With Secretary Clinton’s announcement this week of a new coalition aimed at short-lived climate pollutants such as methane and soot, the U.S. is helping to focus international attention on a critical but frequently overlooked dimension of the climate challenge. To maximize its leadership on this front, the U.S. should also take stronger steps to tackle these pollutants at home.
The new multilateral effort to address short-lived climate pollutants (also called short-lived climate forcers) is an important recognition of both the scientific and political realities that surround climate change. A growing body of scientific evidence underscores the importance of near-term action to slow the rate of climate change, which is proceeding more rapidly than scientists predicted. Because methane, black carbon and hydroflurorocarbons (HFCs) have relatively short atmospheric lifetimes, reductions in these compounds will have significant near-term benefits in reducing climate change. In contrast, carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Reductions in CO2 are critical to limit the amount of warming over the longer term, but have more limited impact in the near term.
A common analogy to explain the link between climate change and extreme weather is gambling with “loaded dice.” For people who aren’t the gambling type but love America’s pastime, perhaps Barry Bonds’ homerun statistics would be more enlightening, or at least more entertaining. A new video from the National Center for Atmospheric Research draws an analogy between a batter on steroids and the “doping” of the atmosphere with manmade CO2.
A lot has changed in the two years since I made my first visit to the Washington Auto Show. Back then, gas prices averaged $2.68 per gallon and the Nissan LEAF looked like a “car of the future” compared to the other vehicles on the showroom floor. Now, prices at the pump are 25 percent higher, averaging $3.50 per gallon in 2011, and fuel costs are eating up the largest share of the average American’s income in over 30 years. Meanwhile, the auto industry is adapting their product line to their new environment and cooperating more closely with regulators. The 2012 auto show includes many more alternative vehicles like the all-electric Ford Focus (see picture below) and the Prius V, a 42 mile per gallon hybrid station wagon.
The White House Jobs Council recently released its year-end report outlining a plan to strengthen the United States’ economic future. While the tax and regulatory reform proposals are bound to cause disagreements, the Council developed pragmatic recommendations regarding energy’s role in improving the economy. The report recognizes the state of politics and low-carbon energy deployment, while highlighting the economic opportunities—including energy savings, leading emerging technology markets, and enhanced energy security—made possible by transitioning to a low-carbon economy. The Council’s energy recommendations include:
Climate change is the global innovation challenge of our time. That was the theme of a Green Innovators in Business Network “Solutions Lab” in Cambridge, MA, last month co-hosted by C2ES, EDF, Innocentive, and others. Dr. Andrew Hargadon, a leading expert in technology management and author of “The Business of Innovating,” articulated for participants the enormous scale of innovation needed to achieve a clean energy economy. “Low-carbon innovation” is about dealing with new problems—carbon emissions, skyrocketing energy costs—that emerge from traditional solutions for making our economy work, such as for transporting goods or lighting our buildings. Transforming energy-consuming activities to emit less carbon requires that we deploy new technologies that will work with conventional behaviors, and develop entirely new behaviors.