Our Take on The California “Hidden Gas Tax” Ads

October 29th, 2014

Here’s who’s behind the “Hidden Gas Tax” ads you may have seen in California, and how they’re misleading. We also explain the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) that they’re attacking and how it fits into California’s Cap and Trade law (AB32). Last, we explain how, as with the California Climate Credit, it’s smart policy designed to drive down Californians’ CO2 footprint from driving. That said, if your car burns gasoline, LCFS won’t significantly reduce your CO2 footprint from driving anytime soon, but you can still reduce your gasoline use and offset the CO2 from driving that you can’t avoid.

Who’s Behind The “Hidden Gas Tax” Ads

The ads are the work of the California Drivers Alliance, a group created by Wayne Johnson Agency. They’re a Sacramento public affairs firm hired by the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), which includes major petroleum producers like Chevron, Exxon, BP, and Shell. The campaign is similar to that of the California Independent Oil Marketers Association’s (CIOMA) Fed Up At The Pump. This is the latest of many efforts against AB32, as outlined by the NRDC here.

LCFS Should Really Be Called “Fuel Savings In Plain Sight”

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) openly shared its 2010 analysis of a projected 4 to 19% fuel price increase by 2020 as a result of the LCFS (explained below). A CARB spokesman recently said the range is actually outdated and that “we don’t believe there will be any discernible increase in pricing next year.” Further, the same 2010 CARB analysis estimated that CA’s annual per capita fuels expenditure will drop by over $400 by 2020 because of increased car efficiency.

What The “Hidden Gas Tax Ads” Hide

The ads exclude both the revised estimate of no gas price increases and the projected $400/year savings. They don’t mention gas prices are nosediving to below $3 per gallon for the first time in 4 years as refineries are making solid progress reducing their GHG emissions, demonstrating that the latter doesn’t cause the former. What’s also hidden is how much the California Drivers Alliance receives from from WSPA and what CMIOMA is spending on the Fed Up At The Pump campaign.

Why Oil Companies Understandably Hate The LCFS

Government incentives and manufacturing advances have made alternative fuel vehicles accessibly-priced before the LCFS even goes into effect. Case in point is the Nissan Leaf. My sister-in-law leased a Leaf. Over $10K in federal and state rebates significantly reduced the $28K MSRP and canceled out the $2.5K downpayment. The $220 lease payment, less than what she was spending monthly on gas, is canceled out by free charging at work and from Nissan. The car is not free, but switching to it, and taking gasoline out of the picture altogether, is.

The Bigger Picture

As with hybrids, electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars will proliferate and come down in price. Receding demand will create downward price pressure on petroleum-based fuels. That in turn benefits users of light trucks, delivery vehicles, and construction equipment – those for whom alternative fuels are not an option. That’s a virtuous cycle for everyone, even for those who continue to burn gasoline and diesel. Everyone except oil companies. The permanent contraction in price and volume means goodbye to an extremely profitable status quo.

The LCFS is not going to trigger this dynamic or push it past a tipping point, which has already happened. As mentioned, gas prices are going down, refineries are cleaning up, and people are buying alternative fuel vehicles before LCFS goes into effect. LCFS is going to accelerate this, and that’s why oil companies understandably hate it. And the stakes are much higher when one considers “As California Goes, So Goes The Nation.”

So What Should Oil Companies Do Instead, Then?

One way CA refineries can meet their targets is to clean up their processes by installing equipment like flue gas scrubbers. And technologies exist which create gasoline, diesel, and other fuels from non-fossil sources (like agricultural waste); burning a gallon of non-fossil gasoline does not count in the eyes of LCFS.

Right now, it’s more profitable road for oil companies to fight policies like LCFS than invest considerably more money in adaptation. The argument that it’s oil executives’ fiduciary duty to forestall adapting as long as possible in the name of maximum profits is flawed, obviously from a stakeholder standpoint but also even from a shareholder one. How they’ll do it is unclear, but if the old dog doesn’t itself some new tricks, that’ll hurt shareholder value too because they’ll become a lot more obsolete than if they had adapted.

More About The Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS)

Transportation causes about 40% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions because we rely on petroleum based fuels for 97% of our transportation needs. The LCFS, which goes along with the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (also known as AB32), is set to go in effect on January 1, 2015. The LCFS addresses the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the production, refining, distribution, and consumption of transportation fuels. It seeks to cut those emissions 10% by 2020.

Though it’s designed to be agnostic about fuel type, LCFS heavily disfavors petroleum-based fuels not only because their extraction, refinement, and distribution produces lots of CO2, but also because 19.4 pounds of CO2 are released when each gallon of gasoline is burned. Here’s a brief ARB video about the LCFS:

COTAP and Carbon Offsetting in The Context of LCFS

As mentioned above, LCFS is designed to address the lifecycle CO2 emissions from extracting, refining, distributing, and burning any transportation fuel. For a gallon of gas, that includes the 19.4 pounds of CO2 that are released when you buy and burn it. The LCFS goal is a modest 10% reduction in carbon intensity by 2020, and if they hit that goal it means you would only need to offset 90% of the gasoline you buy and burn. But right now the carbon intensity requirement is capped at 1% due to lawsuits (guess who?). So right now, despite LCFS passing, you’re still creating 99% of the same gasoline carbon pollution as you did before LCFS.

Our Favorite Hidden Gas Tax Ad…

We especially love this one with the little girl in the back seat, complaining about the cost of gas while riding around town only with her Dad… in a minivan… that seats seven. “I guess I can kiss my grape slushie goodby,” she laments. Decrease your car-to-people ratio, young lady, and you can have all the slushies you want!

Global Climate Justice and COTAP

October 2nd, 2014

As seen on COTAP’s car magnets and postcard flyers, the tagline we’ve chosen is “Global Climate Justice.” Here’s why.

