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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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Reducing Carbon Emissions, Improving Air Quality, Reducing Energy Costs

Uploaded: Jan 6, 2015
The Governor outlined three major environmental goals in his State of the State speech yesterday and recently Gil Friend, Palo Alto's Chief Sustainability Officer, blogged about a vision for Palo Alto in 2030. Both had a heavy emphasis on slowing or reversing the impacts of climate change.

I am writing to suggest that there are two other important goals that relate to our energy use and costs and to local air quality. Sometimes policies can address all three areas but sometimes there are differences and a focus on climate change alone can distract us from important programs that affect ourselves and our region. While climate change is everyone's challenge, our air quality and our energy use and costs are more local but important areas for progress.

In the last few days the Bay Area has had Spare the Air days because local atmospheric conditions trap smoke that causes pollution and health risks. Particulates in the air are another example of where regional air quality can be threatened but not climate change. So sometimes policies to improve air quality and policies to reduce carbon emission policies overlap. But sometimes different policies are needed for each goal.

The Governor's three goals and the example above help to illustrate where addressing climate change, improving air quality and reducing energy use and cost can lead to similar and when to different policies.

--increase from 1/3 to 50% our electricity derived from renewable sources
--reduce petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50%
--Double the efficiency of existing buildings and make heating fuels cleaner

Reducing petroleum use in cars and trucks is an example of a policy that can address air quality, climate change and costs simultaneously. Higher mileage vehicles (whether electric or not) can reduce pollutants that dirty the air and impair health while saving users money—and at the same time reduce carbon emissions. Such a policy also respects the mobility choices many families make to own and use cars for a variety of purposes. I am all for improving land use and transportation options to reduce car use but also respect that cars will remain important in the future for many.

Improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings has many potential benefits and it is a policy that is within our means to implement as individuals, businesses and government agencies. I am not an expert but understand from what I read that there are many cost effective opportunities to reduce energy use and save money. There may be climate change benefits as well. In our home we replaced the heating units and are saving on energy use and costs in a way that will repay our investment quickly. I do favor paying close attention to costs in choosing which options to pursue particularly if they are done or mandated by governments.

California is already implementing policies to make gasoline cleaner and less carbon intensive. Starting on January 1st, AB 32 requires producers of carbon fuels for vehicles to reduce the emissions caused by the use, not just the production of these fuels under the state's cap and trade system. So far increases in the price of gasoline from this change are far below industry estimates and the program requires progressive reductions in these emissions. This may be a policy more focused on climate change than air quality or cost reduction.

The policies for increasing renewable electricity sources are primarily directed at climate change but I am hopeful that implementation will focus on policies that are cost effective.

I am all for thoughtful local approaches to reducing carbon emissions but am equally hopeful that important local goals of improving air quality and saving on energy costs will not be forgotten when they require different policies.

Comments

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Robert, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 6, 2015 at 3:12 pm

In terms of air quality and reduction of carbon in the atmosphere, the single greatest step would be to adopt nuclear energy. Do you agree, Steve?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Renewable Energy Developer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jan 6, 2015 at 5:16 pm

I develop renewable energy projects for a living, and believe firmly in their value.

A question for Steve in a greyer area: the reduction in CO2 emissions from renewables, is dwarfed by the CO2 reduction from increased Natural Gas production (gas when burned produces about 1/2 the CO2 as coal, and much lower SOX and NOX emissions per unit of energy created), because of the sheer quantities of energy involved.

Steve, do you support increasing gas production by opening (well-regulated) fracking opportunities in the Monterrey Shale in California, knowing this will cause the largest, fastest reduction in CO2 in the next decade.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 7, 2015 at 9:45 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Re the two comments above, I do not know enough about the science to comment on those aspects of nuclear power or fracking.

I tried to stress two objectives besides addressing climate change in the blog--air quality and cost savings.

My experience with nuclear plants in CA and across the country is that they are being closed for economic (and safety) reasons. I am not anti-nuclear per se but do worry about cost and safety issues and even then have no idea whether expansion makes sense.

If readers want to advocate for nuclear or fracking, they are free to start their own blog posts on Town Square.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 8, 2015 at 9:47 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

A friend wrote

Steve, thank you for your thoughtful blog piece. Certainly improving air quality and saving on energy costs are important goals in addition to combatting catastrophic climate change (although, of the three, I personally believe the last merits our greatest concern, attention, and concerted action). Two points regarding some of the issues you raised:

1. You may see a much closer connection between your three goals if you also (a) focus on "black carbon" and (b) include medical costs. Mark Jacobson at Stanford is one of the leading researchers concerning "black carbon," and you can find some pointers to his work on his web page (Web Link): "In 2000, he applied this model to discover that black carbon, the main component of soot pollution particles, might be the second-leading cause of global warming in terms of radiative forcing, after carbon dioxide. This and subsequent papers provided the original scientific basis for several laws and regulations on black carbon emission controls worldwide." Reducing "black carbon" can also have significant payoffs in terms of lower future medical costs, including those that are borne socially (in addition to the pain suffered by those suffering from diseases caused by air pollution; see, e.g., "California's Air Pollution Causes Asthma, Allergies and Premature Births," Web Link).

