Why developed countries should back loss and damage in Paris

schoolchildren typhoon haiyan
schoolchildren typhoon haiyan

School children in the Philippines contemplate the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (courtesy of Pio Arce/Genesis Photos).

A number of critical issues remain unresolved, including whether countries should set a maximum safe threshold for carbon emissions and what protocols will be put in place to ensure that parties are transparent and accountable for their emissions reduction commitments. One of the trickiest outstanding issues is the question of loss and damage. For years, developing countries have called for developed states to compensate them for the negative effects of climate change, such as more frequent flooding and more intense droughts.

While developed countries committed to provide financing for climate mitigation and adaptation through the development of the Green Climate Fund in 2009, it is widely acknowledged that there are impacts of climate change which we can neither prevent nor prepare for. These residual effects are at the centre of the loss and damage debate.

This issue particularly came to the fore at the 2013 Warsaw Conference, which took place in the immediate aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated parts of the Philippines and killed more than 6,300 people.

Yeb Sano, the Philippines lead negotiator, delivered an impassioned speech in Warsaw pushing the issue. Sano, whose hometown had been flattened by the storm, fasted throughout the conference in solidarity with Haiyan survivors. He called for parties “to make clear the difference between humanitarian aid and climate change compensation in the context of historical responsibility.”

These efforts paid off, as negotiators created the Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage, which created a standing committee to research the issue and advise the UNFCCC over the next two years.

At last year’s conference in Lima, negotiators reaffirmed their commitment to discuss the issue, outlined the membership of an Executive Committee, and approved a two-year work plan. But discussions remain in a preliminary phase, and many developing states remain concerned that the Paris talks may fail to address the question adequately. Small island states, in particular, view loss and damage as an existential question, as climate change may threaten their very survival.

To read the rest, head over to the original post at RTCC.

What is the real cost of freezing Ohio’s clean energy standards?

oec clean energy infographic
students protesting against sb 310

Students protesting against SB 310 in front of the Ohio Statehouse on Wednesday, May 14 (courtesy of Ohio Beyond Coal).

I have asthma. According to the CDC, I am one of 831,787 Ohioans and 25.9 million Americans living with this condition (PDF). That means that 1 out of every 12 Americans is living with asthma, up from 1 out of 14 in 2001.

While people who may not have firsthand experience with this illness may not understand, asthma is far more than just an inconvenience. I’ve heard and seen children with asthma describe feeling like fish out of water when they are suffering an attack. It’s terrifying to not be able to get the air you need. While I don’t think I was ever really in any acute danger, the fact remains that 185 children and 3,262 adults died of asthma in 2007.

As much as I hate to admit it, asthma came to define much of my childhood. From the day that I was diagnosed at either 5 or 6 (I can’t remember the exact date), my severe asthma was omnipresent. Many of my memories from this period involve such episodes, including the role that my mom played in helping me deal with these attacks. Growing up, my mom routinely worked 60-hour weeks and stayed until 3:00 a.m. or later every Tuesday night to edit her newspapers. Despite this, she was always there to listen to my lungs to see if I was wheezing; to pick me up from school or practice if I had an attack; to ferry me to and from the the ER when I needed treatment; and to sit next to me in the hospital for the long hours while I underwent tests, got chest x-rays, and did my nebulizer treatments.

I vividly remember my first major asthma attack. It was the spring of 1993, and I started having breathing trouble towards the end of the school day. The attack only got worse throughout the afternoon, and when my mom got home from work around 6:00 p.m., she immediately drove me to the ER at Fairview Hospital. We sat in that ER for hours before a doctor could see me and for several hours more before they were able to admit me for care. My mom stayed with me right until they took me up to my room for admittance at 3:30 a.m. I ended up spending three days in the hospital for treatment and observation (thankfully, it was the only time that I actually got admitted for asthma). This is just one of the thousand acts of kindness from her that I can never fully repay.

Fortunately, as I got older, I began to grow out of this severe asthma. Today, I am able to live a normal life without worrying about when my next attack will come. But, at the same time, I know that the threat remains, and I have my emergency inhaler on hand, just in case. I was reminded of this quite vividly back in the fall of 2005 when I went in for routine surgery. The procedure required me to go under general anesthesia, so the doctors intubated me. But, after the surgery, when they tried to remove the tube, I suffered a severe bronchial spasm that cut off my breathing. My blood-oxygen saturation levels plummeted into the mid to upper 60s (normal levels are 95-100%), and I ended up spending the next 24 hours in the ICU, an experience I recommend avoiding, if at all possible.

I have no idea how much my asthma diagnosis ended up costing my parents in medical bills and lost time at work, but I imagine the amount was substantial. I did see the medical bills that came in during my stay at the ICU and, even with insurance, they were staggering. For the millions of Americans who suffer with asthma everyday, many of whom do not have insurance, this diagnosis is a real burden. On average, asthmatics spend $3,300 in medical costs each year. According to CDC numbers, asthma costs total $56 billion in direct medical costs, lost school and work days, and premature deaths. Everyday in this country, 36,000 children miss school and 27,000 adults miss work due to this condition.

My past (and present) as someone living with asthma has made me an advocate for clean air. We know that air pollution is both a root cause of the condition and a proximate trigger of asthma attacks. And that’s what pisses me off so much at SB 310. By crippling Ohio’s clean energy industry and protecting the fossil fuel industry, it will directly contribute to more asthma attacks and more chronic pulmonary diseases. This bill will carry a high cost in blood and treasure for our state.

It’s great to focus on how this bill will destroy jobs and harm a thriving clean energy industry in the state (which I’ve done), but SB 310 proponents just counter with their BS “war on coal” retort, a completely disingenuous argument that is, nonetheless, powerful in this state. But it’s another thing entirely for proponents of this bill to hear about the ways that it will directly affect the health of thousands of Ohioans and just not even give a shit.

Yesterday. the Ohio Environmental Council released this infographic showing the benefits of the state’s clean energy standards during 2013:

oec clean energy infographic

Source: Ohio Environmental Council

Using these numbers and EPA incidence factors, we can roughly calculate the economic and health benefits of the clean energy standards in 2013 alone. According to 2011 EPA standards, every ton of NOx, SO2, and PM2.5 has has the following benefits:

incidence factors for power plant emissions

Source: US Environmental Protection Agency

Accordingly, using these numbers, the reductions in NOx and SO2 emissions saved 3.5 lives, 267 lost work days, 59 asthma attacks, and 2.5 non-fatal heart attacks last year alone. And, based on Lepuele et al.’s economic benefit estimates, these standards had a health-related economic benefit of $208,620,000 in 2013.

But these numbers don’t even take into account the social benefit of the greenhouse gas emissions avoided by the standards. The US government currently uses $37 per ton as its social cost of carbon emissions. Accordingly, given that these standards saved 1,061,300 tons of GHGs in 2013, they created an economic benefit of $39,268,100. In total, using these conservative estimates, Ohio’s clean energy standards generated an additional economic benefit of $247,888,100 in 2013 alone.

