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Global Climate Change and the African American Community (Part 2) by Norris McDonald

Global warming is a very complex scientific issue. There is also disagreement about whether the current increase in temperature over the past decade is a problem or just an earth cycle. We believe human activity is influencing the atmosphere and the best thing we can do to protect earth's inhabitants from any dysfunctional effects of global climate change is to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Our thick atmosphere only extends up about 100 miles and thins out at about 300 miles. Our atmosphere is an irreplaceable mix of perfectly calibrated gases covering the earth's 25,000-mile circumference. Ninety nine percent of our "air" is within 30 miles of the earth's surface (troposphere and stratosphere) and all weather occurs below about 7 miles (troposphere). How does global climate change affect the African American community? How will the policies addressing global warming affect the African American community? Can solutions to global climate change provide opportunities for environmentally friendly economic development? American blacks, in partnership with innovative-minded companies and organizations, can provide effective and affordable technology development and market mechanisms to achieve significant GHG reductions. This will help human health, the environment and the community.

The United States is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for roughly 25 percent of global emissions. African Americans, as 13% of the U.S. population theoretically contribute up to 3.25% of these global emissions. Although blacks do not own or control utilities and other manufacturing facilities, this community is a large consumer sector in the U.S. economy.

Notwithstanding a lack of ownership due to monumental obstacles, the African American community is about a $500 billion economy that would be one of the largest on earth if it were a separate nation. No strategy addressing global climate change will succeed without substantial reductions in U.S. emissions. All current efforts have failed to curb the growth in U.S.GHG emissions. A number of policy options are being debated to achieve emissions reductions.

The African American community could serve as a leader in developing techniques and technologies to address global warming. African American entrepreneurs should pursue manufacturing electric/hybrid/hydrogen cars, pollution control equipment (scrubbers), ownership stakes in solar, wind and nuclear power plant construction, industrial efficiency equipment ownership and increased participation in the production of other state-of-the-art alternative technologies. The transportation, electric utilities and industrial sectors are the big-ticket reduction targets. There are also significant opportunities in the commercial, residential, agriculture and waste disposal sectors.

African Americans suffer from ground level ozone in our nation's cities and suburbs. Asthma hospitalizations and deaths are increasing at an alarming rate. The suffering is unacceptable and unnecessary in the richest and most innovative country in the world. Increasing health care costs strain an already struggling health care system. Unfortunately, many low-income African Americans use emergency rooms for long-term treatment of respiratory and other cardiopulmonary problems. Every major city in the United States is in noncompliance of the Clean Air Act. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 150 million Americans breathe bad outdoor air at some time during each year. Components of smog also contribute to global climate change.

It might seem contradictory, but the same dangerous ground level ozone that is a component of smog, when in the upper atmosphere as the ozone layer, it protects the earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. At the same time the growing hole in the ozone layer, produced by chlorofluorocarbons, serves to reduce global warming. Global climatological management will be one of mankind's greatest challenges.

Global warming creates hotter, more dangerous smog. To the extent we can clean ground-level air pollution, we facilitate the reduction of greenhouse contaminants. The African American community should immediately adopt practical and effective techniques and technologies for mitigating atmospheric contamination to facilitate acceptance of successful American procedures and policies by developing nations. The U.S. already excludes itself from established climate change policies developed by 160 other countries. The global warming issue has been debated for over a decade. Although the Bush Administration has submitted a climate change plan for the U.S., the Clear Skies Initiative, we believe the African American community can accelerate reductions in GHGs through innovative national and international entrepreneurship.

The United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) brought the scientific concerns of climate change to the public arena. The 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) was the first formal international statement of concern and agreement to take action on global warming. This was followed by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that specified commitments by individual countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Among the IPCC findings: 1) average global surface temperature has increased by about 0.6 degrees C during the 20th century - the largest increase in any of the last ten centuries; 2) the 1990s was the warmest decade on record.

