"Energy, Decarbonization, and the Carbon Charge" SwatTalk
with Professor of English Literature Betsy Bolton and Climate Action Senior Fellow Nathan Graf ’16
Recorded on April 16, 2019
Peter Jaquette: Well, welcome, everyone to our SwatTalk, the first SwatTalk on sustainability in a series of three talks that we'll be holding over the next several weeks.
Peter Jaquette: Tonight's talk is on energy, decarbonization, and the carbon charge. And we're going to be hearing presentations from Betsy Bolton who's Professor of English and Environmental Studies. And Nathan Graf, Swarthmore alum, class of 16, who's a Climate Action Senior Fellow.
Peter Jaquette: Let me just let you know that this talk is being recorded and we'll be available for playback at some future date at some future web location. And if you have questions, please submit them in the chat box which you should see on the side of your screen. And we'll be going through the questions after the presentations. So why don't we take it away?
Nathan Graf: Perfect, thanks so much, Peter. So, hi, I'm Nathan, I'm, as Peter said, I'm from class of 16 and co-hosting with Betsy.
Betsy Bolton: Hello, everyone. So excited to be here with you.
Nathan Graf: Excellent. And as Peter mentioned, this is the first of three webinars. Our second will be co-hosted by my colleague Melissa Tier, class of 14, and Professor Mayorga on environmental justice and education. And two weeks thereafter, this one on a Monday, not a Tuesday evening, Aurora Winslade, Director of Sustainability, and Professor Charlton will be talking about the President's Sustainability Research Fellowship Program. [inaudible 00:01:44] along class and internship for students to take on large sustainability projects at the college.
Nathan Graf: Also, we're doing so much more at the college that we don't have time to cover in any of these three webinars. From Zero Waste work to the Green Advisors program for students and events and conferences. So there's a lot more happening than we have time to share. We're happy to take questions about this.
Nathan Graf: But tonight, we are going to be focusing on energy and climate work.
Betsy Bolton: So at least try to structure tonight's conversation around a series of questions. Why decarbonize? How do we decarbonize? Why and how should we price carbon? And how is Swarthmore specifically advancing carbon pricing?
Betsy Bolton: After we've covered all of that, speaking rather rapidly, no doubt, we'll have time for questions and discussion.
Nathan Graf: Perfect. So, as we start all this conversation, I think it's important for us to center why we care about all of this. And I think the climate movement sometimes is a challenge that we talk a lot about. Arctic sea melt and inches of sea level rise and parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere, that's very abstract.
Nathan Graf: And then sometimes, on the other end of the spectrum and then we just say, "And then the apocalypse happens and then it kind of goes to hell." So I think it's really important to center what that actually looks like for people on the ground.
Nathan Graf: Climate change is bringing food and water scarcity, displacement of vulnerable populations. This is a [inaudible 00:03:03] of [inaudible 00:03:03] refugees.
Nathan Graf: A second time after the refugee campus flooded in Kenya. It's bringing extreme weather, the wildfire season in California is [inaudible 00:03:12]. Expansion of disease. Malaria is already responsible for over 400,000 deaths every year and it is [inaudible 00:03:20] mosquito that's responsible for this expanding beyond their controls and same story for Rift Valley fever, for Zika and other diseases. And so many more impacts that I could go on for a long time about.
Nathan Graf: To just pick one of many of those impacts to zoom in on that I think gets a little bit less coverage than it should. This is a map of a Palmer index and a 3.7 degree warmed world within something about business as usual, a little bit worse than if we succeed in meeting the Paris commitment's case at end century.
Nathan Graf: The Palmer index measures how wet or dry a climate is in a region. For some context, the United States Dust Bowl is mostly at a negative four on this scale and briefly touched the negative six. You can see in the purple and the white here that there are regions that hit a negative twenty.
Nathan Graf: The Dust Bowl cost a lot of human suffering and that kind of [inaudible 00:04:14] that extreme weather on a global scale means for [inaudible 00:04:17] scarcity. That means resources worse, that means human suffering and death.
Nathan Graf: And that is an outcome that we absolutely have to do everything within our power to avoid. Which, of course, evokes the question, what do we have to do to avoid the worst of those impacts?
Nathan Graf: This is a little bit of a complicated graphic, but I think a really, really helpful one. There's a lot of numbers that you hear floating around, about we have X number of years, we have 12 years, we have 30 years, we have to decarbonize by X, Y, Z date for whatever outcome. It's important to understand that for a given amount of carbon emissions you have an X percent chance of average distribution of temperature probabilities.
Nathan Graf: So this graph shows, starting at zero, the number of years if we continue consuming at our current rate before we burn all of the carbon in our budget to have a given percentage chance of staying within 1.5, 2 degrees or 3 degrees Celsius of warming.
Nathan Graf: So that is to say that if we can ... and this is starting in 2017, so to look at this first bar here that shows 4.1 years, that means by maybe about February of 2021 if consume at our current levels which we are on a trajectory to do for the next couple of years, if we consumed out to February 2021 and then we stopped all carbon emission instantly, we would still have about a one in three chance in exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Nathan Graf: So I think there's two really take-homes from this. First of all, in this blue you can see that this is fiercely, fiercely urgent if we're going to avoid a 1.5 average degrees of warming. We can also see in the red here that within all of our lifetimes there is still hope of staying below 3 degrees of warming. There's still ... I mean 3 degrees is a catastrophe, but 4 degrees is cataclysmic, and every degree matters. So there's not a point where there's an excuse to give up and say, "Oops, we lost this fight." There's always hope and we can always get better or worse outcomes, depending on our actions.
Betsy Bolton: So here's another way of looking at the same point that Nathan was just making. They were talking in terms of time. This is more spacial. This was the forth most frequently downloaded paper in 2018, and it lays out the tipping elements at risk or the cascade of tipping points that we are threatened with if we exceed the 1.5 centigrade target.
Betsy Bolton: We're already at 1 degree Celsius global heating. Somewhere between 1 degree and 3 degrees, we're going to to lose the Greenland ice sheet, Arctic summer sea ice, Alpine glaciers, the West Antarctic ice sheet. And what we lose with that is we lose thousands of miles of white reflective ice that's taking some of the solar energy out of our atmosphere.
