Larry Lazar used the image of three sets of feet sticking out from underneath a blanket to illustrate the meaning of thermal lag when he spoke to an audience at East Central College Thursday evening, April 17, as part of a panel discussion on “Climate Disruption in Missouri: Consequences and Solutions.”
More than 50 people of all ages and beliefs about climate change listened as Lazar shared his story, how he went “From Doubtful to Alarmed” on the issue, and shared the facts he has gathered doing his own research.
“So what is this thing called the Greenhouse Effect?” he asked. “It’s like adding a blanket over the Earth.”
Just like people put a blanket on their bed to trap body heat and stay warm, greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere and keep it warm.
Thermal lag, Lazar explained, is the time it takes from when energy is introduced into a system and when that system feels it.
“You know how on a cold night when you jump into bed it takes awhile to get warmed up,” he said. “You’re curled up in a ball, and it might take five or 10 minutes to get that spot warm. That is thermal lag.
“For the Earth, that lag is about 30 to 40 years,” he noted. “That means the temperatures we are experiencing today are from energy put into the atmosphere 30 to 40 years ago.”
With a blanket on a bed, when the person underneath gets too hot, he or she can easily kick off the blanket to let the hot air escape or push their feet out from underneath to cool off.
“The Earth doesn’t get to do that,” Lazar remarked.
And the reality is that the global temperature has been rising. The 13 hottest years on record have occurred since 1998, said Lazar, pointing out that 2013 was the sixth hottest.
“But it’s cold out, right? The St. Louis metro area experienced a very cold winter this year,” admits Lazar. “Other parts of the world did not.”
Lazar has a brother and sister-in-law who live in Alaska, and this past winter, a lake that she normally ice skates on every year never froze.
“While we were shivering here . . . she was wearing shorts and a T-shirt hiking around because it was 65 degrees in Alaska,” said Lazar.
‘Doubtful to Alarmed’
Back in the mid-’90s, Lazar, who works for Energizer in finance and analysis, didn’t pay much attention to global warming. He was “disengaged” on the issue and “doubtful” that it was real.
“I believed the things many people do — that climate has always been changing, it’s caused by changes in the sun, the scientists were in it for the money . . . and if Al Gore has anything to do with it, it must be a hoax.”
He began to question all of that, though, as he noticed severe weather events occurring one after another — droughts, extreme rains, floods, mudslides, tornadoes, hurricanes . . .
But what motivated him to begin investigating global warming himself was a visit his family made to Alaska in 2006. They took a Kenai Fjord tour and also went to the Portage glacier visitor center, where they had to ask the question, “Where’s the glacier?
“Literally, you cannot see the glacier from the visitors center,” said Lazar. “We thought, ‘How strange, why would they build a visitors center where you can’t even see the glacier?’ Turns out, when they built the center back in the mid-’80s, (the glacier) was right up next to it. Over a couple of decades, the glacier receded,” said Lazar.
Now visitors hike about seven miles to see the glacier, he said.
In talking with the park rangers there, Lazar was given a new perspective on global warming.
“When you read the literature they have on glaciers, what they tell you is that scientists at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) say the glaciers are melting because of more heat-trapping carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere, and human activities are the cause,” said Lazar.
“That got my skeptical alarm going, because that’s not what I had been hearing from my media sources, in my emails and the Internet sites I visited . . . So I turned off the radio, turned off the TV, unsubscribed from Drudge Report and started looking into this myself,” he said.
The first place he went for information was NASA’s Global Climate Change website, http://climate.nasa.gov. There he found information like key indicators, evidence, causes, effects, videos . . .
“It’s very detailed and thorough,” said Lazar. “One of the things you’ll find is (a graph showing) the level of CO2 in the atmosphere over 650,000 years.
“In all that time, it never went above 280 (parts per million) until 1950 . . . We are at 400 parts per million now.”
Lazar read books on both sides of the issue, including “Storms of My Grandchildren, The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity,” by Dr. James Hansen, whose testimony on climate change to congressional committees in 1988 that helped raise broad awareness of global warming, and “The Greatest Hoax,” by Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe.
Next he began looking into who accepts global warming and human causation and who doesn’t.
“All of the highest scientific communities in the world accept that global warming is real,” said Lazar. “Among leading climate scientists, 97 of 100 agree that it’s real, it’s us and it’s bad.”
