Earth Day 2023

We all deserve to breathe clean air and drink clean water. There is nothing partisan about it. It was because of concerns about clean air and clean water that the Earth Day tradition began. Thousands of students and other groups fought against oil spills, pollution from factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, species extinction and loss of wilderness. The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970. Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban and rural dwellers, farmers, business and labor leaders came together demanding better environment.

By the end of 1970, the United States Environmental Protection Agency was created and the U.S. Congress passed environmental laws including the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Clean Air Act and in 1972 it passed the Clean Water Act. These laws have saved lives, improved air quality and health.

For two decades, concerns about increased use of coal, oil and gas were raised by not only NASA’s climate scientists but by ExxonMobil’s own scientists. Increased use of coal, oil and gas added pollutants including carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air. In 1988, Dr. Hansen testified in the U.S. Congress expressing concerns of global warming. By 1990, Earth Day was globally celebrated by nations for global action. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, human activities have produced 40 percent more atmospheric concentration of CO2, from 280 ppm to 414.7 ppm in 2021. Carbon dioxide emissions reached record high in 2022.

Seventeen out of eighteen warmest years have occurred since 2001 according to NASA.

As concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions increase in the atmosphere, extreme weather events have intensified, our climate has destabilized and pollutants and pollen counts have gone up. Austin is known for problems of pollen allergies throughout the year. Pollen allergies have become much worse with increase in CO2, warmer temperatures and tail pipe emissions resulting from traffic congestion. Austin had 25 “Ozone Action Days” in 2022 which tops the combined total for past eight years. Short term measures like reduction in use of gasoline powered vehicles, equipment and manufacturing and long term measures like transitioning to cleaner energy sources are needed to reduce warming and ground level ozone. People suffering from pollen allergies feel the effects of ground level ozone along with increase in pollens from ragweed, grass, mold, trees and other pollutants. Sneezing, headaches, post nasal drainage and general sense of tiredness are the symptoms that I suffer from, even after taking appropriate measures.

Texas is a leader in oil and gas production. A non-profit group, Carbon Mapper has detected methane leaks near drilling sites in Texas. Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of CO2 for 20 years after its release. Methane emissions cause 25% of global warming today. Lack of enforcement of permitting rules on oil and gas operations continue to add to global warming by releasing methane into our environment.

Texas faces many water issues including groundwater pollution, aging infrastructure, drought and flooding. Abandoned oil and gas wells are polluting Texas farms, ranches, and underground water. Texas Railroad Commission (TRCC) which oversees orphan wells in Texas, has reported 140,000 inactive wells. Until these wells are plugged, water contamination is likely to get worse affecting health of humans and cattle.

Clean air and clean water are critical and so are reductions in polluting emissions. There are policy proposals introduced in the U.S. Congress to transition towards clean energy sources but we need a political will and bipartisan approach to drive this transition for improved quality of life for all.

Kalpana Sutaria

Project Manager, City of Austin and Member, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Austin

April 20, 2023

LTE Under Consideration: Ask lawmakers to support policies to promote clean energy to reduce CO2 emissions

Re: March 3, 2023 article, “Carbon dioxide emissions reached a record high in 2022”

Scientist Charles Keeling started taking measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) at Mauna Loa every day since 1958. His laboratory provided a continuous record showing the upward trajectory. Consumption of fossil fuels drives up the CO2 emissions every year. The only exception was in 2020 due to reduction in travel during the Pandemic.

Once added, CO2 stays in the atmosphere for 300 to 1000 years. CO2 emissions reached a record high in 2022 despite increase in solar and wind power generation. CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions block the heat from escaping causing global warming. Climate scientists have shown how warming intensifies extreme weather events which devastate our lives and livelihoods in different ways. Allergies and pollution have affected me greatly.

Ask your lawmakers to support policies to promote clean energy to reduce CO2 emissions. It indeed is a monumental task but sorely needed to improve our health and wellbeing.

Kalpana Sutaria

Project Manager, City of Austin and Member, Citizens’ Climate Lobby Austin

Submitted to the Austin American-Statesman

March 2023

Carbon fee and dividend still needed in the climate war 

Published as, “Opinion: More legislation needed in the global warming fight”

Climate activists celebrated the August 2022 passage of the Inflation Reduction Act for its many provisions dealing with climate. True, those provisions were watered down in order to secure passage, and they are far less than what is needed. But that it passed at all was a big surprise, after previous hopes for legislative climate action had been dashed.

