Sunday, March 18, 2007

What are we going to do about airplane emissions?
I love to watch the peach and magenta sunsets in the Florida Keys. But more and more the natural beauty is marred by jet trails criss-crossing the sky. I’ve often wondered how much pollution those jets must be adding to the skies, and eventually to the seas. Now we’re beginning to find out, as Britain takes the lead in calling attention to the airlines’ contribution to Global Warming.

If you should fly from Bangkok to London, your individual share of your plane’s greenhouse gas emissions would be 2.1 metric tons, according to one greenhouse-gas offset company, 3.6 tons according to another and 6.9 tons according to a third, says the journal Nature. You can offset those emissions by contributing 30 euros, 86 euros or 139 euros, respectively, to alternative energy projects or tree planting, depending on your preference and which offset company you go with.

Why the big variations for the same flight? It depends in part on whether they’re only counting CO2 or including nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide and/or vapor trails, all of which – at 30,000 feet – have a more complex effect on clouds, ozone and climate than earthbound polluters. Aircraft contributions to Global Warming are complicated and there are still many unknowns.

There seems to be general agreement that airlines now contribute an estimated 3-4% of greenhouse gases. So why should we be concerned?

Rapid growth
The main reason is that airline travel is growing quickly. It threatens to become one of the largest contributors to Global Warming by 2050, British scientists say. The FAA predicts that the number of U.S. airline passengers will double to 1.4 billion by 2025 and that U.S. air traffic of all kinds – including air freight and private jets – will triple. There’s also likely to be significant growth worldwide, with China alone planning 40 new airports. Second, it’s not as easy to wean aircraft off fossil fuels as it is cars and electric power plants, and carbon capture is not an option. And third, if we’re going to have to CUT greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 to avoid a calamity, this segment cannot be ignored.

Alarmed about the future, the European Union is calling for strict controls on emissions from airlines flying within Europe, using a cap-and-trade system, starting in 2011. External airlines landing or taking off from Europe would be included the following year. The U.S. government is adamantly opposed and threatened a lawsuit.

The FAA doesn’t see an immediate threat, an agency representative told USA Today, saying, “Cars and trucks generate 7 times the amount of emissions that aviation produces.” The American Transit Association, representing the carriers, says U.S. airlines have already reduced GHG emissions by improving fuel efficiency 23% since 2000. But those gains don’t offset the increase in travel, scientists say.

The National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents pollution control officials in 49 state and 165 metro areas, says jet engines must have stricter emissions standards. They are suing the EPA for its failure to create them.

Several solutions to airplane emissions are being investigated:

Make planes a different shape.
Boeing is about to test a blended-wing design, like the stealth bomber, where passengers would sit in the wings rather than in a center fuselage that is just dead weight. The design will be tested on the military and likely won’t be ready for commercial use for 20 years, which environmentalists say is too late. One problem is that it is hard to keep such planes up in the air and they need a complicated set of computer controls to take that job out of the pilot’s hands.

Create better flight routes.
Use of GPS instead of the old radar system devised in the ‘50s, which has plane zigzagging to their destination rather than plotting the most direct route, could save an estimated 12-15% in fuel. New Zealand is already using new software to accomplish this. Airlines favor this change and are lobbying for it, in order to save money on fuel.

Cut the growth of air travel.
Some European countries are starting to deny airport requests to expand. Business executives, who pay lip service to reducing emissions, are being urged to use trains or small cars for trips that would take an hour or less by plane. And Britain has doubled its flight tax.

Use carbon composites.
Use of this material is already making planes lighter. Up to 50% of Boeing’s next-generation plane, due out in May 2008, is made of carbon-composite materials. And 25% of Airbus’s largest plane, scheduled for delivery in October, is carbon composite.

Look to new fuel and engine technology.
Boeing is studying new fuel-cell technology but that may be 10 years away. The most modern engines in use are emitting less CO2 but more nitrogen oxide, which also causes Global Warming. NASA is developing technology that could allow the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 to use 25% less fuel and reduce nitrogen oxide emissions 80% by 2018.

