24 October 2008

Experts: It will take sacrifices to fight global warming

By Meg Thilmony, The News-Gazzette, October 23, 2008 10:03 AM CDT

URBANA – Americans can fight global warming and its causes, but they'll have to make some sacrifices to do so.

That was the gist of the message three experts delivered during a Wednesday discussion about global warming and the public policy necessary to fight it. The conversation took place at the University of Illinois' Beckman Institute, the sixth annual Craig S. Bazzani Lecture in Public Affairs. After experts gave 10-minute talks on their primary findings concerning global warming and the policies needed to regulate it, Moderator John Foreman and audience members questioned them about the subject. Foreman is the editor and publisher of The News-Gazette, Inc.

Paul Portney said he believes the price of energy – such as electricity produced in coal-fired plants or gasoline burning cars – should be increased dramatically in order to spur people to use cleaner, more environmentally friendly alternatives. That will limit the emission of greenhouse gases, he said, which could in turn combat global warming.

Portney is the dean of Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona and formerly a chief economist for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

As gas prices rose from $2.50 to $4 a gallon over the last year and a half, a large number of people started biking, carpooling and using public transit, Portney said. He believes that regulation keeping non-renewable energy costs high will force changes toward conservation.

Likewise, the cost of developing technologies to replace those currently in use will also cost money.

A global warming discussion takes place at the University of Illinois' Beckman Institute on Wednesday. By Meg Thilmony

"We simply have to spend more on research and development," Portney said.

Christine Ervin, the president of Christine Ervin/Company and former president and CEO of the Green Building Council, said changes must happen quickly. They have to happen on a large enough scale to make a difference, and they shouldn't merely shifting the problem to a new area, she said. Speed is of the essence, because the longer it takes for public policy to address global warming, the more damage global warming will do, and the more money it will cost to repair.

Chester "Chet" Gardner, special assistant to UI President B. Joseph White for Global Campus and an engineer who has studied atmospheric dynamics and global climate change, believes environmentally sound technology must be demonstrated and then put to use all over the world. He cited the stalled-for-now FutureGen low-emissions coal plant project originally slated for Mattoon as one way this could be done.

Another way to spur change could be with the cap and trade system, which basically puts a price on carbon dioxide emissions, the experts said. It requires those emitting greenhouse gases to buy permits for the amount of carbon they emit. Regulatory bodies could decrease the number of permits sold, therefore capping the amount of emissions. For businesses that find limiting emissions too expensive, trading or buying permits from those who are able to cut down on emissions is possible.

Portney admitted, after an audience question about the feasibility of cap and trade, that the system would have to find a way of accurately measuring emissions to verify their benefit to the environment.

Ervin said she believes changes can be made to combat global warming through incorporating sustainable practices in building codes everywhere.

Significant changes have already been made in the last 10 years, Ervin said. McGraw-Hill Construction estimates 1 of 10 new buildings are "green," which she called "amazing progress."

Sustainable building can start at the beginning, she said, from how a building is positioned to what kinds of materials are used to construct it. It can be built for almost the same cost as traditional structures, and other costs are recouped by conservation of energy.

The U.S. has a heritage of research and development, and Americans can lead developing nations into using energy in a more environmentally responsible way.

"We've got a chance in taking it back," Ervin said, of developing new technology.

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