Climate Change

By JIM DIPESO, REP’s policy director

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Jim delivered this speech at Bellevue Community College’s Earth Month event, Bellevue, Washington; May 1, 2003.


Good morning. I am Jim DiPeso, policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection.

Republicans for Environmental Protection? Some may think that’s the world’s funniest oxymoron, like diet ice cream or light traffic in Seattle.

Well, it’s a real group, with real members all over the country. Now, let me offer some more startling statements that may strike you as contradictory.

As Republicans, we believe that the scientific facts show that global warming presents real risks to our country.

We believe that tackling global warming can create jobs, improve our economy, and strengthen our nation’s security, as well as leave our descendants a healthy world where they can have decent lives.

Global warming is a problem. It’s also a business opportunity.

Those don’t sound like statements you’d normally hear from a —quote— typical Republican… say an ideologue like Rush Limbaugh, who says:

  1. global warming isn’t really happening and
  2. even if it was, doing something about it would destroy our economy.

Well, Rush Limbaugh is not a credible source on this issue. I wouldn’t rely on Rush for truthful information about global warming, any more than I’d let him work on my teeth.

The truth is that doing something about global warming is consistent with the principles of true conservatism — taking responsibility for our actions, thrift, acting prudently and cautiously, and looking out the interests of future generations.


Sound contrarian? Maybe. But let’s remember the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican and America’s greatest conservation president.

TR had a personal interest in the outdoors. He was an expert birder, a crack hunter, a self-taught naturalist, and in his time, one of the world’s foremost experts on large North American game mammals. He established 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, 54 national wildlife refuges, and 130 million acres of national forests — a conservation achievement that has never been matched.

His conservation record reflected more than personal interest, however. TR’s greatest insight was that conservation is critical to keeping America strong and secure for future generations. TR said conservation is patriotic.


Which brings us to today.

TR’s instinctive grasp of conservation’s importance foreshadowed the findings of modern science — forests, wetlands, rivers, oceans, and other ecological systems are much, much more than nice places that are “out there” somewhere — beyond what we think of as the real world.

They are the real world.

Natural systems are an endowment, a capital asset that returns dividends in the form of free services that we simply cannot do without — clean air, clean water, topsoil formation, crop pollination, food, medicine — clean and keeping our atmosphere in balance. We tamper with our natural capital at our peril.

Taking good care of our natural endowment is the wise, conservative thing to do. Tampering with it, by tampering with the atmosphere that supports life, is radical. Radical, reckless and extreme.


So with that groundwork laid, let’s talk about global warming.

Global warming has been the subject of the most intensive, wide-ranging scientific research in the history of the world. The world’s best scientists have collected reams of data. They have checked and re-checked their findings, and subjected them to rigorous peer review to validate them.


Let’s start with the basics.

The atmosphere has trace gases, such as water vapor and carbon dioxide, that keep some of the sun’s heat in, which is the greenhouse effect. So in the right dose, the greenhouse effect is good. It allows water to exist in a liquid state and creates conditions hospitable to many forms of life — like us!

You have to look at Earth’s closest planetary neighbors to really appreciate what a knife’s edge of hospitable conditions we’re balanced on. Venus is a sulfurous greenhouse gone mad, with temperatures hot enough to melt lead. Way too hot. Mars is a frozen desert where nighttime temperatures plunge to nearly 200 below zero. Way too cold. Earth is the Goldilocks planet. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

Over very long periods of time, the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide levels have fluctuated naturally in lockstep with global temperatures. CO2 goes up, temperature goes up. CO2 goes down, temperatures go down. Before industrialization, never in the last 420,000 years did CO2 levels ever get above 280 parts per million. These are scientific facts, borne out by analysis of ancient Antarctic ice cores.

Since 1860, however, CO2 levels have risen from 280 to 375 ppm — an increase of 30 percent in what is, in geological terms, an eyeblink of time. About three-fourths of that CO2 has come from burning coal, oil and natural gas — the so-called fossil fuels.