However, more comprehensive climate legislation is still much needed, as we are badly losing the war on global warming. In the Paris Accords of 2015-16, 196 nations pledged to pursue efforts to limit earth’s temperature increase to no more than 2.7°F (=1.5°C) above pre-industrial levels — with a fallback ‘in case we fail’ goal to limit warming to less than 3.6°F (2°C). Worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) are at their highest atmospheric concentrations and emissions levels ever recorded, and they are projected to continue rising for at least several years. Virtually no climate science expert believes we will achieve the Paris 2.7°F goal.

There is no question that the U.S. cannot resolve the global warming problem by itself. All nations (especially China) need to take immediate action to slash their greenhouse gas emissions. But this should not dissuade the U.S. from taking responsibility to deal with our own emissions. As leader of the free world and historically the highest emitter of greenhouse gases, we bear a special responsibility to lead by example.

Granted, compared to previous decades, recent U.S. progress in switching away from fossil fuels seems impressive. It is simply not fast enough. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (all greenhouse gases, not just CO2) decreased by only 2 percent from 1990 to 2021. We need additional federal policy to accelerate reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions.

What is needed is a ‘carbon fee and dividend’ policy, which places a fee on greenhouse gas emissions and returns those fees to taxpayers. This approach has been endorsed by a large number of businesses (including Exxon-Mobil), prominent individuals and organizations (e.g., the Climate Leadership Council, whose members include 27 Nobel Laureate economists, and over 3,000 U.S. economists). Carbon fee and dividend has the benefits of being the climate policy that involves least government intrusion in the affairs of business and brings a positive cash flow to most taxpayers (both of which should make it the least objectionable option to members of Congress), and it will have a net positive long-term impact on the economy and jobs creation. The most important benefit is that, if crafted properly, it can be effective enough to achieve U.S. climate goals.

The wise man Yogi Berra purportedly said ‘It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.’ It is indeed tough to determine precisely how hot earth will end up getting because the answer depends almost entirely upon decisions we humans might or might not make: take immediate drastic action; do little or nothing; do something lukewarm in between. It is still possible we could limit warming to 2.7°F – but extremely improbable. All nations would have to take the immediate drastic action path; it won’t happen. The world is now on the ‘lukewarm’ path, one expected to lead to a 4.5-7.2°F rise by century’s end.

Yes, this is a wide range of uncertainty. But even if warming ends up at the low end of this range, it will be disastrous for humans and many other of earth’s plant and animal residents. There is zero uncertainty that we need to take more powerful action now to halt the warming. A carbon fee and dividend policy is the best option for the U.S. to address our greenhouse gas emissions problem.

Mark Warren

Member, Citizens Climate Lobby Austin Chapter

Austin American-Statesman

March 2023

Energy is ‘cheap’ only if you ignore the environmental costs

Re: Feb. 12 letter to the editor, “Liberals’ goal of implementing deal would drive up energy costs.”

The Texas Railroad Commission’s chair refers to Texas’ oil and gas as “cheap and reliable energy.” Leaving aside his claim of reliability, he can call Texas petroleum “cheap” only by ignoring the immense cost of its contributions to air pollution and climate degradation.

This is a classic market failure. Markets work properly only if prices reflect costs, and petroleum prices that omit its environmental costs amount to an enormous subsidy, giving fossil fuels an unfair advantage over clean energy sources such as wind, solar and nuclear.

To correct the market failure, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act would correct the market failure by imposing a fee on fossil fuels. To avoid shocking the economy, the fee begins small and rises on a predictable schedule. To prevent hardship for low-income families, the fee’s proceeds are returned to American families, giving the plan its nickname, “Carbon Cashback.”

Hamilton Richards

Austin American-Statesman

February 18, 2022

‘Cheap energy’ is anything but; consider these recent examples

Re: Feb. 12 letter to the editor, “Liberals’ goal of implementing deal would drive up energy costs.”

Wayne Christian, the chair of the Railroad Commission, promises “access to cheap and reliable energy.” Unfortunately, “cheap” has turned out to be quite expensive.

Examples of what “cheap” has brought us include the 2011 Bastrop fire, Hurricane Harvey in Houston and the February 2021 winter storm. If we don’t change course, “cheap” will continue to get more expensive.

To avoid this escalation of costs, we need to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, that simple. That’s what Biden’s Green New Deal is about.