These savings are not included in other analyses, but they are real, and they affect the lives of ordinary Ohioans everyday. The facts are clear – a vote for SB 310 is a vote for more asthma attacks, more heart attacks, more work and school days missed, more trips to the ER, more premature deaths, and more of the carbon pollution that is driving climate change. These are the the stakes.

If SB 310 proponents really wanted to show the real cost of these standards on Ohioan’s electric bills, as they claim, they should include a provision in the bill that requires the inclusion of these numbers. Somehow I doubt that would go over too well.

When your state doesn’t fund public transportation, you end up with this

bus stop at route 237 & Eastland Road
rta healthline buses

RTA HealthLine buses in downtown Cleveland (courtesy of Cleveland.com).

Jason Segedy, the remarkably progressive Director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study (AMATS), the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the Akron area, has the full text of an interview he did with Mark Lefkowitz of GreenCityBlueLake up at his blog. In the interview, he discussed the changes that we need to make in Northeast Ohio in order to enhance public transportation and make it a viable alternative for residents. It’s well worth reading.

In the interview, Jason discusses what we need do in order to develop a big picture for public transit at both the metro and regional level going forward. But he also gets down into the minutiae that really affects the daily experiences of public transit users, including

things like improving rider safety (mostly perception of safety); ease-of-use (using smart phone technology to give real-time travel information and for electronic fare payment); improving transit waiting environments; improving walkability and bikability to transit stops; and working more closely with local governments and private developers to improve signage, wayfinding, and to institute transit-friendly urban design.

I have used public transportation extensively both in Cleveland and Washington, DC, where (despite all of WMATA’s many, many problems), living car free is actually a viable option. Unlike in DC, in Cleveland I cannot use a smart phone app to check when the next bus or train arrives, I cannot reload my fare card online, and I am often unable to escape the elements when riding the bus or rapid.

In many ways, as Jason pointed out yesterday, these types of quotidian issues are what really controls whether or not people will utilize transit. And one of the most crucial issues is that of rider comfort and safety. If people don’t feel safe from harm at bus stops and rapid stations, they won’t come back the next time. It’s no wonder that the Greater Cleveland RTA has to spend thousands of dollars on commercials assuring Clevelanders that taking the bus isn’t as bad as getting a root canal.

But, given the state of Ohio’s absolute refusal to invest in public transportation, riding the bus or rapid in this region can often feel like a chore. As a state, Ohio spends less public transportation than all but 3 others.

Funding for transit in Ohio has fallen by three-quarters (PDF), from $44.22 million in 2000 to just $10.87 million by 2010. And whereas other states provide, on average, 23% of total operating funds for transit agencies, Ohio contributes a whopping 3%. When you break it down on a per capita basis, the state spent just $0.94 per Ohioan in FY 2010, less than every other state in the Great Lakes region. Even that car-dependent state up North spends $19.98 per capita, over 21 times more than the Buckeye state.

Much of this stems from the fact that the Ohio constitution bars the use of gas tax revenues for anything but highway construction and maintenance, meaning that all transit funding must come from the state’s general fund. And of the minuscule amount of funding the state does provide, just 3% of it goes towards capital expenditures. As a result, without federal grants like the TIGER program, few, if any, new public transportation projects would go forward.

That virtual absence of funding for transit and ODOT’s infatuation with sprawl leads to situations like what you see below. This is an actual bus stop in Northeast Ohio. While I obviously haven’t seen every possible bus stop in the 7-county area, this is easily the most dangerous and least rider-friendly stop I have ever come across.

bus stop at route 237 & Eastland Road

An actual stop for the #86 bus alongside Route 237 in Cleveland (courtesy of Google Maps).

This bus stop is located where Eastland Road meets Route 237, just across from Hopkins Airport and the I-X Center. If you look closely enough, you can just make out the small, blue RTA bus stop sign.

Route 237 is a restricted-access highway with a 50mph speed limit. In other words, you aren’t even allowed to walk or bike on the road due to the dangerous speed at which traffic moves, but you can wait for a bus 3 feet away from passing cars. And if you need to cross to the other side of 237 for any reason, keep dreaming. There’s no intersection anywhere near it. I don’t know if anyone has been killed or injured waiting for a bus here, but if not, it’s just a matter of time. Ohio has completely abrogated its responsibility to fund alternate transportation, and the end result is this kind of nightmare for public safety.

So what are the worst/most dangerous bus stops you’ve come across in Northeast Ohio? Share you pictures in the comments or send them to me directly. Maybe we can shame ODOT into changing it’s reckless ways. Probably not.

The Opportunity Corridor is an environmental justice disaster

opportunity corridor map

Map of the proposed Opportunity Corridor path (courtesy of the Ohio Department of Transportation).

There is no question that environmental justice (EJ) is and has long been one of the key civil rights issues facing this country. While we may not think about the issue, perhaps because the environment is seen as some amorphous, natural entity, environmental quality varies significantly based on location and socioeconomic status.

Decades of research shows that poor communities of color are far more susceptible to the deleterious effects of air, water, and soil pollution (PDF) than other groups. Though the issue continues to loom large, the country has made progress over the last two decades.The EPA has an Environmental Justice division, an offshoot of Executive Order 12898, which President Clinton signed 20 years ago this February. All 50 states and the District of Columbia now have some sort of EJ legislation or policy on the books.

But despite these successes, much remains to be done. A new study from researchers at the University of Minnesota in PLOS One shows clearly that racial disparities in air quality remain a serious issue (PDF) for public and environmental health in the US.

The authors compared Census data to national information on exposure to nitrogen dioxide, NO2, one of six criteria air pollutants as set by the EPA. Based on the analysis, average NO2 concentrations were 14.5 parts per billion (ppb) for nonwhites, compared to just 9.9ppb for whites. Accordingly, nonwhites were exposed to 38% higher levels of NO2. Exposure also broke down along income levels.

no2 disparities by county

County level differences in population-weighted mean NO2 concentrations between low-income nonwhites and high-income whites (courtesy of PLOS One).

The authors note that these disparities, particularly the major gap along racial lines, likely leads to major public health impacts. They estimate that, if nonwhites had the same rate of NO2 exposure as whites, it would lead an annual decrease of roughly 7,000 ischemic heart disease deaths. To put that in perspective, 3.2 million adults would have to give up smoking to get this same outcome.

Air pollution and race in Northeast Ohio

As you might expect, there is a significant racial disparity in NO2 exposure within the Cleveland metro area. Based on the authors’ data, nonwhites in Cleveland are exposed to 2.3ppb more NO2 than whites on an annual basis. This constitutes the 17th largest gross disparity in the country. Much of the work on urban air pollution focuses on pollutants from stationary sources, particularly coal-fired power plants. But, if you actually break down the data in low-income, minority communities, pollution from transportation emerges as a major issue. In a 2009 report from the Pacific Institute (PDF), residents of Richmond, a low-income community in Northern California, identified freight transport as one of the leading environmental threats to their well-being.

