Walmart, Exxon, BP, and 25 Other Companies Put A Price On Carbon

by Guest Contributor Jeff Spross

Image Credit: Walmart image via vvoe / Shutterstock.com

Originally published on Climate Progress.

It turns out the White House and major American businesses may be converging on how to assess the damage greenhouse gas emissions do to the global climate.

According to a new report by the environmental data company CDP, in 2013 at least 29 companies either based or operating in the United States factored a price on carbon into their long-term business planning. And in 2010, the Obama Administration released the government’s estimates for that same price, to be used as a factor in rulemaking decisions by federal agencies.

The global warming driven by human-caused carbon emissions will come various results, including droughts, floods, heat waves, shifting weather patterns, stronger storms, disrupted food supplies and rising seas. The purpose of the price in both instances is to quantify the economic costs of those effects.

Significantly, the companies using an internal carbon price include the five oil giants — ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, BP, and Shell — along with other notables like Google, Microsoft, General Electric, Walt Disney, Wells Fargo, DuPont, and Delta Air Lines.

The specific prices they estimated were also striking: $40 per ton of carbon emissions for BP; $60 for ExxonMobil, and $40 for Shell. Xcel Energy pegged it at $20, Walt Disney at $10 to $20, and ConocoPhillips’ estimate ran anywhere from $8 to $46 depending on various factors. The U.S. government’s midline estimates were $37 and $57 for 2015. CDP also reviewed the carbon prices already in place in other countries around the world, which generally fell into the same range — and in a few instances much lower and higher.

Currently, the United States does not put any price on carbon. The International Monetary Fund estimates that failure effectively subsidizes fossil fuels to the tune of $502 billion annually — the biggest of any country in the world. The result is a massive market distortion, because the costs of climate change are not being factored into the daily decisions and transactions of everyone in the economy. The most direct way to place a price on carbon is either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system like the one Congress considered in 2009 and then abandoned. But the regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants would implicitly, if not directly, place a price on those emissions as well.

Of course, the businesses’ use of an internal carbon price is an act of self-interest rather than advocacy. CMS Energy Corporation, for instance, noted it factored into its decision to start up a natural gas power plant, and to begin shuttering several coal-fired ones. And the CDP report quotes many of the companies emphasizing the price’s use as a guide in investment and other decisions.

“It’s climate change as a line item,” Tom Carnac, North American president of CDP, told the New York Times. “They’re looking at it from a rational perspective, making a profit. It drives internal decision-making.”

Publicly, some of these companies — ExxonMobil in particular — have been long-time skeptics of climate change, and have financially supported efforts to beat back the policies aimed at addressing it. Many of those companies are also regular contributors to the Republican party, which opposes efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and has sought to derail the White House’s carbon price. Consequently, many observers on both sides of the issue see the companies’ internal use of a carbon price as a significant break between business’ practical self-interest and the ideological position of the GOP and its conservative supporters — a sign the concrete financial infrastructure that supports opposition to climate policy is simply tiring out.

Across the financial world, there’s growing concern that massive amounts of money are invested in fossil fuel reserves that can never be exploited. Bloomberg LP recently released a financial tool to help investors calculate their carbon risk, while movements across the United States and other countries are pushing institutions to disentangle themselves from fossil fuel production. Various carbon-pricing mechanisms are already operating in numerous countries, and the growth of renewable energy continues to rocket upwards. In other words, the need to account for carbon emissions’ climate damage is no longer seen as a mere internal question of government policy — it’s taking on a collective life of its own.

Being hard-nosed business leaders, Exxon Mobil, BP, Google, and all the rest of them are simply acknowledging that reality.

This article, Walmart, Exxon, BP, Walt Disney, & 25 Other Top Companies Put A Price On Global Warming Pollution, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

How Change Manifests, How Action To Stop Global Warming Must Come About

by Cynthia Shahan

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earth globe
Image Credit: Grassy Earth via Shutterstock

There is just something about brevity. A recent episode of David Biello’s Scientific American podcast Sixty Second Earth cuts to the chase of how change manifests, and how to most effectively tackle the global warming crisis: by local action. Here’s a transcript of part of the Sixty Second Earth podcast:

It’s obvious. Global efforts to combat climate change have failed. International summits are full of hot air and greenhouse gas pollution continues to rise. If a country bails on a climate commitment, they pay a price of, well, zero.

