A Change in Weather
Gov. Richardson wants to slash the state's greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent, but is that an impossible task?
A plan to cut 75 percent of New Mexico's greenhouse gas emissions in 45 years sounds like the premise for a science fiction novel. Yet an initiative signed by Gov. Bill Richardson has set such a plan in motion. Along with 20 other states, New Mexico is now working on a strategy for confronting climate change.
In June 2005, Richardson signed an executive order establishing the New Mexico Climate Change Advisory Group (CCAG). The group's mission reflects research coordinated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international body of climate experts organized by the World Meteorological Organization (www.ipcc.ch).
Richardson's order calls for cutting emissions back to 2000 levels by 2012, reducing emissions to 10 percent below 2000 levels by 2020 and reaching the ultimate goal of a 75 percent reduction below 2000 levels by 2050. These targets are similar to goals set by the European Union to match long-term reductions called for in the Kyoto Protocol. They are intended to forestall the deadliest effects of global climate change by keeping the average global temperature increase below 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit over time.
The dominant greenhouse gas helping to heat the planet is carbon dioxide, produced primarily by burning fossil fuels. In 2000, New Mexico spewed an estimated 83 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The CCAG, which met for the second time on Oct. 19 at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, includes 39 representatives from extremely diverse groups around the state. The 20 members representing industry and agriculture included voices as varied as British Petroleum, Ski New Mexico and the Elephant Butte Irrigation District. Nine people represented nongovernmental organizations, primarily environmental. Twelve people represented official bodies, from Sandia National Laboratories to the Navajo Nation.
The advisory group is supported by technical working groups that provide expertise in the areas of energy supply, building and manufacturing, agriculture and forestry, and transportation and land use. Their task literally touches every area of our lives.
The CCAG has been compiling all the strategies they can think of for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, as well as inventorying current emissions and predicting their future growth if nothing is done. They are also studying regional and national initiatives.
But that's just the first step, and the group has until December 2006 to complete its almost impossible task.
At their Oct. 19 meeting, the group presented between 200 and 300 strategies for reducing emissions. Some actions, such as changing the composition of cement, used to make concrete for everything from sidewalks to foundations to tilt-up wall panels, wouldn't be noticeable to the general public. Others, such as lowering speed limits, would be, although right now the group is not defining details such as how slow, or how widely enforced.
Whenever possible, suggestions were ranked by how much they deserved further study, how drastically they might reduce emissions and how much money they might cost or save. For instance, the Improved Building Codes strategy, which might require such improvements as tighter windows, heavier ceiling insulation or more efficient furnaces, rated “high” as a priority for further analysis, “medium to high” for potential emissions reductions and “low” for cost.
At the group's next meeting in January in Las Cruces, they will begin winnowing the suggested strategies down to about 50 approaches to develop more fully. After the CCAG decides on the most effective strategies, they will present them to another group, made up of administrative personnel, who will then turn the goals into specific policies.
But even agreeing on how to set and measure goals is not simple. Steve Michel of the New Mexico Industrial Energy Consumers said that, rather than looking for emissions that could be cut, the CCAG should set strict emission limits, by deciding "what we are going to allow to be emitted."
Tom Singer of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "The magic of the market is a wonderful thing, but the government creates the rules under which the market operates."
Ben Luce of the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy (CCAE) searched for common ground, saying the state Legislature passed the Renewable Portfolio Standard in 2004, which requires investor-owned utilities to generate 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2011, because the utilities weren't moving. But the RPS didn't specify how utilities had to achieve the required 10 percent.
In a phone interview, Amy Welch of the CCAE said that currently, PNM and XCEL Energy are meeting and exceeding their intermediate benchmarks using wind power alone.
Recent news stories have shown the market reacting to higher fuel prices. For years automakers have pushed sales of SUVs and trucks with their higher profit margins, yet this September there was a turn of events as sales in the light truck category fell 28 percent for Ford and 30 percent for General Motors as higher gas prices drew customers to more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The governor's climate effort has received little public coverage. It's complicated, it's technical and it's less fun than obsessing about gubernatorial speeding violations. But the climate change actions may be the most important thing going on in the state. You can find more information on the project's website at www.nmclimatechange.us.
Very small changes in the earth's average temperature produce drastic effects. A rise of about one degree Fahrenheit over the last century has caused rapid melting of Arctic ice and permafrost. One speaker at the meeting said she had lived in Alaska from 1978 to 1981, and when she recently returned she was "absolutely shocked" at the scale of melting that has taken place. Yet little is being done at the federal level.
As several CCAG participants mentioned, all forecasts are inaccurate. Six months ago, many federal and industrial spokespersons still pooh-poohed global warming. Few would have forecast that threatened fuel shortages, steep price increases and monster hurricanes would shock the public into intense awareness of the problem. We should all wish the Climate Change Advisory Group well. The state of our state may depend on them.
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