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Win-win Opportunity for Climate Prosperity and Life Op-ed 07-01-08

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July 1, 2008 Win-Win Opportunity for Climate, Prosperity and Life on Earth By Michael Totten

Eighty percent of Americans recently polled believe America is on the wrong course – militarily, economically, socially and environmentally. The wrong course is being mired in a $3 trillion Middle East war that was wa s avoidable, as was the deaths of a more than half a million human beings. The war’s other unintended adverse consequences include the U.S. dollar’s fallen value, a 500 percent jump in world oil prices, an economic recession, and declining government support for health, education and the environment. If the current $120 cost per barrel of oil persists, Americans will pay out $1 trillion every 30 months for foreign oil imports. Americans also overwhelmingly believe the government is on the wrong course in refusing to reduce planetary risk from a dangerously destabilizing climate.  Human  processes now rival natural processes, emitting greenhouse gases equivalent to the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo (one of the largest in the past century) every 44 hours! The USA is the only country in in the world refusing to ratify the Kyoto Treaty. President Bush also reneged on his 2000 presidential campaign pledge to cap emissions of these radiatively active gases. Instead, the Administration Administration and key members of Congress have been defiantly opposed to emission emission reductions. They assume, inaccurately it turns out, the only available options are expensive clean-up systems which divert funds from generating more economic output. This is evident in the current Congressional Co ngressional debate over climate legislation, as it was evident in the U.S. Delegation’s opposition to reduction targets at the March 2008 UN climate talks in Bangkok. In citing recession fears as a reason for taking no action nor setting any future reduction targets, the Administration and man y Congressional members are verging on willful disregard of or callous indifference to the immense and steadily expanding pool of directly obtainable and financially attractive mitigation options. Actions so abundant they could result in saving half or more more of the potential $200 trillion projected to be spent on energy worldwide over the century. Put more soberly, failure to change course will squander this $100 trillion dollar bonanza on more costly, polluting and insecure options, while also failing to capture a lodestone of ancillary benefits from deep CO2 reductions, rural and urban employment growth,  poverty alleviation, cleaner air and water, and enhanced security. A case in point is the 2004 Department of Defense-funded report, Winning the Oil military has good  Endgame, American Innovation for Profits, Jobs, and Security Secur ity. The military reason to assess whether America can wean itself of vulnerable and risky foreign oil imports experiencing volatile price hikes that are hemorrhaging the nation’s economic lifeblood. Oil wars, as in Iraq, are costly, unpopular, and demoralizing. The report shows they are also entirely avoidable. In the wake of the 1970s OPEC oil embargo and gas price spikes the Congress mandated a doubling of vehicle fuel efficiency. efficiency. That single action accrued U.S. consumers’ multi-

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hundred billion dollar savings at the gas pumps, was instrumental in collapsing OPEC’s high oil prices, and lifting the nation out of a recession. Advanced technology innovations now enable another doubling of the nation’s vehicle fleet efficiency, with similarly immense gas pump savings. Compared to oil at $120 per  barrel, the cost of the vehicle efficiency improvements can “deliver” oil services at a cost equivalent to $15 per barrel. The efficiency gains could reprise their 1970s role in dramatically lowering oil demand and, hence, collapsing skyrocketing oil prices. Combined with comparably large energy and monetary gains by improving the efficient uses of natural gas, the Pentagon report concludes that three-fourths of U.S. oil consumption could be eliminated. The U.S. transportation sector accounts for 30% of CO2 emissions, so the efficiency gains not only save money, dampen the recession, and enhance national security, but achieve dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions and other air  pollutants at no cost! The remaining one-fourth of oil could be satisfied through reliance upon local and regional biological wastes to produce ethanol or biodiesel fuels. Most promising for the long-term is the unfolding success story of ultra-efficient, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) connected to the utility grid, and getting fuel economy over 100 miles per gallon-equivalent. Electric motors are more efficient than gas eng ines, and PHEVs harness this advantage by increasing a vehicle’s battery capacity and decreasing the gas engine size. The electricity sector accounts for 40% of the nation’s CO2 emissions, and harbors similarly vast energy efficiency gains. A 2007 “deep-dive” assessment by consulting firm, McKinsey Global, found 75% of the nation’s electric demand growth through 2030 could be satisfied with efficiency improvements at lower cost than erecting new power  plants. Highly successful states like California and Vermont have several decades of market-driven innovative regulatory outcomes in this regard, by realigning the financial interests of utilities so their profits go up when they implement efficiency improvements resulting in customers’ energy bills going down. Remarkably, the efficiency gains have cut California household utility bills by $1000 per year, while California’s utility system’s CO2 emissions are 50% lower than the U.S. average! Taken together, efficiency gains throughout America’s stock of buildings, factories, vehicles, farms, and manufactured appliances, lights, office equipment, and consumer electronics could cut in half the nation’s one trillion dollar annual energy bill. The knock-on effect of deep reductions in CO2 emissions would be achieved, again, at no cost  to taxpayers and ratepayers. Even more impressive system efficiencies can be captured by connecting PHEVs to the grid. Combining the vehicle and electricity sectors through an increasingly advanced digital grid, or smart network , provides one of the most compelling technical innovations in the 21st century. A recent government assessment concluded that the existing U.S. electricity system has sufficient generating capacity (1 trillion watts) to power 84% of the nation’s 200 million cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs for 33 miles per day, which encompasses the average daily driving cycle for most motorists, if the vehicles were

