The State of Global Climate Change in Maine 2004
Global climate change, popularly known as “global warming,” has the potential to greatly impact the natural environment and human society in many significant ways. In the last two hundred years, both global temperatures and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have accelerated, compared to rates observed on a geologic timeframe10-12. While a growing body of scientific consensus has determined that changes in the climate system are unmistakably human in origin, a great deal of uncertainty still exists as to the extent of future changes and impacts. The high profile of the science and its dire implications have caught the attention of policymakers the world over. An international strategy to address the issue has been in the works for over ten years, although the perceived high costs of policy changes have stalled these efforts. Still, governments at all levels, businesses, and other organizations around the world have enacted substantive climate policies.
The basic science behind global climate change involves many complex interactions among the chemicals and energy of the sun, the earth, and its atmosphere10-14. Solar radiation travels towards the earth, some is reflected immediately upon reaching the atmosphere, and the remainder passes through. This energy is then absorbed into the climate system – by the oceans, land, and biota, which re-emit the energy. Some of this passes through the atmosphere but some is absorbed by the atmosphere. Since more energy penetrates the atmosphere than passes out of the atmosphere, a natural “greenhouse effect” heats the earth. The gases in the earth’s atmosphere that trap this energy are known as greenhouse gases, and include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, and several chemically complex gases. Without this natural greenhouse effect, the earth would be at least 33˚C cooler.
While this natural greenhouse effect is necessary for life on earth as we know it today, a growing consensus among scientists has shown that human activities since the industrial revolution have resulted in an increased greenhouse effect10-14. An international body of climate experts, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has synthesized this consensus into three scientific assessment reports, each with more detailed and certain conclusions and predictions10-12. According to the IPCC, human activities emit greenhouse gases that have raised atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide by 31 percent over the 20th century. While concentrations of other greenhouse gases have changed as well, carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for tens to hundreds of years, thus impacting the climate system long after its associated human activity has emitted the gas. This increased greenhouse effect has led to a rise of 0.6ْC in the global mean temperature in the 20th century. The increase has not been evenly distributed around the world. The latest scientific assessment report has indicated that this relatively rapid change in the climate system is caused by greenhouse gases released from human activities, and all major scientific studies and reviews have validated this point11,13,14.
Predicting the future is no easy task for any scientific assessment. The large amount of uncertainty regarding feedback effects, nonlinearity, complex interactions, and human societal changes make predicting future scenarios for human-induced climate change particularly problematic11,13,14. The IPCC predicts a further rise in mean temperature between 1.4 and 5.8˚C. While the estimates and predictions of the IPCC are accepted by the vast majority of climate scientists, a small but vocal minority of climate skeptics present different models for the future, based on different scenarios for growth in emissions and the notion of a robust rather than fragile world15,16.
The impacts from this changing climate are likely to be very severe and widespread, impacting virtually all human and natural systems, according to the IPCC and other scientific reviews13,14,17,18. Higher average temperatures that expand the volume of the world’s oceans along with melting polar ice will accelerate natural sea level rise. The IPCC predicts a sea level rise of between 0.09 and 0.88 meters by the end of the next century. Low-lying islands and coastal countries, as well as coastal communities, are particularly at risk from higher sea levels. Millions of people likely will be displaced by the end of the next century18. Other significant impacts of a changing global climate are likely to include droughts, increased frequency and severity of weather events, and extinction or migration for many vulnerable species18-21. Fears of abrupt climate change, resulting from such possible events as a breakdown in the North Atlantic Oscillation, a sea temperature and salinity dependent system that determines weather in the North Atlantic, have aroused the attention of scientists outside of the IPCC14,22.
