Category Archives: Carbon emissions

America’s 2018 carbon emissions – the biggest increase in eight years

Repost from The New York Times

U.S. Carbon Emissions Surged in 2018 Even as Coal Plants Closed

By Brad Plumer, Jan. 8, 2019
Passenger planes at the Phoenix airport in July. Greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes and trucking increased sharply in 2018. Credit: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON — America’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by 3.4 percent in 2018, the biggest increase in eight years, according to a preliminary estimate published Tuesday.

Strikingly, the sharp uptick in emissions occurred even as a near-record number of coal plants around the United States retired last year, illustrating how difficult it could be for the country to make further progress on climate change in the years to come, particularly as the Trump administration pushes to roll back federal regulations that limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The estimate, by the research firm Rhodium Group, pointed to a stark reversal. Fossil fuel emissions in the United States have fallen significantly since 2005 and declined each of the previous three years, in part because of a boom in cheap natural gas and renewable energy, which have been rapidly displacing dirtier coal-fired power.

Yet even a steep drop in coal use last year wasn’t enough to offset rising emissions in other parts of the economy. Some of that increase was weather-related: A relatively cold winter led to a spike in the use of oil and gas for heating in areas like New England.

But, just as important, as the United States economy grew at a strong pace last year, emissions from factories, planes and trucks soared. And there are few policies in place to clean those sectors up.

“The big takeaway for me is that we haven’t yet successfully decoupled U.S. emissions growth from economic growth,” said Trevor Houser, a climate and energy analyst at the Rhodium Group.

As United States manufacturing boomed, for instance, emissions from the nation’s industrial sectors — including steel, cement, chemicals and refineries — increased by 5.7 percent.

Policymakers working on climate change at the federal and state level have so far largely shied away from regulating heavy industry, which directly contributes about one-sixth of the country’s carbon emissions. Instead, they’ve focused on decarbonizing the electricity sector through actions like promoting wind and solar power.

But even as power generation has gotten cleaner, those overlooked industrial plants and factories have become a larger source of climate pollution. The Rhodium Group estimates that the industrial sector is on track to become the second-biggest source of emissions in California by 2020, behind only transportation, and the biggest source in Texas by 2022.

There’s a similar story in transportation: Since 2011, the federal government has been steadily ratcheting up fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks, although the Trump administration has proposed to halt the toughening of those standards after 2021.

78 Environmental Rules on the Way Out Under Trump.  This is the full list of environmental policies the Trump administration has targeted, often in an effort to ease burdens on the fossil fuel industry. Oct. 5, 2017
There are signs that those standards have been effective. In the first nine months of 2018, Americans drove slightly more miles in passenger vehicles than they did over that span the previous year, yet gasoline use dropped by 0.1 percent, thanks in part to fuel-efficient vehicles and electric cars.

But, as America’s economy expanded last year, trucking and air travel also grew rapidly, leading to a 3 percent increase in diesel and jet fuel use and spurring an overall rise in transportation emissions for the year. Air travel and freight have also attracted less attention from policymakers to date and are considered much more difficult to electrify or decarbonize.

Demand for electricity surged last year, too, as the economy grew, and renewable power did not expand fast enough to meet the extra demand. As a result, natural gas filled in the gap, and emissions from electricity rose an estimated 1.9 percent. (Natural gas produces lower CO2 emissions than coal when burned, but it is still a fossil fuel.)

Transmission towers near the coal-fired Will County Generating Station in Romeoville, Ill.CreditDaniel Acker/Bloomberg

Even with last year’s increase, carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are still down 11 percent since 2005, a period of considerable economic growth. Trump administration officials have often cited that broader trend as evidence that the country can cut its climate pollution without strict regulations.

But if the world wants to avert the most dire effects of global warming, major industrialized countries, including the United States, will have to cut their fossil-fuel emissions much more drastically than they are currently doing.

Climate Change Is Complex. We’ve Got Answers to Your Questions. We know. Global warming is daunting. So here’s a place to start: 17 often-asked questions with some straightforward answers. Sept. 19, 2017

Last month, scientists reported that greenhouse gas emissions worldwide rose at an accelerating pace in 2018, putting the world on track to face some of the most severe consequences of global warming sooner than expected.