Emissions are continuing to rise. Since 1990, U.S. emissions have risen 14 percent. Our nation alone is responsible for one-fourth of all human-caused CO2 emissions. We use a lot of fossil fuels to power cars and trucks, heat and cool buildings, and run lights, appliances, and motors – 7 billion barrels of oil, a billion tons of coal, and 22 trillion cubic feet of natural gas every year.

The atmosphere’s concentration of CO2 is expected to hit double pre-industrial levels in the next 75 years, an extraordinarily rapid rate of increase. We’re also putting other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — methane and certain industrial gases not found in nature. But to keep things simple, we’ll focus on CO2, the leading greenhouse gas.

The problem with emitting CO2 is that it unbalances the natural carbon cycle. In a balanced cycle, CO2 is absorbed for photosynthesis by marine and terrestrial plants. CO2 is released when plants and animals respire, and when they decay after death.

Think of a bathtub. When the water entering from the faucet is the same amount as the water going down the drain, the bathtub water level neither rises nor falls. When the water entering from the faucet is greater than the amount going down the drain, the bathtub water level starts to rise. That’s what is happening in the atmosphere.

Our emissions are outrunning the carbon absorption capacity of the oceans, forests and soils, so it’s piling up in the atmosphere. That has set off a chain of events. More CO2 means a stronger greenhouse effect. A stronger greenhouse effect adds more heat energy to the atmosphere. More heat energy guns the machinery of global weather systems, which could have all sorts of unpleasant side effects.

That latter point is very important. Global warming does not mean that every place on Earth will warm up gradually and uniformly. Instead, think of global warming as a disruptive force. Global weather is a complex phenomenon driven by heat energy. Small changes could produce large feedback effects, throwing what we think of as normal weather patterns out of whack.

It’s sort of like poking a stick at a gorilla in a cage. You’re setting off a chain of events in the animal’s brain, and sooner or later, you’re bound to feel the effects. And, remember, we’re inside the cage with the gorilla.

Scientists believe that our CO2 emissions are at least partly responsible for an observed rise in global temperatures. The global average temperature is up about a degree over the past century.

Scientists know this from examining many types of evidence — tree rings in the Rockies and old English shipping records, for example. Seven out of the 10 warmest years of the 20th century were in the 1990s. There have been other effects. Sea levels are up 4 to 10 inches in the past century. Rainfall is up in high latitudes. Glaciers are retreating worldwide.

Scientists have noted behavioral changes in animals whose survival strategies are governed by seasonal cues. For example, songbirds responding to warmer temperatures have begun their spring migrations earlier, which means they may arrive too early for the insects and berries they depend upon for food. It’s like someone changed the script and the actors’ timing has been thrown off.


What could be in store in the century ahead, when global average temperatures could rise up to 10 degrees?

Greater heat energy could amplify weather patterns. Hotter hot spells. Drier droughts. Wetter rainstorms. Stronger hurricanes.
International insurance companies are increasingly concerned that a warmer atmosphere will spawn really big storms more frequently.

They’re concerned about the future of their industry. Why does that concern us? Insurance is essential for our economy’s functioning, because it spreads risks of catastrophic losses. Insurance works on predictable risk factors. If disruptive weather changes those risk factors, insurance may cost more or — in certain coastal areas — may not be available at all.

West Nile virus is a disease spread by the culex mosquito. This is a southern mosquito that has been expanding its range northward because the weather is warmer. Anybody here like fire ants? Warmer weather will allow them to spread northward also.

Here in the Northwest, we rely on winter snowpack as a free storage reservoir. With warmer weather, scientists think we’ll have less snow in the winter — which will impact water supplies we rely on for drinking water, irrigation, and hydroelectric power production.

What will happen to agriculture? That will depend on the local area. Climate change skeptics say extra CO2 will fertilize crops. So it will, but new research shows that such crops may also be less nutritious. We’ll have to grow more and eat more to get the same level of nutrition.

Rising Sea Levels – For some low-lying countries, the argument about agricultural impacts will be academic because their farmland will be under water. Take Bangladesh, for example. Flooding is a chronic problem there, and rising sea levels, coupled with higher storm surges, will make matters worse.

