Energy Blog: Alternative Approach to Climate Change Negotiations

UNFCCC Treaty nationsby Andy Silber

This winter leaders from across the world will meet in Paris for the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the objective to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate from all the nations of the world. I predict that they will fail. The Pope, Ban Ki-moon and Bono could get on stage with the ghosts of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Jesus imploring for us to take action and still nothing would happen.

“How do I know nothing will happen” you might ask. Well for one, it’s been 21 years and nothing has happened. The other is that there are two fundamental forces at play. On one side are the developed countries (e.g. USA, Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan) who are willing to act, but don’t want to cripple their economies. These countries want the baseline to be current emissions (“We’ll reduce our emissions by 20% from 2010 level by 2050” offers the representative from some random rich country), but that the poor countries should also make reductions, though not as drastic. On the other side are the less developed countries (e.g. China and India), who won’t agree to a treaty that locks in poverty for their people. These countries also feel that the problem was created by the rich countries, so they should pay for fixing it. These countries feel we should look at emissions on a per capita basis and not use historical emissions as a baseline. Otherwise the rich countries benefit from their past pollution.

The Obama administration is unlikely to agree to a treaty that is fair to the poor countries and even if they did, it wouldn’t be able to get it through the Senate (I doubt Obama could get a bill stating that “clean water is a healthy beverage” passed, but that’s a different issue). The Chinese and Indians are unlikely to agree to binding emissions targets that puts their economies at a disadvantage to America’s. And the representatives of countries like Bangladesh, that face serious climate impacts but didn’t have anything to do with creating the problem, are unlikely to agree to a treaty unless it helps them mitigate the impacts to changing weather and rising seas. I don’t mean to say there’s no hope, only the approach we’ve been taking for 21 years is going to continue to fail.

Here’s an alternative approach that might have more success (we wouldn’t know until the year 2035 if it’s as bad). Rather than try and set a different binding limit for each country, we agree to a few policies that are applied in every country.

  • No subsidies for fossil fuel extraction or exportation. That doesn’t mean you can’t drill for oil or natural gas, but that it can’t be subsidized by tax dollars or extraction allowed on public land without charging fair market value for that right.
  • Every country implements a carbon tax at an agreed upon level (of course higher carbon taxes would be allowed). This level would start out low (say $20 a ton) and increase by a moderate amount each year (say 20%). The bulk of the money raised by the carbon tax would stay in the country and could be used to improve mass transit, hire teachers, reduce other taxes or any other use that the local government chose.
  • A fraction of the funds raised by the carbon tax (say 10%) would go to fund an international effort to mitigate climate impacts in the developing world and to support climate refugees.

One interesting advantage of this approach, is that you might be able to achieve most of this (other than the international fund) via the WTO. It’s possible that the EU could impose tariffs on incoming products from countries that don’t have a carbon tax, claiming that not putting a cost on carbon is an illegal subsidy. If they won that case, it would quickly create a huge impetus to get all countries on the same page, rather than fight a trade war on the right way to add a cost to carbon.

Let’s look at how this concept would impact three countries:

  • USA: The carbon cost would accelerate the death of coal. No new coal plants would be constructed anywhere, so the already struggling effort to export coal would also die. Since natural gas has less carbon, this market would be less severely impacted, but the rush to build gas-fired plants would slow. Depending on the price set on carbon, the LNG export market might be impacted, but natural gas is so cheap here compared to world markets it would probably continue. I expect that most of the revenue from the carbon tax would be used to reduce other taxes and not go into large public works, but I’d love to see some of the revenue used to rebuild our electric grid to support more renewable power.
  • China: Since they’re already putting a cost on carbon this might not have any impact in the short term. China is already making huge investments in renewables. The biggest change might be to increase the efficiency of the operating coal plants. It would also probably increase the investments in nuclear power.
  • Bangladesh: Since the electricity production per capita in Bangladesh is 2% of what it is in the US, their carbon tax would be pretty small. On the other hand, since most of the arable and populated land in Bangladesh is near sea-level, they will be in need of the kind of international support that the carbon tax will fund. In net, they should come out ahead in this proposal.

I’d love to hear from someone with some knowledge of WTO rules if this is possible.

Stu’s News: You and Carbon Pollution!

carbon neutralby Stu Hennessey*

If you have had any concern over the changing climate and the extreme weather events that have been making headlines you have probably felt frustration over not being in a position to challenge the big corporate polluters. The good news is that we are more in control of carbon pollution and its effect on the climate than most people realize.