The three exceptions, he noted, generally agree that global warming is real and it’s caused by humans, but they have different opinions on whether or not it’s a bad thing.
“I’ve never seen a scientist, one that’s practicing, reject the theory outright,” Lazar remarked.
Today many people think of global warming as a cause for liberals, but Lazar had a list of many conservatives who believe in it. One is Katharine Hayhoe from West, Texas, one of the top climate experts in the world.
Her husband is a Baptist minister, and she is the author of “A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions.” She’s also featured in a new documentary on Showtime about the human impact on climate change, “Years of Living Dangerously.”
“Even the oil companies don’t dispute global warming,” said Lazar, noting they have statements as such posted on their websites. Neither do corporations, he added. They are asking for carbon regulation as a way to mitigate risk.
“If businesses don’t have a stable climate, they don’t have a stable business,” Lazar remarked.
The U.S. Department of Defense also recognizes climate change as a risk, said Lazar, who met with retired Gen. Ron Keys when he was in St. Louis earlier this month.
“I asked him about climate change, and he said, ‘There is no dispute about climate change in the military. We have to go with facts on the ground . . . and there is no dispute,’ ” Lazar said.
Solutions Can Create Jobs
Corinne McAfee, a filmmaker in St. Louis who works for nonprofits, corporations and individuals, was another panelist at the ECC discussion. She believes that solutions to climate change can create jobs in Missouri “and actually even make the state’s economy better.”
She wants to see Missouri move away from fossil fuels and toward renewables like solar and wind power because it will make the state more resilient in the face of natural disasters.
“This is where I started,” she said, showing images of the more than $65 billion damage done along the northeast U.S. coastline from Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012.
“In many parts of the Rockaways (N.J.), the electrical grid went down and wouldn’t be back up for months,” said McAfee.
She has friends in New York who helped by taking homemade solar panels there so people could charge their cellphones, cameras, flashlights . . .
Her friend’s vision was to bring solar panels into the Rockaways for the time that the grid was down and later install them “so they could be attached to the grid to provide energy, reduce cost and make the Rockaways more resilient in the event of future storms,” said McAfee.
That led to the creation of Power Rockaways Resilience, which raised $20,000 to install solar panels.
“That made me realize that it’s a false choice to say we have to choose between the environment and the economy,” said McAfee.
“Don’t you want to get resilient before disaster strikes?” she asked. “Here in Missouri, we are in a position to do that.”
McAfee outlined the ways coal, which produces 80 percent of the electricity for Missouri, is not good for the state. For starters, only 0.0001 percent of coal used in Missouri comes from Missouri.
“Almost all of our coal comes from Wyoming,” said McAfee, noting that amounts to $1.13 billion leaving Missouri to buy and transport coal here.
“Why wouldn’t we want to keep some of those jobs and that money here?” she asked.
There are costs to coal in terms of people’s health from the pollution. In 2009 the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America named St. Louis the asthma capital of the United States. That’s not all coal, but sulfer dioxide emissions from coal are a leading cause of asthma, said McAfee.
There also are environmental hazards that come with coal, she said. Every year Missouri produces 2.7 million tons of coal combustion waste, and 60 percent of that waste is ponded or land-filled in floodplains or near water.
“To illustrate the danger of that, here’s the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee where in December 2008, a dam broke sending more than 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash into the Emory River,” said McAfee.
“The estimated damage is $1.2 billion, and of course you can’t even add up the costs to nature and people who live near there.”
Renewables are the solution, said McAfee, quoting a Forbes magazine article that said the solar industry “is among the fastest, if not the fastest, growing sectors in the American economy,” and Citigroup, which has said “The age of renewables has begun.”
“In 2013 Missouri had 2,800 solar jobs,” said McAfee. “Missouri Coalition for the Environment said there are 480 jobs in Missouri directly related to coal.
“Coal is 80 percent of our power. Solar is five.”
But at maximum capacity, solar could generate another 18,000 jobs and $2 billion for Missouri’s economy, McAfee claimed.
Right now, places across the country where solar power is cheaper than grid power is just 14 percent of the country.
“But if solar got the same subsidies as fossil fuels, it would be cheaper than grid power in 100 percent of the country,” said McAfee.
