Green America: Growing the Green Economy for People and the Planet

Climate & Energy

Economic action to stop global warming

Myth Busters
Climate Change | Coal | Gas & Oil | Cars

Climate Change

Q: When in the future will climate change become a problem?

A: Climate change is a problem today! Evidence can be found in the melting glaciers of Greenland, the decimation of the coral reef off the coast of Australia, the droughts in Africa, and the extreme weather patterns hitting the United States and countries worldwide. We need to take action now.  Sir Nicholas Stern wrote in his extensively researched 2006 Review, “The benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the costs,” and that “there is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change if strong collective action starts now.” Read the Stern Review (PDF).

Q: If the Earth warms and cools naturally, are humans really the source of climate change?

A: The Earth goes through natural cycles of warming and cooling, but the current cycle is more dramatic due to human activity. The Earth has warmed one degree Fahrenheit in the last century, and although this may not seem like much, this is monumental when you consider that the Earth’s overall temperature was only eight degrees cooler in the last ice age (when much of North America was covered in ice). Currently the Earth is warming at a much faster rate than at any other time in recorded history, and increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will only worsen the situation.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report “Climate Change: 2007” states that there has been a 70% increase in greenhouse gas emissions between 1970 and 2004 – and that this is primarily due to the human activities of fossil fuel burning and land-use change.

Q: Can we "fix" climate change?

A: We can’t “fix” it, but we can mitigate its impacts.  In 2007, the IPCC report stated that “there is substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global GHG emissions over the coming decades that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels.”  Mitigation can come in the form of lifestyle changes, investment in a renewable energy infrastructure, replacement of high-carbon energy sources with low-carbon ones, and upgrades in energy efficiency, among other options.    The IPCC recommends an 80% reduction in GHG emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. Read the IPCC report (PDF).

In order to meet the deadline of an 80% cut in 1990 emissions levels by the year 2050, the global community must move now and at sufficient scale to ensure that a livable future is possible.

Q: Is there really any thing I can do?

A: YES! Your actions and choices have a bigger impact that you might think. From the car you buy to the power choices you make at home, you can dramatically reduce your own climate change impact. When you join with others in campaigns to stop corporate polluters such as coal-burning utilities, car manufacturers and others, you can force the market changes we need to dramatically reduce green house gas emissions. Take Action now.

Coal

Q: What is "clean coal"?

A: The coal and power industries are attempting to develop new technologies that can reduce some of the environmental impacts of mining and burning coal. The “clean coal technologies” remove some of the sulfur and nitrogen oxides or convert coal into a gas or liquid fuel. [source: EIA] While these do decrease the amount of emissions from coal power, they still allow for significant pollution. The toxins collected still have to be buried in a hazardous waste site, which in turn can seep into underground water sources. These technologies also don’t address the health and environmental concerns associated with mining and transporting coal, nor do they address CO2 emissions.

Another approach to mitigation is carbon sequestration, also known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).  This method entails artificially capturing CO2 at large point sources, such as coal-fired power plants, and storing it in underground geological formations or the ocean.  There are major concerns over leakage and the fact that the sequestration process itself requires large amounts of energy.

It is important to note that many "clean coal" technologies and carbon sequestration plans are not fully developed. They are not likely to be ready in time for the proposed 100+ new coal plants that are being brought online.

Q: Is coal better than oil?

A: No. As fossil fuels, both coal and oil must be extracted from the Earth and transported -- both processes that have profound environmental impacts. When burned, both coal and oil produce pollutants and contribute to global warming, with coal being the worse of the two.

Proponents of coal point to its abundance in the US. However, they are ignoring the environmental impacts of coal verses renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Q: Is coal the only option for US energy independence?

A: Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are abundant in the US and have the potential to help the US become energy independent by decreasing our dependence on oil, natural gas, and coal. According to Clean Energy Trends 2006, “global wind and solar markets reached $11.8 billion and $11.2 billion in 2005 — up 47% and 55%, respectively, from a year earlier. The market for biofuels hit $15.7 billion globally in 2005, up more than 15% from the previous year” [source: Clean Edge].  In order to both meet our energy needs and protect the environment, we need to increase the rate of renewables. In the long run, only renewable energy can produce safe, secure, and permanent solutions to America’s energy needs.

Gas & Oil

Q: Is the problem really that the US gets most of its oil from the Middle East, which is unstable?

A: While the US does import 67 percent of its oil, only 20 percent of that comes from the Middle East. More than 40 percent of US oil comes from Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela. [source: Gibson Consulting] World demand for oil is increasing, but there’s a finite supply of oil left in the world and a limit to how much can be produced at any given time, which means that oil is increasingly a poor source for US energy needs on a purely economic basis.

Q: If we drill for more oil in the US, won’t we be less reliant on foreign oil?

A: The US has only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserve, but we consume 25 percent of the world’s oil, so drilling and using all the oil we have will not reduce our reliance on foreign oil. However, if we raise fuel economy standards by one mile per gallon, we would save double the amount of oil that's in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. If we raise fuel efficiency standards by 7.6 miles per gallon, we would yield more gasoline than we currently import from the whole Persian Gulf region. [source: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.]

Q: Aren’t gas and oil the only affordable options for consumers?

A: Compared to prices in other industrial countries, the price of gas in the US is very low. On April 21, 2010, the price of a gallon of gas in the US was $2.38, compared to $7.06 in England (which is representative of pricing throughout Europe). This is because the current price of gas in the US does not reflect the environmental damage that is done during the drilling, refining, and burning of gas and is kept artificially low with industry subsidies.

The low price of gas in this country has helped to create great demand and even greater greenhouse gas emissions. Higher gas prices that reflect the true cost of gasoline would also increase demand for efficient cars and alternative fuel sources.

Cars

Q: Does my car really make a difference?

A: Certain vehicles have less of an impact on the environment, especially in relation to how much gas they use. A gallon of gasoline weighs just over 6 lbs. When burned, the carbon in it combines with oxygen from the air to produce nearly 20 lbs of carbon dioxide. By switching from a gas guzzler to a hybrid, you can literally save the Earth a couple of tons of greenhouse gases. [source: HybridCars.com]

 Q: Haven’t fuel efficiency and emissions standards improved over the last 20 years?

A: Many people are suprised to learn that fuel efficiency on average has gone down in the past 20 years with the introduction of the SUV. While emissions standards have improved in some other vehicles, the total miles traveled has doubled, resulting in higher levels of air pollution in many parts of the country. [source: Environmental Health Center]

 Q: I thought power plants were the worst emitters, so don’t vehicles only make up a small part of the CO2 problem?

A: Transportation is the largest source of CO2 emissions in the US. It accounts for about one-third of all of our CO2 emissions, more than from factories, homes and all other sources. [source: HybridCars.com]

Q: Doesn't it help me protect my kids to drive an SUV?

With the rate of global warming, driving a fuel-efficient car would offer better long-term protection to you, your children and your grandchildren. Threats such as increased disease, extreme weather, severe drought and air pollution that cause increased asthma, cancer, and birth defects will become a reality as the climate continues to change. In addition, many passenger cars are safer than the average SUV on the road.

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