What “Global Climate Justice” Means to Us

The world’s most economically vulnerable people:

  • Did not cause climate change.
  • Are most likely to experience, and least equipped to handle, the worst effects of climate change.
  • Must be included in climate change solutions, including carbon projects which provide significant and direct financial benefits to them.
  • Must be empowered to adapt to climate change.

People who offset through COTAP, or “Cotappers,” promote Global Climate Justice by creating significant, supplemental income for smallholder farming communities in areas where incomes are less than $2 per day. Cotappers help the poor adapt to climate change by funding the planting, restoration, and protection of forests which increase food security, reduce erosion, protect and enhance biodiversity and watersheds, provide shade, and serve as critical hydrological sponges.

Visualizing Global Climate Injustice with The Carbon Map

Click on the below image to open The Carbon Map, which visually conveys how our countries fit into the climate change picture in terms of responsibility and risk. Click on Wealth (under Background), then Historical (under Responsibility), and then People at Risk and Poverty (under Vulnerability), refreshing each time to get a sense of the United States’ (and that of developed countries in general) relative role.

It’s clear that developed countries caused (and continue to cause) climate change and the global poor did not. We’ve got a lot more money to fix the problem, and they’re more likely to experience the worst effects of climate change. At a minimum, we owe it to them to clean up after ourselves, and to compensate them for helping us do it.

Climate Justice Is Also About Keeping Carbon In The Ground

COTAP and voluntary carbon offsetting in general are just one piece of a greater Climate Justice picture. We owe it not only to the world’s poor, but also to ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren to take all possible actions to avoid and reduce future carbon emissions. That primarily means keeping as much carbon as possible in the ground in the first place, as explained in this 9 minute film called “Carbon.”

But How Do We Do That?

From the above clip, we see there’s five times more burnable carbon in the ground than we can afford to burn – about 2,500 gigatonnes vs. 500 gigatonnes, respectively. At that scale, only government-level policy intervention can attack this problem’s root cause of excessive carbon demand. The proven policy intervention is to put a price on the pollutants causing the problem. Economist and former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich explains the need for a carbon price and elected leaders who’ll take action:

A lot of Mr. Reich’s logic applies to what Cotappers already do – they’re voluntarily “taxing” their emissions (but actually getting a tax write-off!), and – in the process – learning how to reduce and why we need to advocate for cleaner energy and smart climate policy. Cotappers’ average voluntary price on CO2 is $9.90 per tonne.

The People’s Climate March

Government action is what an estimated 400,000 people marched for in New York City on September 21st, 2014 ahead of the UN Climate Summit. Click on the image below to see the Flickr gallery of the many Climate Justice organizations and initiatives represented at the People’s Climate March, the largest climate march in history.

A system-wide price on carbon will certainly happen, but it will take some time. Meanwhile, there are many things you can do, and COTAP’s one of them. Even after a price on carbon is in place, it’ll coexist with voluntary carbon offsetting. That’s because if your energy is taxed, if you use the energy and create CO2 pollution anyway, and if the tax funds aren’t used to remove your emissions from the atmosphere, then your carbon trash is essentially still out on the curb. That’ll still be an injustice, and you’ll still have tools to correct it.

COTAP Featured by Years of Living Dangerously

September 22nd, 2014

We’re pleased to announce that COTAP is a featured solution in multiple categories of the “What We Can Do” section on Years of Living Dangerously’s new website!

Years of Living Dangerously is an Emmy-winning, 9-part Showtime documentary television series focusing on climate change. It premiered on April 13, 2014, and features correspondents such as Harrison Ford, Jessica Alba, Matt Damon, Lesley Stahl, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Don Cheadle.

Meet A Farmer: Fyson Mphanda

August 14th, 2014

Fyson Mphanda

Community: Kayeka village, Dowa district, Malawi
Vintage(s) planted: 2010
Number of trees planted: Approximately 600 trees: 400 trees for 2 hectares of dispersed inter-planting and 200 trees for 6 100-meter segmenets of boundary plantings.
Carbon benefit created by Fyson: 193 tonnes of CO2
Earnings to date: $507
Total expected earnings: $845 (over 10 years, based on successful maintenance of plantings)

In 2008, Fyson Mphanda joined the Clinton Development Initiative’s Trees of Hope Project in order to protect his land from climate change and improve his 6-member family’s access to forest resources such as firewood. Since 2008, Fyson has planted 600 meters of trees in boundary planting and two hectares of dispersed systematic inter-planting (DSI), which will absorb more than 190 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere. Boundary planting, used by producers’ farms to define field boundaries, has many benefits, including the preservation of biodiversity, the conservation of soil, and the protection of fenced area from livestock and wind damage. DSI is a system of inter-planting trees with arable crops to improve soil fertility over time, but its short term benefits include the provision of firewood, timber, traditional medicine, and increased crop yields.

Fyson has used the supplemental income from carbon credit sales to purchase a cow for his family. The manure from the cow is used as an agricultural input, an ox-drawn cart facilitates transportation, and hiring his cow to others in his community further increases his income. In addition, the trees that he had planted provide him and his family with firewood and timber, so his wife no longer needs to walk long distances to collect them. Fyson says that through the Trees of Hope project, he has been able to increase his knowledge based around the benefits of forestry systems and practice better management of nurseries and tree-based land use systems.

Learn more about the Clinton Development Initiative’s Trees of Hope Project at Create income for farmers like Fyson Mphanda by calculating and offsetting your CO2 emissions here.

COTAP mentioned in Rolling Stone

June 10th, 2014

In this interview with Rolling Stone Brazil, Ziggy Marley discusses his new album, his partnering with COTAP to offset his tour’s CO2 emissions, and his father’s legacy.