Global Warming: Current Preventive Measures
By Daniel Pyo
In 1994 alone, the United States emitted about one-fifth of the total global greenhouse gases (Parsons, 14). Scientists predict that, if preventive action is not taken soon, the US' percentage contribution to this will remain fairly constant, if not greater. Normally twenty per cent wouldn't attract a lot of attention if it resulted from a group of nations, but because it comes from the US alone, many question the legitimacy of the effective policies and regulations concerning this issue in the United States. The focus of this paper is to delve into the particular preventive measures, or those being discussed by individual states within the US. Ultimately, states are responsible for identifying, and consequently implementing, feasible and effective policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their respective state. In the end, most of the preventive strategies are fundamentally similar, although some need specific tailoring depending on the state. By taking a proactive approach to this problem, states serve as an example to both their constituents and to other states as well.
Until recently, we as a global society have passively succumbed to the environmentally detrimental phenomenon today regarded as global warming since the Industrial Revolution in England during the 18th and 19th centuries. Not an active choice, but rather the consequence of inevitable technological progress and man's assiduous pursuit of economic growth, global warming is the price we, as global citizens, must pay for a modem industrialized society. Fortunately, this same forward progress has provided modern day scientists with both the scientific knowledge and means to detect such a problem, although it comes much later than the advent of industry. Unless slowed or halted completely, global warming poses a serious threat to the sustainability of life, as
we know it on earth in the future. Thus the burning question remains as to what actions must be taken today, or in the very near future to prevent such a dismal catastrophe.
Before discussing the possible solutions to this problem, it will undoubtedly prove worthwhile to briefly summarize the global warming phenomenon (greenhouse effect) to acquaint the reader with the scientific jargon and references that will be referred to later. Energy from the sun drives the earth's weather and climate, and heats the earth's surface; in turn, the earth radiates energy (heat) back into space. However, atmospheric greenhouse gases trap some of the outgoing energy, retaining heat somewhat like the glass panels of a greenhouse. Because of this, the earth's climate is predicted to change because human activities are altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere through the buildup of these greenhouse gases - primarily carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The heat-trapping property of these gases is undisputed (Verlag, 23). Thus as society continues to produce more and more energy through conventional means, it actively emits more and more of these greenhouse gases. The result is an increase in the earth's atmospheric temperature by several degrees even within the next century; this will result in drier soil world-wide, ultimately raising the sea as glaciers melt. This change in climate threatens future inhabitants of earth with unpredictable weather patterns, more intense rain storms, less agriculturally productive soil, and even loss of land-the areas surrounded by water (Read, 28).
It is a well-known scientific fact that greenhouse gas concentrations are increasing. Scientists attribute this primarily to the combustion of fossil fuels and other human activities (EPA web site). Many Americans wonder why this continues in light of its harmful impact on the atmosphere; however, they concurrently fail to realize that it is indeed their burning of energy to run cars and trucks, heat homes and businesses, and power factories that is responsible for about 80% of US carbon dioxide emissions, about 25% of US methane emissions and about 20% of nitrous oxide emissions (Parsons, 48). Ironically enough, American society has grown so dependent upon industry as a normal part of everyday life that it is very difficult to imagine life without it, despite the fact that the successful future of the earth hinges upon its ability to curtail these emissions. Thus they find themselves searching desperately for innovative and more efficient sources of energy which conform to current lifestyle.
Energy consumer approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions take shape in the form of demand-side management (DSM), improvement upon the efficiency with which energy is used, or alteration of the energy source to provide services. DSM, commonly called energy conservation, focuses mainly upon getting end-users to consume less energy. Energy-efficiency options, on the other hand, achieve the same level of output or activity while using less energy, often through improved technology. A more efficient furnace, for example, may allow a household to maintain the same or higher indoor temperature while using less fuel. In this sense, DSM can be considered a general blanket that includes improved energy efficiency because it does indeed directly relate to the reduction of energy consumption. Altering the energy supply is perhaps the most difficult approach to global warming because it is so easy to burn traditional fossil fuels, and also because it is fairly cheap to do so. The rationale for this focus on energy reduction, efficiency, and alteration lies in the argument that the less energy produced, the less atmospheric greenhouse gases emitted.
