Scotland, London Propose New Low Emission Zones

by Kieran McVeigh

Scotland may become the latest country in Europe to institute low emission zones in their major urban centers. In January of 2017 the Scottish ministers proposed piloting a “low emissions zone” in the most polluted areas of Scottish cities to reduce pollution and help meet Scotland’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. These goals are among the most aggressive in the world with an end goal of an 80% reduction in green house gases by 2050. The proposed low emission zone would prevent vehicles that create higher then average amounts of pollution like trucks or “lorries” as they’re referred across the pond, from driving in the low emission parts of the city. Continue reading

Urban Transportation: Energy Consumption

by Aurora Silva

More than half of the global population now lives in towns and cities. At the same time, transport has become the highest single energy-consuming human activity. Hence, one of the major topics today is the reduction of urban transport demand and of energy consumption in cities. This article is focused on the whole package of instruments that can reduce energy consumption and transport demand in Belgrade, a city that is currently at a major crossroad. Belgrade can prevent a dramatic increase in energy consumption and CO2 emissions (and mitigate the negative local environmental effects of traffic congestion, traffic accidents, and air pollution), only if it: implements a more decisive strategy to limit private vehicles use while its level of car passenger km travelled is still relatively low, does not try to solve its transport problems only by trying to build urban road infrastructure (bridges and ring roads), and if it continues to provide priority movement for buses (a dominant form of public transport), while at the same time developing urban rail systems (metro or light rail transit) with exclusive tracks, immune to the traffic congestion on urban streets. Continue reading

China’s Smog Problem and its Causes

by Jason Xu

Smog in Beijing made headlines last December when the Chinese government had to shut down schools to protect children from “hazardous level” air. People all over the world saw pictures of Beijing and could not believe their eyes. It looked like a sand storm, except it was not sand in the air, but tiny particles that entered and stayed in people’s lungs. Some particles, referred to as PM 2.5, were even more dangerous because they could enter the bloodstream from the lungs. As scary as it looked in pictures, it was scarier to be there in person. I am from Beijing and I had personally experienced the smog on a daily basis. Continue reading

The Unseen Problems with Nevada’s Air Quality

by Abigail Wang

For nearly twenty years Nevada, along with parts of Arizona, has been a hot topic of the debate between public health and economic development. The issue has resurfaced again as Brenda Buck and Rodney Metcalf, geologists and professors of geoscience at University of Nevada, push the Nevada Department of Health to implement more protective measures in areas filled with asbestos.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring carcinogenic fiber that damages the lungs. Deposits of asbestos minerals are fairly common and particularly rich veins have been mined for commercial use. The fibers travel easily through and air and if inhaled, even in modest amounts, can embed themselves into the lungs and cause mesothelioma and other respiratory diseases. Mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer, can only be caused by the exposure to asbestos, and it normally takes 30 or more years to recognize symptoms. Continue reading

Regulating Greenhouse Gas Pollution from Existing Power Plants

by Makari Krause

One of the most ambitious components of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP combines regulations on new and existing power plants and will drastically reduce power plant emissions once implemented. Authority for the CPP is granted by Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act and requires that the EPA issue a set of emissions guidelines. Once they have done this the states then need to come up with their own way of meeting those emissions guidelines but have discretion in deciding what instruments to use as long as the resulting abatement is either the same or superior to that mandated by the EPA. Continue reading

The Potential of Carbon Offsetting Programs and Travelers Willingness to Support Them

by Margaret Loncki

Tourism-related air travel has consistently been one of the fastest growing carbon releasing industries. Although, the industry has faced serious pressure to reduce their carbon output, it has struggled to find an efficient way to accomplish this. Choi and Ritchie (2014) aim to discover how much consumers are willing to pay to offset the CO2 emissions released by their travel. Many airlines have carbon offsetting programs that allow passengers to pay a fee to help fund carbon reducing research and development programs as well as the production and support for new and existing clean energy programs and renewable energy sources. Although most travelers understand the implications of the carbon released by their flights, only a fraction of passengers have supported the carbon offsetting programs offered by airlines. Continue reading