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 Energy and National Security – PHEVs could reduce gasoline consumption by 90 billion

gallons per year, or more than half of U.S. oil imports; Oil Monetary Savings – more than $270 billion per year in gas pump savings;  Avoided Emissions – reduce total U.S. CO2 emissions by 27%, as well as 80 to 100% of

urban smog, noxious pollutants, and lung-damaging particulates. As grid-connected PHEVs become an increasing percentage of the U.S. fleet they also  provide critical battery storage for intermittent wind and solar electricity generation. Research indicates PHEVs comprising 8%-38% of the fleet could provide operating reserves or storage for wind and solar. This would enable already competitive wind  power to generate half of U.S. electricity – as much as coal currently generates. What about the existing 2 billion tons of CO 2 emissions per year from America’s 330  billion watts of coal-fired plants (plus 400 million tons of CO2 from natural gas-fueled  power plants)? Retrofitting existing coal plants with carbon capture and storage (CCS), when commercially viable in five to 10 years, is projected to double or triple the generating cost of electricity. The mitigation cost would amount to $100 per ton of CO2, or upwards of $200 billion per year for all coal-fired power plant emissions. It would be cheaper for utilities to shut down the oldest and most polluting plants, especially since efficiency improvements can replace the electricity services at well below just the cost of the CCS retrofit.  New advanced coal plants with CCS systems, when commercially available in 5 to 10

years, are expected to increase electricity costs by 75 percent. This would reduce the cost to $40 per ton of CO2, or upwards of $50 billion per year nationwide. In addition to efficiency services displacing many existing and proposed coal plants, given that reducing a molecule of CO2 has the same value anywhere on the planet, it is fiscally responsible to pursue other least cost emission reduction options for fossil fuel  plants. The Report on the Economics of Climate Change prepared by former World Bank Chief Economist Sir Nicholas Stern highlighted an immediate and highly cost-effective option to waiting for several-fold higher cost CCS: reducing emissions from tropical deforestation in developing countries. Most people are unaware that 20% of total global annual CO2 emissions are released during the burning down of tropical forests. This is an area the size of England, and a CO2 pollution level greater than released by the world’s entire transport sector. In the wake of this vast destruction scientists also estimate that some 16 million plant and animal species populations go extinct. Very little revenue is generated from a large percentage of the 30-plus million acres of tropical forests burned down each year. So little in fact that farmers and ranchers would actually accrue several times more income by leaving the threatened forests standing, and selling the “mitigation services” of the stored carbon for a s little as $5 to $10 per ton of CO2 in the global carbon trading market. That is 10 to 20 times less expensive than retrofitting existing plants, and 4 to 8 times less costly than new coal plants with CCS. Some 300 to 400% more CO2 emissions are released from tropical deforestation than

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radiatively active gases by nearly 130 parts per million in the coming decades. This will  push the world into extremely dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate consequences. Yet, a payment by fossil fueled utilities of $5 per ton of CO 2 to reduce deforestation would add just half a penny per kWh of electricity – a tiny fraction of the cost of CCS over the coming decade. This constitutes an immensely positive win-win outcome for cash-poor, carbon-rich tropical farms and rural communities and for fossil-fueled utilities and their customers. The revenue gains for impoverished developing countries would help achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the lofty and ambitious targets agreed to by developed nations to help developing countries pursue actions for eliminating poverty, hunger, sickness, premature deaths, stunted growth and illiteracy. At the same time, it would prevent irreversible loss of wildly diverse plant and animal species. These awe-inspiring, biologically rich creations with lineages millions of years long, are treasures of knowledge yet to be scientifically understood. Future generations will judge us harshly if we wantonly allow these great, irreplaceable mysteries of life to  be destroyed. More immediately, preventing the loss of these species would have direct value for the cultural survival and protection of indigenous nations and nearly 1 billion  people living in extreme poverty who are directly dependent upon forests for their food, fuel, shelter, fresh water, fiber, and genetic resources. The world’s scientific community has unequivocally determined that climate destabilization is a human-made crisis of the highest order, threatening our economic  prosperity, international security, environmental stability, and the long-term survival of offspring. The urgency for immediate and sustained action was summed up by Dr. Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late. What we do in the next two or three years will determine our future.” There is no better time than the present to seize the embarrassing richness of opportunities before us to transform multiple challenges of epic proportions into well-being and health for life on earth. ---------------------------Michael Totten is Chief Advisor on Climate and Water at Conservation International (www.conservation.org/) .

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