Growth in human activities such as transportation and consumption, as well as growth in human population will determine how much climate will change11,13,14. The IPCC estimates that three quarters of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases stem from fossil fuel combustion. The burning of fossil fuels to create energy to power our cars, appliances, machines, and virtually everything that runs on electricity has become a necessary part of the modern life. This is particularly true for the United States, the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases, whose carbon dioxide emissions account for twenty-five percent of the world’s total23. If fossil fuel consumption continues to rise, climate change will continue to accelerate. Consequently, any policy designed to seriously limit future impacts on the global climate system will involve changes in the way society generates energy24,25. Such policies will require shifts toward renewable energy sources in addition to reductions in energy use.
The transportation sector is one of the largest and fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. The sector accounts for 20 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, and a large share of its emissions of nitrous oxides and other greenhouse gases26. Light truck and automobile transportation accounts for 50 percent of all transportation emissions26. Since the oil crisis of the 1970s, considerable fuel efficiency gains have led to reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide per vehicle, but these improvements have not kept up with rapid growth in vehicle transport. In only fifty years, the global fleet increased from 46 million vehicles at the end of World War II to 641 million in 199626. US total and per capita fuel consumption from transportation exceeds that of any other nation, as total travel activity in the US is larger than other nations, and US vehicles are much more fuel intensive27. Consequently, many local, national, and international policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions focus on the transportation sector.
Scientists associate rising carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions with changes in human activities over the past two-hundred years11. Since the industrial revolution of the late 18th century, humans have generated millions of tons of carbon dioxide through combustion of fossil fuels. Since then, technology has allowed greater productivity and higher living standards for the countries that industrialized rapidly. This revolution required coal, oil, and other carbon-intensive inputs to fuel production. As a result, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased18.
The increasing awareness by scientists and policymakers of climate change as a serious issue has generated an international dialogue aimed at mitigating this threat to our climatic system26,28-30. In 1992, heads of state and environmental ministers from around the world gathered at an environmental summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, drafting the first international treaty aimed at addressing the threat of global climate change31. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ratified by virtually all nations, became the framework through which further policy dialogues would take place. A major component of this framework treaty required that all parties to the convention submit national inventories of emissions. The framework set a goal of reducing emissions to a level that would not be harmful for future generations, but did not set a timetable and so this goal has neither been met nor even credibly attempted by policy measures in most countries28,29.
Five years later the parties to the
Convention met in Kyoto, Japan to draft a Protocol to the convention that would
set emissions targets and timetables32. They set a goal to reduce world
greenhouse gas emissions by 8 percent from 1990 levels, by the first commitment
period of 2008 to 2012, to be shared among all countries that ratified the
treaty. For some countries, particularly the former communist states of
With ratification by Russia, the Kyoto Protocol will go into
effect in February of 2005, binding countries representing only 62 percent of
the world’s total emissions to emissions reductions in the next ten years37. Developing countries were exempt
from reductions in this round of negotiations in order to promote economic
development, despite their growing share of the world’s emissions. As a result,
rising emissions in both the
At the regional, state, and local levels, innovative
voluntary initiatives have set targets and policies for reducing emissions41,42. Twenty-eight states and Puerto
Rico have created policies to reduce emissions in sectors over which these
states have significant authority, including taxation, land-use, utilities, and
transportation40. Some of these efforts comprehensively
address climate change, as exemplified by the Climate Action Plans of Maine and
Global climate change will leave no area unchanged. In
most noteworthy geographic feature, its coastline of 3,000 miles, traces a line
through many of the state’s communities, is responsible for millions of dollars
of Maine’s economy, and provides immeasurable symbolic value to the state. Thermal
expansion of the world’s oceans, resulting from rising sea temperatures,
coupled with melting polar ice caps, are predicted to raise sea levels
significantly by the end of this century18. People who live along
The cost of sea level rise to these coastal communities is significant. A 20-inch rise, well within scientists’ estimates for the next century, would flood 80 acres of land in Old Orchard Beach, where out-of-state tourists and Maine resident vacationers inject money into the local economy every summer46. In some areas, where expensive beachfront property already clings precipitously to the land, coastal erosion and storm surges may plunge hundreds of homes into the rising sea in the next hundred years. The cost of insuring coastal property has doubled since the 1970s; one study estimates that 286 million dollars of Maine’s insurance costs in the 1990s were weather-related47. In addition to residential areas, public infrastructure such as sewage treatment plants and underground storage tanks are also at risk from flooding.