Redesign airports and/or tow planes to and from gates.
Parking bays closer to runways and towing planes could save fuel use on the ground and is being promoted by Virgin Airline’s Richard Branson. An Illinois inventor, in the ‘80s, came up with an idea to ramp runways down for departing planes and up for arriving planes, reducing taxi time, an idea that is being looked at again.

Invest more in railroads and high-speed trains.
Unfortunately, in the United States, this form of travel has lagged. Since 1982 the government has invested $450 billion in highways, $200 billion in aviation, but only $20 billion in passenger rail, which doesn’t have the lobbying strength of petroleum-based modes of transportation. Yet last year, in the Midwest, train travel hit record numbers. Travel between Milwaukee and Chicago grew 8.2%; Ann Arbor had a 22% growth in Amtrak riders; and increases in service in Illinois resulted in large ridership gains, including a 93% surge this December (compared to last December) between St. Louis and Chicago, according to the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which worked with Illinois government to expand Amtrak in the state.

The U.S. Senate is considering legislation to invest more in Amtrak and high-speed trains. At this point, the Northeast corridor, where there were 25.4 million passengers last year, is the only high-speed route operational in the United States. The Federal Railroad Administration has designated 10 additional corridors with potential for high-speed routes, according to ELPC.

You can help
Senate Bill 294, re-introduced this session by Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), calls for $11.4 billion over 6 years for necessary improvements to infrastructure and new high-speed corridors. Ask your U.S. senators to co-sponsor this bill at

Congressional round-up

• House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she expects to pass legislation in the next few months to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. But a larger Global Warming package, that might include a mandatory cap-and-trade provision, would have to come later in the session. Pelosi originally set a July deadline for climate change legislation, but apparently has been told by key committee chairmen that they don’t yet have support for more stringent laws.

• Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) says there is growing bi-partisan support for a mandated increase in corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for autos and light trucks. Markey’s bill would require a corporate average of 27.5 mpg by 2012 and 35 mpg by 2018, an increase of 4 mpg a year. Markey, chairman of the new House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, says he will push for a vote this year. Similar bills have been defeated in the past in the Energy and Commerce Committee, now chaired by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), a friend of the auto industry who has not to date backed a mandated increase. Markey’s bill has 22 Democrat and 19 Republican co-sponsors.

• Bills have been introduced in both houses to extend energy efficiency tax incentives to 2011 and 2012 for residential and commercial buildings. Included are heating and cooling systems, insulation, windows and doors. Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) sponsored the Senate bill, while Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) introduced the House version.
(Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM)

News briefs

1. U.S. emissions to rise 20% by 2020, government report says
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are growing at a steady rate and are predicted to be 20% higher in 2020 than in 2000, under current emissions policy, says a draft of the U.S. Climate Action Report. The report is more than a year overdue to the United Nations. Spokesmen for the Bush Administration pointed out that the growth will be less than the growth of the economy, as the president has pledged. But critics say the increase shows the need for mandatory limits on GHG, something Bush advocated as governor of Texas and when he campaigned for president, but rejects now. (Source: Greenwire)

2. E.U. requires members to cut emissions 20% by 2020
The European Union agreed this month to reduce greenhouse gases 20% from 1990 levels by 2020. The bloc also agreed to generate 20% of its power from renewable sources by the same date. The second vote required a compromise because Poland and the Czech Republic are so reliant on carbon fuels. So E.U. members will get different targets depending on their circumstances. Also, a goal was set to use 10% biofuels for transportation. (Source: Greenwire)

3. Britain drafts strongest law yet, cutting GHG 60% by 2050
Britain has become the first nation to propose binding legislation to enforce a large cut in carbon emissions – 60% by 2050. If approved, it would be the first time a country has set legally binding carbon targets, in which failure to reach those goals would land the government before a judge, who would determine sanctions. The law includes cap-and-trade and requires 5-year carbon budgets planned 15 years ahead. Prime Minister Tony Blair termed this a revolution in how Britons would drive, heat their homes, run their businesses and schedule vacation flights. Concern about Global Warming has made climate change a hot issue in the coming election for prime minister, with each party trying to “out-green” the other. (Source: New York Times)