Betsy Bolton: And so when we lose that reflective energy, we're going to speed up our heating. And so this idea of cascading tipping points is that we move from the 1 to 3 degrees, out of that yellow zone, into the sort of tan or brown zone. And here we get a whole new range of consequences. We're already seeing the jet stream oscillate more, giving us these polar vortex experiences in the winter time. The changes in El Niño are likely to dry out the Amazon rainforest faster, turning it to a savanna that much faster than it otherwise would.
Betsy Bolton: So we're going to be confronted, depending on how slowly we move, we're likely to be confronted with multiple levels of tipping point. Second switch from one state to another state. And our societies are desperately unprepared for the kinds of massive dislocations that that would create for us.
Betsy Bolton: That means that when we're talking about decarbonization, we're talking about a race against time. As the Vox article that you will have read pointed out, our carbon budget, the carbon dioxide we can emit without crossing some of these tipping points is really tiny. It's just over 200 gigatons of carbon emissions. We've been increasing and increasing our emissions over time and suddenly, we're facing a steep cliff of decline that's going to be really hard for us to descent in safety.
Betsy Bolton: Next. Good.
Betsy Bolton: This scientist, Kevin Anderson, who's at Manchester in the UK and Uppsala in Sweden, he's working with a larger budget. He's talking about 2 degrees global warming instead of 1.5. But he points to a really important disjuncture in discussions about carbon budgets and global heating.
Betsy Bolton: He points out that the science behind the IPCC reports suggests for 2 degrees a carbon budget of about 800 gigatons. But the economical models, the economic models, are closer to 1600 gigatons. So what they're doing is they're trying to allow for a much smoother, slower, more gradual transition away from fossil fuels. They're trying to solve the problem of the decarbonizing cliff.
Betsy Bolton: The problem is that they're doing that by fantasizing, some might say, that we can sequester carbon at a massive scale. And that is an assumption that has yet to be proven. I've put back in the 66% chance for 1.5 degrees that tiny, much smaller budget, just so you can see that in context as well.
Betsy Bolton: Next slide. So the problem with carbon capture is that the technology is in its infancy. If we want to rely on it, we're going to have to improve that technology 7000% by 2040. And if the technology of direct air capture follows the path of solar panels, for instance, we're not going to get to wide-spreaded option until about 2100, which is too late for millions of people around the world, really.
Betsy Bolton: Kevin Anderson points out that part of our belief in this sort of future techno fix leads us to delay stringent mitigation right now, which means that we're emitting additional CO2, which we're going to have to compensate for later. We are making the cliff, which is bad enough already, we're making it even steeper because we're [inaudible 00:10:42] gambling on some future discovery.
Betsy Bolton: The last thing I'll add at this point is just to say that of that tiny little budget we have to reserve enough to construct, transport and install the renewable energies we need in a decarbonized economy and energy system.
Nathan Graf: Great, thank you. So I'm going to touch a little bit on what would it take, what does it actually means in technological terms to rapidly decarbonize the global economy.
Nathan Graf: And that in and of itself is a tremendous [inaudible 00:11:14] object so I'm just going to bite off a large chunk of that, a large portion of that challenge. And I think it's really helpful to summarize that you can get most of the way there in two steps.
Nathan Graf: And that is one, decarbonize electricity. And two, to electrify everything. That's probably pretty abstract, so I'm going to explain some things and we'll come back to that notion.
Nathan Graf: So our energy consumption, as of 2017, is shown here. And each of these bars represents the quantity of energy consumption and the width. And I've tagged coal, oil and natural gas that are responsible for our global heating problem.
Nathan Graf: And then this shows what we use all of that energy for. And the pink on the opposite side, here we have our residential, commercial, industrial and transportation uses for that energy.
Nathan Graf: And you see that a whole bunch of that gets sidetracked through electricity generation. So there's two things to notice on this. One, that a lot of the renewable energy goes up to electricity generation and a lot of that electricity generation can make up some fraction of each of our four end-uses. And that relatively little of the zero carbon energy sources can go directly to these end-uses. I can use solar panels to make renewable electricity and then power a car with electricity. I cannot stick solar panels on a car and make that car go for it.
Nathan Graf: So that is to say that we need to decarbonize electricity, displace all the fossil fuel from the electric grid, and electrify our heating, cooling, transportation and industrial systems to the extent possible. When, of course, there's a little bit more that we can get to here and some [inaudible 00:12:37] production industry and agriculture and that can be a subject for a webinar at a future time.
Nathan Graf: So what does it mean to decarbonize electricity? Because there's a lot of complicated information plying about this. So first of all, it's worth appreciating the current trends. We can probably get away with just scaling up renewables really, really high right now. For a long time, a decade ago the popular line was, "If we exceed 20% solar on the grid then everything's going to shut down and it's going to be awful to make." As we keep getting more and more, like it's more and more fine and now the [inaudible 00:13:09] are like, "Oh, we can probably get away with 80% now." So first of all, that's the bulk of it, it's just scale wind and solar up a lot.
Nathan Graf: For that last 20% we're also going to need a few other interesting technologies because the demand is not going to match the supply, the sun doesn't shine at night, wind doesn't flow all the time, etcetera.
Nathan Graf: And this graph here shows the electricity demand minus solar consumption in California over time. So we see during the night, the demand is pretty consistent and during the day, solar keeps eating out this belly and what's often called the duck curve. Because there's some challenges for utilities trying to manage things. So we need some technologies to help manage some of these challenges and make sure that we're getting all of our electricity from renewable sources.
Nathan Graf: Some of that can be dispatchable supply that we can turn up and down with demand, that we can control. That could involve fossil with carbon capture and storage. Well that comes to another impacts, I could include nuclear energy. We're [inaudible 00:14:03] include energy storage, [inaudible 00:14:05] during the day, [inaudible 00:14:07] during the night.
Nathan Graf: We can do overbuild if we have a lot of extra wind farms, even if the wind's only blowing a little bit, we can still generate enough electricity if we have enough wind farms.