Under the Paris climate agreement, the United States vowed to cut emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The Rhodium Group report warns that this target now looks nearly unattainable without a flurry of new policies or technological advances to drive down emissions throughout the economy.

“The U.S. has led the world in emissions reductions in the last decade thanks in large part to cheap gas displacing coal,” said Jason Bordoff, director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, who was not involved in the analysis. “But that has its limits, and markets alone will not deliver anywhere close to the pace of decarbonization needed without much stronger climate policy efforts that are unfortunately stalled if not reversed under the Trump administration.”

The Rhodium Group created its estimate by using government data for the first three quarters of 2018 combined with more recent industry data. The United States government will publish its official emissions estimates for all of 2018 later this year.

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.
Brad Plumer is a reporter covering climate change, energy policy and other environmental issues for The Times’s climate team. @bradplumer

    Trump White House: global catastrophe inevitable, we might as well pollute

    Repost from The Rolling Stone
    [Editor: thanks to Marilyn Bardet for alerting us to this deep and shocking analysis of Trump’s latest disaster.  – R.S.]

    Why Aren’t We Talking More About Trump’s Nihilism?

    The White House now says we might as well pollute because global catastrophe is inevitable

    By MATT TAIBBI, OCTOBER 1, 2018 12:28PM ET

    President Donald Trump pauses while speaking at a campaign rally at WesBanco Arena, in Wheeling, West Virginia. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/Shutterstock

    While America was consumed with the Brett Kavanaugh drama last week, the Washington Post unearthed a crazy tidbit in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) latest environmental impact statement.

    The study predicts a rise in global temperatures of about four degrees Celsius, or seven degrees Fahrenheit, by the year 2100. Worse, it asserts global warming is such an inevitable reality, there’s no point in reducing auto emissions, as we’re screwed anyway.

    “The emissions reductions necessary to keep global emissions within this carbon budget could not be achieved solely with drastic reductions in emissions from the U.S. passenger car and light truck vehicle fleet,” is how the report put it.

    To make a real difference, it adds we’d have to “move away from the use of fossil fuels,” which is “not currently technologically feasible or economically practicable.”

    There’s been just a flutter of media attention about this, mostly focusing on the hypocrisy. Trump, as is his wont, has at one point or another occupied basically every inch of territory on the spectrum of global warming opinions.

    He went from urging President Obama to act to prevent “catastrophic and irreversible consequences… for our planet” (2009), to calling global warming a Chinese conspiracy (2012), to calling it an “expensive hoax” (2013), and “bullshit” (2014), to switching up again during the election to concede the existence of “naturally occurring” (i.e., not man-made) climate change.

    Now comes this Linda Blair-style head turn. The NHTSA report deftly leaps past standard wing-nut climate denial and lands on a new nihilistic construct, in which action is useless precisely because climate change exists and is caused by fossil fuels.

    The more you read of this impact statement, the weirder it seems. After the document lays out its argument for doing nothing, it runs a series of bar graphs comparing the impact of various action plans with scenarios in which the entire world did nothing (labeled the “no action” alternative).

    These absurd illustrations make Thomas Friedman’s time-traveling efforts to graph the future seem like the work of a Nobel laureate.

    “A textbook example of how to lie with statistics,” is how MIT professor John Sterman described it to the Post.

    There’s obviously a danger at overinterpreting this paper, which mostly seems like a desperate bureaucratic attempt to square science with Trump’s determination to roll back environmental policies for his business pals.

    But even as accidental symbolism, it’s powerful stuff. A policy that not only recognizes but embraces inevitable global catastrophe is the ultimate expression of Trump’s somehow under-reported nihilism.

    While the press has focused in the past two years either on the president’s daily lunacies or his various scandals, the really dangerous work of Trump’s administration has gone on behind the scenes, in his systematic wreckage of the state.

    Implicit in this campaign of bureaucratic dismantling has been the message that pandemonium is a price Trump is very willing to pay, in service of breaking the “disaster” of government. Many of his top appointees have been distinguished by their screw-it-all mentality.

    Remember, he appointed Mick Mulvaney, a man who had once inspired a downgrade of America’s credit rating by threatening to default on the debt, to be his budget director.

    He later put Mulvaney in charge of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he fired his own 25-person advisory board — after requesting a budget of $0 and promising to fulfill the bureau’s mission “no further.”

