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Posts from the "Climate Change" Category

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Sustainable Transportation Could Save the World (and Save $100 Trillion)

A protesters gathered in New York City to demand action on climate, a new report shows exactly what that action could offer us. Photo: South Bend Voice via Flickr

As protesters gathered in New York City to demand action on climate change, a new report shows how smart transportation policy can play a major role in reducing carbon emissions. Photo: South Bend Voice/Flickr

Dramatically expanding transit and active transportation over the next few decades could reduce carbon emissions from urban transport 40 percent more than following a car-centric trajectory. And it could also save the world economy $100 trillion.

That’s according to a new report presented recently to the United Nations by researchers at UC Davis and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy [PDF]. The team modeled the cost and greenhouse gas impacts of two scenarios for the future of world transportation up to the year 2050.

The baseline scenario assumes a business-as-usual approach to transportation. Following this path, transit systems across the globe would grow modestly over the next few decades, while driving would grow considerably, especially in developing nations.

Urban transportation produced about 2.3 gigatons of carbon dioxide in 2010, or about a quarter of total transportation emissions. This is expected to double under a business-as-usual approach by 2050.

Following a different path — which the authors call the “high shift” scenario — by 2050, countries around the world develop high-quality transit systems and bikeable, walkable street networks on par with today’s leading cities.

In the “high shift” future of 2050, most countries will have doubled or tripled their total rapid transit capacity. The authors modeled a dramatic increase in urban rail systems and even bigger growth in bus rapid transit systems. In the model, most major cities in the world would have BRT systems as extensive as Bogota’s TransMilenio.

This scenario also assumes more compact walkable development and increases in cycling — particularly e-bikes in developing nations. ”Most cities could achieve something approaching average European cycling levels,” according to the authors, but still below global leaders like the Netherlands. The “high-shift” scenario also projects the effect of widespread road pricing or other financial incentives that favor sustainable modes. As a result, urban vehicle traffic would only reach half the level projected in the business-as-usual scenario.

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Transit Union and Sierra Club Join Forces for Earth Day and Beyond

Earth Day is a week from tomorrow. How many people will drive to their local environmental festival without even a second thought to how they got there?

The ATU and the Sierra Club are teaming up to promote transit as a solution to fast-rising transportation emissions. Photo: ##http://www.carnewschina.com/page/701/##Car News China##

The ATU and the Sierra Club are teaming up to promote transit as a solution to fast-rising transportation emissions. Photo: Car News China

The Amalgamated Transit Union and the Sierra Club will announce tomorrow that they are joining forces to highlight the connection between transportation and climate change.

Transit is important, “not only to people who ride it but also to everybody who breathes oxygen in the world,” said ATU President Larry Hanley. That’s why the union is strengthening its coordination with the Sierra Club.

“They completely get the importance of mass transit,” he said. “It’s just that we haven’t found ways to formalize our public relationship in the past. That’s what we’re going to do now.”

Transit advocates, including the ATU, have been working to advance the full range of arguments for transit with the Transit Is Greater campaign. The ATU’s new “Transit > Pollution” leaflet [PDF] is all ready to be rolled out at bus stops and train stations around the U.S. and Canada, where the union will be encouraging riders to become more active in the push for better transit. They’ll also be doing climate-themed events with the Sierra Club in May, and beyond that with events they’re calling “Transit Tuesdays.

“We’re working with elected officials and candidates for public office to get out and ride transit with us, to organize riders to contact Congress for a better transit bill,” Hanley said, referring to the pending reauthorization of the MAP-21 transportation bill. They’re also planning a rally May 20 on Capitol Hill, after which members of the ATU and the Transport Workers Union will visit Congressional offices. Sierra Club locals and other community groups from around the country will support that event with phone calls to their representatives.

While initially timed around Earth Day, the partnership launch also coincides with a spike of interest in climate change following the release of a new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that issued a dire warning about the consequences of inaction. “Climate change, to those of us who don’t believe in voodoo but believe in science, is a real serious concern,” Hanley said. “We’re watching polar ice caps melt at the same time that our Congress has turned its back on the things that could slow that down — like mass transit.”