Philip Russell

Austin American-Statesman

February 15, 2022

Opinion: We all must rise to the challenge of climate change

We’re feeling the impacts of climate change all around us. Rising temperatures are changing our landscapes and livelihoods. The Great Barrier Reef is suffering from thermal stress that contributes to coral bleaching — more than half of the reef’s coral cover was lost between 1995 and 2017. In July, several European countries were severely affected by floods. Globally, eight of the world’s 10 largest cities are near a coast. And in the United States, almost 40% of the population lives in coastal areas, where sea level plays a role in flooding and land erosion.

Nowhere are climate stressors more obvious than in Texas. Our population is expected to nearly double by 2050, and most of the state has warmed between 0.5 and 1.0 degree Fahrenheit during the past century. We are seeing new diseases spread from tropical areas, and we’re experiencing more extreme weather events such as the winter storm that left two-thirds of Texans without power and almost half without water for an average of more than two days in February.

We need to urgently decrease emissions. And Texas needs a statewide climate adaptation plan.

Rising temperatures are caused primarily by an increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. CO2 levels have been rising steadily for more than 100 years due mainly to the burning of fossil fuels, trapping more heat in our atmosphere and contributing to climate change.

A special report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which includes climate scientists from around the world, has said that human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming above preindustrial levels. And global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

This is precisely one of the goals of the United Nations Climate Change conference, or COP26, which brought world leaders together to tackle climate change. Countries are being asked to set ambitious 2030 emission reduction targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century.

We all need to do our part like a true phase-out of coal, accelerating the switch to electric vehicles and investing in renewable energy. There are positive examples around the world of countries that are heading toward a low-carbon future by embracing solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources. Texas produces the most wind energy of any state in the United States. The U.S. as a whole has the second-highest installed wind energy capacity in the world after China. A clean energy revolution must continue to happen across America, underscored by the steady expansion of the U.S. renewable energy sector.

Not only will setting ambitious emission reduction targets help with climate change, it will also lead to cleaner and more resilient cities and infrastructure systems. Energy systems with high percentages of renewables — or even ​​decarbonized power grids — are better able to resist shocks than those heavily dependent on fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal.

Extreme weather events such as this year’s winter storm are expected, and we need to adapt our infrastructure to withstand such stressors. And we especially need to take into consideration vulnerable communities, those that already suffer from chronic stressors related to toxic pollution, poverty, food insecurity, mixed immigration status and gentrification. States and communities around the country have begun to prepare for climate change by developing their own climate adaptation plans; we have many examples to follow.

Our world leaders need to leave COP26 with actionable goals and with concrete, meaningful and realistic deadlines. And policymakers and leaders in Texas must do their part and adopt and accelerate measures to combat climate change, addressing energy infrastructure and equitable resilience. Only then will we rise to the challenge of climate change.

Leite is an associate professor and the John A. Focht Centennial Teaching Fellow in Civil Engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas. She serves on the leadership of a university wide grand challenges initiative, Planet Texas 2050.

Fernanda Leite

Austin American-Statesman

November 26, 2021

A national climate plan needs a Texas component

With spring’s emergence, memories of winter’s Polar Vortex begin to recede and lose their sting. Unfortunately, we know that these weather disasters will continue to occur with increased frequency and magnitude due to climate change. Texas needs a plan to address climate change and we have one — the Texas Climate Plan.

About two years ago, I decided to use my office to examine what Texans could do to impact climate change — it turns out, we can do a whole lot. Texas is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the country and a major emitter of methane. Carbon dioxide and methane are the primary greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. If Texas were a country, we would rank 7th in the world for our carbon dioxide emissions. Major sources of these greenhouse gases are the vehicles we drive, and the oil and gas industry.

After examining the data, we concluded that any national plan to combat climate change must have a substantial Texas component. I collaborated with several House Democrats to develop the Texas Climate Plan as a roadmap to reduce emissions.

The plan consists of four parts, beginning with: “Texas Jobs for a Changing Economy.” The clean energy economy is here, and we have a huge opportunity to benefit from this growth sector.

Since 2017, clean energy added jobs two times faster than national employment and 60% faster than fossil fuels in Texas. Our state is already a leader in electric and hybrid vehicle manufacturing with Tesla, Peterbilt Motors Co., Navistar, Toshiba Heavy Industries, Ayro, Volcon and Hyliion all located here. Major auto companies continue to announce an end to manufacturing gas-powered cars as they transition to electric vehicles. Clean energy job growth in Texas already outpaces fossil fuels, and provides higher paying wages – about 25% more than the median wage statewide. The “future” economy is already here and ripe for prosperity.