Nathan Graf: We can extend the grid. Our viewers from the West coast I think are still enjoying some last hours of sunlight. That could be used to generate electricity that can benefit those of us on the East coast who are now enjoying the night outside.
Nathan Graf: And the demand response, we can change our demand patterns to match those supply rather than the other way around and that makes it more easier to increase the number of renewables with less dispatchable supply. And energy efficiency makes all of this cheaper.
Nathan Graf: So with that in mind, what is the role of Swarthmore College in helping to accelerate this transition to decarbonize electricity and electrify everything? We can model our solutions locally. We can do this for ourselves. We can contribute to local and regional efforts and discussions about policy. We can engage our local community both on campus and in Chester and Philadelphia, the [inaudible 00:15:11] Swarthmore. And we can prepare our students, as all of [inaudible 00:15:15] and we make sure that all those continuing to flow into the alumni body are informed, inspired and equipped with the tools to fight the climate challenge.
Nathan Graf: So, Betsy, did you want to say a word about this or shall I?
Betsy Bolton: Just keep going, I think we need to move.
Nathan Graf: Great. So in 2010, we were thrilled that President Rebecca Chopp committed Swarthmore to bubbling up transformation by achieving carbon neutrality by 2035. Betsy was among our working group in, I think, 2011, 12, that tried to knot out some of the first steps for that and that the times at the discussion as well. We have 16,000 tons of emissions per year now and we need to get to zero by 2035, so we drew some straight lines.
Nathan Graf: Now we're in a phase as 2035 is getting pretty close, where we are working through ... we're calling it the Roadmap to Zero Energy Master Plan which is identifying what does a carbon neutral system look like, how is that going to happen, who is going to do it, how are we going to fund it and all of those really fun challenges.
Nathan Graf: So to start with where are Swarthmore's emissions currently, so it's worth ... this is from our [greenhouse gas 00:16:20] in 2016. And we know a lot of our emissions are from five major sources. Our Electricity, naturally. Our natural gas consumption, what we burn to heat in a cooler, air and water. And our transportation that's both commuting and professional travel and students' city abroad travel to a small extent. And then there's these two other categories that we don't have a really handle on. That is our procurement. What are the emissions that go into creating the food, the technology, the supplies, the furniture and all the stuff that we have on campus. And construction, particularly cement and steel, but also the construction process and all the other materials that go into making our buildings.
Nathan Graf: So we're going to touch on ... these last couple are really complicated. I'm going to talk a little bit about some of how we're thinking about these first couple, electricity and natural gas. I'm going to just say a few brief words about the other ones.
Nathan Graf: So it's helpful to start with what does that fossil-powered system look like. So this is Swarthmore's energy system circa 2000. So first of all, we have electricity needs and that's coming mostly from nuclear, coal and natural gas, just pulling from the grid. And we need to heat our air and water. And we have two parallel systems that do that, both powered by natural gas. We have these giant boilers. Here's a picture of some students in front of these two boilers and the heat plant just south of the railroad tracks. Those boilers generate steam that pump up to the steam tunnels and then they go up to heat our buildings. And we also have some buildings that just have local natural gas boilers in their basements.
Nathan Graf: We also need to cool our air and water. Similar to the steam loop, we also have a chilled water loop that a lot of our buildings are on. And that chilled water loop gets chilled water from an engine-driven chiller from natural gas and two electric chillers. And we also just have some local air conditioning window units, too, that are already electrified.
Nathan Graf: So with this system in place, what does it mean to decarbonize it?
Nathan Graf: So to parallel our modeling, the transformation we need in society, decarbonizing electricity is first. So we are looking to transfer to renewable energy. Here is a map of some of our on-site solar potential. And in the other here ... and here's a picture of one of our students, an engineering student who was doing some measurements to figure out how much energy we can generate. And what had been concluded is we can probably get about 15% of our electricity demand if we covered all of our parking lots in working solar.
Nathan Graf: So, good, we should do it, and we're working on it, but it's not quite going to be enough on its own.
Nathan Graf: So we are also working towards an off-site aggregated utility-scale renewable project. That's a lot of words. To break that down briefly. Off-site, so it's not going to be on campus. But it will be feeding into the grid that Swarthmore draws from.
Nathan Graf: It will be aggregated. That means, Swarthmore is too small to justify a utility-scale project on its own. We only consume about 15,000 megawatt hours per year of electricity. So to get to that utility scale, we are partnering with Lafayette, Muhlenberg and Lehigh in combining all of our demands so we can benefit from the economics of scale and get a cost intended project.
Nathan Graf: We are reviewing, lately got 60 proposals on our RFP that we are reviewing next week to see if we can move forward towards a contract which is really exciting.
Nathan Graf: So having decarbonized electricity that ... then we still need to heat and cool our air and water. And that has to be electric. So some of our system ... we already mentioned that we have the electric chillers and the local AC units, that's already electric. That's really easy.
Nathan Graf: And then, fortunately, we actually have the same system that can electrify both our heating and cooling demands, and that is heat pumps. There's two kinds of heat pumps. There's air source heat pumps. So if you have a window AC unit and you add a little bit ... you change the technology a little bit, you can also turn that around. So you can load the cooler air outside and the warm air inside and then in turn. That technology's getting better and better all the time.
Nathan Graf: There's also ground source heat pumps where instead of pumping into the air, you pump it into the ground. And that's what this graphic shows. So you can pump heat into the ground or you can pump the heat into the building, out of the ground and then turn.
Nathan Graf: And that solves both of our problems with one stroke. And that is what a decarbonized energy system can look like.
Nathan Graf: And then in a small break of our Electrify Everything rule, we can also get a little bit of supplemental heat from solar thermal panels on some rooftops.
Nathan Graf: So that's the system that we need to build. Now the question is how we go about doing that. Just to briefly touch on some of the other challenging areas. We know less about how we're going to get to our carbon neutrality by 2035 in ... [inaudible 00:20:34] some of that professional travel, supporting public transit and teleconferencing. I don't have a good solution to zero carbon study abroad travel. We can support no-carbon commuting. We can electrify the campus vehicles, we can expand the EV charging on campus.