Aggregate energy consumption is the product of millions of individual decisions on the type and level of energy service desired, the types of equipment and fuel to provide it, the types of buildings in which we live and work, and the kinds of commercial services and manufactured products we buy. This includes for example, the amount of energy used to produce heat, light, hot water, or manufactured products. Because of this, demand-side management usually requires a reorientation of business practices and lifestyles, such as using different transportation networks, more efficient electrical products, or non-traditional energy saving tactics. The basic demand-side management programs begin with building or business audits to identify potential energy savings. This is most often done by setting up a climate change task force that brings together relevant experts (state planners, environmentalists, natural resource specialists, analysts) to assess the structures or processes involved (G.W.I. web site). After gauging these potential savings, DSM compares the figures with current energy consumption rates and rewards performance based rebates paid on a per-kilowatt-conserved basis. Furthermore, DSM coalesces with utility companies to negotiate technology-based rebates for specific energy-efficiency measures such as compact fluorescent lights and occupant sensing light switches. It is also common to find DSM programs sponsoring reduced interest financing for energy-efficiency investments. The purpose is to encourage new companies, businesses, residences or industries to incorporate measures that reduce the overall consumption of energy as they develop in their incipient stages, so as to inculcate this theme throughout the remainder of its existence. States including North Carolina, Louisiana and New York have already adapted this tactic (Read, 189).
The improvement of energy efficiency can be further divided along three lines: building measures (building shells); equipment improvements; and process changes. Approaches to improve the efficiency of building shells markedly reduce the heating and cooling requirements and include a wide range of building design, construction, landscaping. Currently many states in the US capitalize on better insulation technique that includes the strategic placement of a revolutionized insulating material. This material is reported to sustain heat within buildings one and a half times more efficiently than those that were used up until about 15 years ago (Verlag, 189). As of recently, many states have put in a joint effort to subsidize technological companies studying glass window pain technology that allows greater amount of heat retention on cloudy, overcast days by allowing more sunlight penetration than normal. Apparently, these same company's have put forth much less effort on sunny day situations because of the existent self-tinting window technology. Modern civil engineers who are familiar with the technical and economic issues surrounding energy efficiency now carefully take into consideration the advantages of using the sun for heating, and emphasize minimizing the north-facing window pains, which undoubtedly receive the least amount of sunlight. Until the recent development of voluntary groups such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), building planners took for granted the sun's natural and free resource of heat as a contributing factor to building shell design (Read, 238). Similar effort is being put forth into the interior design of these buildings. For example, ASHRAE emphasizes minimizing ventilation energy requirements by designing cubicles and floor plan layouts that are more conducive to cross air-flow. Furthermore, these innovative building shells now include less energy requiring fluorescent light bulbs along with motion sensitive lights which guarantee their usage only when necessary, thus eliminating the wasting energy phenomenon (EPA web site). Additionally, a series of model building codes produced periodically by the Council of American Building Officials provides guidance for state and local governments on energy-efficiency measures.
While many building shell approaches are practical only during the design and construction of new buildings, significant energy savings are available through shell retrofit measures designed to reduce infiltration and heat loss. As mentioned earlier, numerous states reward those existing companies that emulate these new energy saving techniques to the best of their ability in the form of rebates, tax credits or even lower interest rates for loans on new capital. For example, the State of Oregon offers 35 percent Business Energy Tax Credit and a Small Scale Energy Loan Program The Indiana State Energy Off-ice supports similar programs through innovative public and private partnerships (Read, 164).
Replacing existing energy-using equipment with more efficient technologies is the second approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These new equipment or device measures are available for every energy end-use at efficiencies substantially above current levels. Unfortunately, technical, operational and economic barriers limit the applicability of energy efficient equipment in any given case. In other words, the output rate of energy efficient devices is constrained by the current technology, which itself is governed by economic and scientific constraints beyond its control. Because states recognize this potential barricade, many states, including Colorado and Louisiana are lobbying for the federal government to subsidize scientific research in this area (Verlag, 218). Yet, as will be discussed later, progress on this matter is slow. Local state governments, however, currently provide financial incentives for accelerating equipment replacement rates through tax credits or low interest loans on efficiency improving replacements, by taxing inefficient appliances and outdated equipment. Furthermore, states work with utility company's to sponsor rebate programs that induce consumers to purchase more efficient products. For example, the Bonneville Power Administration in the Pacific Northwest is currently working with its industrial customers to encourage energy conservation efficient equipment rebate programs. This has proven to be highly successful, having consistently met or exceeded the Power Administration's goals (EPA web site).