Part two of the plan is “Preserving Texas Resources and Industry Accountability.” Texas possesses a wealth of natural resources that have served as a source of economic strength for our state, but these resources must be preserved through responsible stewardship. For example, much of the methane that comes from the oil and gas industry comes from wasteful, routine venting and flaring of natural gas. In 2018 alone, Permian Basin oil and gas producers flared off enough to meet the entire state’s residential demand. Even the UT System can minimize venting and flaring on university lands to reduce the ecological footprint of oil production on public lands and maximize profits by directing this wasted gas to the market instead.

Part three of the plan provides for “Transparency to Empower Texans.” Our staff worked countless hours to unearth the data needed to build the Texas Climate Plan. Details on Texas’ environmental status should be readily available. Texans need transparent information to effectively engage policymakers and provide public oversight.

Part four of the plan, “Resiliency in a Changing Climate,” comes full circle to address the nightmarish “Texas Power Fail” in February. This man-made catastrophe could have been averted had we prepared for the effects of climate change. An estimated 200 Texans lost their lives during the Polar Vortex and damages are estimated at $195 billion — the costliest disaster in Texas history. To save lives and livelihoods, we must prepare for and prevent future extreme climate-related disasters.

As a Texan, I am proud of our energy dominance and the prosperity it has generated for our state. At the same time, we must recognize the negative byproducts of a fossil fuel economy. Texas will continue to be a leader in energy if we take advantage of new technologies that will power our homes and our economy without devastating our environment. We must confront a warming planet so Texans can continue to thrive. Texans are innately suited for this challenge because Texans do not fear the future. We lead it.

State Representative Gina Hinojosa

Austin American-Statesman

April 8, 2021

Listen to the scientists when reforming the grid

Re: March 31 article, “Texas House approves reforms to state power grid in aftermath of February winter storm.”

The catastrophic mismanagement of our electric grid in February was the most devastating event that I have experienced in my 45 years here. I couldn’t believe it was possible to lose electricity for 77 hours in the U.S.

As Asher Price noted, the hearings and media coverage revealed a deep information gap between utility board rooms, state grid control rooms and Texans in their darkened living rooms.

Our lawmakers have to be transparent about their plans to address the short- and long-term crises. The short term to winterize the grid with adequate funding and management of the power grid that puts Texans in the center and not the regulators in control rooms.

They must listen to the Texas climate scientists’ warning on changing climate and an urgent need to debate thoughtful policies to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Texans want leaders to transition to clean energy.

Kalpana Sutaria

Austin American-Statesman

April 5, 2021

LTE Under Consideration: Re: March 21, 2021 Article, “Electric cars could double as generators”

There was a silver lining in living for three days without power and freezing conditions inside my house. Having an electric car in the garage which provided a temporary reprieve for charging devices, temporary warmth and power outage news. Outfitting electric cars with generators would be extremely helpful.

Investments in electric cars and necessary infrastructure to make it viable is an important step in reducing emissions. But the power outage of last month demands reckoning with the facts on climate change. 2021 snowstorm happened after the hottest decade of all times since the 2011 storm. People suffered when our leaders played blame game.

Texas leadership is in denial and we should demand action. We are surrounded with things which are made using fossil fuels including electric cars. Transition away from fossil fuels would be extremely hard but not impossible. Let us take a first step and put price on carbon.

Kalpana Sutaria

Submitted to the Austin American-Statesman

March 22, 2021

LTE Under Consideration: It is Time for Carbon Pricing

Biden’s ambitious efforts have been welcomed by the climate scientists and environmentalists but criticized by the fossil fuel industry. Trends are changing. An official with the U. S. Chamber of Commerce which represents many major American corporations said it “supports a market-based approach to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions reductions across the U. S. economy.” This is a shift in policy. American Petroleum Institute is willing to review market-based carbon pricing options as reported by Wall Street Journal.

Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend act is a policy endorsed by leaders of both parties. It would create jobs, reduce emissions while helping low income households. There are other which would create job training programs, promote clean energy sources, carbon capture and energy storage technologies.

We want a thoughtful mix of policies that will reduce harmful emissions while addressing fossil fuel industry’s job losses, environmental justice and health issues to meet climate goals.

Kalpana Sutaria

Submitted to the Austin American-Statesman

March 11, 2021