One step forward, two steps back: green groups criticize Obama’s emissions plan

When we think of solutions to climate change, it’s about more than numbers–how we arrive at them is equally important. Some notable environmental groups have said that President Obama, in declaring that the US would decrease emissions by 28% from 2005 levels by 2025, has focused too much on the destination and not enough on the journey.

President Obama’s plan puts a lot of stock in biofuels and biomass burning, as opposed to cleaner renewables such as solar, wind, and geothermal energy, and thus isn’t accomplishing much more than a shell game with emissions, lowering fossil fuel emissions by raising biomass emissions. At the end of the day, it’s still carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere–famous groups like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth are calling the move ineffective.

It turns out, according to a Southern Environmental Law Center study, that burning wood for fuel is even more emissions-intensive than burning coal, possibly producing 2.5 times more emissions over a 40-year use. Though trees can grow back and thus biomass burning is considered a renewable energy source, this study highlights the important difference between renewable sources and clean sources. The two are not mutually exclusive.

More bad news for the President’s plan is that economists from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Chicago have deemed his push for household energy efficiency to be too inefficient to succeed–even after monetizing the benefits of lower pollution, increased health, increased happiness, etc., the plan still costs more than twice what it saves per kilogram of CO2 reduction in emissions.

The larger issue at hand is that many plans to combat climate change include these dirty biomass sources as part of their solution. These plans will need a rework if we are to truly rid ourselves of this problem.

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