“Missouri currently has seven wind farms with a combined generation capacity of 459 megawatts. That’s higher than 26 other states,” she said, before pointing out that Missouri’s potential wind power installed to capacity is 274,355 megawatts. “There’s a lot of room for growth there.”
All of this spells jobs in manufacturing, engineering, construction, development, design, said McAfee.
“There are things that are good for everybody,” she remarked. “Green is resilience.”
‘Conservative Case for Price on Carbon’
Brian Ettling, a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon co-founder of Climate Reality-St. Louis and leader of the St. Louis Citizens Climate Lobby, provided the audience with “A Conservative Case for a Price on Carbon,” or in other words, why he believes creating a revenue -neutral carbon tax would be good for Americans and the environment.
His presentation included a long list of conservative leaders who support the idea. One of the first was former secretary of state George Shultz, who also is a top economist, and has pointed out that historically conservatives have been leaders on the environment:
It was Republican presidents who established the EPA (Richard Nixon), the Montreal Protocol (Ronald Reagan) that addressed the problem with the ozone, and cap and trade (George H.W. Bush) that reduced emissions in the atmosphere that caused acid rain.
Shultz supports a revenue-neutral carbon tax, said Ettling, because it will benefit all Americans by eliminating the need for costly energy subsidies while promoting a level playing field for energy producers.
Many other conservative economists have stepped up and said the same thing:
Greg Mankiw, who was President George W. Bush’s chief economic adviser and also the chief economic adviser for Mitt Romney, both before and while he was running for president;
Art Laffer, the leading economic adviser for President Ronald Reagan;
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a chief economic adviser for John McCain when he ran for president in 2008;
Kevin Hassett, the director for economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, one of the top conservative think tanks in the United States;
Even George Will, a conservative commentator for Fox News.
“Conservative economists will tell you the best way to get rid of pollution is you make pollution expensive,” said Ettling, who used the example of how the tax placed on cigarettes decades ago has led to major cuts in the number of people smoking.
Citizens Climate Lobby, a leading group that is a proponent of a carbon neutral tax, proposes this:
The tax would be based on carbon-based fuels at the source, so when they are mined for coal, when it comes out of an oil well when or comes into our country on a tanker.
The price would be $15/ton.
“That would raise the price of gas 15 cents a gallon,” said Ettling. “It steadily increases, about $10/ton a year to make the dirty, polluting fuels more expensive, but what you do then is you return that (money) to the American public in dividend checks on an equitable basis.
“Under this plan, over two-thirds of the population, especially the poor and middle class, would come out ahead.”
As fossil fuels become more expensive to use, the cleaner sources of energy like solar and wind become cheaper, Ettling explained.
To show how this works in reality, Ettling pointed to British Columbia, where a revenue-neutral carbon tax has been in place since 2008.
“This is the amount of revenue they have collected, over $3 million, and they have reduced their taxes by over $4 million,” he said. “Actually, their business taxes have gone down. They have the lowest business tax rate among the G7 countries. Their income taxes have fallen too.
“So this tax has proved very popular. But is it actually helping clean up the environment? The answer is a big yes,” said Ettling. “The rest of Canada has flat-lined with petroleum use, but it has been steadily decreasing in British Columbia.”
Alaska too also has a similar tax and has since the 1970s.
“It’s called the Alaska Permanent Fund,” said Ettling. “When you drill for oil in Alaska there are extra taxes, and those go back to Alaska. In 2013, every single resident of Alaska got $900 back.”
Other countries are moving past America on the issue and establishing themselves as leaders of green, renewable jobs.
“Last year we invested about $48 million in renewable energy, but China spent $63 million and Europe $57 million,” said Ettling.
“So many countries already have a carbon tax or cap and trade — Mexico to the south, British Columbia, most of Europe, China is in the process of implementing cap and trade.
“To remain competitive, it’s very good for us to get on board with this,” said Ettling. “It keeps us competitive while being a big job creator.”
He closed his presentation with this statement from former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis:
“I would suggest my free market colleagues, especially conservatives, who think that climate change is a bunch of hooey, the Chinese do not. They plan on eating our lunch this next century. They plan on innovating around the problem and selling to us and the rest of the world the technology that will lead the 21st century.
“We may press the pause button in America trying to figure out what to do, but China is pressing the fast forward button.”