Perhaps the most difficult approach to this problem is the attempt to substitute or alter the current energy sources, which supply consumers with end-use services such as electricity, heating, and air conditioning. Most commonly known as fuel switching, the substitution of one energy source for another is an effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This can occur at sites that provide power, such as large electricity generating stations, or on a much smaller scale at home. Substituting electricity with gas to heat water, for example, can lead to a reduction in power plant fuel consumption and emissions. In fact, replacing current gas technologies with very efficient electro-technologies can produce net system reductions in energy use and emissions, even after accounting for the losses in the generation and transmission of electricity. As with most things that seem too good to be true, there is a catch. Although using electricity to heat water is much friendlier to the environment, it is not necessarily the most cost-effective approach to doing so. In truth, this is what most corporations strive for in their daily activities, and thus the minority of the time, saving money is a higher priority even if the opportunity cost harms the environment.
There are also simple, non-tcchnology-bascd programs addressing this problem as well. The most prominent strategy is the promotion of urban tree planning. During the summer, the shade from trees protects homes and businesses from the sun's heat, and during the winter, the structural integrity of trees slow cold winds. In both cases, the presence of trees offers marginal help to reduce the need for heating/air conditioning and thus energy consumption. In addition, collective tree planting provides indirect carbon reduction benefits; evapotranspiration - the process by which plants release water vapor into warm air - from trees and shrubs can reduce ambient temperatures and energy use for entire neighborhoods during the hot summer months. Urban tree planting can also generate direct carbon benefits. Because half the dry weight of wood is carbon, as trees add mass to trunks, limbs and roots, carbon is stored in relatively long-lived structures instead of being released to the atmosphere. Currently, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in California contributes over a million dollars annually to the Sacramento Tree Foundation for tree planting activities. Similar programs, such as Cool Communities, pervade the nation on a national level (EPA web site).
Up until this point, all the preventive measures discussed tend to focus on the activities of the consumers', perhaps misleading the reader to believe that they are the sole bearers of guilt. In fact the suppliers of this energy are just as much at fault. More specifically, the companies that generate electricity provide utilities and power to consumers. Several federal statutes affect the level of greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production including the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) and the Public Utilities Holding Company Act (PUHCA). Under PURPA, state governments encourage transition to modes of power production that result in lower greenhouse gas emissions, including use of renewable fuel sources (Krause and Koomey, A.10.10.24). States can also affect emissions in the power supply sector through their jurisdiction pertaining to environmental protection, as well as through regulation of power plant citing and certification.
Currently, the most effort is being placed into means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions on the supply side comes from utilizing the most innovative technology to achieve maximum efficiency of electricity generation. States actively follow up on this measure by issuing emissions permits/budgets. This creates the incentive for companies to be more efficient because these permits are trade-able which means that if a company emits less than its emission budget, it can sell those rights to another company that may be less efficient and thus in need of a larger budget (Larsen and Shaw, 845). This program epitomizes the idea of efficiency by creating somewhat of a competition between companies.
In the near term, the greatest opportunities for reducing emissions are likely to involve natural gas, the fossil fuel with the lowest carbon content per unit of energy. A recent study, An Alternative Energy Future, (G.W.I. web site) says "the rapid deployment of new technologies could result in a stabilization of total U.S. energy consumption over the next 20 years, with a corresponding shift away from high-carbon fuels to natural gas, renewable energies and higher-efficiency equipment." The joint study, sponsored by the Alliance to Save Energy, the Solar Energy Industries Association and the American Gas Association, says such a scenario will result in a 12 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 to 2010.
In recent years, PURPA and other related organizations have sponsored transition away from high carbon generating technologies and fuels. Unfortunately, many constraints inhibit effective, large-scale, non-carbon alternatives. Hydroelectric power development, for example, is often limited by environmental concerns such as ecosystem damage through flooding and disruption of water supplies, and nuclear power production is constrained by public safety and environmental concerns, as well as the cost of nuclear units and perceived financial risks (Parsons, 116). No nuclear power plants have been commissioned in the US for many years.
