Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Policy, Implementation, and Infrastructure: Flex-fuel Fleets are 1 for 3

November 26th, 2008

Posted by: admin

While I’m driving to my Thanksgiving destination, it seems appropriate to note the policy of expanding federal flex-fuel fleets.  Over the last several years, billions of dollars have been invested in alternative-fuel vehicles.  Unfortunately, the investment hasn’t exactly panned out, as the Washington Post reported in its November 23 edition.  It’s a great description of flex-fuel fleet policies and history, and a strong example of good policy implemented badly with no apparent considerations of infrastructure.  In short, purchasing flex-fuel cars across the country isn’t as effective when flex-fuel stations aren’t as widely available.

As this country moves forward with other alternative energy scenarios, the underlying infrastructure, whether we’re talking about fuel stations, electric grids, or some other support systems, will have to change before the new energy source can be successfully implemented.  Let’s remember the failures of the federal flex-fuel fleet.  The Post article suggests that the government approached this as a purchasing decision rather than as an investment decision.  Perhaps a tradeoff where fewer cars were purchased and the additional funds were used to invest in flex-fuel infrastructure could have helped avoid a situation where 92 percent of the fuel used in the flex-fuel fleet isn’t alternative fuel.

Elements of Any Successful Approach to Climate Change

May 6th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

This post summarizes, in capsule form, what I believe to be the necessary elements of any successful suite of policies focused on climate mitigation and adaptation. This post is short, and necessarily incomplete with insufficient detail, nonetheless, its purpose is to set the stage for future, in depth discussions of each element discussed below. The elements discussed below are meant to occur in parallel. All are necessary, none by itself sufficient. I welcome comments, critique, and questions.


Malaria and Greenhouse Gases

April 25th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Did you know that today is “World Malaria Day“? I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t; a search of Google News shows 233 stories on “world malaria day” published in the past 24 hours. A search of “climate change” over the past 24 hours shows 45,819 stories. This post is about the inevitable conflict in objectives that results when we frame the challenge of global warming in terms of “reducing emissions” rather than “energy modernization.” The result is inevitably a battle between mitigation and adaptation, when in reality they should be complements.

Why does malaria matter? According to Jeffrey Sachs:

The numbers are staggering: there are 300 to 500 million clinical cases every year, and between one and three million deaths, mostly of children, are attributable to this disease. Every 40 seconds a child dies of malaria, resulting in a daily loss of more than 2,000 young lives worldwide. These estimates render malaria the pre-eminent tropical parasitic disease and one of the top three killers among communicable diseases.

The Economist reported a few weeks ago on efforts to eradicate malaria. The article referenced a study by McKinsey and Co. on the “business case” (PDF) for eradicating malaria. Here are the reported 5-year benefits:

• Save 3.5 million lives

• Prevent 672 million malaria cases

• Free up 427,000 hospital beds in sub-Saharan Africa

• Generate more than $80 billion in increased GDP for Africa

I want to focus on the prospects for increasing African GDP, for as we have learned via the Kaya Identity, an increase in GDP will necessarily mean an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. So what are the implications of eradicating malaria for future greenhouse gas emissions from Africa?

To answer this question I obtained data on African greenhouse gas emissions from CDIAC, and I subtracted out South Africa, which accounts for a large share of current African emissions. I found that the average annual increase from 1990-2004 was 5.2%, which I will use as a baseline for projecting business-as-usual emissions growth into the future.

The next question is what effect the eradication of malaria might have on African GDP. The McKinsey & Co. report referenced a paper by Gallup and Sachs (2001, link) which speculates (and I think that is a fair characterization) that complete eradication could boost GDP growth by as much as 3% per year. This would take African emissions growth rates to 8.2%, which is still well short of what has been observed in China this decade, and thus not at all unreasonable. So I’ll use this as an upper bound (not as a prediction, to be clear). So if we graph future emissions under my definition of business-as-usual and also the Gallup/Sachs upper bound, we get the following curves to 2050.