Unlike other pollutants like CO2, SO2, or mercury, the EPA says that 57% of NO2 pollution derives from mobile sources (i.e. automobiles). That number is even higher for Ohio (65%) and Cuyahoga County (77%). NO2 has been linked to asthma, decreased lung function, low birth weight, and elevated risks of both cardiovascular and respiratory mortality.

Unfortunately, NO2 pollution represents a legacy of our country’s highly flawed history of transportation policy, which cut low-income and minority neighborhoods in half and facilitated White flight into the outlying suburbs. Due to such misguided investments, the CDC estimates that 11.3 million Americans live within 150 meters of a major freeway; 47% of these individuals are persons of color.

aerial photo of innerbelt bridge construction cleveland

Construction of the Innerbelt Bridge in Cleveland sliced right through existing residential neighborhoods, as shown in this picture from 1961 (courtesy of  the Cleveland State University archives).

How does the Opportunity Corridor fit into this?

It is in this toxic environment that ODOT and its allies are planning to drop the Opportunity Corridor, a 3-mile, $330 million highway in the middle of overwhelmingly low-income communities of color. I’ve already discussed some of the social and environmental challenges facing the neighborhoods in the path of the project. These neighborhoods have asthma rates nearly double the national average (PDF), and infant mortality rates have been as high as 69 deaths per 1,000 live births. That number is above the rates for Bangladesh, Burma, Haiti, Pakistan, and Rwanda. Many of these critical health issues are closely linked to transportation.

Air quality in Northeast Ohio

While air pollution data are not available below the county level, examining Cuyahoga County’s numbers paints a clear picture. Cuyahoga County ranks among the dirtiest 10% of counties in the entire country for cancer and non-cancer health risks stemming from hazardous air pollutants (HAPs). It also ranks in the worst 10% of all counties in Ohio, a state where people of color are 1.5 times more likely to contract cancer from HAPs and 3.3 times more likely to live near facilities that emit criteria air pollutants.

As the maps below demonstrate, the neighborhoods where the Opportunity Corridor would run bear an immense share of this burden. Children living in these areas have face dangerously high levels of blood lead contamination; this is a toxic legacy of decrepit housing, for sure, but also of a decades-long campaign to keep tetraethyllead in gasoline, despite ample evidence of its harm. (Neil deGrasse Tyson discussed this issue in great detail on Cosmos last week.) Lead is known to reduce cognitive function and cause behavioral issues in children, including aggression and hyperactivity.

 

cuyahoga county blood lead levels

Source: Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium

Transportation also represents an important source of fine particulate matter, particularly from heavy trucks/freight, which rely on diesel fuel. While mobile sources only account for 5.2% of PM 2.5 nationally, that portion increases to 12.3% in Ohio and 27.5% in Cuyahoga County; one can only assume it is even higher than this total within these neighborhoods.

We know that PM 2.5 is a leading cause of respiratory and cardiovascular mortality; it is also a dangerous carcinogen. A 2012 study found that reducing levels of particulate pollution in the US by 1 µg/m3 would prevent 34,000 premature deaths annually. In Cuyahoga County, which saw 12,809 deaths from PM 2.5 in 2009, such reductions would prevent 91 premature deaths, more than anywhere else in the state.

pm 2.5 mortality improvements

Source: CDC Environmental Public Health Tracking

Lastly, we know that NO2 is essential for the development of ground level ozone, another dangerous urban air pollutant. Cuyahoga County has consistently remained in nonattainment of EPA ozone standards; from 2006-2008, the County averaged 0.081ppm of ozone, one of the highest marks in the country. The American Lung Association gives the county and the city of Cleveland a solid F for ozone pollution.

All told, the burden of disease in these areas is substantial. Some areas along the proposed highway lose more than 500 years of potential life per 1,000 residents, easily the highest toll in the region. Given the potential of the Opportunity Corridor to exacerbate air pollution in the area, it’s hard to see how the project could avoid being a serious environmental justice issue that calls for appropriate planning and mitigation. Surely, ODOT is on top of this issue?

years of potential life lost northeast ohio

Source: Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium

Environmental justice in ODOT’s planning

Not quite. Inexplicably (though not really, when you think about it), ODOT’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) gave short shrift to air pollution (PDF). In the DEIS, ODOT states that the project “does not present concern for air quality,” as it is unlikely to significantly increase carbon monoxide or PM 2.5 emissions. The agency does note that mobile source air toxins (MSATs) will likely increase in certain parts of the project area, but it then dismisses this concern within the same breath. And ODOT completely punts on ozone, stating that the issue is NOACA’s responsibility.

The report’s environmental justice is similarly insufficient. While it does acknowledge that “the project was found to have a disproportionately high and adverse effect to low-income and minority populations,” it claims to address the issue by implementing a “voluntary residential relocation program” (read: forcibly relocating 74 families and 44 businesses for a pittance), throwing some money at a rec center, and building a few noise walls.

But again, in typical ODOT Orwellian fashion, it also states that the project will simultaneously benefit these low-income communities of color by, among other things, improving “access to the Interstate system” and increasing “pedestrian and bicycle access, connectivity and safety.” Apparently enhancing freeway access in an area where most households don’t own automobiles is essential for local non-drivers and great for pedestrians.

EPA criticisms of the Opportunity Corridor

The report includes little, if anything, in the way of plans to mitigate potential increases in air pollution due to additional vehicular traffic or to tackle the severe underlying health issues residents face. Unsurprisingly, EPA Region 5 has criticized the DEIS, saying it contains insufficient information on environmental concerns. The letter pointedly reminds ODOT that the Opportunity Corridor runs through areas that are in nonattainment for ozone and PM 2.5, barely meet four other air pollution standards, and have a series of major environmental justice issues. Simply mentioning these issues in passing so the department can check off another box isn’t going to fly with a project of this import.

I know I’ve said before that Northeast Ohio’s transportation policies are stuck in the 1960s. The Opportunity Corridor is an unfortunate reminder of this fact and of that terrible era of “urban renewal.” Residents of the so-called “Forgotten Triangle” – God I hate that moniker – have a fractious history with the state government, one that has, understandably, left them suspicious of ODOT’s motives.

Public meetings about the project have become contentious, and locals have raised a number of valid criticisms of the project. Yet, the wheel of “progress” inevitably rolls forward once again.

If ODOT ever hopes to garner public buy-in for the Opportunity Corridor, it needs to do more than meet the minimum possible standards. Failing to even mention criteria air pollutants like NO2 and SO2 and claiming that a massive highway project will enhance pedestrian safety isn’t good enough any more. The agency and the project’s supporters can and must do more than the bare minimum. Otherwise, the Opportunity Corridor risks becoming yet another one of Northeast Ohio’s environmental justice disasters.

 

Will climate change disasters really lead to more conflict? Maybe.

naval station pensacola
naval station pensacola

Damage to Naval Air Station Pensacola following Hurricane Ivan in 2004 (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

The US military has devoted a considerable amount of attention to climate change, which makes sense given the various risks it poses to military operations. These risks include potential increased demand for humanitarian responses to climatic disasters and the threat of climatic changes, such as stronger tropical storms and sea level rise, to existing military installations. For instance, Hurricane Ivan knocked one of the Navy’s key bases, Naval Air Station Pensacola, out of commission for a year.