Even many lawmakers concerned about environmental issues don’t pay enough attention to the power of transit to allay climate change, said Hanley. “That’s really the whole point of what we’re doing in May and throughout 2014,” he said. “We’re going to remind the ones who should know and alert the ones who don’t about the value of mass transit.”

According to the IPCC report, emissions from transportation could rise by 71 percent from 2010 levels by 2050, while the scientific consensus holds that the world needs to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by then. The transportation sector is projected to be the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.

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DC Region’s New Long-Range Plan Fails to Meet Its Own Climate Goals

Image: ##https://www.mwcog.org/uploads/committee-documents/YV1aVlhZ20131218092900.pdf##MWCOG 2013 Constrained Long-Range Plan##

While the Washington, DC region has set of a goal of reducing carbon emissions to 10 million tons by 2040, current transportation plans show emissions increasing to 26.5 million tons by then. Image: MWCOG 2013 Constrained Long-Range Plan

If sea levels rise just one foot in the Washington, DC, area, nearly 1,700 homes could be lost. Is the region’s transportation planning agency doing enough to stop that from happening? Several environmental and smart-growth organizations in the region are saying no. Seventeen groups have signed on to a letter, being delivered today, urging the agency to take action. The comment period on the agency’s latest long-range transportation plan closes tomorrow.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments committed in 2008 to an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions below a 2005 baseline by 2050. Two years later, the agency added a goal of 20 percent reductions by 2020. But according to its own analysis, the agency’s current transportation plan doesn’t get the job done.

The chart above is from last year’s long-range plan, but the picture hasn’t changed much with this year’s additions. While three of the 11 projects MWCOG has added for 2014 are streetcars and another two are commuter rail, the list also includes a new highway to Dulles airport, an interchange, two road widenings, and the removal of bus-only lanes.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth has asked MWCOG to reopen the plan and shift “significantly more funds to key transit projects,” said CSG Director Stewart Schwartz. He says MWCOG’s long range plans have an “artificial transit constraint,” since the plan can only include projects that have reasonably identified financial resources. However, existing funds could be shifted to transit projects. Schwartz would like to see more money go toward Metro’s Momentum 2025 plan to increase capacity.

MWCOG's ##http://www.mwcog.org/clrp/projects/highway.asp##2013 long-range plan## calls for spending significant resources on road expansions.

Major highway improvements in MWCOG’s 2013 long-range plan

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What Will Our Future Be Like If We Don’t Change How We Get Around?

What will transportation be like in 2030? It depends a lot on what policies we institute, a RAND report finds. Image: ##http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR246.html## RAND##

What will transportation be like in 2030? It depends a lot on what policies we institute, a RAND report finds. Image: RAND

How will Americans get around in the year 2030? A recent report from the RAND Corporation lays out two “plausible futures” developed though a “scenario analysis” and vetted by outside experts. While RAND takes a decidedly agnostic stance toward the implications of each scenario, the choice that emerges is still pretty stark.

In the first scenario, oil prices continue to climb until 2030 and greenhouse gas emissions are tightly regulated, as a result of the recognition of the harm caused by global warming. Zoning laws have been reformed to promote walkable urban and suburban communities. Transit use has increased substantially. Road pricing is widely used to limit congestion and generate revenue for transportation projects. Vehicle efficiency standards have been tightened, and most drivers use electric vehicles. This is the scenario researchers at RAND call, rather dourly, “No Free Lunch.”

In the second scenario, “Fueled and Freewheeling,” oil prices are relatively low in 2030 due to increasingly advanced extraction methods. Americans’ relationship to energy is much like it was in the 1980s and 1990s. We’ll own more vehicles overall and drive more miles. Suburbanization will continue. Roads are in bad shape because no revenues are raised to repair them. Congestion is worse. This scenario represents the future if little action is taken to counter the effects of global warming.

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“Bike-Washing” the Keystone Pipeline [Updated]

An architectural firm's rendering for a bike path along the Keystone Pipeline. With sunflowers! Image: SWA Group

Houston-based architecture firm SWA Group has heads spinning today: Is their proposal to build a bikeway next to the Keystone Pipeline pure satire or a serious attempt to “bike-wash” the most reviled fossil fuel distribution project of our day?

