Climate Compass Blog

Small steps now, or big solutions? Both.

I recently replied to a question on the National Journal blog on what's keeping Washington from making the type of progress on energy and climate policy that is being made on other issues.

You can read responses at the National Journal.

Here is my response:

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Coping with coastal flood risk

Political leaders in the Northeast have very different ideas about how to treat coastal properties ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. Some aim to reduce development along exposed coasts while others say let’s rebuild. How they proceed could set important precedents for managing rising flood risk along the nation’s coasts. 

Motivated by concerns about more frequent and intense extreme weather, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to buy back damaged coastal properties from homeowners willing to sell and preserve the land as undeveloped public spaces. Cuomo’s plan would use funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which requires that purchased properties not be developed.  

The future of cars and light trucks

Can we reduce greenhouse gas emissions from running our cars and light trucks by 80 percent by 2050? According to a new report by the National Academy of Sciences, the answer is yes, but it will be difficult, and it can only happen with a set of strong, sustained, and adaptive public policies.  

For the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of serving on the NAS Committee that produced this new report. We concluded that four fuel and vehicle pathways can help us meet our goals: (1) continuous improvements in the efficiency of conventional gasoline-powered cars, (2) biofuels, (3) hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles, and (4) plug-in electric vehicles. Each of these could dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time, but each also faces enormous challenges.

Schools’ Challenge provides lasting lessons

Teaching students how to save energy and help the environment provides lessons that can last a lifetime. That’s the biggest takeaway of our third annual Change Our 2morrow (CO2) Schools’ Challenge.

The 2013 Schools’ Challenge, an initiative of Alcoa Foundation and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions’ Make an Impact program, took place last month in seven schools across five states. Thousands of middle school students, their teachers, families and community members participated in interactive lessons, completed an energy-saving pledge list, and calculated their carbon footprint as part of the month-long program. Collectively, 10,433 people committed to take actions in their daily lives that will save more than 21 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s equivalent to taking 2,000 cars off the road for one year.

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.