Turns out that’s okay, at least according to game theory analyses by researchers at the University of Lisbon. Their models suggest that punishment by global institutions has no effect. They also say that global summits actually impede cooperation.

Now, in a new report, the researchers suggest that if punishment starts getting handed out at the local level, say city governments, what emerges is a much more cooperative global regime for combating climate change.

Interestingly, though, the local actors must be stimulated by an understanding that global warming means catastrophe… big time. Thus, the remarkable bottom line to change is essentially an old bumper sticker tagline (link added):

Nevertheless, the math of how people play games suggests that successfully curbing carbon pollution will rely on the old adage: think globally… act locally.

The journal Nature Climate Change describes how that proverbial pond inspires change with many ripples from within — it is the rippling of change (link added):

We show that a bottom-up approach, in which parties create local institutions that punish free-riders, promotes the emergence of widespread cooperation, mostly when risk perception is low, as it is at present3, 7. On the contrary, global institutions provide, at best, marginal improvements regarding overall cooperation. Our results clearly suggest that a polycentric approach involving multiple institutions is more effective than that associated with a single, global one, indicating that such a bottom-up, self-organization approach, set up at a local scale, provides a better ground on which to attempt a solution for such a complex and global dilemma.

Another international climate conference is coming up, this one being held in Poland. There isn’t much optimism regarding what is to come out of this, and it seems there’s no reason for optimism. What is needed is a stronger focus on creating action on the local level. What is needed is an emphasis on communicating the great risks and costs that come with global warming, while showing people local solutions that they can implement in their cities. People are starting to realize this, but the message needs to get out to more and more of us, especially the ones who are motivated and assertive enough to push for meaningful change.

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This article, How Change Manifests, How Action To Stop Global Warming Must Come About, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Cynthia Shahan is an Organic Farmer, Classical Homeopath, Art Teacher, Creative Writer, Anthropologist, Natural Medicine Activist, Journalist, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.

New IPCC Report Leaked: Humans Cause Global Warming, Global Warming Consequences speeding up

by Joe Romm, PhD — Special to JBS News

Originally published on Climate Progress.

Temperature change over past 11,300 years (in blue, via Science, 2013) plus projected warming over the next century on humanity’s current emissions path (in red, via recent literature, much of which is reviewed in the new IPCC report.)

Temperature change over past 11,300 years (in blue, via Science, 2013) plus projected warming over the next century on humanity’s current emissions path (in red, via recent literature, much of which is reviewed in the new IPCC report.)

The Fifth — and hopefully final — Assessment Report (AR5) from the UN Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) is due next month. The leaks are already here:

Drafts seen by Reuters of the study by the UN panel of experts, due to be published next month, say it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities – chiefly the burning of fossil fuels – are the main cause of warming since the 1950s.

That is up from at least 90 percent in the last report in 2007, 66 percent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995, steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame.

This is a doubly impressive story since, as we’ve reported, Reuters has slashed climate coverage and pressured reporters to include false balance. Leading climatologists who have seen drafts of the report confirm this story’s accuracy.

Of course, nothing in the report should be a surprise to readers of Climate Progress, since the AR5 is just a (partial) review of the scientific literature (see my 12/11 post, It’s “Extremely Likely That at Least 74% of Observed Warming Since 1950″ Was Manmade; It’s Highly Likely All of It Was). The draft AR5 confirms that natural forces played a very small role in warming since 1950, which again means that human activity is highly likely be a source of virtually all of the recent warming.

I say the AR5 is a “partial” review that is “hopefully” the last because, like every IPCC report, it is an instantly out-of-date snapshot that lowballs future warming because it continues to ignore large parts of the recent literature and omit what it can’t model. For instance, we have known for years that perhaps the single most important carbon-cycle feedback is the thawing of the northern permafrost. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment climate models completely ignore it, thereby lowballing likely warming this century.

No doubt some in the media will continue to focus on the largely irrelevant finding that the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) may be a tad lower than expected.