SWA developed this idyllic rendering and sent it to the State Department and TransCanada, calling for a bike path alongside the proposed 1,300-mile Keystone Pipeline. The firm acknowledged that the drawing was tongue-in-cheek but insisted to Bloomberg that the proposal was serious. Apparently, SWA thinks the bikeway would defuse opposition to the pipeline and attract tourists.

That’s too bad, because as satire, it’s pretty sharp. A version of this happens all the time in cities: Proponents of an expensive boondoggle road project that will do nothing but encourage long, life-sapping commutes slap a bicycle path on the plans and call it a “multi-modal” corridor to placate opposition.

Environmentalists still aren’t sure the Keystone bikeway isn’t a joke. “Seriously, this can’t be for real,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld of the League of Conservation Voters.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Jane Kleeb, of Bold Nebraska, a pipeline opposition group.

A spokesman for TransCanada rejected the proposal, saying the corporation doesn’t own the land where the pipeline is planned and that any structures would block access to the pipeline. Meanwhile, Salon reports the bike lane proposal would cost a cool $400 million.

Update: Looks like this proposal is more satirical than SWA has been letting on to the press, since they originally put it out on April Fool’s Day. Well played. (Hat tip: Richard Masoner.)

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Obama’s Climate Speech: Mostly Mum on Transportation

President Obama announced a sweeping package of measures to address climate change today. But with a couple of exceptions, he was largely silent on the 27 percent of carbon emissions that come from the transportation sector.

President Obama outlined his new Climate Action Plan in a speech today at Georgetown. But the president's actions to address climate change are hindered by Congressional resistance. Image: Whitehouse.gov

One of the most important reforms the president announced is presidential memorandum he plans to issue to the EPA to develop carbon standards for power plants. Carbon emissions from these sources, unlike other harmful chemicals, have until this point gone unregulated by the federal government.

“Today about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from our power plants,” said the president, speaking at Georgetown. “Right now there are no limits to the amount of carbon pollutions those plants can dump into the air. None.”

“We’ve got to fix that,” he said.

Obama’s Climate Action Plan establishes a goal of doubling the amount of energy derived from renewable sources by 2020. The plan would also establish efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings.

The most substantive portion of the plan related to transportation was the announcement that the president wants to expand new fuel efficiency standards for trucks and heavy vehicles beyond 2018. Those standards, the White House says, are projected to save about 270 million metric tons of carbon and 530 million barrels of oil.

The plan also calls for the elimination of “fossil fuel subsidies” in 2014, which would require Congressional cooperation. Research by the International Energy Agency has shown that eliminating those subsidies alone would reduce carbon emissions 10 percent by 2050, according to the Climate Action Plan.

In his speech, President Obama also made reference to the Keystone Pipeline, saying the State Department has been instructed not to approve the project if government analyses determine it would increase carbon emissions.

Jesse Prentice-Dunn, a policy analyst with the Sierra Club, says the Climate Action Plan is mostly a collection of policy fixes the president can enact without Congressional support — such as new emissions standards — which might explain why transportation got short shrift.

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Will Big Highway Projects Have to Consider Climate Change?

Expanding NEPA to include climate impacts and adaptability won't necessarily mean a future free from this. Photo: Macomb Politics

Since 1970, the National Environmental Protection Act has required federal agencies to consider the impacts of their projects on air, water, and soil pollution — but not on climate change.

Until recently, carbon dioxide, which causes global warning, wasn’t classified as a pollutant and so couldn’t be regulated under environmental laws. The EPA in 2009 asserted its power to regulate carbon emissions but hasn’t applied it to NEPA analyses for infrastructure – until now.

President Obama hasn’t made the announcement yet, but Bloomberg reported Friday that he “is preparing to tell all federal agencies for the first time that they should consider the impact on global warming before approving major projects, from pipelines to highways.”