Nathan Graf: Construction's real hard. Getting concrete and steel and the construction process to zero carbon, that's ... some of those new technologies we're going to have to wait on, some of them are just really expensive right now, but we are working towards it. We are trying really hard to make the new dining hall construction to be net zero energy which would be really exciting.
Nathan Graf: And procurement. For technology, furniture, a lot of that is on a case-by-case basis at minimizing as much as possible. A really big first step could be a plant-based diet and low or no meat in the dining hall. It's a possibility. But it's a lot of work that we are going to have to figure out by 2035.
Nathan Graf: And all of this is going on a ... sustainability and facilities and finance initiation are really working on a collaboration to map out some of that plan and hopefully we'll have at least the first chapter of an energy [inaudible 00:21:44] systems ready to go by the end of this calendar year.
Nathan Graf: Betsy is going to talk a little bit about how we pay for this process and how we incentivize that decarbonization both at Swarthmore and across the nation.
Betsy Bolton: Thanks, Nathan. So yeah, I want to set a little larger national context and then focus in on Swarthmore. And in order to do that, I'm going to try to cover quickly the social cost of carbon, different kinds of carbon pricing, their challenges and then Swarthmore's approach.
Betsy Bolton: So to start with, we need to think about the social cost of carbon. And part of the way that economists tend to think about this, I'm told by my friends, the economists, is that pollution is a negative externality. It's a negative consequence of production or consumption that is born a third party to the transaction. So people who aren't, say, driving a gas, gasoline [inaudible 00:22:47] are still paying the price of those emissions. Or people in smaller and in developing states who are being hit by major cyclones did not benefit from the industrial revolution that fed the climate change that is now bringing on some of those extreme weather incidences.
Betsy Bolton: So the challenge is, can we put a price on those negative consequences and build that price into the market so that higher prices would come to reduce emissions? As people decide they can't afford the real cost of those carbon-intensive goods and services. So the social cost of carbon is trying to add up all the quantifiable costs and benefits of emitting one extra ton of CO2 in monetary terms.
Betsy Bolton: And economists make different integrated assessment models that address socioeconomic projections, how they think the weather is going to change the climate, I'm sorry, is going to change. What are the benefits and damages? What is the cost of adapting to this changing climate?
Betsy Bolton: And then discounting. How do we value future benefits and costs in today's money? And this is where these models have quite a range because you can either say, "I really value my present experience highly." In which case you've got a relatively high discount value and you're not going to put a lot of money into trying to avoid climate change. Or you can say, "I value future generations pretty highly." In which case you have a low discount number and you're going to put a lot more money into trying to mitigate climate change.
Betsy Bolton: So under the Obama administration, the social cost of carbon was figured to be about 30 dollars a ton. The Trump administration has attempted to just kind of get away from the social cost of carbon. The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in their October report proposed for 2030 a carbon price ranging from 150 dollars per ton, which is hugely higher than what we have now, all the way up to 5,500 dollars per metric ton. So that gives you some sense of the range and the difficulty.
Betsy Bolton: So if we could decide or agree to a carbon price, then we have to figure out how to bring that price into our markets. And some of the strategies people use are a carbon tax, cap and trade, carbon dividend and, or a shadow price. So let's talk about each one of those briefly.
Betsy Bolton: A carbon tax is familiar. It's got some stability of pricing. So you say, "This is what the carbon tax is going to be and this is how much it will grow each year." So people know what they'll be paying. Companies can plan. People like that stability. It's relatively simple in design. We know what taxes are like. And the revenues created by that tax to fund fossil-free energy systems. And that's a big priority as we've been trying to say. Has some drawbacks. Nobody likes a tax. William Nordhaus got a Nobel Prize for his work on carbon taxes [inaudible 00:26:00] for climate economics. And he said, "Surprisingly, people don't actually like to increase their costs." The Gilets Jaunes protests in France show some of the social difficulty that can come from a tax. Even at Swarthmore we couldn't call it a tax, as far as I'm concerned, it's a tax. But it's called a carbon charge. So people ... a tax by any other name would smell sweeter, that's my take away from that.
Betsy Bolton: The next option is cap and trade. And people have practiced, they have experimented with this. There's a cap and trade system, an Emissions Trading Scheme, ETS, in the European Union, in the Northeast. We've tried it in various places. And the benefit here is what we want to do is cap emissions. And that's what this program does, is cap emissions. It says, "This is as much as you can emit." And then it sells allowances. It distributes allowances. And companies who can reduce their emissions faster have some unused allowance. And they can sell that to another company who can't reduce their emissions as rapidly. So it creates a market in those allowances.
Betsy Bolton: There are a couple issues here in practice. There's been some volatility of pricing. And I suspect that if real costs started to hit, if somebody really cranked up a cap and trade system, we get protest there as well. Some people argue that it's dubious, ethically speaking, to make money from trading carbon emissions. I'm with whatever works at the moment, myself.
Betsy Bolton: Third option is carbon fee and dividend. So the fee part is still a tax. But after you've gathered those revenues, the idea here is that you redistribute them as a dividend and you send them out across the population because it's actually consumers ... companies will pass on their costs to consumers. So consumers will be responsible for those additional costs.
Betsy Bolton: So the carbon dividend program is good for lower income people. Largely, because their not burning as much carbon and so about 70% of the US population, they would get more back from a dividend than they would pay in the carbon fees.
Betsy Bolton: But also, it doesn't grow the, say, federal government. It doesn't contribute to command and control regulations and that makes it popular on a more fiscally conservative governmental side. Republicans tend to be happier with that piece of this puzzle.
Betsy Bolton: Drawbacks. In Washington State, carbon dividend motion did not pass. There was intense lobbying against it from fossil fuel companies who tended to pick at how exactly were those dividends going to be redistributed. And so we need to figure out how to communicate and negotiate those things better.
Betsy Bolton: The next slide just sort of summarizes some of these issues. We're just going to blow past this and keep going.
