Tag Archives: greenhouse gas emissions

Humans vs. Earth’s Climate: Preparing for Battle

When I first heard the phrase “climate change”, I, like many others, was undecided on the matter and really didn’t have a clue what that phrase was supposed to mean. Should I be scared? I hope the daily climate would change all the time over here in Texas. This confusion led to a trip to the internet, where ignorance is optional, and over time I read a lot about it, trying to avoid opinionated rants while relying on credible sources of information to mold my perception of the truth. I found myself studying the carbon cycle, reading those really long and uninteresting scientific papers, and watching documentaries such as Chasing Ice, where a scientist captures glaciers in motion through time lapsed photography as they recede and disappear. I really dove in. The deeper I dove the more evidence came to support the notion that earth’s climate system is changing and our planet is slowly warming in a way that will likely be detrimental if not dealt with.

the blue marble

Home Sweet Home

What a massive and complex force to have to deal with. Trying to mitigate a change in the Earth’s climate seems like a pretty daunting feet. So, how do we solve this problem? I guess the default answer would be, “to find the solution.” However, I believe “the solution” needs to be rephrased with “many solutions, collaboratively recognized and implemented worldwide.” A major part of this solution needs to face one of the most influential causes of climate change, such as our current escalated contribution of greenhouse gases (GHG’s), namely carbon dioxide and methane, to the atmosphere.

Explanation of Green House Gases (GHG’s):

GHG’s, when in higher concentration in the atmosphere, cause the atmosphere to trap more and more of the sun’s energy, resulting in the warming of our planet.

Nasa's explanation of GHG's

Nasa’s explanation of GHG’s

This process becomes worrisome when you consider that the carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere has increased by more than 35% since 1975 and is at an 800,000 year high. Even more worrisome is the fact that, according to the National Research Council, “the average temperature of Earth’s surface increased by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit  over the past one hundred years with 1 degree of this warming occurring over just the past three decades.”

So if this is really happening, how do we stop it? Well, one could start with the major source of this greenhouse gas concentration increase, which can be attributed primarily to the growth in carbon dioxide emissions from rapid expansion of fossil fuel burning. Other attributing factors include deforestation and land use and land cover changes.

Explanation of fossil fuel burning’s role in the carbon cycle:

Previous plant and animal remains trapped within geological structures in places all over the world, along with millions of years of heat and pressure, have created reservoirs of natural gas, oil, and coal. These reservoirs, in the form of hydrocarbons (long chains of Hydrogen and Carbon), have been stored sources of Carbon for a great amount of time. When these reservoirs are extracted and undergo a combustion reaction, they produce energy in the form of heat with new chemical species being formed, such as carbon dioxide (a green house gas).

I’m fascinated by our capability to discover these remains of ancient life forms and even more so at our ability to use them to meet the present day needs of our energy-reliant society. However, with a global oil production of 83.6 million barrels a day in 2011, this Carbon which has been stored underground for an extremely long amount of time is now being released into our system at a rapid rate… so would the statement, “too much of a good thing, is a bad thing” apply here?

I understand that the burning of fossil fuels is integral to our way of life and energy needs. The intricacy and complications of making rapid emission cuts would have great impacts for our infrastructure and societies. However, the likely effects of climate change/global warming could have even greater, more damaging, impacts on our infrastructure and societies. This is why it is necessary to confront this issue now and progress towards a greater reliance on renewable energy for our present and future energy needs.

This progression is much easier said than done and will undoubtedly be met with great opposition, especially by those involved in fossil fuel energy production (people like my mom). However, I like to perceive it as simply as one of my favorite environmental quotes, “if you get to the cliff, you can take one step forward or turn 180 degrees and take a step forward”.

For one, we’ve already discovered, engineered, and implemented many new means of capturing energy (wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass), all of which are readily available in specific regions, produce nearly no emissions, and are, except for hydroelectric, far less water intensive. We already have a large part of the solution, all we need is implementation. More positive progression was initiated this week as President Obama, leader of a nation that ranks as a close second place behind China in GHG emissions and energy consumption, made a speech that presented some bold, progressive goals: using full authority of the clean air act of 1970 to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, accelerating the implementation of more renewable energy that will “power 6 million homes by 2020″, and reducing energy waste through new energy efficiency. He also is trying to push congress to end the tax breaks for big oil companies to invest in  “the clean energy economies that will fuel our future” and is calling for initiatives to prepare for the inevitable future effects of climate change.

Implementation of these plans will take time, will require governmental initiatives to speed up the process, and will require specific measures to alleviate the negative impacts such change will have on certain individuals. An example of governmental measures to take would be to reduce the massive amount of money that is used to subsidize fossil fuel production and to allocate that money to renewable energy implementation. To alleviate this energy production shift on individuals, retiring fossil fuel companies will need to provide a just transition for its employees: examples include a large preliminary warning, new training, and good retirement packages.

It’s very exciting that the willingness and need to change has been stated by one of the world’s most influential people, but the battle has only yet to begin and many other solutions will need to be presented and implemented if we hope to come out on top. However, optimism is reborn from the depressing ashes of climate change talk as I reflect on how incredibly smart we are as a human race, how much we already know about the issue, and our amazing problem-solving abilities and can’t help but think, this is going to be a good fight.

Written by: Chase Cobb

How to Really “Eat Local” in Austin

So we’ve all heard the term “local” being tossed around recently. We’ve all been told that eating locally grown food is better for the environment. But what exactly does this term mean? How local is local?