2. In "Addicted to Energy" (Web Link) and elsewhere, Elton Sherwin has written about the importance of improving energy efficiency in buildings to help control catastrophic climate change. In your blog, you wrote, "I am not an expert but understand from what I read that there are many cost effective opportunities to reduce energy use and save money. There may be climate change benefits as well." If you look at Elton's work, among other things, I think you'll come away believing that (a) such benefits unquestionably exist and (b) working on buildings is particularly important because of (a) their persistence in the built environment over relatively long periods of time and (b) their significance in capital spending.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by The Framers, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Jan 8, 2015 at 10:06 am

Renewable Energy Developer: "do you support increasing gas production by opening (well-regulated) fracking opportunities in the Monterrey Shale in California, knowing this will cause the largest, fastest reduction "

The frame of the question implies there is a shortage of gas. Isn't natural gas already cheap and plentiful?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Logical inconsistency, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Jan 9, 2015 at 10:44 am

How is "Reducing Carbon Emissions, Improving Air Quality" compatible with increased population, increased density and development?
These are two important issues in Palo Alto.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 9, 2015 at 2:44 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Air quality in the Bay Area and most parts of the state has improved over the past 30 years despite continuing job and population growth. Better fuel milage and a host of state and regional air quality regulations have more than offset the increases in pollution that otherwise would have come from growth under 1970s and 1980s rules.

I view the reduction in carbon emissions similarly--that it will come through better technology, incentives and regulation.

But moving people out of the Bay Area to other areas of the country or world would increase emissions as our emissions per capita have better opportunities for control than if the growth occurred in areas that have fewer mitigating policies.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Robert, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 11, 2015 at 10:37 am

Steve,

When your friend pretends to support a 'scientific' view, and leaves out nuclear energy, that is NOT a scientific viewpoint...it is political propaganda. You have been taken in by your friend.

ANY discussion of reducing man-made carbon in the atmosphere MUST include nuclear.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by growing costs, a resident of Woodside: Family Farm/Hidden Valley,
on Jan 12, 2015 at 11:04 am

"nuclear energy, that is NOT a scientific viewpoint"

It's not science. It's math.

Prohibitive costs, much borne by taxpayers (for example, no private insurance company will touch nuclear, necessitating the government to pick up the tab) as well as the subsidized costs in construction, operation and closing of plants, as well as storage of waste.

Corporate welfare.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Robert, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 12, 2015 at 12:24 pm

growing costs, The newer generation nuclear generation stations have none of the issues you just described. They are small, local, passively cooled (or passively shut down when overheated), can use existing nuclear waste stockpiles, are hands off operation (no humans involved in the ongoing operations), and much more. You need to get up to speed.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 13, 2015 at 10:16 am

"But moving people out of the Bay Area to other areas of the country or world would increase emissions as our emissions per capita have better opportunities for control than if the growth occurred in areas that have fewer mitigating policies."

Recall that California adopted emissions mitigation policies because the population concentration was generating unhealthy pollution levels. Other areas will be incentivized to do likewise if their population densities increase to the threshold. No doubt they would appreciate an influx of good jobs in the process.

Even with our vaunted mitigated emissions, we just finished an eleven-day round of dirty air. Those measures only work to a point.

An ever-increasing population, which is a boon for the local economic metrics, will inevitably overwhelm the finite local resource support base, like LA, Phoenix, and Las Vegas have oversubscribed their actual supply of water. We can mitigate (or, in the case of "renewable" energy, export) overpopulation impacts only to a certain point.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jan 13, 2015 at 2:39 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

curmudgeon, if you feel that population is growing too fast here for your taste, you are free to go elsewhere.

When I grew up in Southern California there were roughly half as many people and the air was significantly worse. California's air quality regulations were put in place to deal with our unique atmospheric conditions. It is certainly true that more people contribute to emissions but throughout the state air quality has improved through our ingenuity and conservation

And without telling other people where to live and without telling companies to locate in places they are free to choose now but prefer California.

You have the relation of population and jobs backwards. Job growth drives population growth not the other way around. People came to the Bay Area and left as the dot.com boom surged and retreated--not the other way around. People left Detroit as auto jobs moved to the south not the other way around.

I like to respect the wishes of people and companies to make their own location decisions but if you think other people should move away, be a leader and walk your talk and send us a postcard when you relocate away from California.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 14, 2015 at 2:40 pm

A busy man like yourself doubtless cannot follow each blog entry as it appears. That would explain why you may have not noticed how your name was hijacked by a prankster, or worse, to portray you in a crass venal light.

This person attributes to you an egregiously crude strawman misrepresentation of my posting about the consequences of overpopulation. He or she also frames you with a false, allegedly scientific, statement about why California found it necessary to regulate emissions into the atmosphere, ignoring your prior credible disclaimer that you are not a scientist. The error was immediately apparent to a scientist like myself, and will be to the other knowledgeables who read your blog.

As a respected member of the community, you will probably wish to correct the record and engage in the civil debate which my posting invited. I look forward to that exchange.

Helpfully yours,

Curmudgeoon


 +  Like this comment
Posted by New nukes, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Jan 22, 2015 at 10:19 am

Robert, where are these new nukes in place? Japan? France?

> The newer generation nuclear generation stations have none of the issues you just described


 +  Like this comment
Posted by bonobos Marcos, a resident of another community,
on Jan 22, 2015 at 12:39 pm

I actually live in Utah and found this article while researching similar issues here. I don't know how much you know about the Utah Valley but it is quickly gaining popularity and population density as the next big start up tech hub. Unfortunately this is beginning to create bad inversion and terrible air quality, To the point where you can't even make out the huge mountains the city is next too. I would love to see clean air days implemented hear and a focus on reducing car and factory emissions.

Bonobos |Web Link



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