Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Future Paths to Mitigating Global Warming

Carter Bales, Co-Chair of the American Response to Climate Change National Conference, just gave a talk on what a national approach to greenhouse gas reductions might look like. “It’s difficult to be optimistic,” Bales said, noting also that it would require “a mobilization of the nation not seen since World War Two.” He said that provided the misinformation campaign of the Exxons and the coal producers fails, and the new Obama administration is serious, there “could be legislation may by 2011″ and it may become effective by 2015.” “There is hope” he said, “but time is not our friend.”

Generally speaking Bales said a four pronged action plan was necessary:

1 – a cap on carbon emissions
2 – raising efficiencies
3 – supporting deployment of new technologies and solutions
4 – addressing sections of the economy not included in the carbon cap (like ag and forestry)

Bales laid out five areas where differences could be made:

Building and Appliances (advanced lighting, electronic equipment, building shell / green building improvements). He called for a “new generation of appliances using half the energy of today.”

Transportation (biofuels, fuel economy improvements, advanced propulsion systems). Bales said gas would be $14 gallon if not for “peace keeping” and subsidies.

Industry (recovery of non CO2 green house gases from industrial processes, carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency). Bales said that carbon capture and storage is “a complete nightmare, it either isn’t going to happen or it isn’t going to happen for a long time.”

Carbon Sinks (Afforestation of underutilized pasture and crop land, better forest management, alternative agricultural practices such as winter cover crops, conservation tillage). Bales noted that our carbon emissions in the US average about 20 tons per person; in India, it’s 1.5 tons per person. He also noted the important role of forested areas as carbon sinks. Guyana, he pointed out, has negative carbon emissions per person thanks to their large rainforest. “We should be paying Guyana to keep its rainforest standing,” he said adding that it would cost less than $5 a per ton of carbon emissions.

Power (expanding low carbon generation including carbon capture and storage for coal, developing wind and solar, and improving power plant efficiencies). “Natural gas is at best a transitional strategy,” he said, adding that “without fixing our power generation you’re not going to fix the problem.”

Bales also suggested a number of economic benefits from the transition to a low carbon economy:

1 – many existing industries (such as energy services) will boom especially as off-shoring is reduced and local production and servicing comes to the fore.

2 – new industries and businesses will form (particularly around efficiency retooling and green technologies).

3 – energy efficiency will save money for consumers directly.

4 – “peaking power” used at times of peak power demand will be reduced (“peaking power” is dirtier and more expensive)

5 – economies in rural areas (!!) will benefit from renewable energy technologies including wind and biomass.

One important thing for our region that Bales said was that there needs to be discussions on putting a value on standing carbon sinks like the Adirondack forests.

So far the conference is going well and putting together an Adirondack Climate Action Plan looks closer to reality then ever before. This afternoon smaller groups will meet and workshop over the following topics:

Energy Efficient Buildings & Contractor Preparedness
Alternative Fuels & Biofuels, Small Scale Power Generation
Local ‘Green’ Economic Development and The role of Government
Natural Ecosystems and The Role of Adirondack Lands and Forests in Carbon Mitigation

So many questions are going through my mind that it’s difficult to decide on which session.

What are the plans for getting the big real estate developers on board? After all, construction is a huge segment of our economy.

Does small scale power generation mean a distributed network? Small scale solar, water, and wind everywhere? Does it mean the kind of industrialization of our mountaintops and ridges like that proposed for the wind project in Johnsburg?

How does the tourism industry get on board? Does green economic development mean finally capitalizing on the Adirondacks potential as a green tourism destination?

Does the Adirondack sink mean that money will flow from government and industry coffers into the region in the future? Aren’t we in the Adirondacks like Guyana, at least a little bit?

So many questions, and I can only get to one workshop.

More at the end of the day.

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John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for more than 45 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John's Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on North Country Public Radio and on WSLP Lake Placid.

He is also on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute and edits The New York History Blog. He is the author of two books of regional history.




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