    Trump’s original EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, was best known for having used his time as Oklahoma’s attorney general to sue the EPA repeatedly and zero out the environmental-enforcement budget. Trump made a robotization enthusiast his choice for labor secretary, chose a hockey-team owner to run the Army (he withdrew, thankfully), and so on.

    There are still hundreds of top federal jobs left unmanned, and some of the non-appointments seem like Nero-level acts of madness. Trump asked for 25 percent cuts to the whole State Department on the grounds that they were “prioritizing the efficient use of taxpayer resources.” But what country goes without ambassadors for years? Trump fired dozens upon inauguration and to this day still has 34 vacancies. We have no ambassador in South Africa, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, even Mexico. We’re a ghost state with nukes.

    All of this is part and parcel of Trump’s doomsday message. He’s been a textbook example of Richard Hofstadter’s famed theory of paranoid politics. See if any of this (especially the line about “barricades”) sounds familiar:

    The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms — he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization… Like religious millennialists, he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days…

    From Day One of Trump’s campaign, pundits have reached for traditional political explanations to describe both his behavior and his appeal. Because we’re trained to talk in terms of left and right, progress and reaction, we tried to understand him in those terms.

    But Trump sold something more primal. His core message was relentless, hounding negativity, lambasting audiences with images of death and disaster.

    His first campaign speech was basically a non-denominational end-times sermon, in which America was either kaput or close to it, surrounded on all sides by bloodthirsty enemies. “They kill us,” he preached. “They beat us all the time… We have nothing…”

    He ranted about a system befouled by false prophets. “Politicians are all talk, no action,” he howled. “They will not bring us— believe me — to the promised land.”

    The “What have you got to lose?” line he pulled out later was supposedly just a pitch to African-American voters, but all of Trump’s audiences picked up on the “it just doesn’t matter” theme. (If you want to be wigged out, check out the similarities between Trump speeches and the famed Bill Murray speech from Meatballs. Just substitute “China” for “Mohawk.”)

    Obese and rotting, close enough to the physical end himself (and long ago spiritually dead), Trump essentially told his frustrated, pessimistic crowds that America was doomed anyway, so we might as well stop worrying and floor it to the end.

    If that meant a trade war, environmental catastrophe, broken alliances, so be it. “Let’s just get this shit over with,” is how Trump’s unofficial campaign slogan was described in the show Horace and Pete, one of the few outlets to pick up on Trump’s Freudian death-wish rhetoric.

    Trump made lots of loony promises to bring us back to the joyous Fifties (literally to Happy Days, if you go by his choice of Scott Baio as a convention speaker). But even his audiences didn’t seem to believe this fable.

    The more credible promise of his campaign was a teardown of the international order, which he’s actually begun as president. Trade deals, environmental accords, the EU, NATO, he’s undercut all of them, while ripping government in half like a phone book.

    He keeps inviting destruction like it’s a desirable outcome. He even pushed through legislation for “low-yield” nuclear weapons, whose only purpose is to be more theoretically usable than the other kind (although he’s wrong about this, too).

    His fans even cheered when he played nuclear chicken with Kim Jong-un, tweeting that his “nuclear button” was “bigger & more powerful” than Kim’s (and “my Button works!”).

    It’s easy to understand the nationalist sentiment behind reversing trade deals or backing Brexit. But what’s the populist angle on burning the planet, or nuclear war? How does hating elites explain cheering a guy on for turning nuclear diplomacy into a penis-measuring contest?

    On a policy level, this apocalypse politics is pure corporate cynicism, with Trump’s big-business buddies showing a willingness to kill us all for a few dollars now.

    The broader electoral pitch is just an evil version of every nuclear-age dance tune ever, “99 Luftballoons” or “1999.” The world is ending, so fuck it, let’s party. As crazy as it is, it’s a seductive message for a country steeped in hate and pessimism. Democrats still don’t understand it. Trump’s turning America into a death cult, with us as involuntary members.