4. TXU buyers plan two carbon-capture projects
The partners involved in the takeover of TXU Corp. said they will build two integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) demonstration plants that will capture carbon dioxide. The new Texas Energy Future Holdings Limited Partnership said it wants to explore technology to generate cleaner, affordable and reliable power in Texas. Proposals from companies wanting to build the plants will go before TXU’s new Sustainable Energy Advisory Board, which includes members from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense, as well as utility customers, state economic development officials and representatives of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. (Source: E&E News PM)

5. Hybrid sales up 28%, dominated by Toyota Prius
Sales of hybrid cars rose nearly 30% in the U.S. in 2006, but growth is starting to slow. Toyota Prius, the most fuel-efficient of the hybrids, captured almost 43% of the new hybrid sales, as consumers bought over 254,000 hybrid vehicles, according to retail sales data. Federal tax incentives for Toyota hybrids are being phased out because of the high number sold. Toyota will begin its own incentives, such as interest-free loans, and is starting its first advertising campaign for Prius. The company predicts these steps will drive growth of 70% in the coming year. Prius gets about 60 mpg. (Source: Reuters PlanetArk)

6. Small nuclear war could block Global Warming
For those who always like to look at the bright side, a small nuclear war could have a cooling effect on the planet, scientists reported at a recent American Geophysical Society conference. Of course, the problems would outweigh any benefits, they said. Some parts of the planet could become much colder than others, like during the Little Ice Age in the 17th century, when glaciers covered much of Northern Europe. Thick, dark clouds in the upper atmosphere could block the sun’s rays for a decade, which would wreak havoc on agriculture, they said. And then, of course, there would be death and radiation sickness. (Source: Greenwire)

7. International Polar Year starts new research at the poles
Mapping the permafrost thaw, studying marine life, and investigating the health of people, penguins and polar bears will all be part of a massive research project in the Arctic and Antarctic, which kicked off this month. Some 50,000 experts will conduct 228 projects to learn more about how Global Warming is changing the planet. Climate change is most evident at the poles and the Arctic is warming at twice the global average. The research will continue for two years. For more, see IPY’s Web site at (Sources: Reuters PlanetArk and Greenwire)

Do something
Nearly 1,000 rallies and events are being scheduled around the country as part of a National Day for Climate Action that kicks off Earth Day on Saturday, April 14. In Chicago, a major rally is scheduled for 12-2 p.m. at the Daley Center, 100 N. Dearborn. Check out to learn what’s planned for your area. Get involved. Show your support for reducing emissions 80% by 2050.

If you haven’t done so yet, please send a message to Congress with Al Gore when he testifies before House and Senate committees next week. On Friday he was closing in on 300,000 and hoped to be able to take 350,000 messages with him March 21, to convince the Congress to take strong action now. Sign up at

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ragweed, poison ivy, malaria love Global Warming
Hay fever suffers will be bombarded with pollen as temperatures and CO2 concentrations rise. Poison ivy will be much more virulent, too. Not to mention more deadly diseases that are migrating to places that have not seen them before.

A study at the University of Oklahoma found that when temperatures were artificially raised, ragweed pollen increased by 84%. A single ragweed plant now releases up to a billion pollen grains, according to the National Wildlife Federation, so that will put it close to 2 billion.

At Duke University, scientists pumped carbon dioxide into several areas of forest, raising CO2 levels to about 585 ppm, close to what is anticipated in 2050 if emissions continue unchanged. That is “a level never reached in all of human history,” Duke’s dean of Earth Sciences, William Schlesinger, told National Wildlife. Today we are at about 380 ppm and counting.

After 5 years, the Duke scientists found that poison ivy was growing at 2½ times its normal rate. It also contained a more powerful version of the chemical that causes the rash that affects 80% of the people who come in contact with it.

Risk of more deadly diseases
Higher temperatures also increase disease-bearing insects, like mosquitoes, and allow them to migrate toward the poles and to higher ground. It’s likely the tick population will increase as well, causing more Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

A World Health Organization report estimates that in the year 2000 about 154,000 deaths around the world could be attributed to disease outbreaks and other conditions caused by climate change, reports the Los Angeles Times. The temperature change of about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 150 years was enough to alter disease patterns across the globe, the paper said.

Malaria, dengue fever spreading
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of significant loss of life from malaria, dengue fever and encephalitis, all mosquito-borne diseases that are on the move. The panel predicts as much as 65% of the world’s population will become at risk for malaria. Doctors at Harvard Medical School linked U.S. outbreaks of these diseases and hantavirus to climate change.