Betsy Bolton: You may have, if you're following the news, you may have read recently there are number of commentators saying, "Forget carbon pricing, it's just not working." So Paul Krugman said, "Green New Deal doesn't have a carbon tax. That's a good thing they're being pragmatic. Move on." David Leonhardt in a piece last weekend, not this past weekend, but the prior weekend, he said, "We lack the political will for carbon pricing." He quoted it. Christiana Figueres, our alumna, who said, "Let's not wait for what the economists think is perfect. Let's settle for politically feasible."
Betsy Bolton: So what we need for carbon pricing is political will. And that's what we at Swarthmore are trying to contribute to.
Betsy Bolton: It's worth noting, however, that across the globe, there are many versions of a carbon price in action, despite what Krugman or Leonhardt or anybody says. China is implementing an ETS scheme, an Emissions Trading Scheme. We've got a carbon tax and Emissions Trading Scheme going in Canada. I don't have time to dwell on it but we can talk about that in greater detail later, perhaps.
Betsy Bolton: I think that brings us to Swarthmore and our Carbon Charge, or at least to the Carbon Reading Group of a few years back. We were kind of a motley crew. The economics department runs a kind of voluntary reading group every summer. And because I'd been talking with Steve Gollob about things that we could do about reducing carbon, they let others of us join, so there's Ellen Magenheim and Steve Gollob. Tao Wang. Jennifer Peck, who's our environmental economist. Ayse Kaya from political science. There's me. Lee Smithey who's a sociologist, now runs our peace and conflict studies. Leonard Nakamura who is an alum who's been very strong on promoting a kind of voluntary carbon tax. Melissa, a student. Ralph Thayer who came to tell us how really things work in facilities and what we needed to take into account.
Betsy Bolton: So this group of us came up with a set of goals that we wanted the Carbon Charge to accomplish. We wanted to model global carbon pricing. We wanted to fund emission reduction work. We wanted to educate and engage our community around carbon pricing. We wanted to build momentum for state, national and global carbon pricing.
Betsy Bolton: And the way in which we did that was we developed a proposal, presented it to the President who asked us present to the President's Staff and board member David Singleton. We took it to the faculty for a full-faculty vote. A rough sketch of the program that emerged from all of that.
Betsy Bolton: So we took campus green house gas emissions, multiplied those by a social cost of carbon. To come up with a fee on department budget. So that's the tax model. Departments and offices can also make voluntary contribution. So the English department, for instance, this year proposed a 6.25 tax on our budget. So that money goes into a carbon fund which is then pushed out into green house gas emission reduction projects and education and engagement projects.
Betsy Bolton: We also instituted a shadow price. Because new construction and if we aren't thinking about carbon pricing tends to ... we make decisions that are based on first costs or immediate costs, rather than longer term costs.
Betsy Bolton: So if you compare geothermal as opposed to natural gas, it looks at the first cost level as if the natural gas is much cheaper. So that's the decision we would have made. If you build in the lifecycle cost of maintenance and operations, it's a closer comparison. But only when you add in the social cost of carbon over the long run does geothermal become the least expensive option for the longer haul.
Betsy Bolton: Just a spin through. I know we're past time, so I'm just going to spin through one of our first president sustainability research fellows, Aaron Metheny, asked Val to endorse the Put A Price On It campaign, which she did. She not only endorsed it, but she also became a kind of a leader in that discussion. David Gilbert, our alum, gave us some video about this. He did a segment in Years of Living Dangerously about this move and Val joined with some other college presidents to create and invite others to join the Pricing Carbon Leadership Circle.
Betsy Bolton: Next slide, Nathan. So Aurora, who came on board partway through this whole process, was essential in connecting the Carbon Charge to a Green Revolving Fund that helped those funds go further. And Nathan was here to shepherd things through. Safe Climate PA, over to you?
Nathan Graf: Yeah. So Betsy talked a lot about ... so we are doing this project to reduce our emissions. But part of the goal was also to build momentum for state and local and better action, and to engage our students. So we have done a lot of work with students on this program. And this is an event that we co-hosted in Harrisburg that we had a day-long training for 60 students across Pennsylvania, training them in carbon pricing one-on-one and how to advance the price in carbon.
Nathan Graf: Then a lot of those students came back and they developed a Swat Put A Price On It working group that has published a weekly newsletter of [inaudible 00:35:13]. You can see one of them here on the topic on Swarthmore's carbon pricing, and a topic on the national price. They co-hosted a panel to explore the role of Swarthmore in the global climate challenge and invited speakers to campus and were pretty active. It was pretty exciting.
Nathan Graf: And that brings us back to our goals for tonight's discussion. Betsy, do you want to say anything more here?
Betsy Bolton: No, I think it's time to wrap up and turn over to questions.
Nathan Graf: Amazing. So we are going to have some time for questions until the top of the hour. Before we dive into questions, an alum, John Goodman from class of 60 requested two minutes to talk about something that he's doing about climate change. And well I'm the [inaudible 00:36:03] but I'm not sure if I can unmute him. Melissa or Peter, would you be able to find John's phone number for a sec and unmute him? Or-
Peter Jaquette: Okay, I think I've unmuted him. John, are you there? I guess not.
Nathan Graf: Maybe let's answer a couple of questions first and then we can come back to John in a couple of minutes. Well, we think [inaudible 00:36:27].
Peter Jaquette: So let me just remind, folks, if you want to ask a question, type it into the chatbox and we'll pass that on to our panelists.
Peter Jaquette: Before we get any questions, let me just say, I've been working with the PSR Fellows, the Sustainability Research Fellows, for a couple of years now. And I'm just hugely impressed with the program and the ... it really, to me, is an example of sort of the best of Swarthmore. It is doing things on the ground. It is also a great educational opportunity. The students who do this are learning so much. Many of them are going on to great graduate programs in sustainability or being able to take sustainability out into their careers. So I'm a big fan.
Peter Jaquette: Let's see, John.
Peter Jaquette: So do we have any questions from the floor, as it were? The virtual floor. Okay. A couple of questions. What are some examples of behavior change that we'd like to see as part of this?