Obama and Modi Negotiate Renewable Energy in India

by Melanie Paty

On January 25th, 2015, President Obama met with newly elected prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, primarily to discuss climate change. Ari Philips published an article for Think Progress that gives context for the negotiations and explains the climate conditions India is currently facing. The article cites staggering statistics about the urgency of pollution mitigation in India. Delhi is the most polluted city in the world with PM2.5 levels eight times higher than EPA approved levels and air pollution-related ailments contributing to 109,000 premature adult deaths per year. Delhi is not the only problem as India houses thirteen of the twenty most polluted cities. A chance to turn to a more sustainable path has opened with Modi taking office as he has increased India’s 2020 solar energy target by five times. The article sites Raymond Vickery who notes that this ambitious goal will be financially difficult for India as its new climate goals are estimated to require $100 billion in investments, much of which will need to come from private investors. Continue reading

Models Reveal Climatic Impacts of Urban Expansion

by Dan McCabe

Greenhouse gases have earned a bad name for their impacts on global climate, but in modern cities, the built environment itself can contribute to climate change just as much. In order to quantify and analyze the impacts of urbanization on local and regional temperature and hydroclimate, Georgescu et. al. (2014) modeled the impacts of urban expansion in the contiguous United States in a variety of scenarios. The authors considered a range of different predicted population levels in the United States for the year 2100. Using advanced atmospheric models, they found that if no urban climate change mitigation measures were put into place by then, summertime urban-induced warming of 1–3 °C can be expected in cities, with exact values varying by location. These increased temperatures are due solely to the effects of the built environment, as simulations were run using climate data from 2001-2008 without any assumptions about future warming due to increased greenhouse gas emissions. Continue reading

Try Not to Live Too Close to a Fracked Well

by Emil Morhardt

If you happen to live within 1 km of a hydraulically fractured well in Pennsylvania, and you get your water supply from a well, you stand about twice as large a chance of having skin and upper respiratory problems than if you live 2 km or farther away; you have over 3 health symptoms, on average—people further away have only 1.6. Looked at another way,13% of people living near fracking operations have upper respiratory problems, versus 3% living farther away; and 39% of the same group of people have upper respiratory problems versus 18% living further away. That is the disturbing result of an epidemiological study of almost 500 people in an area of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, just published in a journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Rabinowitz et al. 2014). Continue reading

Methane Emissions in Colorado Exceed EPA Estimates; Fracking?

by Emil Morhardt

Colorado’s north Front Range, north of Denver and east of Boulder and Fort Collins has become a frackers’ paradise, with 24,000 active wells in 2012, 10,000 of them drilled since 2005. In the hot muggy summers, volatile organic compounds, including methane, ethane, propane, butane, pentane, and sometimes the carcinogen, benzene (all commonly found in oil and natural gas, O&G) accumulate in the air, leading to elevated ozone levels, and contributing to global warming. Previous estimates of the total amounts released were based on a combination of bottom-up estimates of releases from various sources based on a variety of sampling methods, as well as air samples from tower sampling stations. Extrapolating these to the whole O&G area carries all of the uncertainty associated with each of these estimates. In order to get a top-down, fully integrated estimate, Pétron et al., research scientists at NOAA, sampled the area from an airplane equipped with an instrument that continuously recorded methane, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide concentrations, and was also capable of taking discreet air samples for measuring other volatile organic compounds typically released from O&G operations. They found that the concentrations of most volatile organic compounds were twice as high, and that of benzene was seven times as high as previously estimated by the state of Colorado, and the hourly emissions rate was three times as high as estimated by the USEPA. The bottom line is that a lot more methane and other volatile organic carbons being released from the O&G operations than was previously thought.

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