Tuesday, June 27, 2017

More Evidence of the Power of Distributed Climate Change Policy in the U.S. from the U.S. Conference of Mayors

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As I have been writing for the last several weeks (see here, here, and here), the historic strength in U.S. climate change policy has been with cities and states and not with the federal government. While there was much hope that President Obama would make significant change, he never had support from congress to enact significant legislation.

Now that we are in a different era and climate change deniers are in charge of U.S. climate policy, the cities, states, and private sector are taking on a larger role in climate change initiatives. Check out this article from The New York Times by Lizette Alvarez about the work of the U.S. Conference of Mayors on climate change. 

At a meeting this week in Miami, the mayors spent a day discussing how cities can respond to climate change problems. The article details some of the responses, but to me, one of the most important things that the mayors did is to develop measurable benchmarks to try to achieve sustainability goals. One particular goal is to make U.S. cities run on 100% renewable energy by 2035. It is an achievable goal and I think it is a great step forward.

We all set goals in our lives to try to achieve things we want. We set educational goals, financial goals, family goals, and bucket lists. Sustainability works the same way. Organizations that do not develop goals maintain the status quo. They stagnate and do not change with the times or the needs of society. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, through its work on sustainability, sets a strong example how other organizations can respond to climate change in our age of distributed climate change policy.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Today I continue my series on all 129 U.S. National Monuments. This is in follow up to my series that featured open access photos of all of the U.S. National Parks. In the coming years, I will highlight open access images all of the U.S. National Monuments in alphabetical order.

Today's featured monument is Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in Arizona. This is not one of the monuments that is under review for delisting as per executive order by the president. Following the photos is a list of U.S. National Monuments previously featured on this blog.

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Admiralty Island National Monument
African Burial Ground National Monument
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Agua Fria National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Aniakchak National Monument
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Bandelier National Monument
Basin and Range National Monument
Bears Ears National Monument
Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument
Booker T. Washington National Monument
Browns Canyon National Monument
Buck Island Reef National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument
California Coastal National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Africa and China Leading on Innovative Green Energy Policies

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Two recent articles from The New Yorker and The New York Times highlight how other regions of the world are becoming leading voices on renewable energy policy.

First, Bill McKibben iThe New Yorker highlights that Africa is moving full steam ahead with solar power. Most African nations, many of which are in the midst of a development boom, did not join the ranks of developing nations during the 20th century. As a result, they did not deploy early and mid-twentieth century technology like massive power plants and energy grids. Instead, they are using modern distributed local energy systems that rely heavily on renewables. While we in the U.S. struggle to develop similar distributed systems with the strong support of smart grid technology, many areas of Africa are the proving ground of the efficacy of local, sustainable systems. In many places, the needs are small: electricity for refrigeration or fans. In other places, much more energy is needed. The key point is that Africa is moving in a very different direction in terms of energy production compared with many other parts of the world. The implications for this trajectory are quite staggering. What it means is that Africa may become far more energy independent than any other region of the world. It also means that with the myriad of local energy supply systems that they will be far more resilient to a breakdown of energy supply in times of crisis than their western counterparts.

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Second, Chris Buckley in The New York Times writes on China's move into carbon trading. For those unfamiliar with carbon trading, it is like any other type of cap and trade system that is used to reduce pollution. We use cap and trade in the U.S. on a variety of air pollutants. For example, if an older power plant in Indiana produces 10% more of chemical X than allowed, it can trade for credits given to another power plant that is producing 10% less. There is an exchange of funds that allows investment in green technology to move toward a reduction of pollution. California uses carbon trading within its borders as does Europe. China's movement into carbon trading is expected to have a significant impact on pollution reduction in Asia.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Standing Rock Sioux May Increase U.S. Wind Energy by Three Percent

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Lost behind the focus of a fascinating article in The Nation by Abbey White about a million dollar award the Standing Rock Sioux received from the Wallace Global Fund is a little tidbit that the tribe seeks to significantly invest in renewable energy. This development is striking in that the Standing Rock Sioux were very much behind the protests around the Dakota Access Pipeline. The fact that the Standing Rock are seeking to go totally off the grid is a significant statement. Their goal is to move totally away from non-renewable energy and to produce power-plant levels of wind energy for export off tribal lands. They also seek to share their knowledge with other tribes so that they too can move toward greater energy independence.

Sustainability is all about setting goals and working to achieve them. Germany and other industrial countries have embraced renewable energy and are leading the way forward in the new energy economy. As we move backward in our federal U.S. energy policy, it is local and state governments that are now leading the way. This example from the Standing Rock Sioux is one of the more fascinating ones I have seen in some time.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Renewables Now Make Up 10% of Energy Usage

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National Geographic, in an article by Sarah Gibbens is reporting that the U.S. has for the first time achieved 10% of its energy from renewable sources (roughly 8% wind and 2% solar). While this was just a monthly level, it is expected that the U.S. will continue to expand renewable production, even during a time when federal support is waning.

We have a long way to go to achieve levels seen in places like Germany, which gets 30% or more of its energy from renewable sources some months. Yet we continue to make progress.