In terms of real world warming and its impact on humans, the ECS is a mostly theoretical and oversimplified construct — like the so-called spherical cow. The ECS tells you how much warming you would get IF we started slashing emissions asap and stabilized carbon dioxide concentrations in the air around 550 parts per million (they are currently at 400 ppm, rising over 2 ppm a year, and accelerating) — AND IF there were no slow feedbacks like the defrosting permafrost.

The climate however is not a spherical cow. Every climate scientist I’ve spoken to has said we will blow past 550 ppm if we continue to put off action. Indeed, we’re on track for well past 800 ppm. And a 2012 study found that the carbon feedback from the thawing permafrost alone will likely add 0.4°F – 1.5°F to total global warming by 2100.

So the alarming disruption in our previously stable, civilization-supporting climate depicted in the top figure is our future. On our current emissions path, the main question the ECS answers is whether 9°F warming happens closer to 2080, 2100, or 2120 — hardly a cause for any celebration. Quite the reverse. Warming beyond 7F is “incompatible with organized global community, is likely to be beyond ‘adaptation’, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems & has a high probability of not being stable (i.e. 4°C [7F] would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level,” as climate expert Kevin Anderson explains here.

Dr. Michael Mann emailed me:

The report is simply an exclamation mark on what we already knew: Climate change is real and it continues unabated, the primary cause is fossil fuel burning, and if we don’t do something to reduce carbon emissions we can expect far more dangerous and potentially irreversible impacts on us and our environment in the decades to come.

As for the seeming slowdown in global warming, that turns out to be only true if one looks narrowly at surface air temperatures, where only a small fraction of warming ends up. Arctic sea ice melt has accelerated. Disintegration of the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica has sped up. The rate of sea level rise has doubled from last century.

Finally, very recent studies of the ocean, which has absorbed the vast majority of the heat, also show global warming has accelerated in the past 15 years. Sadly, the AR5 appears to have stopped considering new scientific findings before the publication of this research.

Ocean Heat Content from 0 to 300 meters (grey), 700 m (blue), and total depth (violet) from Ocean Reanalysis System 4.

Ocean Heat Content from 0 to 300 meters (grey), 700 m (blue), and total depth (violet) from Ocean Reanalysis System 4.

Reuters notes that climate scientists are “finding it harder than expected to predict the impact in specific regions in coming decades.” This regional uncertainty is not surprising but still quite alarming. Indeed, it is a key reason adaptation to climate change is so much more difficult and expensive than simply reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

After all, if you don’t know where the next super-storm or super-heatwave is going to hit, you pretty much have to prepare everywhere. As a major 2011 study by Sandia National Laboratory concluded, “It is the uncertainty associated with climate change that validates the need to act protectively and proactively.” That study found because of “climate uncertainty as it pertains to rainfall alone, the U.S. economy is at risk of losing” a trillion dollars and 7 million American jobs over the next several decades.

On this point, climatologist Kevin Trenberth e-mailed me:

“We can confidently say that the risk of drought and heat waves has gone up and the odds of a hot spot somewhere on the planet have increased but the hotspot moves around and the location is not very predictable. This year perhaps it is East Asia: China, or earlier Siberia? It has been much wetter and cooler in the US (except for SW), whereas last year the hot spot was the US. Earlier this year it was Australia (Tasmania etc) in January (southern summer). We can name spots for all summers going back quite a few years: Australia in 2009, the Russian heat wave in 2010, Texas in 2011, etc.

Similarly with risk of high rains and floods: They are occurring but the location moves.”

The point is, we know that many kinds of off-the-charts extreme weather events will get more intense, longer lasting, and more frequent — in fact, they already are. But we don’t know exactly where and when they will hit, which means adaptation requires pretty much everybody, everywhere to plan the worst-case. Just when you think the Jersey shore is very unlikely to be hit by a superstorm, along comes Sandy.

I very much doubt the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report will move the needle on climate action because of its inadequacies; because the media has scaled back climate coverage and let go of its best climate reporters; and because the fossil fuel funded disinformation campaign will try to exploit those first two problems to make it seem like this report gives us less to worry about, when it simply underscores what we have known for a quarter-century. Continued inaction on climate change risks the end of modern civilization as we know it.

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