There were outbreaks of malaria in Houston each of the past two years and one at Disney World in 1997. Mosquitoes carrying the disease have been found as far north as New York, according the doctors, and mosquitoes carrying dengue fever, for which there is no vaccine, reached Chicago.

Extreme weather events caused by warming, such as heat waves, will cause more deaths worldwide. Droughts will increase malnutrition in poor countries, as well as force people to use unsafe water. And increased flooding will cause more illness, as fertilizer, sewage and water-borne diseases get in the drinking water.

Also, hot temperatures in summer will cause more low-level ozone to linger, causing respiratory and cardiac problems, as fewer cold fronts come by to clean the air.

Crops will be affected too
Warming also poses a threat to agriculture. Insects in the southern part of the U.S. are likely to spread north, says the Union of Concerned Scientists. The bean leaf beetle that attacks soybeans is already migrating. Another one likely to spread, according to National Wildlife, is the corn earworm, one of North America’s most destructive pests that attacks not only corn, but tomatoes, cabbage and other vegetables. Warmer weather could allow it to live year-round.

To combat these pests, farmers are likely to use more pesticides, further damaging the environment. Warmer temperatures and higher CO2 will cause crops to grow faster, but they won’t be as nutritious.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences forecasts an 80% drop in U.S. wine production because of an increase in very hot days.

And as the interior of the continent becomes drier, the Midwest likely will be less suitable for corn and wheat, while Canada probably will grow more, according to National Wildlife.

Over the next 50 years, warming is expected to make much of the U.S. too hot to grow wheat, according to the Sierra Club, and that crop will likely shift to Canada and Alaska.

And U.S. corn production could drop by as much as 42%, says the EPA, at a time when there will be more pressure on corn for ethanol.

(Thanks to the Sierra Club for the information about IPCC and the Harvard Medical study.)

Congressional round-up

• House Democrats are re-introducing a bill that calls for a “Manhattan Project” for high-efficiency vehicles, building on existing federal research of hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies. The sponsors, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), want to revive a Clinton-era partnership with the auto industry to produce a prototype that gets 80 mpg. The bill also would establish a national biofuel infrastructure, increase transit funding, and make government take the lead in using alternative fuels.

• Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) told the Senate Finance Committee that Congress should establish a national cap-and-trade program to replace a patchwork of regional agreements like the new one among Western state governors, something Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has called for. Schweitzer also said the future viability of coal rests with successful carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Representing a coal state, he asked for $10 billion for CCS research. Princeton Prof. Robert Socolow, well known in Global Warming circles, agreed and asked that coal-to-liquid fuel not be allowed unless capture and sequestration is required.

• Bills were introduced in both houses requiring an inventory of potential spots to store carbon deep underground. They ask the U.S. Geological Survey, DOE and EPA to calculate storage capacity in all 50 states, as well as where hard-to-reach oil and gas could be recovered by carbon injections, a technique used since the 1970s. The first large-scale sequestration project began in 1996 in the North Sea and now pumps a million tons a year deep under the ocean. IPCC estimates there is between 200 and 2,000 gigabites of storage capacity worldwide.
(Sources: Greenwire, Environment & Energy Daily and E&E PM)

News briefs

1. TXU sale would reduce number of new coal-fired plants
Shortly after a Texas judge blocked fast-track approval for 11 new TXU coal-fired power plants, a takeover plan specified that 8 of the plants would be cancelled and that under new ownership TXU would reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The company also would support a $400 million energy-efficiency program and endorse the U.S. Climate Action Partnership’s call for mandatory caps on CO2 emissions. The TXU plan to build 11 coal-fired plants had sparked an enormous protest by environmental groups, citizens and some local governments and led to a drop in the stock price. Private equity firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Texas Pacific Group, with help from Goldman Sachs, Lehman Bros., Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, offered $45 billion, in the biggest private equity deal in history. With several key players concerned about climate change, they brought in Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council to help craft and environmental plan to satisfy the opposition. The deal isn’t complete yet, as TXU can solicit alternate bids till April 16 and Credit Suisse has offered to fund $40.2 billion of a competing bid. (Sources: Environmental Defense, New York Times)