In fact, there are no true regulations pertaining to what is allowed to be labeled local in terms of food.  Many large grocery chains get away with labeling food from as far away as California and Southern Mexico local in Texan stores, places that the majority of Texans would not consider to be close neighbors.  Most of us seem to think that by purchasing a product at the grocery store emblazoned with the “L” word, we are automatically doing good for Mother Earth. Sadly, this is too often not the case.

Thankfully, the city of Austin and community groups are doing a lot to bring local food back to its roots. Community gardens seem to be popping up everywhere in our city, providing residents with a place to interact with nature and others while creating a pleasant space for all who wish to visit. These plots are open for residents, young and old, who have an interest in growing their own food. The gardens encourage self sufficiency and reduce the need for transportation, the most climate burdening process involved in commercial farming.

Homewood Heights Community Garden

Another excellent way Austin promotes truly local food is through the community farmers’ markets. If you live in or near the city you can’t call yourself a true Austinite until you  venture out on a Saturday morning to experience the joy and excitement  of The Austin Farmers’ Market. Each week brings fresh, new varieties of produce and goods produced by family-owned farms from within Central Texas.

Restaurants in the Austin area make it even easier to live a local lifestyle. Many eateries we know and love use locally grown produce in their menus. 24 Diner, Kerbey Lane Cafe, and Walton’s all rely on local farms to supply their customers with fresh, seasonal food.

Eating locally is essential to reducing our impact on our environment. Eliminating reliance on mass transportation and reducing/eliminating use of pesticides and other chemicals makes all the difference when it comes to sustainable living. The city of Austin offers many different ways in which one can become involved in their local food community. Hope to see you at a community garden or market soon!

Helpful Links:

Coalition of Austin Community Gardens- A full list of the community gardens around Austin and surrounding areas

Edible Austin - Publication that informs readers of local food advancements and opportunities in Austin and Central Texas

Real Time Farms- Online food guide to local farms and restaurants that serve local produce

Slow Food Austin- Providing activities and education for a more sustainable Austin food community

Sustainable Food Center Farmers Markets- Full information on the local farmers markets and the opportunities they hold

- Tansy Stobart, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Intern

Clean Air Rules!

The EPA released the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) today protecting the health of millions of Americans. The new rule helps 27 states to lower air pollution and improve air quality for all through the reduction of emissions from coal plants that add to ozone and fine particle pollution.

This new rule replaces the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule, which in 2008 a court ordered the EPA to replace.

Health Impacts

The EPA estimates that this new rule will keep Americans healthy by preventing:

  • up to 34,000 cases of premature mortality
  • 15,000 non-fatal heart attacks
  • 19,000 hospital and emergency department visits
  • 420,000 cases of upper and lower respiratory symptoms
  • 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma

This adds up to avoiding 1.8 million days of work or school missed by Americans and saving $280 billion/year! According to EPA Administrator, this rule will prevent 670-1,000 premature deaths by 2014 in Texas alone.

Other Impacts

The CSAPR will also:

  • Allow families to enjoy the summer without smog.
  • Increase visibility in national parks.
  • Protect sensitive ecosystems
  • More jobs through new construction of pollution controls, according to the EPA

Affects in Texas

“There is no reason why Texas shouldn’t get the benefits of this extraordinary rule like the rest of the country.” –Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator

Texas was one of the states included in this rule, which sets limits for NOx and SO2emissions. While some in the energy industry are complaining that there was not enough time to comment on this rule, according to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson they were given plenty of time and made a number of comments. The pollution controls are widely available and many power plants have already invested in them.

Also, this rule will help Texas, since Texas is affected by ozone from 11 other states! Most major cities in Texas will be out of attainment when the EPA releases its new ozone standards. Click here to see a map!  Moreover, Texans are the people most severely impacted by pollution from power plants, so the CSAPR will help us to lower pollution in our state benefiting many across Texas.

For more information go to the EPA’s website at: http://www.epa.gov/airtransport/

Also, next week Texas environmental groups will release new data that details pollution problems at existing coal plants and underscores the importance EPA’s inclusion of Texas in this new Cross State Air Pollution rule.

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson thinks it is a fundamental right for people to be able to breathe clean air and raise their families without the health threats of air pollution. Don’t you agree?

Click here to sign a petition supporting the EPA’s new proposal for mercury standards and continue protecting the health of American families!

Join us at a meeting!The Austin group of the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club on the 2nd Tuesday of every month (except holidays) at 7pm (with a social hour starting at 6pm) in North Dining Room of Scholz’ Beer Garten, 1607 San Jacinto.

-Julia Von Alexander, Beyond Coal Intern


The People vs. Pet-coke: Las Brisas hearing delayed

The Las Brisas SOAH hearings have been delayed to October 18th.

The two administrative law judges decided in a conference call hearing this afternoon to postpone the upcoming Las Brisas air permit hearing, originally scheduled to last 4 days starting on September 7th, to late October.  The judges decided this based on the fact that a key witness for the Protestants (that’s the legal term for people ‘protesting’ an issue at hand…not the religious denomination), an air dispersion modeler, was seriously injured in a car accident yesterday.

This is significant for Las Brisas.  They want to get their permit issued by the TCEQ before 1/2/10 to avoid greenhouse gas regulation. Today’s decision by the ALJs makes it almost impossible that Las Brisas could beat that clock.

This is clearly not a done deal, because although the two judges were clear about their decision to postpone the hearing, Las Brisas’ counsel indicated he would be filing several motions and appealing directly to the three Governor-appointed TCEQ Commissioners.

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