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

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

LTE: Methane Has More Than 80 Times the Warming Power of Carbon Dioxide

Re: February 5, 2023 article, “How can we best measure Methane?”

Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide for twenty years after its release. Under the Inflation Reduction Act, the EPA is preparing to charge a fee, the first ever to reduce global warming, on the amount of methane released.  How to measure the amount is a major dilemma.

Oil and gas companies have equipment to measure methane but they are not deploying them fully. Currently, they can pollute our environment without any consequences. They even burn excess hydrocarbons or use “flaring” which is allowed only for safety.  This practice is widely prevalent in the Permian Basin which TCEQ could stop by enforcement of the current permitting rules.

If these companies don’t want to pay fees, they could follow the permitting rules and seal methane leaks and start a transition plan to clean energy methods to become a part of the solution to stabilize our climate.

Kalpana Sutaria

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

Submitted to the Austin American Statesman and to the Times-Picayune in Louisiana

February 2023

LTE Under Consideration: The Year 2022 and Climate

The year 2022 was a remarkable year for the climate.

  • The U.S. emissions went up by 1.3%
  • It was the 6th warmest year according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It should have been cooler being a Le Nina year.
  • According to Dr. Hansen, 2022 was 0.04 degree Celsius warmer than 2021 likely because more energy is coming in than going out.
  • The 10-warmest years on record have occurred since year 2010.
  • The US had 18 one billion plus dollar climate disasters.

We had news to celebrate 2022. Inflation Reduction Act was the largest ever climate bill that was passed by the U.S. Congress. Volunteers of Citizens Climate Lobby have work to do by reaching out to the state and city governments and ensure that allocated federal dollars are invested in clean energy sources to bring the emissions down.

This will improve our health and quality of life.

Kalpana Sutaria

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

Submitted to the San Antonio Express News

January 2023

Wake-Up Calls for Our Fossil Fuel Addiction Kicking our fossil fuel addiction is good for the climate, our health, our economy, and geopolitical stability

Nations fight wars over resources and use them as cudgels to influence and control the policies of other nations. We have seen this dynamic at play with energy resources for decades, including now with Ukraine and Western Europe.

Why didn’t all nations stop buying Russian oil and gas, or even condemn Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine? Because they are addicted to Russian oil and gas. Like drug addicts, many nations would experience extreme withdrawal symptoms, both economic and political, if Russia stopped the flow. And even though the U.S. is effectively energy independent, disruptions in the global oil/gas market impact energy prices here, in turn impacting our jobs, economy, and politics.

Those are the geopolitical facts of life of oil and gas addiction. We have received many wake-up calls since at least the early Seventies: Ukraine is just the latest. Yet we remain as addicted as ever.

And our addiction impacts more than just geopolitics. Alarms are also ringing for Earth’s warming climate, as they have for over 30 years. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report just gave its most dire warnings yet. We are urgently in need of waking up, as it is now clear there will be seriously harmful social, economic, and environmental consequences to continuing our fossil fuels addiction.

Fossil fuels have been the main catalyst for advances in human welfare over the past few centuries, and we will need to continue burning them to some degree for many decades to come. But there is no doubt that the time has come to wean ourselves from them – and quickly.

The transition away from fossil fuels will entail disruptions to business as usual. All transitions do – like the Industrial Revolution, the switch from horses to cars, or the digital revolution. All change generates resistance, but most people would agree these disruptions were worth it, that humanity ultimately ended up healthier and more prosperous.

Likewise, our transition away from fossil fuels is generating resistance, but the benefits of conquering our fossil fuel addiction will be enormous, far outweighing any disadvantages. Within a few decades, we can generate huge numbers of new jobs, save trillions of dollars in energy costs and trillions in GDP, and another trillion in health care costs due to a reduction in things like strokes, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and other air quality-related maladies. We can reduce our vulnerability to energy-related geopolitical storms. Russia or OPEC will no longer hold democratic nations hostage by threatening to cut off their gas or oil. We can live in a nation where the cost of energy doesn’t go up and down at the whims of other nations who do not have our best interests at heart. We can halt the trends of deadlier storms, more intense heat waves, droughts and water scarcity, wildfires, floods, rising seas, reduced agricultural output, biodiversity loss, and the death of coral reefs, the incubators for so much ocean life.

To achieve all this, we have to dedicate ourselves to kicking our habit.

Step 1 of recovery from our addiction is to end denial and admit a problem exists. We are finally entering that stage with climate. Polling data indicates a large majority of U.S. citizens now agree the climate is warming, worry about it, and agree humans are the cause. Now for our next step to recovery: Forge plans of action to change our unhealthy behaviors and follow through on them. Put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, convert to clean energy sources, remake our transportation system, and redouble our energy efficiency efforts. It’s time we stop hitting the snooze button on our fossil fuel addiction.

Bob Hendricks is a Citizens’ Climate Lobby congressional liaison and Texas state coordinator and a longtime political and environmental activist in Austin. Mark Warren is a Citizens’ Climate Lobby Austin member, Business Climate Lobby member, a longtime environmentalist, and a native Austinite born here in 1950.

The Austin Chronicle

May 13, 2022

These are the results of humans heating the Earth

Re: Dec. 29 article, “Five things worth remembering about Austin’s weather in 2020”

An interesting article about Austin’s 2020 weather. I couldn’t help notice the words “climate change” and “global warming” never appeared – interesting because record-setting heat waves and droughts, permanently escalating “average” temperatures, increasing number of hurricanes and severe weather events, and the general “weirder” weather you mentioned, are all results of humans heating the earth.