According to the IPCC, although the earth goes through normal warming and cooling periods, it is generally agreed by the scientific community that most of the recent temperature changes can be attributed to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases caused by human activities: 1) carbon dioxide, which contributes 60% of the global warming effect, has now increased 31% since the 18th century to a higher level than any time in recorded history; 2) about 3/4 of the human-induced carbon dioxide emission is due to fossil fuel combustion; 3) methane concentration in the atmosphere has increased 150% since the 18th century and contributes a fifth of the warming effect. The balance is from halocarbons (14%) and nitrous oxide (6%). Although African Americans do not own the polluting industrial facilities, blacks own automobiles and homes. The average home or apartment releases more pollutants than the average car. In a market-based emissions trading system, a reduction in home and apartment emissions could be aggregated and leveraged as securities or credits, possibly in a global trading market designed, owned and operated by African Americans. A similar system could also be established for automobile emissions.

Blacks also purchase a significant percentage of the goods and services produced by the sources of pollution.

Our atmosphere, like our waterways and oceans, cannot accept unlimited quantities of pollutants and operate properly. What are the implications of increased greenhouse gases for the African American community? One immediate consequence of global warming could be this year's historic high pollen levels of 2500, when a normal level is about 200. This tenfold increase negatively affected a large number of people. We believe this unprecedented pollen level can be attributed to global warming. There was virtually no winter ice or snow to moderate plant growth and the pollen level exploded in large portions of the United States. There were numerous reports of hay fever sufferers moving from over-the-counter antihistamines to prescription decongestants.

Unfortunately, these increased pollen levels only serve to render people with respiratory problems susceptible to increased lung dysfunction. This damage will be exacerbated by summer smog exposure. These pollen levels also negatively affect people with normal respiratory systems. We can hypothesize that it will lead to significant additional respiratory and cardiopulmonary problems.

Global climate change is creating some interesting questions. What effect does global warming have on the planet's plant life? Trees are budding in January. Plants that normally bloom in April are blooming in February. Sporadic freezes and intermittent low temperatures have been making plants bud two, three, and even four times. Does this contribute to the production of super pollen? Is global climate change behind the significant increase in the quantity of pollen? Are plants being overly stressed? More trees and other plants are surviving and thriving through mild winters. What effects will these habitat changes have on animals? Many hibernating animals are now active throughout the winter. Are we listening to Mother Nature? Current policies and policy-makers are taking a cautious, minimalist approach.

The Kyoto Protocol includes the following provisions: 1) by 2012, developed countries would reduce their collective emissions by 5.2% from 1990 levels; 2) the emissions covered by the Protocol are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride; 3) each country must accurately measure its emissions and meet its individual reduction commitment; and 4) countries can jointly fulfill their commitments.

While participating Protocol countries are expected to rely mainly on reducing their own emissions, three "flexibility mechanisms" are included to make it easier for participants to comply: 1) Emissions Trading, 2) Joint Implementation and 3) Clean Development Mechanism. African Americans can assist the 160 other countries agreeing to the Kyoto Protocol in reaching their greenhouse gas reduction targets. American blacks could assist them by participating in the flexibility mechanisms.

Emissions Trading involves issuing carbon dioxide credits to each country and trading them according to whether it is cheaper to buy credits or actually reduce the CO2 emissions. The US has operated a reasonably successful acid rain permit-trading program for sulfur dioxide for many years. African Americans should provide the participating countries with the best industrial practices and equipment in America. This mechanism could provide a huge opportunity for promoting the use of emission free facilities and vehicles. This self-regulating, market-driven Protocol mechanism should create a huge market for photovoltaic panels, nuclear power plants, wind power, efficient motors, pumps, generators and water efficiency equipment.

Joint Implementation involves one developed country working with another to reduce emissions and trade emission reduction credits. African Americans can facilitate deals between developed countries such as Russia, Japan and European countries. It is crucial for the African American community to facilitate these deals because higher temperatures tend to increase the intensity of photochemical smog. Higher temperatures combined with the paved urban and suburban areas increase the potency of the toxic mixture of acid rain, poison runoff and smog. Urban and suburban blacks without air conditioners are defenseless against smog in summer months.