There’s more – projects could also be evaluated according to resiliency in the face of climate change. Would the new infrastructure be destroyed if faced with flooding, drought, or other severe weather? Bloomberg reports that the White House is also “looking at” requiring these climate adaptability and resiliency reports for projects “with 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions or more per year, the equivalent of burning about 100 rail cars of coal.”

Does this mean no more highways?

The conservative National Review’s headline about the changes was, “Did Obama Just Block Keystone?” Columnist Stanley Kurtz speculated that Obama could publicly approve the Keystone XL pipeline and then let the new environmental review process rule it out.

Could the same go for highway projects?

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Will Driverless Cars Add Another Color to Australia’s Heat Maps?

FYI, 54 degrees Celsius is 129 degrees Farenheit. Image: Wired

Here’s the big news of the day: Autonomous cars are making a big splash at the Consumer Electronics Show right now. Audi is testing its self-driving cars on Nevada roads. Google’s already done it in California. Toyota and Lexus are getting ready too.

Here’s the other big news of the day: The planet’s getting hotter. Australia has had to add a new color to its heat maps. If climate change has an illustrator, it’s the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. If it has a color, it’s pink and purple.

Do these two news items have anything to do with each other? You bet they do, if the driverless car becomes the mass transit of the future (hold the “mass”). This incarnation of personal rapid transit futurism looks to some like a cleaner, safer transportation system. To others, it looks like a senseless replacement of a public transportation system — which, by right, should still have generations of improvement ahead of it — with single-occupancy vehicles. That’s one backward future.

These cars are not fully driverless yet, the carmakers emphasize – Jim Pisz, a Toyota corporate manager, told Wired, “We believe the driver should always be in control of the vehicle.”

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Weathering the Next 108-Year Storm

Deron Lovaas is the Federal Transportation Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. This article is cross-posted from his blog on Switchboard.

This map, developed by the FTA, shows where rainfall and sea changes (color shading) intersect with transit systems (the dots). Image: FTA via NRDC

The Boy Scout motto (“Be prepared”) should guide state transportation departments (DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and transit agencies as we recover from the destruction Hurricane Sandy wreaked. This superstorm was deemed historic for transit right off the bat by Chairman Joseph Lhota of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA): “The New York City subway system is 108 years old, but it has never faced a disaster as devastating as what we experienced last night.”

The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has already put thousands of “boots on the ground” to assess and address the damage to livelihoods, lives and property. As they do their jobs and FEMA taps into its multibillion-dollar fund for emergencies such as this, it’s worth recalling advice the agency gives regarding prevention: Each dollar invested in hazard mitigation saves four dollars in avoided damage costs.

I learned this advice from a report prepared about a year ago by Tina Hodges when she was at the Federal Transit Administration (she recently moved down the hall to the much bigger Federal Highway Administration): “Flooded Bus Barns and Buckled Rails: Public Transportation and Climate Change Adaptation.” It’s one of several FTA resources that seem downright prescient right now, all available for download and perusal here.

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The Connection That Can’t Be Ignored: Sandy and Climate Change

If there’s any good news to come out of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, it’s that political leaders and the press are actually talking about climate change. At the end of a long campaign season with barely a mention of the issue, it’s a relief to hear some sane discussion of the issue based on the premise that global warming is real.

While climate scientists hesitate to attribute any single weather event to global warming, many agree that elevated temperatures and sea levels conspired to make this storm especially damaging. And the frequency of storms like Sandy, they warn, will only escalate as global temperatures rise.

We’ve collected, below, some of the most notable statements about the connection between Sandy and climate change, and what it means for the future:

  • Bloomberg Businessweek made the scene of a flooded NYC street its cover, carrying the news that global insurers are beginning to warn about the connection between climate change and extreme weather events. A Germany-based insurer reported that the number of weather-related loss events in North America has nearly quintupled over the past three decades.
  • The Center for American Progress reports that the United States experienced a record 14 extreme weather events that caused more than $1 billion in damage and there have been seven so far this year. Only five states were spared damage.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wasn’t mincing words on the topic. “Part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality,” he said Wednesday during a helicopter tour of the damage. “Extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable. There’s only so long you can say, ‘This is once in a lifetime, and it’s not going to happen again.’”

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