Climate Compass Blog
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 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.
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.
Last year’s extreme drought, wildfires and the devastation of Hurricane Sandy have driven home the high economic costs associated with extreme weather. The increasing frequency and intensity of such events make it clear that climate change presents a real and present danger. It no longer can be dismissed as a problem only of concern to our children or grandchildren.
This increased urgency has also caused an important shift in our understanding of what actions are required to slow the rate of climate change. Recent studies have focused on the need for a two-pronged approach. Reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, some portion of which stays in the atmosphere for centuries, is critical to long-term efforts. But curbing greenhouse gases with shorter atmospheric lifetimes will have significant near-term climate and public health benefits.
Hurricane Sandy inflicted tremendous damage on New York’s coastal communities. The threat of more intense, more frequent storms driven by climate change has led Gov. Andrew Cuomo to propose limiting development in vulnerable locations. Just as Sandy provided a preview of future climate risks, the governor’s proposal may offer an example of one effective response.