The Clean Development Mechanism involves identifying projects to reduce emissions in developing countries and crediting the developed country implementing the projects. African American entrepreneurs can serve as third party brokers among Kyoto Protocol-participating members from Africa and Russia, Japan and Europe, among others. Again, reducing global climate change will benefit African Americans in U.S. neighborhoods. Greenhouse gas emissions from developing countries will soon overtake those from developed countries. Countries have made little progress in defining particular roles for actually working on emissions reductions. Part of the reason for this is that developed nations are bound by the Protocol while developing countries are not. Developing countries have different priorities from developed nations. Countries agreeing to the Kyoto Protocol are upset with the United States for refusing to participate in the agreement.

President Bush rejected the Kyoto global warming treaty in 2001, saying it would harm the U.S. economy while exempting developing countries, including India and China, from mandatory emissions targets. The U.S. Senate went on record in 1997 opposing the essential features of the Kyoto protocol.

On February 14, 2002, President Bush announced a two-part plan for addressing atmospheric contamination: One part of the Clear Skies Initiative targets sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury. The Clear Skies Initiative proposes to: 1) cut sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions by 73 percent, from current emissions of 11 million tons to a cap of 4.5 million tons in 2010, and 3 million tons in 2018; 2) cut emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 67 percent, from current emissions of 5 million tons to a cap of 2.1 million tons in 2008, and to 1.7 million tons in 2018; 3) cutting mercury emissions by 69 percent, the first-ever national cap on mercury emissions. The plan proposes to cut emissions from the current emissions level of 48 tons to a cap of 26 tons in 2010, and 15 tons in 2018. The Initiative's emissions trading program would allow big polluters that exceed mandatory emission targets to buy credits from cleaner companies whose emissions come in lower than the targets. The plan would delay such cuts until 2010 or later. There would be no similar limits on power plants' emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. President Bush abandoned a campaign pledge in March of 2001 to control the four plant emissions together.

Another part of the Clear Skies Initiative targets greenhouse gases. The Administration's strategy sets a target for "greenhouse gas intensity": the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions to economic output expressed in gross domestic product (GDP). This approach minimizes economic impact by allowing emissions to rise or fall with economic output. It would use $4.6 billion in tax credits over the next five years to encourage companies and individuals to limit those emissions. Under the administration's proposed target, the growth rate of emissions of carbon dioxide would drop nearly 18 percent by 2012 from the current level of 183 metric tons to 151 metric tons for each $1 million in gross domestic product.

One provision of the new climate plan would be to greatly expand a program encouraging businesses to monitor and report their emissions of greenhouse gases. Those that participate, voluntarily, would gain credits that might eventually be used in a trading system similar to that used for other pollution. Clear Skies is President Bush's response to the Kyoto Protocol. The Bush Administration has rejected the UN-FCCC and Kyoto Protocol approaches, requiring that emissions be reduced by mandatory amounts.

Critics do not believe the Clear Skies Initiative will reduce greenhouse gases.
If the Clear Skies Initiative is adopted, African Americans should leverage the Kyoto Protocol and President Bush's Clear Skies Initiative. The emissions trading components of the Protocol and the Initiative can be used as securities and exchanged among countries. Assuming its adoption, African Americans should export market-based innovations to countries interested in reducing greenhouse emissions. Entrepreneurs should be prepared to trade credits or provide pollution control equipment. The preferred alternative is to provide equipment that will actually reduce greenhouse gases. This will entail partnerships with established equipment manufacturers.

African Americans should negotiate for equity in companies in exchange for deferred profit sharing from international sales of emissions control hardware and software. This is particularly important for capital-intensive production of photovoltaic arrays, nuclear power plants, massive wind power farms, efficient light bulbs, motors, pumps, generators and other alternative technologies.

Solutions to global warming provide the twin benefits of environmental protection and profit. And both are sorely needed in the African American community.

Norris McDonald is President of the African American Environmentalist Association. He can be contacted via e-mail at:

Norris McDonald

Wednesday, June 5, 2002

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