Climate Compass Blog

All Energy Sources Entail Risk, Efficiency a No-Brainer

At the moment, our attention is riveted by the events unfolding at a nuclear power plant in Japan. Over the past year or so, major accidents have befallen just about all of our major sources of energy: from the Gulf oil spill, to the natural gas explosion in California, to the accidents in coal mines in Chile and West Virginia, and now to the partial meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactor. We have been reminded that harnessing energy to meet human needs is essential, but that it entails risks. The risks of different energy sources differ in size and kind, but none of them are risk-free.

Rising Oil Prices: It’s About More Than What You Pay At The Pump

For many Americans, U.S. oil dependence has become a concern for reasons ranging from climate change and environmental protection to national security and the economic impact of higher gas prices. But there are other important impacts of our oil dependence, including how foreign oil contributes to the U.S. trade deficit and how rising oil prices decrease American jobs – both particularly salient issues on the current U.S. political agenda.  

A recent article from Daily Finance shines light on the 2010 trade deficit, more than half of which is from petroleum-related products. In 2010, the U.S. petroleum-related trade deficit was $256.9B, which represents a 29.6 percent jump from the 2009 petroleum trade deficit. This rise is largely due to increased prices, as the consumption of petroleum-related products in the United States grew by only 1.9 percent from 2009 to 2010 while the price per barrel of oil grew 31.1 percent to $74.66. An issue currently receiving a lot of attention in Washington, the $61B worth of cuts to the national budget sought by the U.S. House of Representatives, is equal to only one fourth of the country’s 2010 petroleum-related trade deficit.

Numbers that large can be hard to put into perspective, so let’s look at how this affects the average American. The graph below shows the U.S. petroleum-related trade deficit per capita (left axis), which is closely related to oil prices (right axis). In 2010 the petroleum-related trade deficit per capita was $832 and has ranged from $600 to $1200 in the past several years. This translates into each American household sending roughly $2,155 out of the U.S. economy in 2010 to pay for oil.



Rising oil prices not only increase the trade deficit, they decrease the number of jobs in America. As energy prices rise, businesses and consumers must spend more on energy and thus have less to spend elsewhere. In his presentation at our recent conference on state and federal roles in climate policy, Mark Doms, Chief Economist at the Department of Commerce, explained that when the price of oil goes up by just $10 per barrel, it translates into a loss of tens of thousands of jobs per month, or up to a quarter of a million U.S. jobs per year. Instead of losing jobs in order to maintain our use of oil, we should focus on creating jobs by investing in domestically produced alternative fuels and vehicles. 

In June 2008, oil prices spiked to $145 per barrel, and Americans paid for it at the pump as gas prices reached $4 per gallon. We could be headed into a similar situation, as oil prices rose above $105 per barrel earlier this month and are expected to continue to rise in 2011 and 2012. Because we rely on oil, a resource that is concentrated in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC, we face oil prices that are much higher than a competitive market would yield. This makes U.S. gasoline susceptible to price shocks, and American consumers pay more at the pump than they would in a competitive market.

Here we have highlighted two other important reasons why Americans should care about rising oil prices: they increase the U.S. trade deficit and can decrease domestic jobs. As oil prices continue to rise, these negative economic trends will also worsen. In order to mitigate the impacts of rising oil prices, we need to work towards a clean energy economy and promote the use of domestic alternative fuels and energy efficiency. This would decrease our oil dependence, making the United States less susceptible to rising oil prices while also creating more jobs here at home.

Monica Ralston is is the Innovative Solutions intern

What's The Car Of 2035?

This blog post also appeared on Edmunds Auto Observer

In movies like the iconic Demolition Man, we’re led to believe the future will be filled with cars well advanced from those on the road today (in the case of the Sylvester Stallone action flick, our cars will instantly fill with foam upon a collision). But what do the real experts think about the cars we’ll be driving in the future? For example, will our cars drive themselves like Google’s modified Toyota Prius?

We answer some of these questions in our recently released report that focuses on reducing the U.S. transportation sector's greenhouse gas emissions and oil use. The report details options available to automakers for building the cars of the future. It doesn’t attempt to predict the makeup of the car market in the future – that’s up to the consumer. Instead, the report highlights that many combinations of vehicles could significantly reduce oil use and greenhouse gas emissions in the future.

Minimizing the Costs of Extreme Weather

To see the economic costs of extreme weather you don’t have to look all the way to Russia where last summer’s heat wave caused extensive wildfires and crop losses roiled world markets for wheat.   Nor do you have to look as far as Europe where in the summer of 2003, a 1-in-500 year heat wave caused at least 35,000 premature deaths.  No, extreme weather events have recently occurred within the United States. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, extensive flooding in the region in 2008 caused damage estimates of $8-10 billion. In Nashville, Tennessee, in May 2010, a 1-in-1000 year storm caused floods resulting in more than $3 billion in damage.  

Whether you think these are just isolated incidents or are part of the emerging pattern of climate change, there is one thing we can all agree on. These events result in significant economic loss and to the extent we can build greater resilience into our economy to minimize losses from extreme weather, we will all be better off.

Updated Climate Change 101 Series Released

Kicking off the new year, we released an update of its Climate Change 101 series. Climate Change 101: Understanding and Responding to Global Climate Change is made up of brief reports on climate science and impacts; adaptation measures; technological and business solutions; and international, U.S Federal, State, and local action. Last released in January of 2009, the updated reports highlight the significance of the global negotiations, climate-related national security risks, local efforts to address climate change, the most recent predictions on global temperature changes, and more.