Nathan Graf: Bets, did you want to take that one [inaudible 00:38:09].
Betsy Bolton: Why don't you dive in and I will follow up?
Nathan Graf: Yeah, for sure. I think some of the ... maybe to focus on ... I guess to stick out the Swarthmore scales, since there's a lot of changes and a lot of spaces, I think the shadow price we're excited ... or applying that to new construction projects so we hope that will change decisions about materials. We're applying that to the campus utility systems that we're looking at as we're looking at different ways on the Road Map to Zero. We want to get to zero emissions, but we're also accounting for ... zero emissions by 2035, but also looking at what are the invented emissions and the products that we're using in the meantime, and the material sourcing and so forth.
Nathan Graf: On an individual level, I'm really excited about behavior change to ... the students are engaging with elected officials and engaging with our community. So educate and expand understanding of the systems. I could talk about individual users of buildings and thermostats and waste sorting. Those are all good. I'm not sure if they would be super useful for our alumni to know about how our building and thermostat systems work.
Peter Jaquette: Okay, I believe I can unmute John Goodman now. So let's see if that works. John, are you able to talk to us? Maybe Nathan, you can do that.
Betsy Bolton: Let me take a little pass at that question. If that's okay. Unless we need to get to another one. I just wanted to say that from a faculty perspective the fact of the Carbon Charge ... so when we were trying to create the Carbon Charge, we really wanted to have feedback built into the system. But we are unable to monitor tightly enough to link individual departments to their actual carbon outputs at this moment. There's an exciting piece of project right now that's trying to think about plug monitors so that we could make closer linkages. I know that Lang Performing Arts Center is a building that's been under discussion there.
Betsy Bolton: From a faculty perspective, just having the discussion means that we're also talking about can we go to our professional societies and promote the idea of video conferencing or a merely neutral conference model. So that we are doing less traveling. That's not directly covered by the Carbon Charge, but it's a behavior change that we're happy to see coming along with these discussions.
Peter Jaquette: Okay, we've got another question here. We haven't talked very much about energy storage, for example Tesla Powerwall or more broadly speaking, batteries. Could you touch on that?
Nathan Graf: Yeah, I can talk about that. We are exploring on-campus storage. There's a lot of benefits. First of all, we keep getting power outages. We did again two nights ago. We think storage can be really helpful for [inaudible 00:41:10] purposes and for helping the grid accommodate a larger amount of renewable energy.
Nathan Graf: Storage is still pretty expensive right now at the commercial scale. It's a lot cheaper at the utility scale. But Swarthmore can't ... we're not consuming storage at the utility scale. We're hopeful ... there's a recent order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, order 841, that requires that by this December, all grids are going to have to have a storage participation model, which means it will be paid for all the many, many services to the grid that storage provides, which we hope will change the economics a lot. Also, the price is declining really, really rapidly.
Nathan Graf: So we're not quite there yet. We're still looking at some options. It's a little expensive now. We hope it will be more financially feasible in the near future.
Peter Jaquette: Great, thank you, Nathan. Another question. Now think a little more broadly. Swarthmore has got a goal of being carbon neutral by 2035. If every other organization, like Swarthmore and others, in major emitting countries achieved the goal of carbon neutrality by 2035, would that be enough to avert climate disaster?
Nathan Graf: I think that goes back to [crosstalk 00:42:27].
Betsy Bolton: My family calls [inaudible 00:42:32] the profit of doom. I think it's one or two back, still, Nathan.
Nathan Graf: Yes.
Betsy Bolton: Yeah. So that slide argues that we need to be carbon neutral by 2026. Remaining quota used by 2026. So what is carbon ... or climate disaster? I mean if you're hit by a cyclone in Mozambique it's climate disaster. We are in climate disaster. Is it better than nothing? It is absolutely better than not having this commitment. Would I love to see Swarthmore make a commitment to carbon neutrality for 2025? Sure. Is that even viable? It's complicated. Nathan? Are you cheerier than I am?
Nathan Graf: I'm not. I think that summarizes my feelings accurately.
Peter Jaquette: We've got another question. We touched on lobbying, state and federal legislators. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Nathan Graf: Yeah, for sure. I do not lobby a staff, a staff of the college. Separate things. But on my own time I do spend a lot of time with a group called the Citizens' Climate Lobby that I think does some really, really valuable work, particularly advancing the carbon fee and dividend model. And they are good with ... a pretty lean staff, of about 30 staff, but 100,000 volunteers across the nation. Twice a year they have delegations of like 1,000 volunteers who descend on a capital and meet with literally every member of the house in Senate. And they've been building those relationships with both Republican and Democrat offices for years and have been doing a lot of really valuable work.
Nathan Graf: I have been surprised in my like handful, maybe dozen, lobby experiences. One, congressional staff are ... even when their bosses aren't super on-board with the climate change, staff get it. They know what's going on. Also the staff tend to be still on the younger side and see a little bit of a personal stake in the future.
Nathan Graf: And I've been really surprised by the extent to which ... I think I can say that. I think a lot of folks who aren't out there yet, publicly, will still acknowledge or are excited about some climate solutions that work for them and reflect their values, and are looking for political cover in the moment when they think they can get out. And I think having someone who can explain that to them and have the conversations about ... like here is that person [inaudible 00:45:17] this policy can be really effective in bringing some folks on board and I think a lot of Republicans come out for climate who weren't previously out for climate.
Nathan Graf: I mean I'm sure, through climate impacts and also people protesting, but also through someone having a conversation with another. Like, "Here's the next steps that you can take." And I think that's really important.
Betsy Bolton: Again, in terms of our students, we have a number of currently Swarthmore students who are in leadership roles with the Sunrise Movement. So you'll have seen them in the New York Times, down lobbying in Washington.
Betsy Bolton: We also, in the Environmental Studies Intro, I've got students meeting with the legislative director of one of our state senators tomorrow. So we're trying to build skills, build familiarity. They're pretty nervous. So just low stakes, trying to start a discussion and learn back and forth, about what kinds of legislation might move forward this.
Betsy Bolton: In this case we're talking about trying to make recycling more rational in our region. Also thinking about insulation, trying to minimize energy loss through weatherization.
