Reducing our Emissions
Global warming is largely a result of human activity. By burning coal, oil, and gas in our homes, our industries, and our cars, we are releasing heat-trapping gases, such as carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. These gases first mix into the atmosphere and then spread out like a blanket over the Earth—trapping heat and warming the surface. The more heat-trapping gas we release into the atmosphere, the thicker the blanket gets and the more the Earth warms up.
By putting less heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, we will slow the pace and reduce the magnitude of global warming. In effect, lowering heat-trapping gas emissions is an insurance policy that will help protect a clean, healthy environment for ourselves, our children, and other animals and plants that share this planet with us.
Technologies exist today that can substantially reduce our heat-trapping gas emissions while saving money and creating new business opportunities. Environmental health benefits, as well as climate protection, can be achieved simultaneously with economic gain.
Energy Solutions in the Great Lakes Region
The major sources of heat-trapping emissions in the Great Lakes region are power plants and motor vehicles. Emissions from power plants alone account for one-third of the total emissions in the region due to their reliance on coal burning to generate energy. Policies such as renewable energy standards (RES)—which require that a small but growing minimum percentage of the power supply portfolio come from renewable sources like wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy—can help reduce our reliance on coal. Great Lakes states and provinces can contribute to, and benefit from, the development of clean energy technologies and alternative energy markets. Some examples of energy solutions are described below:
- Michigan is the epicenter of the American auto industry; therefore, it has a unique opportunity to effect change and promote reduced vehicle emissions and improved fuel efficiency. In a 2002 poll, 84 percent of United Auto Workers households favored increasing fuel economy standards to 40 mpg over the next 10 years. Focusing on fuel-efficient automotive design and manufacturing could help Detroit regain its technological pre-eminence among the worlds automakers and preserve many jobs vital to the people of Michigan.
- Indiana is leading the way in increasing energy efficiency in the industrial and manufacturing sector. Its Industrial Energy Efficiency Fund (IEEF) provides zero-interest loans to industrial companies planning a process or plant expansion to increase their energy efficiency by replacing or converting existing equipment, or purchasing new equipment. The Department of Commerce estimates that the IEEF program saves more than 320,000 MMBtu per year. Based on the fuel mix utilized in the state of Indiana, this translates to annual reductions in carbon dioxide emissions of 4,600 tons.
- Illinois has the technical potential to produce 83 percent of its electricity needs from its wind resources and 35 percent from its bioenergy resources. Based on the fuel mix used by Illinois’ power-generating facilities, a 51MW wind farm would eliminate the annual generation of approximately 525,000 lbs of nitrous oxide and approximately 250,000,000 lbs of carbon dioxide. Both of these are major heat-trapping gases and contribute significantly to global warming.
- Minnesota has 336 energy efficiency and renewable energy companies according to the 2001 Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy survey report from Energy Alley. These companies employ nearly 12,000 people and generate $2.3 billion in annual revenues. The products and services offered by these mostly small, service-oriented businesses include energy auditing, renewable energy production, and high-tech energy controls.
Cleaner and Smarter Cities in the Great Lakes Region
Through the International Cities for Climate Protection Campaign, a number of communities are already tackling heat-trapping gas emissions by improving energy efficiency, supporting small-scale use of renewable energy, reducing vehicle miles traveled, reducing waste, and taking other landscaping and planning measures. These communities can serve as models to other Great Lakes communities. Participants include: Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Hennepin County, and Ramsey County in Minnesota; Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County in Michigan; Chicago in Illinois; Toledo in Ohio; Ithaca and Tompkins County in New York; Madison, Milwaukee, and Dane County in Wisconsin; and, Ontario, Ottawa, Hamilton, and Peterborough in Ontario.
Forest and Agricultural Solutions in the Great Lakes Region
Forest plants and soils naturally absorb and store carbon. When forests are cut down, large amounts of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere. Protecting and restoring native forests along with reduced-impact logging practices provide increases in carbon storage and protection for biodiversity. In addition, increasing and maintaining urban tree cover reduces the urban “heat island” effect, increases carbon storage, and conserves energy by reducing solar radiation and air temperature.
Similarly, good agricultural and land-use practices help store carbon in soils. While some current agricultural and forestry operations already help to store carbon, best practice studies have shown that soil management including no-till, low input, and the use of cover crops can also help short term carbon storage.
• Reducing Emissions: Technical Appendix
• Global Warming Solutions for the Great Lakes Region
• Global Warming Solutions for Illinois
• Global Warming Solutions for Michigan
• Global Warming Solutions for Minnesota
• Global Warming Solutions for Ontario
More From UCS
• About the Renewable Energy Standard
• UCS Clean Energy Program
• UCS Clean Vehicles Program