Further inland, changes in the
nature and timing of
Fossil fuel combustion, and hence carbon dioxide emissions,
became a part of
On the other hand, fossil fuel use
in the transportation sector has played a major role in Maine since the first
steam-powered railroads laid their tracks in the 1830s52. By 1912, over 2,000 miles of track
crisscrossed the state, carrying passengers and cargo from York to Aroostook52. The railroad gave way to the
automobile in the early 20th century. The opening of the Maine
Turnpike, from Kittery to Portland in 1947 and then to Augusta in 1955 spurred
rapid growth in automobile use in Maine53. Highway accessibility led to a
huge expansion of
Policymakers in the
From the beginning of the 1990s, scientific and policy collaboration among the six New England states (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont), and the five eastern Canadian provinces (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec) generated a uniquely regional yet international approach to addressing a global problem55. The Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG/ECP), recognized their similar vulnerabilities to climate change and their interdependence through trade, transport, energy, and electricity generation. These provinces and states committed themselves in 2001 to a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by specified targets with short, medium and long-run timetables56.
In order to fulfill its commitments under the NEG/ECP Plan, Maine passed a landmark bill, the Act to Provide Leadership in Addressing the Threat of Climate Change, which required the state to draft a climate change action plan by July of 2004 that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010, with further reduction targets for 2020 and the long-term57. The bill is the first of its kind in the nation. Drafting the plan required the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to work with other state agencies, industry, non-governmental organizations, and individuals. This stakeholder process occurred throughout 2004, and the governor released the plan in December of that year.
The plan has been intensely debated among state agencies, businesses, and citizen organizations. Lack of consensus in several of the five working groups – buildings, facilities and manufacturing; agriculture and forestry; transportation and land use; energy and solid waste; and education/public awareness – has slowed the process. Environmental organizations have resisted industry efforts to compromise the ability of the plan to generate sound policies that will actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The possible policy outcomes from the transportation and
land-use working group are the most debated, and noteworthy possibilities from
Strong opposition by the automobile industry has slowed
Many activities occurring in Maine, including
transportation, building heating, electricity generation, and forestry
practices, contribute to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases62. Trends in the transportation
sector are one of the most relevant and noteworthy for policymakers. These
emissions account for a large and still growing portion of the state’s total. The
following indicators describe the state of greenhouse gas emissions from the
transportation sector in
I used four indicators to evaluate
the transportation emissions in
Policymakers have historically focused largely on the composition of vehicles registered. Different vehicles require different amounts of fuel to travel a given distance; hence they vary in the amount of carbon dioxide they emit per mile. A major within the transportation sector is whether or not to require vehicles to meet emissions standards, and if so, what these standards should be. In general, vehicles classified as trucks emit more greenhouse gases per mile traveled than do regular automobiles63. Because these indicators examine factors in addition to the composition of vehicles registered, they will illuminate potential shortfalls of focusing primarily on this policy device.
