Climate Compass Blog

Go green when you go back to school

Millions of students, from kindergarten through college, are heading back to class, and the start of a new school year is always accompanied by the need for new stuff.

This is a costly time for families; the National Retail Federation estimates an average of $635 per student is spent on back to school apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics. In addition to looking for what’s chic or cheap, students and parents might also want to consider having a lighter impact on the environment.

Here are some “CliffsNotes “on how to be a little more eco-friendly this fall:

Headwinds for coal

In a significant shift, government-run institutions financing overseas development have taken a series of steps this summer to sharply curtail their investments in coal-fired power plants.

In June, President Obama said that the United States would no longer finance coal plants through the US Export-Import Bank unless they used carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology or there was no other option for the poorest countries to generate electricity. In July, the World Bank announced it would provide financial assistance to new coal projects “only in rare circumstances.” And later last month, the European Investment Bank (EIB) said it would stop funding new and refurbished coal plants unless they emit less than 550g carbon dioxide/kWh (~1,200 lb carbon dioxide/MWh), about half of what the average U.S. coal plant emits.

It makes sense that financial decisions should factor in environmental impacts: Continued investment in an energy source that is only going to lead to increased costs from extreme weather and other climate change impacts makes no sense. As a practical matter, however, these steps by themselves are unlikely to slow the coal plant-building binge in China and India, or make significant reductions in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Update on social cost of carbon was overdue

Some in Congress have reacted strongly to the Obama administration’s recent increase of the estimated value of the “social cost of carbon.” House proposals range from re-examining the process used to develop the estimate to barring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from using the figure in developing regulations.

The social cost of carbon is one of many economic tools devised by experts and regulators to better weigh the relative costs and benefits of proposed government actions.

In its most basic sense, the social cost of carbon is the estimated economic cost of the impacts caused to society by climate change. In other words, it’s an attempt to estimate the costs associated with rising sea levels, more frequent and intense heat waves, and other climate-related consequences from increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Carbon capture and storage is working, but we'll need to do more

In announcing his climate action plan, President Obama highlighted a vital technology for reducing emissions: carbon capture and storage. I recently had the opportunity to tour a first-of-its-kind CCS operation at an Air Products plant in Port Arthur, Texas.

Air Products has integrated state-of-the-art CO2 capture technology into an existing hydrogen plant. Despite being the most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen must be separated from other compounds, and CO2 is a byproduct of the separation process. On our tour of the Port Arthur project, we viewed the capture equipment that separates CO2 from a gas stream before compressing it for transportation via pipeline. Each year, about one million tons of CO2 will be captured and transported for underground storage, rather than being released into the atmosphere.

The project is a milestone for several reasons.

Renters can help save energy

One in three. That’s how many U.S. households are occupied by renters. It is a population of 94.5 million people living in 38.8 million homes in cities, suburbs, and small towns across the country.

This growing population is taking advantage of benefits like easier mobility, minimal maintenance responsibilities, and the financial flexibility offered by renting. But if renters want to save energy – and save money in the process – there aren’t many places to turn for advice and ideas tailored to their needs.