There has been a spate of bad environmental news as of late. This piece of news is a little sunshine. As I have been saying for many years, coal is your great grandfather's fuel. Renewable energy is the fuel of the future. The question is really how quickly we will embrace technological solutions to limited energy sources.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Paris Lights Up America

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As I mentioned in my last post, the United States government has never really been serious about climate change policy. While presidents have wielded executive power to make change, such powers are temporary and change with elections. The only consistent instrument of change is the court system which has told the U.S. government that the EPA has the responsibility to deal with greenhouse gas pollution and climate change. The directive is broad, but the presidential desire to direct the EPA has been wobbly. In addition, congress has done very little to provide direction to federal agencies on the issue. In this policy environment, most of the significant movement on climate change has been by the state and local governments, businesses, and non-profit organizations. In many ways, the Obama years were a bit of a pause in this distributed approach to climate change as he tried to move federal policy through executive actions and via the EPA.

Now that we have the official withdrawal from the Paris Accord, things are returning to the pre-Obama era. Hundreds of organizations, governments, and individuals are lighting up the United States to show the international world that America is still committed to reducing greenhouse gases. Here are just a few examples.

1. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is promoting a new program called America's Pledge that will work with a variety of government, private, and non-profit entities to try to achieve the targets laid out in the Paris Accord.

2. Mayors from throughout the U.S. in charge of large and small communities have pledged to achieve greenhouse gas targets set by the Paris Accord.

3. Many college and universities have pledged their support to achieve the Paris goals.

4. The private sector has been in support of the Paris Accord and will continue climate change initiatives.

It is clear that the U.S. has stepped away from an international leadership role on climate change (and science in general) that is now being taken up by China and the European Union. Yet an absence of leadership does not
mean that there will be an absence of action. The work of state and local governments, non-profits, and the private sector demonstrates that Paris can still inspire.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Understanding the Historical Context of the Failure of the Paris Agreement

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To understand the historical context of the failure of the Paris climate agreement, one has to look back at the development of climate change policy in the United States.

During the presidencies of William J. Clinton and George W. Bush, the world started to gain broad consensus that we were experiencing unprecedented global climate change as a result of greenhouse gas pollution. Although scientists trumpeted this information for years prior, the world finally started to notice and get active on the issue. Everywhere nations developed policies and signed international agreements to address the problem.

But not the United States.

The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 was the first major international agreement to try to limit greenhouse gas pollution. While the agreement was signed by President Clinton, the U.S. Congress, which must ratify international agreements, never approved it.

After George W. Bush was elected in 2000, federal policy on climate change stalled. Until late in his presidency, the federal government did not develop any significant policy on climate change.

While this was disappointing to many, it did create a grassroots movement to develop state and local government policies and it did move the private sector to advance climate change initiatives.

This bottom-up approach to climate change policy was unique in the world. Large and small local governments from New York City to Sarasota became leaders. Non-profit organizations sprouted up to move the climate change agenda forward.  Groups like the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the U.S. Green Building Council started to become much more active on the issue. Real change was happening and greenhouse gases were going down. While the Federal government declined to lead, the citizens of the United States were taking up the banner in many dispersed ways.

In 2007, late in the Bush administration, the landmark Supreme Court case of Massachusetts et al. v. EPA required the EPA to address greenhouse gas pollution. Climate change activists cheered the decision and thought that there would now be strong legal grounding for the development of climate change policy within the existing EPA’s authority.

Some criticized the decision by noting that greenhouse gas pollution was not within the EPA’s authority and that congress never gave the EPA the direction to address greenhouse gas pollution. This criticism became stronger during the presidency of Barack Obama.

In 2009, early in President Obama’s first term, the president tried to work with congress to pass a climate change bill called the American Clean Energy and Security Act. It ultimately failed to become law. The disappointed President moved forward with executive orders to reduce greenhouse gases in the United States and directed the EPA to move aggressively on developing greenhouse gas policy. At the same time, he also ordered all federal agencies from the Department of Energy to the U.S. Army to work on climate change issues. At the height of this era, the President and the State Department worked on the Paris agreement that achieved nearly global agreement on climate change policy. Importantly, the agreement was never ratified by congress.

Because of all of the federal government activity during the Obama administration, state, local, and private efforts lost some of their steam. Of course many groups continued to work on the topic. But it seemed that the U.S. government now had the ball.

Unfortunately, all of the President’s initiatives were within the executive branch and not codified into law or permanent policy. President Obama did not gain permanency of his initiatives. They could change with an election. As we now know, the recent election changed everything—including U.S. climate change policy.

Many who saw the success of the distributed approach to climate change policy prior to the Obama era were nervous as he moved forward with his temporary policies. Prior to Obama’s election, the U.S. was moving forward in a unique way and making great strides despite the lack of federal leadership. While everyone was hoping for long-term change under President Obama, the reality is that he never had a relationship with congress to enact long-term meaningful climate change policy.

It is time once again for state and local governments and the private sector to lead.