Research topic selection
I have two potential topics I’m not sure which to choose of, so completed the exercise for each & would appreciate feedback on which better fits this project.
1. Transportation emissions in State College, PA
My hometown, State College, PA, is a college town in central PA with Penn State University, so it has a somewhat urban core, a lot of suburbs, and is surrounded by rural, agricultural land. Our transit emissions are north of 160 MT CO2e annually, which is contributing to climate change.
- Evidence: looking at our 2016 GHG inventory (pg 6-7), while the largest sectors of carbon emissions are commercial & residential energy, primarily electricity, transportation is the next largest category. We already have technology, buy-in, and policy at many levels moving electricity toward clean sources, but that is less the case with the highly-interconnected area of transportation emissions.
- This problem is important because transit emissions are inextricably linked to how people live, and changing them requires behavior changes. Transit emissions are not only CO2, but air & environmental pollution of many kinds, which cause lasting health effects & economic consequences. State College is, and in some regards in a leading position, on small-town climate policy in the US. If State College can figure out what greener transit looks like without the options urban density affords, it would set an example for other towns across the US to follow, taking critical steps toward decarbonization.
- Geographical bounds: Centre Region, a collection of municipalities in Centre County, PA which share legislative agendas
- Actors: each township government of Centre Region, & Pam Adams, our local sustainability coordinator. On a broader scale, the PA state government affects policy, but I would be focusing at the local level.
2. Decarbonizing the US military
The Pentagon is the world’s biggest single greenhouse gas emitter, as well as the largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels. (Source: https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2022/10/pentagon-climate-change-neta-crawford-book/) This tally is self-admittedly undercounted, as it’s not including destruction of property, the air pollution of burn pits, and other effects. These emissions contribute massively to climate change themselves, and the military’s role in securing access to oil is causing increased cycles of global conflict, leading to more military emissions. This vicious cycle is incompatible with solving global climate change.
In order to avert climate collapse, we need to dramatically scale back fossil fuel use, transitioning to clean energy sources, while scaling up carbon removal. Erasing just the ongoing emissions from the military itself would move the needle on global carbon emissions, but putting the goal on the entire DoD would effectively put a price on carbon; carbon emissions that couldn’t be reduced would have to be removed, dramatically scaling up the carbon removal market. The Pentagon would also pour money into new materials research, replacing plastics and creating greener steel & cement. The entire world needs these solutions, so the military catalyzing research & development would have trickle-down effects on global decarbonization via advance market commitments & science funding.
- Geographic bounds: policy-wise, U.S. federal scale, though solving it would have international consequences
- Actors: the US Department of Defense, and Congress/the US President legislating it
MIT Press has just published a new book on military emissions, which I have not yet read but would use a major source in my research.