Individuals, states can play key roles in cutting emissions

posted Saturday, May 5, 2007        

By Dan Sorenson, Arizona Daily Star, May 5, 2007

As officials around the globe discuss what to do about climate change, the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report and some local experts say there is work to do here, now.
“It’s easy to say, ‘I’m the small guy and I don’t count,’ but we all count,” said Jonathan Pershing, director of the climate, energy and pollution program at the World Resources Institute at a Bangkok, Thailand, press conference early Friday morning after the release of the climate panel’s report report. The third report in the 2007 series focused on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and check global warming that the panel ties to human-caused atmospheric changes.
Members of the panel cited local and state efforts, such as California’s stringent air pollution and vehicle emission regulations, as examples of taking effective action on climate change at below the national level..
Yesterday’s report detailed dozens of short-term methods that could reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas including: changes in energy use and development – including use of nuclear power, an increase in the use of fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles, improved efficiency lighting and appliance design, heat and power recovery, energy-efficient manufacturing techniques, improved cropland management and carbon storage, reforestation and decreased deforestation and capturing landfill methane.
Conditions, even under a best case scenario that would stop the increase in carbon dioxide emissions, could be perilous, said the University of Arizona’s Melanie Lenart. Lenart is a research associate working on climate assessment for the Southwest at the UA’s Institute for the Study of Planet Earth.
She said that even an eventual leveling off of carbon dioxide levels “would still leave us with a global temperature increase of 2.5 to 4 degrees (Fahrenheit) above today’s levels. And the Southwest has been warming at a faster rate than the world as a whole. Even this scenario is much better than what we’d be facing if we did nothing.”
But even so, Lenart said, something as likely as a power outage during a heat wave could be deadly for vulnerable city dwellers.
She is not without hope, however, noting that there are already technologies – some ancient – that could be employed to mitigate the effects of anticipated rising temperatures.
Some of it, she said, may take a change in attitude, others, legislation.
Lenart said an example would be using solar panels not just for the electricity they generate – which in itself replaces fossil fuels that would have to be burned in a power plant – but for the shade they produce. She said studies have already been done using solar electrical roofs over parking lots, dramatically reducing temperatures.
And while shade from plant life does not produce electricity, Lenart said a Phoenix-area study showed a temperature drop attributed to a planting of oleander of 36 degrees. And, she said, plants used for shade have an evaporative effect that solar panels lack.
But use of plants raises the question of water conservation. Lenart says that calls for “gray water,” using household wastewater for plant watering, rather than sending it down the drain.
Panel spokesmen at yesterday’s conference said calculating the benefits of reduced fossil-fuel use may be necessary to drive governments to enact regulations limiting greenhouse-gas emissions.
They said the costs of reducing fossil-fuel use are offset when improved health from cleaner air and reduced temperature increases are considered.
Despite voluntary efforts by industry to reduce emissions during the Clinton administration, “emissions in the U.S. have gone up 28 percent since 1990,” said Dennis Tirpak, one of the lead authors on Working Group III. “It’s time for us to quit kidding ourselves.”

more online

  • See the panel’s short- and long-term mitigation suggestions:
  • Visit the University of Arizona’s Institute for the Study of Planet Earth’s Web site:

What you can do

  • Visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Change Web page: /climatechange/wycd /index.html
  • Get home energy saving tips from the U.S. Department of Energy: /energysavingtips.htm

Did You Know?
Regional Climate Change modeling projects an 8 degree summer temperature increase for the desert Southwest by the last decade of this century.

Contact reporter Dan Sorenson at 573-4185 or

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