Tag Archives: global warming

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

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Fort Worth Green Movie Night

The First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church is hosting Green Movie night this Friday from 7-9pm, followed by a presentation from the Sierra Club on local climate issues and how to stop the warming.

Where: First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church, 1959 Sandy Ln Fort Worth, TX 76112
When: 7pm-9pm

See a preview of “Extreme Ice” here:

Green Sanctuary Movie Night

The Green Sanctuary Team along with the Sierra Club will host a Movie Night on March 22 at 7pm in Coleman Hall, featuring the documentary Extreme Ice and a presentation by a Sierra Club Member. All ages are welcome!

Extreme Ice focuses on climate change shown through time-lapse cameras set by internationally acclaimed photojournalist James Balog, who has placed equipment in more than two dozen glacial locations around the world in order to assess the impact of global warming. Cameras shoot once an hour during daylight. The endeavor will build an archive of some 300,000 images over two years and is one of the most comprehensive photographic studies undertaken on shrinking glaciers and rising sea levels.

For Information on joining us, call Nancy Hynes (682) 552-0968,nkhynes@gmail.com.

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Wake Up and Stop Texas from Burning, Governor Perry

 Texas is in an unprecedented environmental emergency.

Eighty-one percent of the state is currently suffering exceptional drought.  It’s the worst one-year drought Texas has experienced in 116 years of state records. 

 Texas is literally on fire.  Over 3.6 million acres have burned in wildfires topping the record 1.8 million acres burned in 2010 with less than four months left.  There’ve been over 21,000 fires in Texas and wildfires in the state for 300 straight days. The Bastrop fire has been burning out of control for six days and nearly 1,400 homes have been destroyed 30 miles from the state capitol leaving Austin in clouds of toxic smoke. 

CLIMATE CHANGE Governor Perry has shown concern about the severe drought and wildfires.  Now it’s time for Perry to stop denying the root causes of climate change and take action to address those causes.

Climate change is caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions.  Coal plants are the largest industrial source of carbon dioxide (CO2), the chief global warming gas.  Texas’ 19 coal-fired plants are the worst industrial cause of life-threatening, climate triggered perils that we are experiencing.  Texas coal-fired plants emit over 150 Million Tons of CO2 every year – over 99% of Texas coal plant air pollution — is currently unregulated.  Defended by Governor Perry, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and the Texas Public Utility Commission, the Texas coal plants are continuing to heat our atmosphere, fueling the drought conditions leading to wildfires and putting 24 million Texans in harm’s way.

Texans’ health and lives are at risk!  Governor Perry and his appointees who lead Texas state agencies must address the biggest root cause of climate change in our state – coal plant CO2 emissions.

 OZONE, TOO   Beside smoke from wildfires, 18 million Texans are breathing harmful ozone.  Ozone is caused when nitrogen oxide emissions from factories like coal plants mix with volatile organic compounds in sunlight creating ground-level smog.  According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Texans have suffered 56 bad air days in 2011 when the ozone levels were unsafe. 

 After cutting funds by 75% from the Texas Forest Service year, Governor Perry is now calling for help to fight wildfires from the same federal government that he attacked in law suits for trying to protect Americans air from unsafe coal plant pollution.  Perry enlisted the TCEQ, the Rail Road Commission, and the Texas PUC to fight new federal safeguards against both CO2 and ozone.

 By fighting federal safeguards against ozone, Governor Perry and state agency leaders are denying that serious problem too.  They need to wake up to the reality of our ozone problem and help, not hinder, efforts to clean up our air and cool the atmosphere.

 WHAT’S BAD FOR BUSINESS?  Perry, ERCOT – Texas’ electricity grid operator, and the PUC claims that Texas doesn’t have enough electricity sources in our state and that the better ozone standard would hurt business and cost jobs.  Yet, ERCOT’s own reports show that the grid was secure even when 5000 additional megawatts were forced off-line. 

 There are many non-polluting steps we can take to manage electricity demand more efficiently while generating lower pollution from Texas power plants.

 To Governor Perry, ERCOT, and PUC, we say: Wake up! 

 The price tag for drought and wildfire destruction is too high.  Losses to Texas’ agriculture alone were about $5.2 billion before the Labor Day weekend fires. We now face greater costs. Ignoring climate change and fighting, rather than supporting, clean energy solutions is costing Texans lives, homes, and jobs.

 FIRST RESPONDERS COMMITMENT  On the campaign trail, Governor Perry has repeatedly criticized public works programs like the New Deal, yet Texas firefighters fought to protect the beautiful cabins built by New Deal workers in Bastrop State Park this week.

 Perry, ERCOT, and the PUC need to respond like our brave fire fighters putting out the blazing wildfires across Texas.  The Governor and state leaders must recognize and extinguish the root cause of these problems – the massive burning of coal in coal-fired power plants in Texas.  There’s a safer, cleaner, cheaper way, Governor, and the stakes are too high to continue to allow the burning of dirty coal.

Neil Carman, PhD Chemist, Sierra Club Clean Air Program Director, September 9, 2011

Texas Cared about Climate Change in 1991

Check out this little jewel, in legislation drafted by our current Lone Star Chapter President, Ken Kramer, PhD. in 1991:

Health and Safety Code, Title 5. Sanitation and Environmental Quality, Subtitle C. Air Quality, Chapter 382. Clean Air Act, Subchapter A. General Provisions, Sec. 382.0205.

Special Problems related to air contaminant emissions. Consistent with applicable federal law, the commission by rule may control air contaminants as necessary to protect against adverse effects related to:

1) acide deposition;

2)stratospheric changes, including depletion of ozone;

3) climatic changes, including global warming.

Bam. You better believe it.