      SF Chron: To ease traffic, the Bay Area should vote yes on Measure 3

      Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
      [BenIndy Editor: Benicia Progressive Democrats oppose Measure 3, but the decision was not an easy one, nor were members unanimous  in voting to oppose it.  There are many good arguments for voting yes on Measure 3.  Benicia Mayor Patterson:  “the funds from RM3 are to enhance and grow transit…’we can’t drive our way out of congestion’.  The intensity of the opposition to RM3 by some is weird considering the need to reduce fossil fuel burning.”  See more below.  – RS]

      Editorial: To ease traffic, the Bay Area should vote yes on Measure 3

      Chronicle Editorial Board, 3/16/18, Updated: 3/17/18 1:18pm
      The Bay Bridge Toll Plaza. Under Regional Measure 3, tolls will increase on the Bay Area's bridges by a total of $3 over the next seven years. The funds will go to a wide variety of regional road and transit projects, including ferries, the BART extension, and improvements to 680. Photo: Santiago Mejia, The Chronicle
      The Chronicle The Bay Bridge Toll Plaza. Under Regional Measure 3, tolls will increase on the Bay Area’s bridges by a total of $3 over the next seven years. The funds will go to a wide variety of regional road and transit projects, including ferries, the BART extension, and improvements to 680. Photo: Santiago Mejia

      The Bay Area has outgrown its regional transportation options.

      Everyone who commutes in the Bay Area — whether it’s by car, by rail or by bus — can agree on this point. Aside from housing, the Bay Area’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure is our top regional challenge, and it’s affecting everything from our quality of life to our economic growth.

      That’s why a long list of elected officials, business groups and regional transportation organizations have come together to push Regional Measure 3. The measure, which will be on the June ballot in nine Bay Area counties, will authorize toll increases on the region’s seven state-owned bridges. (The Golden Gate Bridge, with its separate authority, is excluded.)

      Current tolls will increase by $1 on Jan. 1, 2019, then by another $1 in 2022 and 2025. That will bring tolls to $8 on every bridge except the Bay Bridge, where the toll will be $9 during peak commute times.

      Toll increases are never easy to swallow. But it’s impossible to argue with the needs the measure has specifically identified for the resulting $4.45 billion in funding.

      The North Bay will benefit from improvements to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, to state Highways 29 and 37, to U.S. Highway 101 and to Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) service.

      San Francisco can look forward to a downtown extension for Caltrain, upgrades to the Clipper card system and a badly needed expansion of the Muni fleet.

      Weary East Bay commuters will see relief from improvements to Interstates 80, 680 and 880, as well as some of the region’s more notorious snarls, where I-680 meets Highways 4 and 84.

      On the Peninsula and in the South Bay, this money will go toward the second phase of the necessary BART extension to San Jose. It’ll also help connect the east side of San Jose to BART via a regional connector. Road improvements include the Dumbarton corridor and the Highway 101/92 interchange.

      “Over the past two generations, we’ve barely added any capacity to regional transit,” said Gabriel Metcalf, president of SPUR, an urban planning think tank. “This is a very practical next step when it comes to our regional transit needs.”

      The project list, which was developed by staff members at regional transit organizations, leans heavily toward improving the region’s mass transit options.

      There are excellent reasons for this — the Bay Area can’t drive its way out of traffic congestion, and mass transit remains the most efficient way to move the most people.

      Mass transit is also very expensive to build and to operate. Passing this regional measure could make the Bay Area more competitive in battles for state and federal matching funds.

      Most bridge commuters can afford these toll increases. (The Bay Area’s toll payers tend to have higher incomes than the overall population.) For those who have lower incomes, they’ll continue to receive price reductions for carpooling, and the measure includes a discount for anyone who regularly commutes over two toll bridges.

      Low-income transit commuters could actually benefit from the measure. The Clipper card upgrades will allow the Bay Area’s transit authorities to coordinate income-based fare discounts.

      The measure doesn’t currently face any organized opposition. It also enjoys the approval of a solid majority of voters in the nine counties.

      Those impressive feats are testament to how deeply the Bay Area is affected by traffic congestion, and how necessary many of these projects are.

      Regional Measure 3 can’t and won’t fix all of the Bay Area’s traffic and infrastructure problems. For that, we’ll need state and federal support.

      But that’s been too long in coming, and it’s past time for the Bay Area to make the improvements we can make on our own.

      Measure 3 will result in real, measurable improvements to regional commutes, and that’s more than enough reason for the voters to say yes.

      This commentary is from The Chronicle’s editorial board. We invite you to express your views in a letter to the editor. Please submit your letter via our online form: SFChronicle.com/letters.