Forests and Wetlands — In the Northwest, ponderosa pine forests could succumb to higher summer temperatures and fires. In the Northeast, sugar maples could disappear. On the Gulf Coast, rising sea levels could accelerate wetlands loss.

National Heritage — Americans can take great pride in our national heritage. Glacier National Park is losing its glaciers because of warming temperatures. Glacier without glaciers? That’s like Yosemite without El Capitan or Yellowstone without Old Faithful.

Then, there are the impacts that scientists dryly call “non-linear events.” A non-linear event is like the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Rising heat energy could push the atmosphere past a dangerous tipping point where all sorts of truly nasty problems could arise.

Here’s one example. Deep beneath the ocean are 10 trillion metric tons of bizarre structures called methane hydrates — structures in which high pressure keeps the gas locked up in a frozen lattice. Warmer temperatures could melt the hydrates, sending a gigantic surge of methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas, bubbling to the surface.

In short, we are conducting a giant, uncontrolled science experiment on the only atmosphere we have. We’re accelerating down a dark road. We’re playing a very risky game that’s not fair to future generations.

So what do we need to do? To stabilize CO2 levels in the atmosphere, we need to reduce CO2 emissions by two-thirds over the next couple of generations. We need to reduce the flow coming into the bathtub.

Action now is important. Early action is better than waiting. Yes, there is still much about global warming we have to learn and research should continue. But the longer we delay, the more CO2 will build up in the atmosphere. It stays there a long time. If we wait too long before acting, we will pass a point of no return and lock ourselves into centuries of global warming. We could pass one of those dangerous tipping points that could make life very difficult. It’s a risk we shouldn’t take.

But more than that, it’s an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up. That’s right. Fighting global warming is a business opportunity that we should seize because there is money to be made, jobs to create, and spinoff benefits — from cleaner air in our cities to greater freedom from foreign energy sources.

It almost doesn’t matter whether you believe global warming is happening or not — these opportunities should be tapped on their own merits.

Worldwide, the market for clean energy technologies — efficiency technologies, fuel cells, wind, solar, and other renewable sources of energy — is expected to total $180 billion per year for the next 20 years — without any policies to stimulate more rapid growth. In the Northwest, clean energy industries are expected to double in size in the next 20 years.

The first place to start is energy efficiency.

Vice President Cheney says using energy more efficiently is a sign of personal virtue but is not a basis for an energy policy. He has it exactly wrong. Efficiency is the essential foundation that will support the clean energy revolution that will get us out of our carbon dioxide predicament. The antithesis of efficiency is waste, and waste is indefensible.

Let’s be clear on what energy efficiency means. It does not mean deprivation. It does not mean shivering in the dark or driving around in an undesirable car. It means getting more work out of each kilowatt-hour of electricity and each barrel of oil.

See these? They’re compact fluorescent lights. They deliver the same amount of bright, white light as a standard incandescent bulb, but use only 25 percent of the energy and last 10 times as long. That’s efficiency.

Let’s remember why we buy electricity or gasoline. We don’t buy electricity or gasoline for the sake of having electricity or gasoline. We buy them for the services they deliver, whether it’s illumination or personal mobility. If the same services can be provided with less energy, you don’t have to buy as much energy.

Generating electricity accounts for one-third of America’s CO2 emissions. Transportation accounts for one-fourth. More efficiency means less pollution, fewer drilling rigs and coal mines in pristine backcountry, and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. More efficiency also means more money that’s available for things that are more important than wasted energy.

Efficiency delivers proven economic benefits. Since 1973, the American economy’s “energy intensity” — energy used per dollar of output — has fallen by 43 percent. Nearly two-thirds of that reduction was the result of energy efficiency improvements. The reduction in energy intensity is saving our country $430 billion every year that we otherwise would be spending on wasted energy.

Motor vehicle fuel efficiency standards are saving 2.8 million barrels of oil per day. That’s 2.8 million barrels we don’t have to burn, 2.8 million barrels we don’t have to buy from unstable parts of the world, 2.8 million barrels we’re not extracting by turning wilderness lands into industrial zones.