Malaria Scenarios.png

The figure shows that by eradicating malaria, it is conceivable that there will be an corresponding increase in annual African emissions of more than 11 GtC above BAU. Today, the entire world has about 9 GtC. For those following our debate with Joe Romm earlier this week, this would mean that he would have to come up with another way to get 10 more “wedges,” as rapid African growth is included in none of the BAU emissions scenarios. Put another way, the success of his proposed policies depends on not eradicating malaria since rapid African GDP growth busts his wedge budget.

The implications should be obvious: If a goal of climate policy is simply to “reduce emissions” then this goal clearly conflicts with efforts to eradicate malaria, which will inevitably lead to an increase in emissions. But if the goal is to modernize the global energy system — including the developing the capacity to provide vast quantities of carbon-free energy, then there is no conflict here.

This distinction helps to explain why there persists an adaptation vs. mitigation debate, and why it is that advocates of adaptation (to which eradicating malaria falls under) are often excoriated as “deniers” or “delayers” — adaptation just doesn’t help the emissions reduction challenge. The continued denigration of those who support adaptation will continue until we reframe the climate debate in terms of energy modernization and adaptation, which are complementary approaches to sustainable development.

Over at The New Scientist Fred Pearce takes a broader view and warns of “green fascism” on the issue of development and population:

But there is another question that I find increasingly being asked. Should we be trying to stop others having babies, especially people in poor countries with fast-growing populations?

I must say I thought this kind of illiberal thinking had been banished from the environmental movement. But it keeps seeping back. When I give public talks on climate change, I am often asked if all the efforts in the rich world won’t be wiped out by rising populations in the poor world.

Isn’t overpopulation more dangerous than overconsumption? I say no. But the unpalatable truth is that a lot of environmental thinking over the past half century has been underpinned by an unhealthy preoccupation with the breeding propensity of Asians and Africans. . .

Only recently, US groups opposed to all migration tried to get their policies adopted by the blue-chip environment group, the Sierra Club. To many they sounded like a fringe group. Actually they were an echo of the earlier mainstream.

And the echo is becoming louder. We hear it in the climate change debate. No matter that the average European or North American has carbon emissions 10 times greater than the average Indian or African, somehow it is those pesky breeding foreigners who are really to blame.

And now food shortages are growing and we will get more. Ehrlich, we are bound to be told, was right after all. You have been warned: green fascism could soon be on the march.

It is long overdue to rethink how we think about the climate debate.

News on science and world poverty

October 25th, 2007

Posted by: admin

The Council of Science Editors (includes editors of many scientific publications around the world) has organized this week to focus some page space on the theme of research on poverty and human development. For some good news on the topic, see some of the amazing data visualizations of Hans Rosling, who argues that many countries that we used to think of as experiencing mass poverty are now developing by many standards at a rapid pace. There are still some bleak spots—many of the countries in Africa unfortunately are not yet on target to meet the Millennium Development Goals. One of the interesting tidbits is a project that is using randomized testing to study the effectiveness of various anti-poverty measures. It seeks to combine sensible, tailored solutions on the ground with a research protocol to rigorously test how well the measures work. While this might seem to be “mundane science” to some, I think it’s a great example of usable science working to help the world’s poor.

The Importance of the Development Pathway in the Climate Debate

May 16th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Today I am testifying before the House Committee on Science and Technology of the U.S. Congress. In my testimony I argue that we should pay attention to development paths in addition to the mitigation of greenhouse gases. You can see my testimony in full here in PDF.

A full reference:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2007. Statement to the House Committee on Science and Technology of the United States House of Representatives, The State of Climate Change Science 2007: The Findings of the Fourth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change, 16 May.

University of Colorado Sustainability Initiatives

February 27th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Not long ago we raised some questions about how well the University of Colorado’s commitment to sustainability was actually being reflected in actions. Recent remarks by our Chancellor, G.P. “Bud” Peterson, at a conference on sustainability last week suggest that our campus leadership is in fact now taking this issue seriously. Here is an excerpt:


Science, Technology, and Sustainability Program at NAS

June 4th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

A very interesting program at NAS:

“The National Academies have established a Science and Technology for Sustainability Program (STS) to encourage the use of science and technology to achieve long term sustainable development – increasing incomes, improving public health, and sustaining critical natural systems. The first two projects under the STS program are the Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability and a workshop series entitled “Strengthening Science-Based Decision Making.””

the program is supported by a $10 million endowment. Learn more here.