Climate change’s most severe potential military threat – increasing the risk of violent conflicts – is also its least likely, by far. Yet, unsurprisingly, this has gotten the lion’s share of attention from the media.

Last week, Eric Holthaus at Slate published an interview with retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley. The piece is worth a read. I would say the Rear Admiral’s comments accurately reflect the views of many military officials who are concerned about climate change.

Let me just preface this by noting that Rear Admiral Titley has forgotten a hell of a lot more about military strategy, history, and operations than I will ever learn. But I do take exception with the way that he framed the issue:

Let me give you a few examples of how that might play out. You could imagine a scenario in which both Russia and China have prolonged droughts. China decides to exert rights on foreign contracts and gets assertive in Africa. If you start getting instability in large powers with nuclear weapons, that’s not a good day.

Here’s another one: We basically do nothing on emissions. Sea level keeps rising, three to six feet by the end of the century. Then, you get a series of super-typhoons into Shanghai and millions of people die. Does the population there lose faith in Chinese government? Does China start to fissure? I’d prefer to deal with a rising, dominant China any day.

If you take Rear Admiral Titley’s comments at face value, you’d be forgiven if you came away believing that climate-related disasters may inevitably spawn violent conflict. This is an all-too-common perception, one to which I used to subscribe.

What can we say about disasters and conflict?

But the fact remains that nothing about disasters inherently leads to conflict. Quite the opposite, really. There have been a few studies that find such a connection, including a one in 2008 from Philip Nel and Marjolein Righarts (PDF), who examined the connections between various forms of disasters and the risk of civil conflict onset. They found that disasters increase the likelihood that civil conflict will occur. Such disasters may create incentives for rebel groups to attack state institutions, or they can generate new grievances from heightened resource scarcity.

But an array of studies dispute these findings. Back in the 1960s, sociologist Charles Fritz suggested that disasters often alter social relations and help to mitigate pre-existing cleavages within communities. If securitization requires the existence of an “other” against which people can organize, the disaster itself may take that role, leading to the development of a  “common community of sufferers,” that promotes social cohesion and cooperation.

Ilan Kelman has further suggested that this ameliorative effect can take place at both intra and interstate levels, leading to “disaster diplomacy.” He has cataloged dozens of examples of disaster diplomacy, ranging from earthquakes in Greece and Turkey (PDF) to the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (paywall) in Aceh. Overall, the preponderance of evidence suggests that disasters do not inherently precipitate violence.

So can disasters lead to conflict?

Disasters, on their own, are highly unlikely to cause conflict. But the politics of the disaster response, or the lack thereof, is a different story. Think of Hurricane Katrina; it wasn’t the storm itself that caused so much outrage and discord, but the massive failure of the Bush administration to respond adequately to the needs of survivors.

Weak governments that are poorly equipped and lack sufficient international support are unlikely to respond effectively to disasters. This outcome could potentially anger survivors and provide them with incentives to take up arms, perhaps in an attempt to seize additional resources. But the real problem emerges when governments intentionally divert relief aid for their own gain or to serve their own political ends.

On December 23, 1972, a devastating earthquake rattled Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. The quake destroyed three-quarters of the city’s housing stock and killed at least 11,000 Nicaraguans as they slept. Strongman Anastasio Somoza immediately began to abuse his power to take advantage of the catastrophe. According to a 2010 Miami Herald article,

Somoza began directing reconstruction efforts from a family estate on the outskirts of Managua. Cabinet ministers, businessmen, foreign officials and international relief bosses — many of them addressing Somoza as “Mr. President” — trooped in and out all day long. It was Somoza with whom foreign diplomats negotiated aid packages; it was Somoza who decided Managua would be rebuilt.

While later independent investigations cast some doubt upon the scale and significance of the profiteering, it left an indelible mark upon Nicaraguans. As evidence of the corruption mounted, event the conservative Catholic Church turned on the regime. These events contributed to a resurgence of the Sandanista movement, which formally took up arms three years later.

managua earthquake damage

An aerial image of the damage to Managua following the devastating 1972 earthquake (courtesy of the US Geological Survey).

Evidence suggests that inadequate and/or politically motivated disaster responses may have fed into subsequent conflict in Bangladesh (following the 1970 Bhola cyclone), Guatemala (after the 1976 Guatemala earthquake), and Sri Lanka (after the Indian Ocean tsunami).

How else might disasters spawn conflict?

When conflict occurs in the wake of disasters, it is not always an unintended and unforeseen consequence. In fact, according to Travis Nelson, it can actually be a survival tactic (paywall) employed by weak states. Nelson suggested that weak leaders may be more likely to launch small, diversionary conflicts in order to distract from inadequate disaster responses and generate nationalistic solidarity.

In July 1959, severe flooding occurred along the Yellow River, killing approximately two million Chinese. The disaster occurred at a time when the Maoist regime was weak and dealing with several crises, including the catastrophic Great Leap Forward. In the midst of these crises, the regime was unprepared for the floods, and Chinese elites began openly to question Mao’s rule. In response, the regime launched a series of border skirmishes with India, which eventually fed into the 1962 Sino-Indian War. The war aroused nationalist fervor and distracted from other challenges.

But do disasters really cause conflict?

In a word, maybe. But now we’re wading into a difficult and highly complex area that deals with endogeneity. In statistical modeling, a variable is said to be endogenous when it can be affected by other variables within the model. In other words, we cannot truly isolate the variable from the effects of others, making it difficult to determine whether or not its effects are mitigated by other factors.

As I’ve written before and will continue to say until I’m blue in the face, there’s no such thing as a natural disaster. Disaster events are inherently shaped and controlled by the extant political, economic, and social environments. As a result, disasters do not occur in a vacuum, and we can’t treat them as such. So even if it seems likely that a disaster helped cause a conflict, it would be difficult to say that it was an exogenous effect, as its effects would likely be influenced by existing political and social dynamics.

While it’s true that the 1972 Guatemala earthquake helped reignite civil war (paywall), as it seems to be, it’s also true that the vulnerability of Mayan peasants to the earthquake’s effects was dictated by structural inequalities and existing violent conflict. So can we really say that the quake caused the subsequent return to war? Yes. No. Maybe. Honestly, it depends on how you define “cause.”

Did climate change cause Syria’s civil war then?

Keith Kloor hammered this point home in his recent post on the question of whether Syria’s drought caused its brutal civil war. Kloor takes Tom Friedman to task for suggesting that the Assad regime’s response to the drought helped fuel the war but failing to acknowledge that the regime’s actions also helped facilitate the drought. He quotes, at length, from an article last year where authors Jeannie Sowers and John Waterbury argue,

When terms such as ‘stressor’ or ‘threat multiplier’ are applied to drought, shifting rainfall patterns, floods, and other environmental events in the Middle East, they often obscure rather than illuminate the causes of uprisings and political change. There is perhaps no better illustration of this dynamic than Syria, where a closer examination shows that government policy helped construct vulnerability to the effects of the drought during the 2000s. State policies regarding economic development, political control in rural areas, and water management determined how drought impacted the population and how the population, in turn, responded.