We’ve made a lot of progress, but there are many more efficiency opportunities waiting to be tapped. Five national laboratories have estimated we can improve energy efficiency 20 percent by 2020 at a profit.

Take lighting for example. Lighting uses half the electricity consumed by a commercial building, including energy to remove the heat that inefficient lights throw off. For buildings that have not had a lighting upgrade in the last five years, a retrofit could cut lighting costs 50-75 percent, with a payback period of only 1 to 3 years.

Sometimes, energy efficiency just means you stop being stupid. Take compressed air, a significant energy load for cleaning, running tools, and other chores at factories. Just fixing leaks can cut their energy use one-quarter to one-half.

In 1998, British Petroleum set up an internal program to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. They met the target last year — nine years ahead of schedule — and saved $600 million in the process. How? BP turned its work force loose to ferret out and eliminate wasteful practices that resulted in CO2 emissions. BP figured out that pollution is waste and waste is lost profit.

The story is the same for cars. In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences released a report showing that the efficiency of cars could be improved significantly, with technologies right off the shelf and without compromising safety in any way whatsoever.

Hybrid-electric cars deliver great efficiencies. Today, there are three models of hybrid cars in showrooms today. The Toyota Prius, for example, can get 56 miles per gallon. More will be available in the next few years.

If you really want a dramatic example of energy waste, look at coal-fired power plants, which generate about half the electricity used in America. Generally, about one-third of the energy in the coal is converted to electricity. The remaining two-thirds is thrown away as waste heat. Every year, America’s power plants throw away enough waste heat to power all of Japan.

Why not put that heat to use? That’s the secret behind combined heat and power. You burn the coal or gas to generate power, then tap the waste heat for industrial use nearby, such as food processing. Instead of using only one-third the fuel’s energy, you use two-thirds or even higher.

Efficiency must be the foundation of the clean energy revolution. The superstructure will be new ways of providing energy services that don’t increase CO2 emissions at all.

Picture this scene a few decades from now. Across the land, electricity is churned out by power plants running on wind, farm and forestry residue, underground heat, and solar energy. Some of that electricity is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, which is then recombined in fuel cells to create electricity, warm water, and nothing else — no carbon dioxide, no air pollution, no oil slicks.

Even with the sluggish economy, markets for clean energy technologies are growing rapidly. Worldwide, the market for wind energy is expected to rise by a factor of 10 by 2012. Solar will expand by a factor of nine, and fuel cells by a factor of nearly 25.

Wind power systems are competitive today with fossil fuel. Wind farms are going up all over the U.S. The nation’s largest wind generating facility is near Walla Walla, but larger ones elsewhere are on the drawing boards.

Wind can be a reliable source of income for farmers. In eastern Oregon, the Royal Raymond wheat and cattle farm has 18 wind turbines that are earning the farm $1,000 to $2,000 each in royalty income every year. That’s steady money, much more stable than unpredictable crop prices.

Biomass is potentially an enormous source of both electricity and liquid fuels — and another source of income for farmers.

Ethanol, for example, is a liquid fuel derived from corn. Recent and prospective breakthroughs in processing technology will permit extraction of ethanol from all kinds of plant matter — stems, stalks, wheat straw, grasses, or wood chips. That will cut the cost. With efficient hybrid or fuel cell vehicles, we could replace all the gasoline we use today with ethanol, without taking away any land for food crops or other non-farm uses.

Demand for solar energy is rising 25 percent per year as prices fall. Once the price of an installed solar energy system falls by another two-thirds, solar photovoltaics will be a competitive source of large-scale power generation.

Hydrogen is the best bet to permanently replace fossil fuels for basic energy. Hydrogen fuel cells could be sized to run everything from laptop computers to automobiles to utility-scale power plants.

All of the major auto companies are investing large sums in hydrogen fuel cells. Bill Ford, the CEO of the company that bears his family name, says fuel cells will end the reign of the internal combustion engine. President Bush has announced his FreedomCars and FreedomFuels initiatives to commercialize hydrogen-powered cars. Big oil companies such as Shell and ChevronTexaco have invested in hydrogen also. Even the Pentagon has gotten into the act.