People like you and I actually emit nearly twice the carbon pollution than industrial America. We also pollute in a manner that is hard to capture. We are non point source polluters. NPSPs. That means the pollution we emit comes from a variety of source points like individual cars or lawn mowers or woodstoves. Our source points are so spread out and numerous that it would be impossible to capture or cap what we emit. Where as a corporate polluter will usually have a single stack or source point that could be capped and sequestered.

We know there are cleaner ways to run the world’s industries but until we can afford a corporate takeover and finance the industrial change-over to clean energy we can only work on our own solutions. I find it very empowering to know that individual education and efforts can reduce nearly two thirds of the world’s carbon pollution. Whether it is by using alternatives to fossil fuel transportation or reducing our home energy consumption or limiting the distance a product we consume travels to the cash register we can make a huge difference. Here are ten ideas you could employ:

  • Reduce your travel emissions by riding a bicycle. Using the transit system or trading in the gas guzzler for an electric vehicle.
  • Reduce your home energy costs by turning down the thermostat or buying a programmable thermostat. Choosing a smaller more efficient home. Switching to LED lighting. Turning off all electric devices when not in use.
  • Shopping Local, buying products that are being manufactured closer to home or have been offered for reuse. Shopping at local businesses near where you live. Smaller businesses with smaller carbon footprints.
  • Eat locally grown food. Join a Community Supported Agriculture subscription. Join a community garden group or P Patch. Turn your yard into your own food supply.
  • Plant trees! Trees eat carbon dioxide and in return release oxygen. Most trees have been removed to make room for our cities. Please replace them.
  • Support government and non government organizations that offer alternatives to the archaic fossil fuel era. We can fast track our independence from fossil fuels.
  • Reduce all forms of consumer waste. Buy bulk! Buy what you need. Buy what will make you less of a carbon non point source.
  • Recycle: This is where we show what gains we have already accomplished. Good Job NPSPs.
  • Compost: Another area where great strides have been made.
  • De-carbonize your image. Our image is important to us but is it a bigger is better image that we should strive for. Is the bigger car, bigger house, wealthy-enough-to-be-carbon-foolish image the one that matters?   Imagine yourself at one with a carbon neutral earth.

* Stu Hennessey is a board member of Sustainable West Seattle and is an active cyclist and member of Spokespeople.  Stu operates and owns Alki Bike and Board in West Seattle’s Admiral District.

EPA Releases ‘Record of Decision’ On Duwamish Cleanup Proposals

Duwamish Cleanup TimelineThe Environmental Protection Agency’s final “Record of Decision” regarding the clean-up of the Duwamish River is here!  Due to the advocacy work of Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/Technical Advisory Ggroup and input from the communities, the final plan includes a 25% increase in permanent toxic waste removal over the proposed plan.  Now is your opportunity to learn about this important decision, get your questions answered and learn about what is coming next!

There are three upcoming opportunities for you to choose from:

Thursday, January 15, 6:00 pm at South Park Neighborhood Association, 8201 10th Avenue S

DRCC/TAG will be hosting a meeting featuring Dr. Peter deFur.  At the meeting, Dr. deFur will discuss the ROD and be available for your questions.  Light dinner will be available!  Learn more.

Wednesday, January 21, 5:30 pm at Concord Elementary School, 723 S Concord Street

EPA is hosting a multi-lingual open house focused on the Record of Decision.  Community members from South Park will be share information on the Record of Decision in English, Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese.  EPA, Department of Ecology, and DRCC/TAG will be on hand to answer your questions.  Light dinner and childcare will be available! Learn more.

Wednesday, January 28, 6:00 pm at South Seattle College – Georgetown, 6737 Corson Avenue S

EPA will present the Record of Decision with simultaneous interpretation available in Spanish and Vietnamese.  After the presentation, EPA representatives and DRCC/TAG will be available to answer questions.  Light dinner will be available! Learn more.

You can learn more or have questions and comments noted or answered by contacting the DRCC/TAG at contact@duwamishcleanup.org or by calling 206-954-0218.

SWS Annual Membership Meeting: Learn About Us, Volunteer with Us, Join Us

Join Sustainable West Seattle on Martin Luther King Day at C&P Coffee from 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm.  We’ll be hosting our annual membership meeting and we’ll be providing treats as well as information.  We’re also be looking for new board members so if you’re interested in getting involved please drop in.

  • When:Monday, January 19, 2015, 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm
  • Where: C&P Coffee, 5612 California Ave SW, just south of the RapidRide station

On the National Day of Service start the New Year off by donating some time to Sustainable West Seattle (SWS), the organization spearheading West Seattle’s effort to provide alternatives to globalization and planet exploitation. SWS is looking for new members and board members for 2015’s “projects of hope.” Here is your chance to influence the shape of your sustainable community and local projects.