So yes, the regime’s response to the drought – which may have been driven by climate change – helped incite the rebellion. But the regime’s policies also helped drive the drought in the first place. So did the drought and – by extension – climate change cause the rebellion? Yes. No. Maybe. It depends on how you define “cause.”

So will climate change really be different then?

Probably. In a 1987 article, Beverley Cuthbertson and Joanne Nigg consider under what circumstances a disaster may produce discord among survivors (paywall), which they term a “nontherapeutic community.” They find that, unlike with geological and weather disasters, victims do not see manmade disasters, like chemical spills, as natural. Accordingly, survivors often disagree as to whether a disaster has actually occurred and who is accountable. These disagreements can lead to the emergence of “victim clusters,” elevating tensions. In extreme circumstances, this could potentially lead to violence.

Given the fact that climate change is unequivocally manmade and that it has increasingly been linked to disasters, like droughts and heatwaves, it’s possible that climate-related disasters could be different. Disaster survivors could point to climate change’s fingerprints in the events that damage their livelihoods and use it as a call to take up arms. It seems unlikely, but it’s hard to be sure. Clearly, manmade climate change is different than anything we have dealt with in the past, and it is likely to change our calculus on these issues.

We may be able to say, to this point, that disasters probably don’t directly cause conflict, but as my grad school professor Ken Conca always says, you should be careful about driving forward by looking through the rear view mirror.

How big is the carbon footprint of the Keystone XL pipeline?

co2 emissions per country with keystone
august 2011 keystone xl protest

Members of my grad school cohort and I at the August 2011 Keystone XL protest.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline is set to pass through two countries, but it’s environmental impact would surpass that of many, many more.

In its final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), the State Department estimated that Keystone will produce somewhere from 1.3 to 27.4 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MMTCO2e) annually. Given that I strongly question the document’s underlying assumption that the pipeline will have little, if any, impact on the overall rate of Canadian tar sands extraction, let’s assume that the actual number will be on the high side of this range. Accordingly, let’s consider two scenarios, one in which Keystone generates 14.35MMTCO2e annually (median value) and one in which it generates 27.4 MMTCO2e annually (maximum value).

The Sierra Club has already produced some useful graphics comparing Keystone’s carbon footprint to other greenhouse gas (GHG) generators. For instance, they calculate that releasing 27.4 MMTCO2e is equivalent to putting another 37.7 million cars on the road or building 51 new coal-fired power plants.

keystone xl 51 coal power plants

Courtesy of the Sierra Club

But let’s put Keystone XL into a more global perspective, shall we? Using 2009 data from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators (the last year for which a full, global dataset was available), I compared the median and maximum annual carbon emissions from the pipeline to the rest of the world.*

In the chart below, I have highlighted the bars for the two Keystone XL values in red. As you can see, both the median and maximum CO2 emissions values for Keystone XL far exceed those from the majority of countries on Earth. Using its median and maximum values, Keystone XL would generate more annual CO2 emissions than 112 and 123 countries, respectively.

co2 emissions per country with keystone

Data are from the World Development Indicators. The median and maximum values for Keystone XL are highlighted in red. I removed the values for the top 10 emitting countries from the chart, as they severely skewed the scale.

Using 2009 population data from the same source, I calculate that Keystone XL – a project which the State Department says will create 35 permanent jobs – would account for more annual carbon emissions than those from 86.3 million people (median value) or 136.1 million people (maximum value) combined, respectively. If we were to treat Keystone as its own country – let’s call it Keystonia – with a population of 35, it would account for 782.86 tons of CO2 per capita (using the maximum value), more than 18.5 times higher than current world leader Qatar.

Keystone XL may only account for 0.518% of the US’s total CO2 emissions (using 2012 numbers), but denying that it would exacerbate the climate crisis is a fool’s errand. Approving this pipeline would be an environmental injustice of epic proportions.

 

*The dataset included both countries and territories, bringing the population size to 216. I removed all countries/territories for which data were missing, bringing the sample size to 200.

5 ways the Opportunity Corridor is like Keystone XL

keystone xl protest
keystone xl protest

12,000 people rallied around the White House against the Keystone XL pipeline in November 2011.

Angie Schmidt has a post on Rust Wire that explores how all large development projects in Cleveland, including the so-called Opportunity Corridor, are framed through a “jobs” lens. It’s a good piece that’s well worth reading, but it got me thinking about the similarities between the Opportunity Corridor and the Keystone XL pipeline.

[For those of you who are unfamiliar with road projects in the city of Cleveland, the Opportunity Corridor is a proposed three-mile boulevard that would pass through some of the poorest neighborhoods on the East Side of Cleveland. The road would more readily connect I-490, a freeway that ends abruptly at East 55th Street, to University Circle, the heart of Cleveland’s biomedical and arts industries. The Ohio Department of Transportation calculates that the project will cost $331.3 million to complete, putting the cost per mile at an astounding $110.4 million.]

In the first post I ever wrote on this site, I examined the fight over Keystone XL according to social movement theory. Many of these insights are surprisingly relevant for the Opportunity Corridor discussion as well. So let’s explore a few of these similarities.

Bipartisan support from powerful decision makers

Keystone XL has enjoyed support from both sides of the aisle. Although the pipeline has become increasingly partisan in recent months, particularly as House Republicans have made it a cause célèbre in budget and debt ceiling negotiations, it has enjoyed broad support from powerful players. TransCanada’s main US lobbyist, Paul Elliot, was the national deputy director for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, while a majority of Democrats (54%) still favored the project as of last September.

Similarly, the Opportunity Corridor has enjoyed support from a wide array of political leaders in Ohio. Republican Governor John Kasich is, unsurprisingly, firmly behind the project, using it as a way to garner additional support in heavily Democratic Northeastern Ohio. But several Democratic lawmakers, including Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and Cuyahoga County Executive (and gubernatorial candidate) Ed FitzGerald. Possibly the project’s biggest booster has been the center-left Plain Dealer, whose editor is a co-chair of the panel backing construction.

No longer a done deal

As recently as 2011, most policymakers assumed that Keystone XL was an inevitability. More than 70% of “insiders” in an October 2011 National Journal poll said the project would get final approval before the end of that year.

But the insiders underestimated the opposition to Keystone, which coalesced in the summer of 2011. Bill McKibben, the head of 350.org, worked to build a coalition of environment, labor, and social justice organizations that has effectively stalled the project for almost three years.  The fact that President Obama has publicly dismissed many arguments that Keystone proponents have made demonstrates just how effective this organized action has been.

Likewise, a movement has begun to build in opposition to the Opportunity Corridor. Angie Schmidt has been a leader in this movement, and she formed Clevelanders for Transportation Equity last year as a focal point. While the project still seems fairly likely to go forward, it has not been without backlash. The GreenCityBlueLake Institute continues to question its utility, while residents of the “Forgotten Triangle” have begun to speak out against the impact the project will have upon them.

