Western's Abel Chavez Explains Climate Research

Western's Dr. Abel Chavez says his research on "Cross-Boundary Energy Use, GHG Emissions and Resilience: Exploring Their Implications on Gunnison and Western Colorado Communities" continues. But he shared some interesting, if early, results with listeners during the fourth of five Western Natural & Environmental Science seminars set for this fall on the topic of climate change.

Chavez, who this past summer joined the Master in Environmental Management faculty after a stint at Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, explained how he has profiled a set of U.S. communities and found their roles as producers and consumers, based on measurements of their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, vary widely. Some are larger users of energy and emitters of greenhouse gases, while others that use and emit less locally are served by energy use and emissions occurring elsewhere. Still other communities are closer to a balance between production and consumption.

Chavez notes several trends in his data. They could play significant roles in any scheme to tax carbon or carbon emissions. Small communities, he says, tend to be either predominantly producers or consumers of energy and greenhouse gas emissions. He points to largely residential suburbs and edge cities, such as the communities surrounding Denver and Boulder, that don't produce natural gas, oil or coal but do run off the energy from these products. Conversely, some rural communities produce or extract millions of cubic feet of gas or tons of coal while consuming little. When a community's population tops 2 million, he has found, production and consumption  may tend to balance out.

Chavez suggests the issues are similar to those surrounding both food and water. Five counties in Colorado, he says, produce half the state's output of food. Another handful of counties consume much of the state's water, drawing it from other parts of the state.

The implications of his research findings are in development. But they could affect how government reins in greenhouse-gas emissions in the face of climate change. A carbon-use tax might affect consumers more than producers. A carbon tax on producers might put the onus on them, without directly affecting consumer behavior.

​Chavez says his research continues. And so will the NES Friday lectures, which have so far this fall shared popular presentations by Dr. Scott Denning from Colorado State University, Dr. Jim Worrall from the U.S. Forest Service and Dr. Imtiaz Rangwala of Western Water Assessment/CIRES at Colorado University. The series concludes at 3pm on Oct. 24 with a presentation from Dr. Corrine Knapp, who also teaches in Western's Master in Environmental Management program. She will address "Climate Change in Colorado: Evidence, Projections and Uncertainties.

Story and photograph by Greg Smith, University Communications.

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Monday, October 20, 2014 - 12:00pm