The evening will include:

  • Review of Projects & Events in 2014
  • Look Forward & Idea Sharing for Focus of 2015
  • Prospective Board Candidates — Attendees for consideration by Incoming 2015 Board will share their ideas for, and what they can contribute to SWS
  • SWS Members at large and interested participants (not SWS member) share ideas for local West Seattle efforts and to help SWS as an organization
  • Dessert is provided by the current 2014 SWS Board

Hope you can join in the local effort with Sustainable West Seattle.

Train for Challenge Course Leadership, Parks Offering Courses @ Camp Long

CampLongHighRopesSeattle Parks and Recreation worked with Washington State University Extension 4-H to build a “challenge course” in the trees in West Seattle’s Camp Long. In 2015, interested members of the public are invited to join other educators and counselors in learning how to use adventure education to promote team building and personal development in their communities.

The introduction to facilitator training takes place Wednesday through Friday, January 28-30, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. The cost is $240. The low-course facilitator training takes place Tuesday through Thursday, March 10 and 12, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. The cost is $240. The high-course facilitator training 1 (hub and spoke course with dual ziplines, ropes rescue) takes place Tuesday through Thursday, April 21-23, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. The cost is $240. The high-course facilitator training 2 (vertical playpen and trapeze jump, M-Belay systems) takes place Wednesday and Thursday, May 6 and 7, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. The cost is $160.

The training location is 5200 35th Ave SW at Camp Long in West Seattle. Camping is available during the training. There are several cabins available for rent for overnight stays at Camp Long, see http://www.seattle.gov/parks/reservations/camplong.htm.

After successful completion of the training, participants will be able to facilitate events at the Camp Long challenge course. The course is designed to meet the 4-H certification requirements to host and facilitate group activities at Camp Long. Certified facilitators receive reduced rates when bringing their own groups. The trainings are designed to sequence together.

At the Camp Long course, several elements of the ropes course are integrated into the forested areas. WSU 4–H, through 30 years of adventure education experience, has developed curricula that strengthen critical life skills including decision making, self-confidence, positive risk taking, self-esteem, teamwork, and leadership.

For more information and to sign up for the challenge course training, please contact Challenge Course Manager Ken Turner at 206-684-7434 or keno.turner@seattle.gov.

Camp Long is one of Seattle’s best kept secrets. Located in West Seattle, this 68-acre oasis in the city offers visitors an opportunity to enjoy nature, hike in the forest, camp overnight in rustic cabins, rock climb, learn about natural history, and visit or rent the rustic Lodge. For more information, see http://www.seattle.gov/parks/environment/camplong.htm.

 

Washington Department of Ecology Publishes 2014 Tacoma Smelter Plume Annual Report

Tacoma SmelterWashington State Department of Ecology has published the Tacoma Smelter Plume 2014 Annual Report, which is available here.

What is in the annual report? This 20-page report describes how the Department of Ecology is using the $94.6 million Asarco settlement to clean up the Tacoma Smelter Plume. It provides an update on cleanup progress and efforts to manage human health risks. It also includes the accomplishments and 2014 performance measurements from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014.

What are the highlights from 2014?

  • Completed soil sampling on 1,495 homes in the most impacted areas of the plume.
  • Cleanup of 53 more residential yards with arsenic levels over 100 parts per million.
  • Replaced soil on eight acres of playfields at Vassault Park in Tacoma.

Printed copies of the report are also available. Contact the department if you would like a printed version.  For more information  contact Jill Jacobson Reitz, MPA, Tacoma Smelter Plume-Yard Cleanup Outreach Coordinator, Toxics Cleanup Program, Southwest Regional Office, Washington State Department of Ecology, phone 360-407-6245, or email at Jill.Jacobson@ecy.w
a.gov

Neighborhood Match Fund Grant Schedule Announced: Apply for $1,000 up to $20,000

MatchFundLogoSeattle’s Department of Neighborhoods has posted information about the 2015 grant programs.

Small and Simple Fund

The Small and Simple Fund provides awards from $1,001 up to $25,000 to support community members in building community relationships around a project. Deadline for the Small and Simple Fund for this round is February 2. Visit this website for more information regarding the fund http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/nmf/smallandsimple.htm or start your NMF Online application at http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/nmf/webapplication.htm.

Small Sparks Fund

The 2015 Small Sparks Project Fund provides awards up to $1,000 to support community members in building community relationships around a project. Small Sparks Fund applications are accepted year-round.  Visit this website for more information regarding the Small Sparks fund http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/nmf/smallsparks.htm or start your NMF Online application at http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/nmf/webapplication.htm

You can also call the Department of Neighborhoods’ Match Fund group at 206-233-0093 or email them at NMFund@seattle.gov.