Climate Compass Blog

Party like it's 1994

Some good news on U.S. carbon emissions: They fell again last year. Carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels used for transportation, power, industry and in our homes fell 3.4 percent in 2012, according to a report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).  In fact, they’ve fallen 12 percent since their 2007 peak, to the lowest level since 1994.

Why were carbon emissions down last year? The short answer is because we used less coal and petroleum, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels. But there are various reasons for that decline in use.

Champions of Change ceremony awards climate advocates

Photo courtesy UnofficialSquaw.com/Flickr

The White House last week honored 12 people from across the United States who are taking a leadership role in their communities on climate change.

The Champions of Change recipients are working in fields as diverse as military contracting, coastal restoration, and agriculture, but what ties them together is their belief in the importance of taking action on climate change.

One award winner, snowboarding pioneer Jeremy Jones is the founder of Protect Our Winters (POW), an advocacy group that is mobilizing the winter sports community to take action on climate change.  Skiers and snowboarders are witnessing the effects of climate change firsthand as snowfall patterns shift and snow season gets shorter. These changes also haven’t escaped the attention of companies like the Aspen Skiing Company, which signed the Ceres’ “Climate Declaration” calling for Congress to act on climate change. POW’s success in getting the message out to the winters sports community highlights how a personal, impacts-related climate message can resonate, especially when there are solutions available to address the problem.

Also receiving recognition was Fred Yoder, a fourth-generation farmer involved with the 25x’25 Alliance, a group that promotes renewable sources of land-based energy. Yoder noted that farms have a huge potential to both reduce the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change and build resilience to the impacts we cannot avoid.

On our own?

Spring not only brings us daffodils and cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., but also occasionally powerful thunderstorms that can knock out power to thousands of homes and businesses.

I live in one of those northern and western suburbs of DC that tend to lose power fairly frequently.

It used to be that one of the few nice things about losing power was the sound of silence. But those days are gone. Now losing power has a new sound: the whirring of the startup of my neighbors’ backup generators.

We need power not only to keep our food from spoiling and protect us from uncomfortable and even dangerous heat, but also to stay connected. As a nation, we are becoming ever more dependent on electronic devices. We cannot survive without our cell phones and computers, let alone our refrigerators and air conditioners. At the same time, climate change threatens the reliability of the grid through more intense heat waves and potentially more powerful storms.

While it’s easy to say we should work to prevent disruption in electricity, how much should we invest to bolster the resilience of the grid? And who should pay?

Recycling's future: Sorting it out

Recycling in the United States has made enormous strides over the last 40 years, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. I learned at a recent Residential Recycling Conference in Chicago that although approximately 75 percent of our waste is recyclable, we currently only recycle about 30 percent. The other 45 percent goes into landfills.

Reducing the amount of trash we discard, reusing products, and recycling as much as possible helps conserve energy and reduces pollution and greenhouse gases. As our Make an Impact website explains, waste is created throughout the life cycle of a product -- resource extraction, manufacturing, and disposal. For example, it takes seven times more energy to manufacture aluminum using virgin material than recycled material. Also, while many landfills capture the methane they release, not all do. Solid waste landfills are the third largest source of U.S. emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

China eyes a carbon tax

With the idea of a carbon tax starting to get more attention in Washington, word now comes from Beijing that the Chinese government is thinking seriously about putting the idea into practice.

A senior official from China’s Ministry of Finance recently described  plans for a national carbon tax as part of a new package of environmental protection taxes. The new package, which would replace existing pollution discharge fees, would also include taxes to encourage conservation of coal and water.