Environment Picture

President's Column: 2013 - Could this be the Year of Climate Change Action?

The issue of climate change has remained more or less “in the closet” for the last four years. That changed when President Obama gave his major speech on climate change in June. His platform includes:
  • The first ever federal regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants;
  • Doubling the generation of renewable energy from federal lands; and,
  • Providing $8 billion in federal loan guarantees for investment in clean technologies that prevent carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the air.
Then on September 20, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its proposed rules on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new power plants, requiring them to cut emissions so that they are almost half what existing power plants emit. These proposed Clean Air Act standards will dramatically reduce carbon pollution from new power plants, with the goal to “combat climate change and improve public health,” according to the EPA.

In late September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was slated to release its Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change. The report provides near certainty that human activity through the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of global surface temperature increases. It warns that, if we don’t alter our activities, we’ll see increasingly dangerous consequences, including extreme heat waves, difficulty growing food, and sea level increases of three feet by the end of this century.

Back in 2008, when interviewing for the MEC president’s position, I was asked, “What is the most important environmental issue or threat facing us?” My answer was short and concise (maybe the only one that was that day!), “Climate change.” I have never wavered in my belief that climate change is the greatest environmental challenge and threat we face today.

Listening to Peter Sinclair’s lecture titled “Communicating Climate Science in the Disinformation Era” at the U of M Ross School of Business recently, my belief was solidified by one of his statements. “We are at an unprecedented moment in history; our decisions in the next few years will impact our children for 100,000 years—(thousands of) generations of our children.” The decisions we as a country, and globally, make will impact the world that our children and their children’s, children’s, children’s…will inherit and inhabit.

Ice caps are melting at unprecedented rates, global surface temperatures and our oceans are heating up, and severe weather events grab our headlines. The gravity of the crisis and enormity of the issue can be overwhelming. But we are not without hope; there are solutions available today. And that’s where MEC comes in. We focus on solutions versus solely being fixated on the problem.

The good news:

The majority of people understand that climate change is real, and humans have something to do with it. A national survey conducted in April 2013 by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications and George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communications showed:
  • Two out of three Americans believe that climate change is occurring, and half believe it is being caused by human activity.
  • 87% of Americans believe that developing sources of clean energy is a priority.
  • 70% of Americans believe that global warming should be a very high (16%), high (26%) or medium priority for the president and Congress.
Renewable energy is catching on fast, and the cost is dropping fast:
  • From June 2012 to June 2013, renewable energy generation increased 14.9% in the U.S. and 36.7% in Michigan.
  • In Michigan, wind prices have fallen 50% in the last four years.
Solar is the new wind:
  • Solar power is doubling every two years.
  • The price of solar is dropping as well and is expected to drop below traditional energy sources within the next 10 years.
The private sector gets it. They know that they can reduce their carbon footprint, save energy and capture huge financial savings. A case in point is Michigan’s own Dow Chemical—not the first name that might come to mind in thinking about green companies. Through its focus on energy efficiency, from 1994 to 2012, Dow Chemical has saved 1,800 trillion BTUs, which is the energy equivalent to powering all residential buildings in California for one and a half years. Their efforts have prevented more than 95 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere and have saved the company $9.4 billion.

So what should Michigan do?
  • Strengthen existing renewable energy (RPS) and energy efficiency (EO) standards. The RPS can add 1.5% more renewable generation each year for 5-7 years, and the energy efficiency standards can be ramped up by 0.1% per year for 5-7 years.
  • Provide incentives to purchase energy efficient/clean fuel vehicles, solar panels.
  • Provide R&D credit for clean energy technologies.
  • Prepare utility companies and regulatory rules to encourage and incorporate more distributed solar energy into the electric grid.
  • Allow for the cooperative investment at the community level in renewable energy.
  • Develop a multi-modal, interconnected transportation system.
  • Encourage the development of walkable, bikeable communities.
The great thing about these initiatives is that they make all kinds of economic sense for Michigan with or without factoring in reduced carbon emissions. They are stable, low-cost energy options; they improve public health and protect our natural resources; and they create better in-state jobs because we aren’t sending Michigan dollars out of state to buy more coal and oil.

So my response to the president’s initiative is that it is welcome and long overdue. Let’s do this!
-Chris Kolb
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