Author: Tina Woolston (Page 1 of 2)

Why might the US reasonably be expected to pay into a Green Climate Fund?

This morning one of my interns came into my office and asked about the Green Climate Fund that President Trump claimed was unfair to the United States when he withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord. Putting aside that he didn’t seem to understand the numbers, it does beg the question, “Why should America have to pay anything when China is emitting more than us and all these other countries also have a role to play?” I provided her with this allegory:

Consider this thought experiment:

John owns a house with a lawn. His buddy Rex owns a garage next door where he changes oil in vehicles. Every day for the past twenty years Rex has been dumping used motor oil on John’s lawn. At 2 quarts of oil a day (he works slowly), even if he takes 4 weeks of vacation in France every year, over 20 years that adds up to a lot of oil on John’s lawn. John even pours some quarts of oil onto his own lawn once in a while, it’s easy after all. In fact, a few years ago some of the other folks on the block had oil to get rid of so they started leaving it at John’s house too. They weren’t mechanics so they only dumped a little every week.

In the last week Jim from across town started his own garage and started carting his oil over to John’s house, dumping 5 quarts of oil a day (he was a faster worker than Rex). John’s lawn suffered. The oil spilled over into his neighbor’s yard, making them sick. His dog’s hair fell out.

Rex, meanwhile, had built a ditch around his property so the oil he was adding to John’s yard didn’t run back onto his garage’s parking lot. He was doing well. After all, he hadn’t had to pay an environmental fee to get rid of his oil. He lived in a big house farther down the street so although the smell of the oil was annoying he could get away. He’d also used some of his profits to try out some new-fangled synthetic oil, which just evaporated when removed from the car! He even started teaching other folks how to change their car’s oil more efficiently.

Eventually John realized that this oil was affecting him – 97% of the doctors he went to said it was the cause of the weird rash on his skin and his neighbor’s ailments. The vet said the oil caused his dog’s hair to fall out. John decided something needed to be done. He gathered up all the people who had been dumping oil on his lawn and said “this is not sustainable, I am living in a house surrounded by a lake of oil! My grass won’t grow, it smells terrible and I have this gross rash! Oh, and my neighbor is sick and can’t afford medical care. We need to stop putting oil here.”

So what would be a fair solution?

Your initial thought might be, “Well, stop dumping any oil at all!” But there’s no infrastructure set up in the town (after all everyone had just been dumping it on John’s lawn) and it would take time to build it. So, they convinced John to let them keep dumping it, at least until there was an alternative. The new, synthetic oil had been gaining popularity so they decided to develop a solution that would allow everyone to wean off of the oil over time. But how should it happen? Should everyone stop at the same rate? Rex was a lot wealthier than everyone else, and was dumping a lot every week, should he reduce the amount he was dumping faster than, say, Sally? What about the (unnamed) neighbors’ medical bills? Should the dumpers help them out? The neighbors hadn’t dumped any oil and yet were suffering the most.

If you look at the amount of oil dumped last week it looks like Jim is the biggest culprit so you might say he needs to be the one to reduce his dumping. Or you might say everyone needs to cut their amount in half – just to be fair.

However, if you were to look at it over time, you might choose a cap – everyone can only dump 40 quarts of oil a year. And even though that’ll impact Rex more than anyone else you decide that’s okay because Rex is rich and can afford the more expensive synthetic oil.

Or you might look at the total amount of oil dumped over the past 20 years and decide, “Wow, Rex dumped WAY more oil than anyone else, even after he knew it was bad for the lawn.” You also might decide he should pay for some of the clean-up. Maybe even the neighbor’s medical bills.

But he doesn’t think that’s fair because he’s already worked hard to be more efficient and switch to synthetic oil. Plus he doesn’t have the money to pay for the cleanup or the medical bills (don’t they have insurance for that?) – after all he’s spent most of the money he’d earned building his new house.

What do you think would be fair?
So how does this relate to the Paris Climate Accord and the Green Climate Fund? Consider this diagram:

This is a snapshot. This is the equivalent to last week’s oil dumping in our fictional town. China is like Jim, the biggest dumper.

Then consider this graph:

This shows how the US and the EU, like Rex have been emitting carbon for a lot longer than China.

Lastly, consider this graph:

GDP is a proxy for wealth showing that the US, like Rex, has been in business for a long time and is much wealthier than China, who like Jim, recently joined the industrial revolution.

This graph kind of says it all:

Interested in reading more?

Check out these graphs of global carbon emissions:

The Stockholm Environment Institute has developed an equity share approach to addressing the competing needs of countries to develop and to reduce emissions. See their report here:

You can also watch a video of Sivan Kartha, the lead author, explaining the basis.

Design your own solution with the World Resources Institute Equity Explorer!


Sustainability Takes a Village

In the media lately there has been a lot of talk about divesting from fossil fuel companies. I applaud this. It’s important to use all the tools in the toolbox to stem the rising tide (pun intended) of climate change. However, divestment today will not change the way buildings are built tomorrow, the types of zoning regulations adopted, how food is grown or clothes are made. The reality is that change is a long, slow process. Some of the things we think have happened quickly, like the adoption of smart phones, have actually taken a decade to reach a 10% global penetration rate.

While a shrinking fossil fuel industry will impact energy costs, which in turn will lead to changes in purchasing decisions on a larger level (e.g. what type of power plant to build) and at a more personal level (e.g. what type of car to buy, whether or not to buy a car at all), and will eventually decrease greenhouse gas emissions, these changes take time.

