First rule of fight club: Use less oil
Back in the Bay Area this week, or at least for a couple of days, and feeling the chill of fall. It’s this time of year that makes me most miss my home state of Wisconsin, where the leaves are turning amazing shades of red and yellow and orange and there’s a true bite of winter in the air. I swear it’s not because I miss real fall that I keep traveling out of the state, but I am looking forward to seeing some fall colors on the East Coast next week. (Speaking of which, if you’re in NYC on Sunday and want to honor the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, please come to my panel on “Turning the Tide: Carbon Divestment for a Post-Sandy Wall Street,” where I’ll be talking about the Risky Business project and all things energy transformational.)
As if we didn’t already have enough evidence of the need to start moving toward a less volatile, more rational energy economy, last month’s massive pipeline oil spill in North Dakota should seal the deal. Altogether, 865,000 gallons of oil spread across the ND landscape after a Tesoro pipeline ruptured in late September. As Dan Frosch of the NY Times reports, the investigation into this spill (which is just one of many, as Neela Banerjee of the LA Times points out) has raised serious concerns about how pipelines are inspected and monitored – an issue that will be critical as the administration continues to consider whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would be far, far larger and run through more populated areas.
So why not move the oil some other way, you ask? The most practical large-scale alternative for oil transport is, of course, trains. And last week, tanker cars filled with oil derailed in Alberta, catching fire and ultimately exploding just outside Edmonton. Luckily, no one was hurt – unlike in Lac Megantic this past summer.
That’s the thing about oil: it spills. It explodes. Burning it for transportation causes about a third of our carbon emissions nationally, and 40 percent in California. But we’re also very, very dependent on it.
So what is to be done?
- First, use less oil. Here’s some good news: Californians are driving more but using less fuel. The Sacramento Bee’s Dan Walters notes that Californians are driving more, but using less fuel, largely because our average fuel economy has doubled since 1983, when the typical car got a lousy 15 miles per gallon. At Next Generation, we’re starting to think hard about practical ways to get those older cars off the road, so stay tuned.
- Second, use different fuels. Californians are also starting to use a more diversified blend of fuels, largely due to state policies like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, clean vehicle standards set out AB 1493 (Pavley), and clean vehicle incentive programs set out in AB 118 (Nunez). The California Energy Commission’s draft 2013 Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR) shows these are working as intended: California has the largest network of alternative fuel charging stations in the country, and alternatives like natural gas are revolutionizing the heavy truck industry. (EDF’s Larissa Koehler gives a nice overview of our progress, and the study’s findings here.)
- Third, get serious about climate policy. This past week, the World Health Organization named air pollution a carcinogen, calling it a leading cause of cancer worldwide. According to the WHO, air pollution caused at least 220,000 lung cancer deaths in 2010. In the U.S. our own carbon emissions actually dropped last year by 3.8 percent, and we’re down to our lowest carbon pollution levels in two decades. That’s due in large part to technology improvements and energy efficiency programs: As Politico’s Darren Goode points out, we’re simply getting “more bang for each unit of energy.” But we’re still the second-largest carbon polluter in the world after China, and we’re still the country everyone is waiting for to jump-start global cooperation on climate change.
I didn’t start out as a climate warrior, as many of you know. I got into this field as an economic development nerd, looking for new strategies to create economic opportunity through clean energy policies and technologies. But every Superstorm, every pipeline rupture, every oil train derailment reminds me that energy transformation isn’t just an economic opportunity, though it is most certainly that. It’s also a moral imperative.