By Stuart Price, RSVP Communications
June 18, 2003 — Global climate change could involve enormous worldwide implications. Officials in Washington, DC, and around the world are currently debating this highly publicized environmental issue.
This debate evokes heated passion from observers who emphasize that we need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and that the Republican Bush administration has shunned its corresponding obligations.
Even though the Republican Party also holds sway in the U.S. Congress, several lawmakers have introduced aggressive legislation to establish GHG emission limits, GHG emissions credit trading systems, and a national GHG emissions inventory.
Other observers passionately contend global warming theory is fraudulent. Players on both sides of the debate are convinced they are correct.
Both sides need a reality check. They should remember that we are currently debating the issue in Washington, D.C. — a town well known for compromise and give-and-take on virtually any issue.
So just what is the administration doing to address climate change?
The administration contends that taking drastic actions to reverse climate change – like the ones outlined in the Kyoto Protocol – would have serious economic consequences.
Rather than taking these steps, the President would rather cut national greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent — from 183 metric tons per million dollars of gross domestic product in 2002 to 151 metric tons per million dollars of GDP in 2012. (Greenhouse gas intensity is the amount of GHGs produced per dollar of gross domestic product.)
To address climate change, the administration strives to:
* Develop zero-emission fuel cell technologies for the long-term.
* Improve a voluntary program encouraging companies to stem GHG emissions and report reductions.
* Support advanced coal energy technologies. (Coal-fired power plants – one of the most significant sources of GHG emissions – generate over 50 percent of the nation’s electricity.)
* Initiate a national climate change science program.
Fuel cell technologies: Last fall, the administration endorsed a plan to develop emissions-free Polymer Electrolyte Membrane fuel cells. These fuel cells can generate electricity inside buildings or in automobiles.
Voluntary program to reduce GHGs: The federal government encourages electric utilities and other companies to voluntarily reduce GHGs. Participating utilities (e.g., Exelon, Entergy, Southern, Duke Energy, and Tennessee Valley Authority) typically report how they avoid operating fossil fuel generators by squeezing more electricity out of their standing nuclear power plants. (There have been no new orders for a domestic nuclear power plant, however, in 25 years.)
More efficient use of coal: Coal is the most plentiful energy resource in the U.S. According to the National Mining Association, this country holds a 274 billion-ton coal reserve. This fossil fuel generates over half of the nation’s electricity.
Coal is also the most infamous source of GHG emissions. This domestic resource, however, will continue powering our society for the foreseeable future. The administration supports improving coal technologies with:
* Integrated gasification combined cycle plants to upgrade coal plant generating efficiency from 30 percent to 60 percent. (By making coal plant operations more efficient, utilities can generate more electricity using the same amount of fuel, thereby mitigating GHG emissions.)
* Advanced combustion (reaching ultra-supercritical steam temperatures of 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit).
* Carbon sequestration capacities.
U.S. climate change science program
Dr. James R. Mahoney, leads the Climate Change Science Program (www.climatescience.gov). The President has charged him with gathering comprehensive data assessing the global carbon cycle, atmospheric composition, climate variability, global water cycle, ecosystems, and human contributions to climate change.
“There is no question that atmospheric CO2 from anthropogenic sources is increasing,” said Dr. Mahoney. “We have seen a rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from about 280 parts per million in 1950 to about 360 ppm in 2000. Our computer models tell us that we might expect our overall temperatures to rise from 2 – 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the coming century. However, there is too large a degree of uncertainty and natural variability to be sure of any outcome at this point. Also, the accuracy of those models still has not been validated.
“Our objective in the climate change science program is to provide policy makers with as near a complete set of data as scientifically possible to form decision-making tools. Appropriate, just and sound policy requires a foundation of a more thorough understanding of the various natural cycles that govern global climate behavior.”
Stuart V. Price (email@example.com) has built communication programs for energy and environmental operations for more than 16 years and has worked for federal agencies, power utilities, and trade associations.