Peter Jaquette: Thank you, Nathan and thank you, Betsy.
Nathan Graf: I think John just poked in the headset. John, can you try speaking and see if we can hear you?
Nathan Graf: I'm afraid not.
Peter Jaquette: Okay.
Nathan Graf: Should I be calling John on my cell and just hold it up to the computer? It's unorthodox but I've seen it work before. So maybe we'll do one more question and then we'll-
Peter Jaquette: Okay, yeah, let's do that. There was one more question here from the floor. What scale of a ground heat exchange system are we thinking about at the college?
Nathan Graf: Sorry, what scale?
Peter Jaquette: Yeah.
Nathan Graf: Yeah. We barely [inaudible 00:47:16], we hope to cover all of our major buildings that are on the scene. There've been a couple more that we'll connect to a hot water loop. We already have a field through the Whittier building and for the new PPR apartment dorms that were just built.
Nathan Graf: We think the size ... Cunningham fields. Just across from Chester Road, I think are the biggest. May take half the Cunningham fields. We might supplement it with some panels on Mertz Lawn. So pretty big, but it's not like we're wrapping up the entire campus for it.
Peter Jaquette: Okay.
Nathan Graf: And maybe one more question. Because I was answering that [crosstalk 00:47:55].
Peter Jaquette: Yeah. Here's a question. Is there any [inaudible 00:48:06] as the alumni to greater effort and have there been any attempts to survey the alumni on support for carbon pricing?
Betsy Bolton: I love that question. Let's think and talk about it right now, right here. You know what I mean? This is ... Leonard Nakamura was so important for the creation of the Carbon Charge program. I can remember making a presentation to the alumni council the first year that I [inaudible 00:48:39] Environmental Studies and people were like, "We have this big community, use us!" But trying to work out the specifics or the details, we don't want to create survey fatigue in anybody. We would love input how best to engage our wonderful alumni and all their many skills and brilliant ideas. So please e-mail me directly or the Sustainability Office. If you have ideas on that, would love to hear more.
Melissa Tier: And maybe if I could jump in on this one. Hi, everyone, I'm Melissa Tier, I'm the Sustainability Program Manager and a class of 14 alum. Just wanted to say that so many of these initiatives that have been described in this session and will be described in the upcoming weeks, are really very new. There's been a lot of exciting work with close partnership with many different campus community partners, including alumni. But I think we're really feeling ready at this stage to be broadcasting that in better and more engaging ways with the alumni population.
Melissa Tier: So just to echo Betsy's plan. We want to hear from you. We want to figure out new ways to engage with you all and to just share what we're up to. And I hope you'll continue to join us for these sessions. This is our very first alumni webinar.
Nathan Graf: And I do have John here. John, do you want to take it away for two minutes?
John Goodman: Sure. Hello. Can you hear me now?
Peter Jaquette: Yes.
Betsy Bolton: Yes.
John Goodman: Okay. Thank you, Nathan. I'm John Goodman, I was Swarthmore class in 1960 and I'm a physicist and author and an inventor. And I have just two things I want to say to you today.
John Goodman: My first one, I'm calling a word of warning. And you can see it on the screen right now. And it's actually ... the other one is going to be a word of hope, because I hate to just be a downer.
John Goodman: We've often been told that you should think globally and act locally which is good advice for many problems. But when it comes to dealing with global climate change, I strongly believe that the better advice is think and act globally on this existential crisis. Local action alone just won't be sufficient. Don't believe anyone who says as soon as solar and wind power have gotten so cheap, we can quit using fossil fuels, especially if they are speaking only [inaudible 00:51:00] local solar or wind energy sources and especially if they don't talk about the energy storage that's needed and which is pretty costly.
John Goodman: In fact, right now, it makes that sort of green energy overall more expensive than using dirty energies from fossil fuels. People who are generally focused on the short term work with their wallets and that is why I think we are not making more progress here.
John Goodman: On to the second slide. Take the solar panels off of your roof and raise it up to 100 kilometers above sea level and keep it pointed at the sun. It will supply you with about ten times as [inaudible 00:51:36] as it would on your roof. Same solar panel, same [inaudible 00:51:40].
John Goodman: And if you put wind turbines in the jet stream, they all work far better than [inaudible 00:51:45]. If you distribute these energy sources all around the globe, half of them will always be in the sunlight and if they are connected together efficiently, then we really can rely on solar or wind power 24/7 with no batteries or other energy storage required.
John Goodman: And the great good news is this is possible. The book you see at the left side of the screen is one I wrote five years ago. Here's many of the details. Please do continue to push for a price on carbon that sends a good energy, good [inaudible 00:52:16] signal. But a better [inaudible 00:52:17] signal comes from lowering the cost of green energy dramatically. And also push for research and the building of a prototype of this new way of dealing with the problem. Once it's built, people will know and then it will be easy to get it done.
John Goodman: There's far more to say, more than I can say now. I put into the comment screen some links as the webinar marks plus a way for you to ask me questions. And now I turn you back to your regular webinar.
Peter Jaquette: Thank you, John.
Betsy Bolton: Thank you.
Nathan Graf: I will add those comments in a second as my computer is loading my e-mail real quick.
Peter Jaquette: So let me ask another question. And maybe Betsy, you could take the lead on this. How do you see the recently or newly formed Environmental Studies major playing a part in advancing Swarthmore's carbon-neutral agenda?
Betsy Bolton: From Dakota. Well, isn't it wonderful that we have an Environmental Studies major now? So there are lots of different ways to keep the students, to keep our new majors involved in the process. So Kyle Richmond is one of our first Environmental Studies majors. He's an honors major and PSR fellow and he's been instrumental in developing the Power Purchasing Agreement that Nathan spoke about earlier today.
Betsy Bolton: We have students working on engineering projects, on economic pricing projects. We've got people trying to tackle lots of different pieces of this puzzle. We need more faculty on the ground to keep up with the wonderful students that we have. So if anybody knows anybody who has any funding to endow our position, we would love that.
