black carbon does not accumulate in the atmosphere; it stays in the atmosphere for a few weeks, so the impacts are more concentrated in the areas where they are produced, and reducing BC emissions would have near-term benefits in those areas.

BC is produced by both natural processes and human activity from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass. According to Professor Ramanthan, the regional effects of BC are particularly large over the Arctic, Africa, and Asia. BC leads to increased melting of snow and ice in the Arctic, Sahelian drought, and decreased monsoon rainfall. Primary sources include diesel engines, small industrial sources, residential coal and solid biofuels for cooking and heating, and agricultural and forest fires.

Since the impacts of BC are regional, there are significant local environment, public health, and economic benefits of reducing BC emissions. Reducing BC emissions in India for example, would not only produce environmental benefits of cleaner air and negate rainfall loss, but would also save lives. Professor Ramanathan’s calculations indicate that replacing cook stoves in India with advanced biomass stoves could prevent 2 million deaths from the reduction of particulate matter produced by traditional stoves. Mitigating BC emissions would also prevent reduced rainfall and reduced agriculture yields.

According to another panelist, Conrad Schneider, Advocacy Director of the Clean Air Task Force, reducing BC emissions can create clean jobs here in the United States. Even though BC isn’t much of a climate forcing in the U.S. and a potentially expensive source of reductions, there is a billion dollars worth of work to reduce diesel’s BC emissions. For example, retrofitting 11 million diesel engines in the U.S. today could achieve the same environmental benefit as removing 21 million cars from the road, would save approximately 7,500 lives through reduced particulate matter pollution, and create tens of thousands of domestic jobs.

In order to get the environmental, economic, and public health benefits of reduced BC emissions, all the witnesses agreed that action must be taken. For more information, please check our white paper on the climate impacts of black carbon.

Weyerhaeuser Joins USCAP

While opponents of a clean-energy economy try to frame both climate legislation and the US Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) as dead wood, today Weyerhaeuser—the multi-billion dollar forest products company—confounded those voices in announcing it has joined the USCAP coalition.  The company has long had a commitment to address climate change, and it has been an active member of our Business Environmental Leadership Council for nearly twelve years. 

This is more than a lone green shoot, as Weyerhaeuser joins an ever-growing chorus of companies calling for the U.S. economy to regain its competitive edge rather than let other countries corner the emerging global clean-energy market.  Weyerhaeuser, like the 24 companies in USCAP, 46 companies in BELC, 65+ companies on the recent Wall Street Journal and Politico ad and the over 2600 companies in the American Business for Clean Energy Coalition, all understand that we can protect our natural resources and future generations from climate change, while creating American jobs, taking back control of our own energy future, and enhancing our national security. 

The business community is leading on the issue—now we need the Senate to follow.

Tim Juliani is Director of Corporate Engagement in the Markets & Business Strategy group

Breaking the Ice on U.S. Clean Energy Opportunities

On Friday, March 12, we held a briefing on jobs and opportunities in clean energy markets.

Today, the President signed an Executive Order creating an Export Promotion Cabinet of top officials and an Export Promotion Council, a private-sector advisory body. This Executive Order serves to highlight once again how important American exports and competitiveness are to economic recovery and continued US economic strength.  While much hand-wringing has occurred over the potential for climate and energy policy to hurt the ability of U.S. firms to compete in international markets, the opportunity of such policy to enhance the competitiveness of U.S. businesses has received less notice. The irony is that even as the planet warms, the United States may be left standing out in the cold if it doesn’t choose to lead in the development of next-generation energy technologies.