Social and environmental costs

Thirdly, both projects would carry clear social and environmental consequences for populations that are politically, socioeconomically, and ecologically vulnerable.

Poor, marginalized communities of color live along both ends of Keystone XL. The pipeline begins in the tar sands fields of northern Alberta, where a number of First Nations tribes have lived along the Athabasca River for generations. This area has undergo dramatic changes in the past several years. Tar sands extraction has polluted the water extensively, and cancer rates in the region are 30% higher than average. At the other end of the proposed pipeline – Port Arthur, Texas – extensive pollution from oil refining creates severe health issues for residents who are overwhelmingly low-income persons of color. Children living in this area are 56% more likely to contract leukemia.

Likewise, the Opportunity Corridor is slated to run through some of the poorest neighborhoods in Cleveland. Five of the six affected neighborhoods have poverty rates higher than Cleveland’s 31.2% rate; in two of them, roughly two-thirds of residents live in poverty. The people living in these are also overwhelmingly Black or Hispanic and suffer from health outcomes more common in least developed countries than the United States.

minority populations opportunity corridor neighborhoods

The six neighborhoods affected by the proposed Opportunity Corridor are overwhelmingly home to persons of color (courtesy of ODOT’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement).

In 2008-2009, the asthma rates in this area stood at 15.6% (PDF), nearly double the national average (8%). In 2009, infant mortality rates in these neighborhoods were staggering, reaching as high as 69 deaths per 1,000 live births; that number is higher than the rates for Bangladesh, Burma, Haiti, Pakistan, and Rwanda. Many of these health disparities are due, at least in part, to extremely high rates of air pollution. Even ODOT acknowledges that truck traffic will increase in these neighborhoods and will run at much higher speeds (approximately 45 mph), which may exacerbate these issues further.

Given the severe environmental health implications of these projects, it is unsurprising that the EPA has cast shade on the environmental impact statements done for both projects.

Symbols of a larger issue

Both projects are major symbols of the paradigms they represent. Keystone is part of our fossil fuel-driven economic model that is slowly destroying our climate with every ton of greenhouse gases emitted. The Opportunity Corridor, in turn, is a microcosm of Northeast Ohio’s obsession with the sprawl-based, car-centric development model. While stymieing either project would fail to topple the superstructures that they represent, it would be a symbolic victory that allows us to say we are not going to be blindly beholden to such models any more.

It’s all about jobs

Except when it isn’t. Rather than portraying these projects for what they are – a pipeline that will benefit Canadian oil companies and a large highway project that will supposedly reduce nonexistent congestion – proponents have framed them as jobs projects. And it’s certainly hard to argue with the need to invest in our infrastructure and provide employment opportunities to the hard-hit construction industry.

Keystone XL’s supporters have used industry-driven studies to claim that it would create tens of thousands of short-term construction jobs, along with thousands of permanent jobs in related industries. Opportunity Corridor backers have also claimed that it would create jobs for construction workers and help spark a manufacturing renaissance on the city’s Southeast side.

But the evidence suggests that these claims are overblown. If you really dig into the numbers, you find out that, not only are these projects unlikely to live up the hype, but fixing our existing infrastructure would actually create more jobs.

Economics for Equity and Environment and the Labor Network for Sustainability recently released a report that considered the economic impact of repairing our existing oil/gas and water pipelines, rather than building Keystone XL. It found that investing $18 billion to repair these pipelines would create more than 300,000 jobs. This amounts to five times as many jobs and 156% as many direct jobs per unit of investment as Keystone. This endeavor would both counter the fossil fuel behemoth and pay greater economic dividends; it’s a clear win-win.

In turn, it seems likely that spending the money allocated for the Opportunity Corridor to repair Cleveland’s existing roads would be far more beneficial. While no one has directly analyzed the economic impact of such a proposal, a 2009 study from the Political Economy Research Institute found that repairing existing roads creates 16% more jobs than expanding road infrastructure (PDF). Using their numbers – 17,472 jobs per $1 billion invested – would suggest that repairing Cleveland’s roads would create 6,890 jobs, compared to the 5,940 from building the Opportunity Corridor (interestingly, even proponents estimate it would only create 5,300 jobs).

Overall, the similarities between Keystone XL and the Opportunity Corridor are striking. So it makes sense that the two movements opposed to their construction are following similar, grassroots tactics. While it’s too early to say how either fight will end up, I encourage Opportunity Corridor opponents, who seem to have a steeper hill to climb, to take heart. Even if the road is eventually built, you now have an opportunity to start building a strong coalition to fight for sustainable development and transportation equity over the long haul.

Climate culprits: 7 countries account for more than half of global warming

national global warming share

Probably the single largest hurdle to negotiating a new global climate change treaty to replace the defunct Kyoto Protocol is the question of culpability for global warming. Determining who caused the crisis and, accordingly, who should shoulder the burden for reducing emissions has been a fly in the ointment since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed in 1992.

During the negotiations over Kyoto, developing states argued, quite effectively, that developed countries must lead the way in emissions reductions, because they took advantage of cheap fossil fuels to drive their economic growth. This debate led to the division of countries into two major groups in the final treaty. Annex 1 countries (OECD members plus “economies in transition,” which were largely former Soviet bloc states) committed to reducing their emissions to varying degrees, while non-Annex 1 countries (developing states) were exempted from making emission reduction commitments.

This distinction outraged many policymakers in the West and all but ensured that the US would never ratify the agreement. Although President Bill Clinton actually signed Kyoto in 1997, the Senate voted 95-0 to endorse the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which stated that the body would never ratify a treat “unless the protocol or other agreement also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance.”

Twenty odd years later, the debate continues to linger today. The question of who are the climate change culprits is front and center as the parties to the UNFCCC work to develop a successor treaty by the end of the 2015 Paris Conference. While developed states note that China is now the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, developing states point out that Western countries and Japan dominate cumulative emissions totals since 1850.

A new study in Environmental Research Letters (open access!) will help to shed some additional light on the discussion, though I imagine it will do little to change the tenor. In the article, the authors aggregate the total greenhouse gas emissions for each country from 1906-2005; using these data, they then attribute to each country its associated proportion of total observed global warming during this period (roughly 0.7°C).

The study is unique because it accounts not only for CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use, but also from land use changes, non-CO2 GHG emissions, and aerosol emissions, which tend to have a cooling effect.

Unsurprisingly, the authors point their fingers at the usual suspects. The top seven emitters – the US, China, Russia, Brazil, India, Germany, and the UK – account for 63% of the observed warming. The US claims the largest share, by far, accounting for 0.1517°C or 21.6% of total warming. Second-place China (which passed the US as the annual emissions leader in 2007), is responsible for 0.063°C, less than half of the US’s share. Overall, the top 20 emitting countries are responsible for 82% of warming.

national global warming share

National contributions to observed global warming from 1906-2005, including emissions from all sources.

While this outcome would appear to bolster the US’s argument, the authors dive further into the data and make the picture murkier. If you just account for fossil fuel use emissions, the list changes significantly. Land use changes, particularly deforestation and agriculture, make up 65% of Brazil’s emissions, while they are responsible for an astounding 86.7% of eighth-place Indonesia’s total contribution.