One might be tempted to think this isn’t so bad, it’s just the weather; and indeed, if the warming stopped dead in its tracks right now, we could live with the results, albeit at high cost. The problem is, the warming is still escalating rapidly, and will continue to do so unless we take immediate, vigorous measures to stop emitting greenhouse gases.

We have the technology and resources, and even the proposed legislation (HR763), to slow and ultimately stop the toasting of our planet. Let your government representatives know you want it done, now.

Mark Warren

Austin American-Statesman

January 4, 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

Let this environmental wake-up call sink in

Re: June 12 article, “UN: Climate and extinction crises are intertwined.”

When we are busy working, taking care of our families, being entertained, trying to make a buck, it is easy for us humans to overlook the harmful impacts we are having on Earth, harmful because they are going to hurt us directly and seriously.

We have received thousands of wake-up calls, such as the recent United Nations report, but we still haven’t woken up. The rapid heating of Earth, the decimation and rapidly increasing extinction rate of countless species, the despoiling of our oceans — relatively few of us want to hear about these things or take them seriously.

The most important things you can do to counteract them? One, educate yourself on how we are impacting the environment and what changes you can make in your own life to help mitigate them. Two, support only candidates with the most aggressive environmental protection agendas. It is essential we take action quickly.

Mark Warren

Austin American-Statesman

June 21, 2021

U.S. can lead in transition away from fossil fuels

Re: May 17 article, “The climate tree has fallen.” It is refreshing that the Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency is able to present facts: “The Earth’s climate is changing. Temperatures are rising, snow and rainfall patterns are shifting, and more extreme climate events … are already happening. Many of these observed changes are linked to the rising levels of carbon dioxides and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, caused by human activities.” All of us have experienced the effects of major disasters. Pollution kills 100,000 Americans every year and many others experience health impacts. I suffer from seasonal allergies which are getting worse.

We need to cut down emissions by pricing carbon and transitioning away

from fossil fuels. Our dependence on fossil fuel would require large amounts of carbon-free power that is lower priced than fossil fuels. Innovations in renewables and nuclear power are ongoing. The U.S. can lead the way, collaborate with nations, and invest in research and development of such power.

Kalpana Sutaria

Austin American-Statesman

May 22, 2021

State’s next looming health crisis is climate change

What kind of world do we want to live in, and what kind of world do we want our children to inherit? Do we want to be faced with recurrent and prolonged extreme heat waves, wildfires and hurricane seasons? Our climate crisis is not simply an environmental issue, it is a health crisis that has the potential to be more damaging than even our current pandemic in the long-term. As fellow Texans and medical students, we invite you to join us in supporting key bills currently in the Texas Legislature to fight climate change and protect our friends and families.

Texas summers are only getting hotter. Without further action to combat climate change, we could see almost two months of extreme heat each year in the next few decades, compared to fewer than 10 days now. This puts infants, young children, and people over 65 at risk of heat exhaustion and stroke. For the nearly 2 million Texans who have an underlying cardiovascular disease, heat waves make their hearts have to work much harder, which causes more emergency room visits, severe illnesses and deaths. Our homeless population and low-income communities who struggle to keep the A/C on will have to fight to stay alive during such overwhelming heat.

With these heat waves come megadroughts, which significantly increase the risk of wildfires, such as the massive 2011 Texas wildfire that burned almost four million acres. For the over 2 million Texans with COPD or asthma, wildfires severely exacerbate these and other respiratory diseases. Pregnant mothers exposed to wildfire smoke and air pollution have much higher rates of preterm birth, low-birth weight infants and stillbirths. If we don’t act, the terrifying red skies and black clouds we saw all over California last year may become common in Texas, too.

Heat and wildfires are not the only threats. Texas will be hit harder by hurricanes and flooding. The surface waters of the Gulf are warming up, and this heat creates an ideal environment for monstrous hurricanes. As we witnessed with Hurricane Harvey, these severe storms destroy homes and health care infrastructure, damage sanitation systems, and cause great physical and mental harm.

Let’s talk about how to fix this climate and health crisis. While we’re proud to be Texans, it is alarming that if Texas was a country, it’d be in the top 10 carbon emitters worldwide. We contribute heavily to climate change, and we are doing Texans a disservice if we say that the oil and gas industry provides quality jobs. The industry occupational fatality rate is seven times higher than that of general industry, and their employees are frequently exposed to dangerous chemicals and particulates that have major long-term health consequences such as lung disease and cancer. Transitioning to more sustainable energy sources translates into safer, more reliable jobs, which are healthier for employees and our communities.

The state legislature must recognize this urgent crisis and take long-overdue action to protect our beautiful state and its people. There are specific steps we can take. The Texas Legislature needs to pass HCR 22, HB 1044, SB 243 and other legislation to address climate change. HCR 22 and HB 1044 would be instrumental in setting the stage for future sensible, nonpartisan legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to these extreme weather events. SB 243 will improve energy efficiency, lowering demand on the electrical grid while providing weatherization to people’s homes and businesses. These are just a few of many critical bills that will safeguard our future. Please contact your state legislators today and ask them to support these bills. Let’s make sure our kids and grandkids will have a state and planet worth living in.

Hancock and Tee are medical students at Dell Medical School at UT-Austin and executive board members of the school’s Environmental Health Interest Group.

Canaan Hancock and Michael Tee

Austin American-Statesman

April 28, 2021