More practical, alternative energy sources consist of non-fossil fuel based power generating technologies and processes, including re-usage of waste heat, methane from non-traditional sources, wind, geothermal heat and pressure, solar thermal processes, and tidal currents. For instance, the physiological conditions created by the nations wetlands and landfills produce a lot of "free" methane. Only recently has the importance of capturing this energy source and converting it to societies needs been considered and even implemented. Today, there are numerous methane extraction facilities in the US. Similarly, it is not uncommon to find large windmills located throughout the southern/mid-western regions of the US. Although not a huge source of energy, windmill electricity generation is constantly tinder research and development to improve efficiency and productivity. These aforementioned methodologies are fairly consistent with solutions to demand side measures; they focus on capturing much of the "free" energy emitted in the universe around us. Initial installation costs can create constraints and vary significantly among sources; in many cases these costs limit the ability to compete with fossil fuels. Yet there is hope as research and development on these technologies slowly, but surely increases their cost-effectiveness.
Perhaps the single largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide/monoxide), the transportation sector of society has become so firmly ingrained into society's standard of transportation, it is very difficult to reverse the process. Most attempts to reduce emissions either aim to increase the fuel efficiency of automobile engines or encourage mass transit transportation or carpooling. The former strategy is inevitably constrained by the limitations of technology, yet much research is under way. The most effective means of curtailing emissions in this sector comes from the promotion of alternative methods of transportation. For example many states, with the help of large corporations are currently entertaining the development of urban light rail systems (people movers) to promote carpooling. Furthermore, states plan to improve and extend existing railways for longer distance travel (EPA web site).
As with any other modification to society considered somewhat of an inconvenience, there are incentives to encourage people to partake. Not all, but many states offer financial incentives (tax break or low interest loans) for businesses to initiate car and van pools that lessen the individual number of cars on the road. Furthermore, states encourage the alteration or staggering of work schedules so as to decrease rush hour traffic thus decreasing the overall number of hours cars spend on the road each day. California’s widespread usage of the carpool lane, which allows only those cars with two or more passengers to use them, is also another incentive for people to ride-share. Similarly, the Connecticut Department of Transportation has helped to establish nearly 12,000 car pools and 180 van pools since 1980, saving an estimated nine million gallons of gasoline yearly, not to mention the tremendous savings in carbon dioxide emissions. This practice is getting more and more popular among other states as well (Read, 303).
There are also disincentives to transportation consumers, or everyday people who drive. These include tolls on heavily traveled roads during peak hours, higher automobile registration and licensing fees, and increased gasoline and road taxes. The rationale behind this is that people will revert to other forms of transportation such as mass transit, bicycling or walking in place of driving. Furthermore, US law mandates that every car be smog tested annually in order to regulate automobile efficiency. In some extreme cases, some areas such as North Virginia and Southern California have implemented programs to retire older automobiles (EPA web site).
Despite the positive results stemming from these programs, DSM around the country have often been slow to take hold as an effective mechanism for helping regions curtail energy usage. With regard to the improving energy efficiency and replacing inefficient equipment, the truth is that a relatively long time period is usually required for the replacement of industrial equipment. Most energy-intensive industrial processes are capital-intensive and the rate of equipment turnover is often measured in decades. Additionally, the diversity of technologies and processes utilized in these sectors are markedly different enough that one type of efficient technology doesn't necessarily apply to the next. In the residential sector, most homes in the US already have water heaters, refrigerators, electric lights, and central heating/air conditioning. And like industrial equipment, the replacement rate depends on the installed appliances expected lifetimes, which can range from five to twenty five years or more (G.W.I. web site).
Usually, the basic incentive to upgrade the level of energy efficiency in a building is to save money. However, two distinct disincentives often inhibit these upgrades from happening: higher costs and lack of information. Many energy efficient technologies have higher up-front costs than the standard technologies they could replace. For example, although fluorescent light bulbs are more expensive than standard incandescent bulbs, they ultimately pay for themselves because they require much less electricity (Parsons, 87). Because many people lack this knowledge, they opt not to convert because of high initial costs and the relative in-expensiveness of current electricity rates.
Despite these minor setbacks and temporary barriers in the road, it is likely that in the future, global warming will hardly warrant a moments worry. All states within the US recognize the scope of global warming's threat to future society, and thus we now proactively plan and implement measures to prevent or curtail further emissions of greenhouse gases. This marks a tremendous first step to a monumental movement in terms of energy consumption, efficiency and production. Although the battle ahead seems long and debilitating we must rely on our current strategies and support the research and development of new ones in this ever-changing situation. This effort requires much time, effort, patience and coalescence amongst the global community. The future looks somewhat brighter knowing that these initiatives are currently in process, or in midst of discussion. We have taken the first step of many, knowing one thing for sure: we are indeed headed in the right direction.
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