Betsy Bolton: So we are excited about what we're able to do. And we have dreams of what more we could do with some more resources.
Peter Jaquette: Thank you, Betsy. We talked about Swarthmore and our efforts on sustainability and particularly on carbon. What are some of the other colleges and universities who are really pushing hard on this?
Nathan Graf: Oh, I can take it. I mean yes. Yeah, I can take that one. Yale beat us by ... they have a very robust internal Carbon Charge program. It's very impressive. They charge every department and office in proportion to their carbon emissions. We are working with facilities to get [inaudible 00:54:51]. It's quite challenging. But it's a lot of fun.
Nathan Graf: Vassar is also an early adopter of shadow pricing. Smith College right now also is [inaudible 00:55:00] shadow price of 70 dollars a ton. And we've been doing a lot of work with Smith, Vassar and Yale together to host events to share this solution with other institutions of higher education.
Nathan Graf: A couple of them that are moving really fast. Whitman College. You see L.A. and the University of Arizona and University of Maryland all have charges for air travel. And the University of College London is ... I guess they may have decided, too, recently. They've just published a white paper exploring what an internal carbon charge would look like and I think they're moving towards decision now.
Nathan Graf: I think the University of Utah just passed a resolution in the Faculty Senate, I think, calling for a price, an internal Carbon Charge program. And we're in contact with a lot of other institutions that are exploring.
Nathan Graf: And I think over the past few months I've gotten maybe twentyish faculty staff and students from other schools who have been asking me to learn about Swarthmore's program because they want to explore at their own schools [inaudible 00:56:06].
Peter Jaquette: I think this [inaudible 00:56:10] with another question that we have, asking to hear a little bit more about the Carbon Pricing Leadership Council and what impact that's having on the national discussion on climate change.
Nathan Graf: I can take this one, too, I think. So the Climate Leadership Council is a group of Republican older statesmen who are advocating for a variation of carbon fee and dividend. There's some differences from the Citizens' Climate Lobby proposal. CCL has a faster ramp or CLC just wants a 40 dollars a ton and keep that more or less flat with tracking ... I think increasing by like 3% a year.
Nathan Graf: The other thing that they get a lot of fame for is the regulations trade. They make the case that if you're pricing carbon, the EPA shouldn't also be regulating emissions for their carbon impacts. The [inaudible 00:57:10] that would make is it's pretty narrow. Notably, it's only regulating emissions for their carbon impact, so you can still regulate [inaudible 00:57:19] or health impacts, for example. And they're exempting the vehicle sector for reasons we don't need to go into. And notably, the EPA has never and is not making any motions to regulate carbon from most industries.
Nathan Graf: So that really only affects the Clean Power Plan on the electricity sector which is kind of dead right now. So there is some case, so that's a worthwhile trade. I would submit that 40 dollars ... for me, 40 dollars a ton is on a boundary of ... I'm not sure if the regulations of 40 dollars a ton is more effective. But to align with the 2 degree scenario, we need a lot higher than 40 dollars a ton and some complementary policies. Or we need 40 dollars a ton and a whole lot of complementary policies, which can be some extra regulation or other policies. But it's complicated. But they are serving as a liaison to getting a lot of conservative support for a climate solution which ... find me conservatives who support any other climate solutions. It's pretty hard.
Peter Jaquette: Thank you, Nathan.
Betsy Bolton: A little more cynical, though, about the impact on congress. I feel as though the fact that the Green New Deal does not include any carbon pricing plan, that's not a good signal for where we are right now in terms of carbon pricing.
Nathan Graf: I think that's accurate, yeah.
Peter Jaquette: Yeah. We have a question about the discount rate. I think we talked a little bit about how impactful a discount rate is on decisions here. Can either of you a little bit more about that?
Betsy Bolton: Let me take this. Let me start it, Nathan, and you run, all right? You run with it.
Betsy Bolton: The two major figures I associate with the different discount rates are Bill Morehouse who favors a higher discount rate, so more value for the present moment. And Nicholas Stern who says we haven't [inaudible 00:59:20] in the system and so we really need to value the future very closely to the present [inaudible 00:59:27]. There's so much that could happen. And so I felt like that was connected.
Betsy Bolton: So those are the two [inaudible 00:59:36]. Morehouse said that 3.5 degrees of global heating was optimal in terms of growing the economy. I don't think he says that anymore. And that's where Nathan, I think, he came out with a paper saying, "I'm going to update this," or something, didn't he?
Nathan Graf: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. That's right.
Betsy Bolton: Run with that.
Nathan Graf: I think that's ... I'll just drive home ... one more thing I'll add to that is that I think the social cost of carbon is often ... the EPA reports the social cost of carbon at 1.5 discount rate and a 3% discount rate and a 5% discount rate. The 3% just because it's in the middle. A lot of people report it's like 40% of real social cost to carbon.
Nathan Graf: The EPA is very clear that there's no good justification for one or the other. If you change the discount rate from 3% to 1.5%, that 40 number jumps up to like 110, I think.
Nathan Graf: So even very, very small fluctuations in the discount rate, which is more or less entirely arbitrary, can have really, really tremendous impacts on how your social cost of carbon gets better. So I think that's worth noting and part of why I personally found have economic models [inaudible 01:00:46] what carbon price do we need to align the global economy with the 2 degree scenario, rather than a question of what is the social cost of carbon. Both of them have big error bars but I think that the 2 degree scenario is a little bit more defined than what is the social cost of carbon, sometimes, because it's so abstract.
Peter Jaquette: Thank you very much to all of our panelists. To Nathan, Melissa and Betsy. And listen in in a few weeks time when we have the second of our series on sustainability.
Nathan Graf: And one more kind of thought. If there are questions that you have that you didn't put in the chat bar or that we didn't get to, you can see the e-mail at the bottom of the screen there. Sustainability@swarthmore.edu. We'll be thrilled to answer your questions by e-mail or have a follow-up conversation with you all.
Betsy Bolton: Thank you so much for hosting, Peter and thanks everyone for tuning in.
Peter Jaquette: Until next time. Good night, all.
Betsy Bolton: Good night.
Melissa Tier: Good night.