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What do you see from 9,000 feet?

State Representative Allan Ritter sat down last week for what turned out to be a productive tête a tête with the leaders of the Golden Triangle’s environmental community.  As the Chair of House Natural Resources, Ritter and this relaxed yet erudite community of advocates were already acquainted.

Representative Ritter’s experience of 80 degree temperatures at 9,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies on a recent autumn trip may have helped prepare Representative Ritter for what was the fifth in a series of almost a dozen TCEQ Sunset Town Hall meetings taking place across the state.   He said that sweating in the heat at that elevation in the Rockies in  autumn, his first thought was ‘This must be global warming.”

Thank you, Representative Ritter for voicing a concern we share and breaking a relative silence that has prevailed at the Texas Legislature on that subject.

The overwhelming majority of scientists back you.  From today’s Austin American-Statesman —

Today , the American Geophysical Union, the country’s largest association of climate scientists, plans to announce that 700 climate scientists have agreed to speak out as experts on questions about global warming and the role of air pollution caused by humans.

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Perry’s TCEQ Commissioners Fail Yet Again to Protect Public Health

Governor Rick Perry's TCEQ Loves Coal Plants. Ignores Pleas of People for Healthy Clean Air.

Despite the wisdom of the Matagorda County medical community’s pleas in a letter signed by 30 doctors, despite its own Administrative Law Judges’ recommendations, despite the wishes of the residents of Matagorda County in the No Coal Coalition, Governor Perry’s Commissioners at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) today granted the White Stallion coal plant permit to pollute.   

This morning,  while citizens from Matagorda County including a class of  school children watched, Chairman Shaw and Commissioners Garcia and Rubio, criticized the recommendations from the state’s administrative law judges and decided to grant the permit with special conditions.  Sierra Club once again calls on the state legislature to reform the TCEQ so that it cannot continue to ignore federal and state air quality standards during the permitting process.  

Air polution from Coal Plants is Linked to Asthma, other Respiratory Ailments, Heart Disease, Neurological Disorders, and Early Mortality.

 “Once again, the Commissioners are doing the work for the applicant and using this failed system to avoid public input.”  said Jen Powis Senior Regional Representative for Sierra Club.  “Today’s decision is another pitiful example of how Governor Perry and his political cronies ignore federal and state law and reward companies to pollute in Texas.”  

The Cronies — Perry’s TCEQ Commissioners Shaw, Garcia, and Rubinstein

  

“TCEQ is a failed agency and has failed the citizens of Texas again.”  said Allison Sliva with the No Coal Coalition of Matagorda County.   “The administrative law judges didn’t like this permit, elected officials in Matagorda County and Houston have raised serious questions about it, and the citizens don’t like it.  But rather than consider these criticisms, the Commissioners ignored these concerns and simply granted it.”    
Read more about what happenedMourn…then, organize!

And now for the lighter side: Energy efficiency is the short-term answer to combating global warming in Texas

While over 300 residents of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana traveled to the  big hearings in Dallas to discuss needed regulation of that nasty coal ash, here in Austin, the Comptroller of Public Accounts has finally released their draft report on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Strategies, known by us insider types as the SB 184 Report. The report was required by the Texas Legislature after Senator Kirk Watson convinced his colleagues in the Senate and House and even our governor that it might be a good idea to look at policies and strategies we could take as a state that would reduce global warming gases BUT THAT WOULD ALSO SAVE US MONEY — and yes, create economic development. While only a report, the ideas contained therein could actually lead to legislative or state agency action over the coming months.

By the way — you the public — can comment on the draft report right now by submitting your comments to TexasNoRegrets@cpa.texas.us. All written comments on the draft report are part of the public record.

The report did not happen magically, but was the result of months of analysis and workgroup meetings. AS you can expect, groups like Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Public Citizen and Environment Texas were all involved in proposing strategies, as those scared by the prospect — Texas Association of Business, the manufacturers, the oil and gas association — also participated and provided their perspective. The result is a bare bones report that lists 20 “consensus” strategies to reduce global warming gases in Texas that result in net savings for consumers or businesses in the state, and another 11 strategies where some thought they would result in net savings, while others — like the Texas Oil and Gas Association — argued there were too many potential costs to them.

Just what are these “consensus” strategies? energy efficient buildings, energy-efficient equipment, capturing methane from landfills, making our schools and public buildings water efficient, our heavy-duty trucks aerodynamic, increasing the use of fuel-efficient tires, allowing pay-as-you-go insurance, hybridization of our fleets. You get the idea — small policy changes that transform buildings and vehicles to run more efficiently and use less energy, but that taken together will make a serious dent in global warming emissions while protecting our wallets.As an example, the State Energy Conservation Office recently ruled that Texas cities and counties must adopt the latest version of the energy codes for new buildings — the 2009 IECC and the 2009 IRC —  by April of 2011 or January of 2012, and by simply adopting those codes as soon as possible, new homes and businesses in Texas would be some 15% more efficient in their electricity and natural gas use compared to the old state minimum standards. We were in El Paso just last week talking to the City about doing just that. (I’m about to do a blog about that too)

Some of the more direct suggestions by Sierra Club and others — requiring refineries to improve energy efficiency and improve their “flaring” process, increasing boiler efficiencies, or having the Public Utility Commission finally enforce the provision to require 500 MWs of solar and other renewable technologies –proved too controversial among some of our business friends but they are still there in the draft report for people to comment on.

Of course, everyone knows that the real answer to global warming is going to be transitioning away from Big Oil and Dirty Coal, but while we transition, there are literally dozens -or at least 20 according to the Comptroller Report — that we can begin doing right now to make a serious downpayment in the fight against climate change — and by the way create a little change in our pockets.

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