Moreover, the picture changes dramatically when the authors calculate emissions per capita. As the map below shows, developed states end up bring responsible for a far larger share of total warming than developing states. China and India, for intance, go from second and fourth place on the total warming list to 19th and 20th, respectively, in per capita emissions. The top eight states for per capita warming are all Annex 1 countries, as are eight of the top 10.

warming per country per capita

The share of observed global warming for each country on a per capita basis.

The authors devote a considerable amount of attention to the issue of per capita emissions and climate inequality. They note that, in order for us to keep total warming below 2°C in a world with 9 billion people, we would need to maintain per capita warming below 0.22°C. Multiple developed states already significantly exceed this number, emphasizing the importance of reducing their “luxury” emissions to make room for emissions from the developing world. The UK and US produce 0.54°C and 0.51°C of warming per billion people, respectively, which is more than twice the maximum rate the planet can sustain.

The data also do not account for outsourcing of emissions from the developed world to the developing world. The latest draft of the IPCC’s Working Group II report states that, while developing countries have increased their annual emissions to 14 gigatonnes per year, approximately 2 gigatonnes of those emissions stem from producing goods that are exported to the West. Accordingly, the cumulative and per capita share of emissions would change dramatically if we accounted for these trends.

As the authors note,

Balancing the current inequities in per-capita contributions to climate warming across countries may be a fundamental requirement if we are to make the changes necessary to decrease emissions and stabilize global temperatures.

This study will not end the discussion on who must reduce emissions and by how much – far from it. But it does provide further data to inform the debate, and it makes it clear that, despite recent changes in emissions trends, the developed world bears most of the responsibility for our existing climate crisis.

Ohio can’t afford the GOP’s massive giveaway to the oil & gas industry

fracking well ohio
fracking well ohio

A hydraulic fracturing well looms large over the Ohio countryside (courtesy of Ideastream).

In March 2012, the Ohio House of Representatives introduced HB 487, a bill which included changes to the way that Ohio taxes oil and gas extraction in the state. Ohio’s current system of regulating oil and gas production was implemented in 1972. Almost everything about the energy sector in the United States has changed drastically in the last 40-plus years; I wish I could say these regulations were included.

Ohio’s existing severance tax

Ernst & Young analyzed Ohio’s existing severance tax and Governor Kasich’s proposed changes (PDF) in 2012. E&Y compared Ohio’s tax policy to that of seven other oil and gas producing states. Of the eight states, Ohio has by far the lowest effective tax rate (ETR). The state’s combined ETR of 1.8% is 80% lower than the average in the seven other states. Based on a 2011 analysis from Policy Matters Ohio, this tax rate has cost the state millions in foregone tax revenues. From 2001-2010, the  value of the oil and natural gas extracted within the state was $8.38 billion. But Ohio collected a mere $26,017,858 in taxes – equal to 0.31% of the market value. That’s not at typo. Using these numbers, Policy Matters projected the amount of severance taxes that Ohio would collect from shale gas production from 2012-2015, compared to five surrounding states. Of the $10.77 billion in estimated value, Ohio will capture just $39.8 million in taxes. Compare this number to West Virginia and Michigan, whose 5% tax would bring in $538.4 million.

The Kasich proposal

Clearly, Ohio’s current severance tax sucks. Governor Kasich’s plan was supposedly introduced to rectify this issue. The proposal would have doubled severance taxes on oil from conventional, vertical wells to $0.20 per barrel and altered the tax on natural gas from vertical wells to the lessor of 1% of the market value of the gas or $0.03 per thousand cubic feet (mcf). It would have also priced oil and gas from horizontal wells, which is produced using the controversial hydraulic fracturing method, separately. This oil would have been taxed at 1.5% of the market value for one year, then at 4% for the lifetime of the well. Natural gas from fracking wells would have been taxed at 1% across the board. E&Y’s analysis found that this proposal would have increased the effective severance tax rate from just 1.8% to 2.7% overall; however, Ohio would still have the lowest tax rate in the region. Under Kasich’s proposal, Ohio’s ETR for an average oil/gas well would be just 40% lower. What a relief.

Ohio Republicans strike back, introduce HB 375

And yet, Ohio Republicans balked at Kasich’s plan. During budget deliberations, the plan was completely stripped out of the bill. Recently, Ohio Republicans finally offered up their alternative to Kasich’s proposal. State Rep. Matt Hoffman (R-Lima) introduced HB 375 on December 5. Shockingly, the bill has overwhelming support from the oil & gas industry.

Thomas Stewart, head of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, issued a statement saying the bill “includes a sensible modification of the severance tax based on actual well economics.”I’m not sure what energy economics textbook Mr. Stewart is reading from, but suffice it to say he’s just a tad off the mark. Headwaters Economics issued a report in 2012 that included a list of 12 recommendations for crafting fiscal policies for the oil and gas sector. HB 375 goes against every single recommendation. So let’s compare the bill to just three of these recommendations.

1. Maintain a high effective tax rate

Headwaters argues that it is essential for states to keep a high ETR on their mineral deposits, because it provides additional resources to mitigate the impacts of drilling and allows them to invest in long-term economic development.

kevin bacon dancing

Even 1980s Kevin Bacon knows that the oil & gas industry isn’t footloose (courtesy of People Magazine).

Contrary to fear-mongering from industry reps and the Ohio GOP, the oil & gas industry is not going to flee the state and give up concessions just because the state increases slightly its pathetically low severance tax. As Headwaters notes, Montana had an ETR of 4.6% for oil and gas in 2011. Neighboring North Dakota, in contrast, keeps its rate at 9.9%. Despite this, North Dakota has seen significantly more drilling activity, and Montana’s poorly-designed tax policy cost the state $60 million in foregone tax receipts in 2010 alone.

The minerals sector is not directly comparable to other economic activities, like the service sector. Oil and gas producers migrate to where the oil and gas deposits are, not where taxes are lowest. The industry is not, in economics parlance, particularly footloose. If it were, then Texas and Alaska, where tax rates are 8.2% and 25%, respectively, would not be leading producers. There is simply no valid evidence to suggest that slightly higher severance tax rates will keep companies from drilling here.

Yet, HB 375 institutes tax rates even lower than Kasich’s proposal. It would lower the tax on conventional gas from $0.025 per mcf to $0.015 per mcf. It also repeals the regulatory cost recovery assessment fee passed in 2010 to offset the costs of land reclamation. And, for horizontal wells, it introduces a severance tax of 1% of the value of net proceeds from oil/gas sales for 20 months; this tax then increases to 2%.

2.Remove “holiday” incentives

Several states have production tax “holidays” during the early days of oil and gas production. The logic behind these tax holidays is based on the fact that, for conventional wells, there is a lengthy gap between the drilling phase and the production phase (when the oil/gas is actually flowing). This gap can be upwards of two years for vertical wells.