From 1990 to 1999, transportation emissions exceeded
industrial and residential emissions, the second and third largest sources
during this period (Figure
2). Industrial emissions approached transportation
emissions in the mid-1990s but decreased in importance by 1999. Meanwhile,
residential emissions (produced from the burning of oil and natural gas to heat
homes) increased by 54 percent. Although these sectors are important, the
transportation sector is still the largest source of emissions, and changes in
driving habits and vehicle choices can have major impacts on
The following indicators do not address all emissions from the transportation sector. Instead, I considered only emissions generated through the combustion of motor gasoline (non-diesel fuel used to power automobiles and light trucks) the largest portion of transportation emissions. Other sources of CO2 from transportation include combustion of jet fuel, residual fuel, and distillate fuel (which includes all diesel from the transportation sector, including military, marine, and railroad)64. Emissions from the motor gasoline subcomponent of the transportation sector exceed total emissions from any other sector (Figure 1). The indicators also focus on this subcomponent because it is relevant to a greater portion of
3 shows changes in annual motor gasoline consumption
per person in
Average per capita motor gasoline consumption in
Consumption of motor gasoline by volume from the transportation sector is used as a proxy for emissions of carbon dioxide from this source, since no long-term comprehensive inventory of greenhouse gas emissions at the state level yet exists. Fuel consumption data obtained from EIA, on the other hand, stretches back as early as 1960. Fuel consumption is a good approximation of carbon dioxide emissions from this sector because any fuel consumed by vehicles will release carbon dioxide emissions related to the carbon content of that fuel. Although the carbon content of motor gasoline varies from year to year, this variation is small enough to make little difference in the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each barrel of fuel consumed65.
From 1960 to 2000, total motor gasoline consumption in
Motor gasoline consumption per capita increased by only three percent between 1970 and 2000 (Figure 3). In the 1980s and 1990s, however, motor gasoline consumption per capita was as low as 17 percent below that of 2000 in the 1980s, and 9 percent below motor gasoline consumption per capita of 2000 in the 1990s. Two explanations for the similarity of the early value of the indicator and the current value of the indicator are changes in fuel efficiency and changes in total travel. Since the 1970s, fuel efficiency in the US has improved dramatically for all vehicles; fuel efficiency in Maine, has almost certainly followed that trend27. Although fuel efficiency is much higher now than in 1970, miles traveled (which will be examined later) have increased considerably.
The second indicator measures
vehicles registered in
Between 1960 and 1973 (the year in which the oil shock occurred), motor gasoline consumption correlated closely with the number of registered vehicles (Figure 5). The vehicles people drove mostly had similar fuel efficiencies. As people owned more vehicles, fuel consumption increased at a constant rate. After 1973, a weaker correlation exists. People switched to more fuel efficient vehicles, but the switch was not uniform. Since then, the range of fuel efficiency for vehicles in the
The increasing popularity of trucks
relative to automobiles has received considerable attention from policymakers
The third indicator measures total
The rise in VMT in the 1980s (Figure 7) partly explains the rise in fuel consumption during this period. Total vehicle miles traveled increased throughout the period for which data are available (1970-2000), but witnessed its fastest increase between 1983 and 1989, when total miles traveled increased by 54 percent in just six years2. This period coincided with the same years that total fuel consumption witnessed a significant increase.
As with overall fuel consumption, VMT per capita in
Total travel is quickly becoming a significant driver for fuel consumption in
Significant variations in vehicle miles traveled within the state have still greater implications for overall fuel consumption (and hence contribution to climate change from this sector). I obtained countywide vehicle miles traveled data from the Maine Department of Transportation and annual population estimates for each county from the US Census Bureau. The age category for countywide includes people over sixteen (rather than over fifteen) years of age population (
). As a result, VMT per capita indicators for each county are lower than the corresponding indicator presented at the state and national level above.
Table 1 and Figure 8 show that
The percentage of the workforce that drives to work alone (the “drive alone rate”) reflects culture and attitudes as well as incentives and disincentives present or not present for carpooling. I obtained these values from the National Household Travel Survey of the USDOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), and it provides some insight into vehicle miles traveled in Maine examined in Indicator 33.
“Drive alone” rates increased everywhere in the
Incentives can influence driving rates. The Capitol building
In order for Maine to effectively
address its contribution to global climate change, serious policy measures are
needed to address Maine’s rising emissions of carbon dioxide from the transportation
sector, particularly the motor gasoline portion of that sector, which is mainly
related to personal and business transportation. These emissions make up the
largest portion of
Emissions standards for vehicles,
currently the most strongly advocated policy response to
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