Hydrogen could be extracted from conventional fossil fuels but the carbon-free Holy Grail is using renewably generated electricity to extract hydrogen from water.


Now, I know all of this sounds great. But how do get there from here?

We need federal leadership to speed up the energy transition — because we have to start now. We could leave this entirely to the market, but we don’t have the luxury of time. And there is ample historical precedent for federal leadership to speed up technological change that is in the national interest. The transcontinental railroad. The Apollo project.

We made those big projects happen because they were good for America. The transcontinental railroad helped knit this far-flung, continental nation together. Project Apollo was a scientific and engineering tour d’force that produced all kinds of spinoff benefits in health and medicine, computer science, and industrial technology.

Now, we have a similar opportunity with clean energy. These technologies will be developed — if not here in America, then in Europe and Japan. Iceland plans to become the world’s first all-hydrogen economy by 2030. Danish companies are selling wind turbines worldwide. Two billion people around the world want what we have — mobility, home appliances, lights in the evening. We need to be in a position to build the clean energy technologies many people overseas will want to buy.

Once a new technology takes off, it can spread very quickly. How many of you here have a cell phone? How many had one two years ago? Five years ago? Ten years ago?

So here is what we should do. Number 1, we need a sensible, but aggressive plan to stabilize CO2 levels by ratcheting down carbon emissions, with goals and timetables. Earlier, I mentioned a two-thirds reduction over two generations. That’s one possibility. Here is what the action plan ought to contain.


Research & Development. A lot of technical issues need to be figured out. Do we use liquid or gaseous hydrogen to fuel up fuel cell cars?

How do we build hydrogen fueling stations? What alternative, low-cost materials are the best bets for low-cost solar cells?

This will cost money. Wired magazine, for example, published an article calling for a 10-year, $100 billion program to move us quickly to a hydrogen economy. We could pay for this partly by phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.

Setting Standards. It’s long past time to raise federal standards for automobile fuel economy and for appliance energy efficiency. Just setting efficiency standards for replacement tires would reduce gasoline consumption by 3 percent.

We should adopt requirements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, either a carbon cap or a fossil fuel efficiency standard. Utilities should be required to provide a certain amount of power from renewable sources, say 20 percent by 2020. We should encourage power plant efficiency through redesigned air pollution standards.

Eliminate Market Barriers. Utilities fighting to protect monopoly service can make it very hard to connect solar cells or combined heat and power plants to electricity grids. Builders typically install cheap, inefficient equipment in buildings because they won’t have to pay the electric bills. That’s called a split incentive. These are barriers that should be addressed with legislation and/or incentives, as appropriate.

Speaking of incentives. Let’s provide tax credits for buying hybrid-electric and fuel cell cars, energy-efficient appliances, and designing energy-efficient buildings. Let cars that get double the average mileage use HOV lanes.

What about Kyoto? Let’s remember that Kyoto would only get us a small fraction of the emissions reductions we need to stabilize CO2 levels. We should return to the treaty, but immediately press for negotiations to craft a fair, long-term deal that includes every country.

We’re all in this together. We all have a stake in protecting our global life support system.

Nothing we do would be more important for the future of our nation and the future of the human experiment.

We stand at defining moment in history. We have two choices.

We can ignore what the scientists are telling us, convince ourselves that nothing can be done, and just accept whatever haymakers Mother Nature throws at us.

Or, we can accept what the scientists are telling us, take the bull by the horns and really take on the climate challenge. I much prefer the second option. It’s better for our families, our communities, our country, our world. It’s the responsible thing to do.

Theodore Roosevelt once said that we are not building this nation of ours for a day. It is to last through the ages.

A hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt went on an extended train tour of the West. During the tour, he visited the Grand Canyon for the first time and was awe-struck by the sight. At the rim of the canyon, he turned to face his countrymen and implored them to think beyond themselves:

“Leave it as it is. You cannot improve upon it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. Keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you.”

That, my friends, was an American patriot, defending his homeland. Now it’s our turn.