But this model does not apply to horizontal wells. The drilling phase for a horizontal well is compressed, and the production phase typically jump starts thereafter. The majority of oil/gas from horizontal wells is extracted during the the first two years, after which production drops precipitously – by more than 60% in just one year in most cases.

shale gas production cycle

This image from the EIA charts the production cycles of shale wells across five different shale plays.

By providing a five-year tax holiday, HB 375 effectively ensures that Ohio will forfeit the overwhelming majority of tax revenues from its oil and gas deposits. By the time that the tax rate increased to 2% in year six, it’s entirely likely that drillers may have simply moved onto the next well.

3. Guarantee adequate local share in revenue collections

A central tenet of good oil/gas policy is to guarantee that the benefits of the fuels are adequately shared with communities on the front lines of extraction. As I’ve written before, the US isn’t somehow immune to the impacts of the natural resource curse. Far from it. One can find evidence of the resource curse from horrifically high mortality rates (PDF) in Appalachia to skyrocketing crime rates in North Dakota to groundwater pollution from fracking in multiple states to increased damage to infrastructure in Texas.

HB 375 does nothing to support front line communities. Ohio’s past two biennial budgets have taken a toll on local governments. Ohio Republicans balanced the state budget by holding onto tax revenues that should have been returned to local governments. The 2014-2015 budget reduces the amount of money local governments will receive by $1.4 billion. HB 375 simply exacerbates the issue further. Under the proposal, the funds raised would go to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to cover the costs regulating the industry, remediating abandoned wells, and conducting geological surveys for the industry. Any additional funds would go to reduce personal income taxes. This policy would disproportionately benefit the wealthy and leave those directly affected by drilling on the outside looking in.

HB 375: Great for the industry, terrible for Ohio

All told, Policy Matters Ohio found that HB 375 would cost the state $620-800 million over the next decade, compared to the Kasich proposal (which is far from ideal policy). The bill amounts to little more than a giant handout to the oil & gas industry. Ohio’s current oil/gas severance tax is a 40-year old relic of terrible policymaking. It would be a challenge to make a policy that’s worse.

Somehow, Ohio Republicans have crafted a bill so terrible that it gives existing law a run for its money. If you were looking to develop a policy that took the full advantage of our natural resource endowment and benefited ordinary Ohioans, you could hardly do worse than HB 375. But, on the other hand, if your goal was to benefit the wealthy, well-connected, and your political benefactors, you would be pressed to outdo HB 375.

This bill is egregiously bad policy. Naturally, I expect it will be on Kasich’s desk by the spring.

Suburbs are terrible for the climate

carbon footprint map northeast ohio
carbon footprint map northeast ohio

Map of household carbon footprint intensity by zip code in Northeast Ohio (courtesy of the Cool Climate Network).

That’s the message of a new study from researchers at UC Berkeley. The research, which analyzes spatial differences in household carbon footprints (HCF) was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology (paywall).

Unsurprisingly, the study finds that suburban areas have, on average, HCFs that are up to twice as large as the national average, which the authors place at 48.5 tons of CO2 per household. In dense urban centers, these numbers can be half the national average. On the whole, principal cities account for just 30% of total carbon emissions, while suburban areas account for 50% of emissions, despite having less than half of the total population. The significantly higher level of HCF in suburban areas, which reach above 85 tons of CO2 in certain areas, has the effect of offsetting many of the efficiency gains made by living in dense urban cores.

As Christopher Jones, a co-author of the study, notes:

“Metropolitan areas look like carbon footprint hurricanes, with dark green, low-carbon urban cores surrounded by red, high-carbon suburbs,” said Christopher Jones, a doctoral student working with Kammen in the Energy and Resources Group. “Unfortunately, while the most populous metropolitan areas tend to have the lowest carbon footprint centers, they also tend to have the most extensive high-carbon footprint suburbs.”

I decided to take a look at the variation of HCFs within Northeast Ohio. As expected, Cleveland and Akron both fit the model of a “carbon footprint hurricane,” as described by Jones. As the study notes, carbon emissions already start from a higher baseline in the Midwest due to the region’s heavy reliance upon coal for electricity generation (fortunately, in 2012, coal generation fell to 67% [PDF] of Ohio’s electricity generation from 85% in 2008).

HCF numbers stretch from lows of 21.1 tons and 26.5 tons in downtown Akron and Cleveland, respectively (numbers which are 57% and 45% below the national average), to highs of 75.4 tons in Hudson (155% of the average) and an astonishing 85.6 tons in uber-wealthy Gates Mills (176% of the average).

household carbon footprint for 44113

Household carbon footprint numbers for my home zip code, 44113

The two factors that ultimately supercharge HCF levels in Northeast Ohio’s suburbs are two of the central features of our sprawl-based development model – transportation and housing. In my neighborhood on Cleveland’s near West side (44113), housing – which includes emissions from electricity use – accounts for approximately 13 tons of carbon annually, while transportation generates just 7 tons.

Compare those numbers to 44139, the zip code for Solon, which saw its population increase by 9.56% from 2000 to 2010. In Solon, the average household generates 21 tons of CO2 from transportation and roughly 23 tons from housing.  Not to mention that the average HCF in the suburb is 95% higher than households in 44113.

household carbon footprint for 44139

Household carbon footprint numbers for Solon

As I’ve discussed before, sprawl has been at the heart of development throughout Northeast Ohio since at least the advent of the Interstate Highway System. Despite seeing its population grow by just 0.32% from 1948 to 2002, the amount of land developed in Cuyahoga County increased to 95% from just 26% during this period.

cuyahoga county land use in 1948 & 2002

Changes in land use within Cuyahoga County from 1948 (left) to 2002 (right). Red shading indicates developed land, while the beige indicates land that is still undeveloped (courtesy of the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission).

As the population continued to spread out, vehicle miles traveled climbed, while public transportation utilization decreased apace. Annual ridership on the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority plummeted from a high of 129,691,743 riders in 1980 to 44,680,000 in 2010 – a decrease of two-thirds in just 30 years. As a result, transportation accounts for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions (PDF) in Northeast Ohio.

These data clearly suggest that a suburban lifestyle is one of the leading drivers of carbon emissions in the US. Consistent with the fact that climate change is a massive environmental justice issue, the individuals in Northeast Ohio who generate the majority of carbon pollution are the least likely to endure the effects of climate change. Instead, as I’ve noted before, it is the poor, the elderly and infirmed, and persons of color living in urban areas – where carbon emissions are lowest – who will bear the greatest burden.

Unfortunately, Jones and Kammen also conclude that increasing population density is not the solution to this challenge. They find that increasing population density 10-fold only reduces HCF by one-quarter. Accordingly, they conclude that there is “no evidence for net [greenhouse gas] benefits of population density in urban cores or suburbs when considering effects on entire metropolitan areas.”

Instead, the authors argue that we need to increase energy efficiency in suburban areas by retrofitting homes, increasing penetration of electric vehicles, and expanding renewable energy generation. This suggests that urbanization is not a silver bullet to climate change, which is an important lesson to keep in mind as we move towards a world in which roughly 70% of people live in urban areas by 2050. We cannot afford to see US-style suburbanization expand into the developing world, or we may eliminate any chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.