2. Global Warming already causing ‘significant harm'
"Significant harm from climate change is already occurring, and further damages are a certainty," says a new report from the UN Foundation and Sigma XI Scientific Research Society. The report says “unmanageable” climate change will occur unless the global average temperature is kept to 2 to 2.5 degrees Celsius above 1750 levels and CO2 in the atmosphere is limited to 450 and 500 parts per million. Global CO2 emissions would need to peak near current levels by 2020, and then fall by a third by 2100. Even with immediate, aggressive efforts, the world is likely to see more severe droughts and storms, a rise in sea level, and shifts in the range of plants and animals, the report predicts. Recommended steps to include:
• Quadrupling public and private spending on energy research,
• Improving energy efficiency for cars and buildings,
• Expanding the use of biofuels and public transportation,
• Promoting reforestation, and
• Requiring any new coal-fired power plants to be constructed so they can be retrofitted for carbon capture and sequestration.
The report also urges governments to plan for "environmental refugees" and to limit development on floodplains and coastal land. Check out what's forecast for your area on an interactive weather map for the year 2100 at (Sources: Greenwire, USA Today)

3. Climate change could drop Great Lakes as much as 5 feet
Global Warming could lower water levels in the Great Lakes by 5 feet in the next 100 years, according to a draft of the IPCC report due out in April. Lakes Michigan and Huron would be most affected, according to scientists from NOAA. The problem would come from a lack of winter ice, leading to more evaporation. Warming could adversely affect salmon and trout, which are cold-water fish. (Source: Greenwire)

4. Europeans more concerned than us about Global Warming
People in Europe worry more about climate change than Americans, according to a poll by France 24 TV. While 54% of French and 40% of British, Germans and Italians said Global Warming is one of the top two global concerns that affects them, only 30% of Americans did. Western European countries have similar weather patterns, and a 2003 heat wave killed thousands in six countries, said Nick Pidgeon of the University of Cardiff, while the U.S. never has uniform temperatures. Also, the U.S. East Coast, where decisions are made, didn’t warm as much as the rest of the world in the 20th Century, said Penn State climatologist Michael Mann. (Source: Greenwire)

5. Madrid temperatures could top 120 degrees by century’s end
Summer heat in Madrid, Spain, could hit 50 degrees Celsius (122 F) by the year 2100, according to a new report. Rainfall could drop in some southern parts of the country by 40%. Spain will be among those hardest hit by Global Warming, its Environment Ministry’s report said. Steps to be taken to curtail GHG emissions should include discouraging city driving, increasing taxes on high-emission vehicles and providing better public transportation, the report said. Farmers should be discouraged from using nitrogen-based fertilizers, which produce nitrous oxide (a GHG), and homes should phase out coal-fired boilers. Commercial buildings need better efficiency standards, the report said. (Source: Reuters PlanetArk)

6. $2 billion a year till 2030 could cut emissions to 1990 levels
It will cost the U.S. utility sector about $2 billion a year for 20 years to cut GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2030, according to a report by the Electric Power Research Institute. The study said the reductions would take about 20 years, regardless of how much is spent. Prices could be passed on the customers, it said. David Hawkins, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the changes would not come soon enough. The report calls for 50 new nuclear power reactors by 2030, as well as more wind and solar. Spending $2B annually would advance clean technology to the point where it becomes competitive, and would draw in private investment, said EPRI chair Jeff Sterba. Electric power companies emit about one-third of the world’s GHG. Older coal-fired plants run at about 33% efficiency. The study sets a goal of 49% efficiency. (Source: NY Times, Greenwire)

Do something

The League of Conservation Voters is working to influence candidates for president in 2008 about Global Warming. LCV’s Heat Is On campaign is asking for monthly donations to sustain their efforts to put workers on the ground in key primary states like Iowa and Nevada, question candidates at public meetings, and assure that climate change is a key issue in this campaign. If you can’t be there yourself, support those who can, by setting up a donation at

You also can help influence Congress by sending a message with Al Gore, the pre-eminent leader on the Global Warming issue, when he testifies before the Senate and House later this month. Go to and send a message to your elected representatives.