In that intervening time, between the eventual collapse of the fossil fuel industry and now, change still needs to happen in the way it always has – by individuals making decisions in their daily lives. By office managers who change what is purchased by their department, by building project managers who decide to hire a company experienced in LEED buildings, by students who take the train to their internship instead of driving. By people making choices every day that can change something lasting, like how buildings are conceived and built, or something habitual, like how to get around.

So while it is tempting to focus all our energy on a single cure to a problem, we, as individuals, need to be prepared for the long and often tedious business of waking up every day and making decisions that will, over time, lead to change. This takes strength, stamina, and a lot of self-motivation and hope. It lasts more than three days or three months and is, most of the time, inglorious and unappreciated.

Campaign finance reform, fossil fuel subsidies, investment decisions – these are all things that need to change, but we also need enthusiasm and passion to make local changes, the ones that will make a difference in the immediate future and reduce our emissions now. The people and actions highlighted in the sustainability progress report released today are doing those things. They have taken the time and effort, often above and beyond what is required of them, to make Tufts a better, more sustainable place. We applaud them and thank them with all our hearts, for we recognize that what they do is not easy but is very, very necessary.

The Candidates and the Climate

While no candidate is perfect on climate change (and indeed, they all seem to be woefully inadequate), there are some differences:
Mitt Romney: despite his surprisingly good record on climate change while he was governor, Romney’s energy plan focuses almost entirely on pumping more fossil fuels into the atmosphere, a situation that would almost certainly ensure the world’s inability to reign in climate change (Rolling Stone has a pretty fierce write up of it, but you can read it yourself and see). Just one example: in his quotes about N. American energy independence, he uses a Manhattan Institute report that says, “In collaboration with Canada and Mexico, the United States could—and should—forge a broad pro-development, pro-export policy to realize the benefits of our hydrocarbon resources. Such a policy could lead to North America becoming the largest supplier of fuel to the world by 2030.” (what no-one seems to have told him, however, is that oil and gas companies that drill in N. America aren’t restricted to selling that fuel only to Canada, Mexico and the US – they’ll sell it to whomever gives the best price – as any good, non-government-run institution would do).
But anyhow, Obama’s no great climate champion these days either but at least he doesn’t blatantly ignore climate change or pledge to dig up and sell all the fossil fuels in North America. As an aside, Romney attacks Obama for ‘targeting old coal power plants’ – when, really, we wish he were targeting them, since those plants are some of the worst carbon emissions offenders.
Here is a summary of what the 2 candidates have said about energy and climate on the campaign trail.
Elizabeth Warren seems to support action on climate change – at least in words – but I doubt it’ll be a priority for her. Scott Brown, however, in June 2012 voted to ‘disapprove’ the EPAs endangerment findings on greenhouse gases and in March 2012 voted against ending tax deductions for major oil companies and extending incentives for energy efficient homes, plug-in vehicles and alternative fuels. They are considered one of 4 senate races with noticably different opinions on climate.
Jon Golnik doesn’t list ‘environment’ as an issue on his website, but under ‘energy’ he indicates he supports the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and drilling in ANWR. OK, I guess that says it all. Climate doesn’t seem to be a priority for Niki Tsongas, but she states that she help[ed] to pass tougher fuel efficiency standards and incentives for renewable energy, so there’s hope there.
Don’t forget to vote!

Tufts Eco-Reps shine at Symposium

Jessie and Rachael introduce the day's first ice breaker

Jessie and Rachael introduce the day's first ice breaker

I’m so proud of our Eco-Reps! Today they rocked the Babson/GreenerU Eco-Rep symposium – they ran the ice-breaker for the whole group, gave two presentations, sponsored the composting for lunch and dinner AND had the best showing of any school! Here are some pictures:

Claire summoning group 2

Claire summoning group 2

Josh explains the next step in the ice-breaker

Josh explains the next step in the ice-breaker

Jessie and Rachael presenting

Jessie and Rachael describe Tufts Eco-Rep training program

Laina, Claire and Katie explain Tufts' dorm composting

Laina, Claire and Katie explain Tufts' dorm composting

Trains and Handkerchiefs

Tina on train with zero waste bag

Luckily the guy behind me didn't have any complaints about my bag...

Since today is the last day of Mass Car-Free Week, my fellow commuter rail travelers got a special peek at my Zero-Waste Challenge trash. We have now sent out invitations to lots of students and employees at Tufts encouraging them to try their own challenge. My colleague, Ann Greaney-Williams (also the Environmental Studies coordinator) is going to do it with her five-year old and her husband. And two other staff from OOS will be starting their challenge week on Monday – so you can join them too.

I did notice another unintended consequence – the Zero-Waste Challenge keeps your dietary indiscretions in full view – no more pretending you didn’t eat that cookie or candy bar. I haven’t decided if this is a good thing yet…

On another note, the other day I was reminded that there was life before disposable tissues and Simple t-shirt tissuesit’s time to re-discover handkerchiefs! With so many awesome designs out there like these by Hank & Cheef, how can you resist buying one for every day of the week? If you don’t want to buy anything you can make your own perfect ones with a sewing machine and a scrap of fabric. Or, if like me, the sewing machine won’t be entering my life soon enough for my next bout of sniffles, check out this awesome blog on how to make simple, adorable, no-sew t-shirt tissues.

Maybe this is the solution to my cat’s insistence on pulling my non-eco-friendly tissues out of my trash bin and chewing them to bits on the floor… (speaking of which – does that count as trash for this week if I used them last week?)

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