Friday, May 30, 2008

Two New Reports

The first is from the Brookings Institution. The report (click here for PDF) quantifies transportation and residential carbon emissions for the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. Not surprisingly, the report finds that the carbon footprint of the average city dweller is substantially lower than their rural compatriots. More surprisingly perhaps, the carbon footprint of city dwellers is also increasing more slowly than the national average, 7.5% between 2000 and 2005 compared to 9% nationally. The fact that it is still increasing rather than decreasing is depressing though.

The report also found that per capita emissions vary widely between cities, largely due to the availability of public transport and the fuels used for electricity generation. Each of the 10 metro areas with the lowest per capita electricity usage hailed from states with higher-than-average electricity prices. The report also made the following policy recommendations:

  1. Promote more transportation choices to expand transit and compact development options
  2. Introduce more energy-efficient freight operations with regional freight planning
  3. Require home energy cost disclosure when selling and “on-bill” financing to stimulate and scale up energy-efficient retrofitting of residential housing
  4. Use federal housing policy to create incentives for energy- and location-efficient decisions
  5. Issue a metropolitan challenge to develop innovative solutions that integrate multiple policy areas

The second report was released reluctantly (in fact, in response to a court order) by the federal government and is a summary of recently published research on the effects of climate change on American life, including agriculture. Click here to download the full report, which is about 270 pages long. (I found the 2.75MB download very slow, perhaps because it is a popular download, or perhaps because the government deliberately put it on a slow server. The ability to download just the 17-page executive summary would be welcome.)

After reciting the evidence for climate change, the executive summary refers to the conclusions of previous government reports that “it is very likely that temperature increases, increasing carbon dioxide levels, and altered patterns of precipitation are already affecting U.S. water resources, agriculture, land resources, biodiversity, and human health, among other things” and that “it is very likely that climate change will continue to have significant effects on these resources over the next few decades and beyond.” It then goes into more detail about the effects on agriculture, health etc.

The report identifies benefits as well as costs and some of the conclusions are almost laughably obvious; for example the report predicts a decrease in energy used for heating and an increase in the energy used for cooling and that more people will die from the heat while fewer will die from the cold. (The point about energy use is not entirely trivial however, since while we use electricity for cooling we often use natural gas for heating.) While far from alarmist, the overall picture painted by the executive summary gives ample cause for alarm.

The body of the report is packed full of information for those interested in the details, including geographically detailed historical information about changes in precipitation, temperature etc. over the past century.

No comments: