Saturday, December 30, 2006

Global Warming a Top Priority for Presidential Hopeful John Edwards

In his entry into the presidential sweepstakes as a candidate for the Democratic party John Edwards named fighting global warming as one of his top priorities. It will be interesting to see if other candidates are as bold, in essence saying that they are willing to take on the powerful oil, coal, and auto industries. It will also be interesting to see if Edwards continues to put global warming at the top of the list should he eventually be the Democratic party’s candidate for president.

For now, Edwards' vow to make fighting global warming part of his campaign agenda seems like one of the few positive events on the global warming scene which has largely consisted of one gloomy piece of news after another throughout the entire year. During the recent congressional election little was heard about global warming although a lot was heard about energy issues, particularly the goal of obtaining energy independence. However, trying to attain energy independence does not involve reducing the use of coal for generating electricity which is the largest contributor to carbon dioxide emissions. The United States needs to drastically reduce its reliance on coal. It also needs to convince China to do the same.

Clearly we need strong leadership on the presidential level to have any hope of combating global warming. Edwards making the global warming issue a top priority does provide some hope as this year draws to a close.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bill McKibben Says Individualism Increased by Fossil Fuels

Writing in the January/February 2007 issue of Sierra magazine, Bill McKibben looks at our global warming predicament and offers some hopeful suggestions for stabilizing the climate. In his analysis he makes the following observation about how fossil fuels has transformed many of us as human beings:

And it's when you start thinking about those kinds of shifts that you understand what fossil fuel, with all its magic, has really produced. Not just wealth and global warming--but also a redefined human being, one far more individualistic than before. One, in the extreme American version, who lives in a big house (twice as big as in 1950) on the far edge of a distant suburb and drives everywhere (usually alone). One who depends very little on neighbors. In fact, one survey found that three-quarters of Americans don't even know their next-door neighbors, a novel condition for any human being at any time in history. (A novel condition, for that matter, for any primate.)

McKibben contrasts Americans with the more community-minded Europeans and points out that the greater emphasis on community results in the average European using only half of the energy that the average American uses. Unfortuately, believing that the trend toward increased individualism in the United States can be reversed quickly enough to combat global warming seems like a stretch. McKibben points to the increase in farmers’ markets with local produce as an example that the first step is being taken, however, the houses in the United States are still getting bigger and the suburbs are still being pushed further and further out from urban cores. If stopping global warming requires Americans to become more community oriented we may be in even bigger trouble than we think.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Representative John Dingell’s Take on Global Warming Does Not Bode Well for Effective Legislation

When the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives next month John Dingell from Michigan will for the first time in over a decade take over the powerful position of House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman. During his last stint he frustrated environmentalists who wanted to significantly raise fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. But that was before concerns about global warming reached the threshold levels that they have today. Like so many people he may now recognize the urgency of the threat and be willing to go along with raising the fuel efficiency standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. After reading an interview with Dingelll on the blog Gristmill I am afraid that thinking he may have softened his position is just so much wishful thinking.
When asked by the interviewer whether a scientific consensus on global warming has been established Dingell replied with this little pearl of wisdom:
This country, this world, the [human] race of which you and I are a part, is great at having consensuses that are in great error. And so I want to get the scientific facts, and find out what the situation is, and find out what is the cure, and find out what is the cure that is acceptable to the country that I represent and serve.

It kind of makes you want to move to Michigan just so you can vote against him in 2008. Then again, if he ever lost his seat in auto manufacturing land, which he has held for decades, would his replacement be any better on this issue?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Harvard Scientist Blasts Inhofe’s Global Warming Hearing

Daniel P. Schrag, who was one of two witnesses invited by the Democratic staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee to counter the view that global warming is a hoax at a recent hearing held by committee chairman Senator James Inhofe from Oklahoma to find out if the media is hyping the threat of global warming, did not mince words about what he thought about the proceedings in a Boston Globe op-ed. Schrag, who is professor of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard, called the hearing ”a gathering of liars and charlatans, sponsored by those industries who want to protect their profits.”

After providing a scientific explanation of global warming in his opening statement he then says that he:
“watched in horror as Inhofe's witnesses spouted outrageous claims intended to deceive and distort. Two were scientists associated with industry-funded think tanks. They described global warming as a "mass delusion" among the scientific community, sowing confusion by misrepresenting the ice core data that connects carbon dioxide and temperature over glacial cycles, and claiming that "global warming stopped in 1998" -- an anomalously warm year. They even recommended burning as much fossil fuel as possible to prevent another ice age.”

Following the hearing Schrag had another surprise. He says that:
I later learned that Inhofe's communications director, Marc Morano, was a key figure in publicizing the swift boat veterans' attack on John Kerry in 2004. Morano, it seems, is still up to his old tricks, twisting the facts to support his boss's outrageous claims. This made my visit complete: a glimpse at our government that sees the world only through glasses tinted by special interests, which treats science as a political football, no matter what is at stake.

I have to agree with the conclusion that Schrag reached after his experience in Washington. He put it this way:
As our leaders accept the outrageous spectacle I saw the other day as just a normal day in Congress, we will have to take the first step without them.

Hopefully more and more scientists and other citizens will come to this realization and the first step will be taken before it is too late.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Is Global Warming Hopeless as a Main Political Issue?

David Roberts writing in Gristmill blog has made the following observation:
I doubt global warming will ever be a primary political issue. By that I mean, we'll see lots of policies pitched like this: "Policy X will solve Problem Y ... and will also help fight global warming." But "Policy X will fight global warming" will never be enough, on its own.

He reasons that:
While voters claim to be concerned about global warming, it takes almost nothing to knock it back among their priorities. They're concerned, sure, but they don't want higher gas prices, or any new taxes, or any new government bureaucracies, or any lost jobs, or any, you know ... cost.

Perhaps Al Gore, the Sierra Club, etc. will prove him wrong over the next couple of years and a powerful grassroots movement built specifically around the issue of global warming will emerge. Who would have expected grassroots political movements to have peacefully overthrown the Soviet empire? Anything can happen.

Friday, December 15, 2006

2006 Appears to Be Headed for Fifth or Sixth Warmest Year

The global warming skeptics are probably out there lurking in the weeds just waiting to pounce if climate scientists announce that the most recent year will not be among the warmest ever recorded since such recordings began in the late 1800s. It looks like the skeptics are going to be disappointed again because as reported in The New York Times, 2006 is on course to be the fifth warmest year according to NASA scientists and sixth warmest year according to the World Meteorological Association. The skeptics should not get their hopes up for 2007 either as NASA climate scientist James Hansen says that 2007 should be warmer than 2006 because the tropical Pacific Ocean is in the midst of a periodic hot spell and this high temperature condition should last into next spring.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

U.S. Senate May Be Next Battleground in Global Warming Political Fight

With Senator Barbara Boxer gearing up for weeks of hearings on global warming after she assumes chairmanship of the Environmental and Public Works Committee next month there is speculation about what might happen. An article from the San Jose Mercury News provides some insightful analysis. Boxer is presently advocating that the United States use California’s greenhouse gas emission capping program as a model. The article lists several formidable obstacles that Boxer will likely encounter: “industry resistance, budget constraints, disagreements among party leaders, and the problem’s daunting complexity and global scope,” and emphasizes that there is still fierce opposition to emission controls from “many energy companies, utilities, and the auto industry.” Also in Boxer’s way may stand two new Democratic chairmen of House committees, Nick Rahall from the coal-producing state of West Virginia who will chair the House Resources Committee and John Dingell from the auto manufacturing state of Michigan who will chair the Energy and Commerce Committee. Whether this upcoming battle in the Senate leads to more than providing entertainment for political junkies remains to be seen. A quote from Henry Lee, an environmental expert from Harvard, who says that “ ideological polarization, large budget deficits, an unwillingness to take risks…leads to the inability to reach decisions,” provides good reasons why expectations about the ultimate results of Boxer’s efforts should not be raised very high.

Monday, December 11, 2006

For Federal Climate Scientists Saying “Kyoto” Was a No-No

Once again charges are flying that that Bush administration has been trying to muzzle climate scientists who work for the federal government. The Associated Press has reported that Pieter Tans, a senior scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, claims that about 4 years ago scientists at the lab were banned from using the word “Kyoto,” as in Kyoto Protocol to cap greenhouse gas emissions. Another NOAA senior scientist who works at the Boulder laboratory, physicist James Elkins, confirmed the ban and said it was lifted after the Russians finally ratified the Protocol. Hopefully, inspectors general from NASA and the Commerce Department, who according to Senator Frank Lautenberg from New Jersey have launched investigations into reports of censorship of global warming science by the Bush administration, will soon get to the bottom of this charge and similar charges that have been made.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Hydropower Said to Cause More Global Warming Than Coal-Fired Plants

Hydroelectric power’s reputation as a clean source of energy continues to take a pounding. The results of a 3-year study of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs in Southeast Asia which was published today in Taiwan found that hydropower is a greater contributor to global warming than power plants run on coal or oil. The researchers explained that the dead organic matter at the bottom of a reservoir behind a dam does not receive enough oxygen to decompose which results in the production of methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide by a factor of 21, and nitrous oxide, a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide by a factor of 200. A member of the research team predicted that the Three Gorges Dam built on the Yangtze River in China, which is now in operation, will be a serious contributor to global warming. (Photo of Three Gorges reservoir behind the dam credited to Three Gorges Probe.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Senator Inhofe Uses Last Days of Leadership to Spread Doubts About Threat of Global Warming

You would not expect someone who stood on the U.S. Senate floor and called global warming a great environmental hoax to end his reign as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with a serious hearing on the issue and the senator from Oklahoma did not disappoint. As reported by the San Jose Mercury News, he continued to waste taxpayer money with a hearing on December 6th that set out to answer the following question: “Is a sensation-seeking media hyping the threat of global warming?” (If the Republican leadership understood when to be skeptical they would have held hearings in 2002 to answer questions such as “Is the media hyping the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?" We know the answer now but it came much too late.) Fortunately, for that segment of the U.S. public that wants to deal with reality there is relief on the way. On January 4, 2007 the Democrats take over leadership of the House and Senator Barbara Boxer from California will become the new committee chairman. She is promising to hold in-depth hearings on global warming and how to combat it. That will certainly be a welcome change.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Danish Offshore Wind Farms Breeze Through Environmental Monitoring Tests

Proponents of offshore wind farms have something to cheer about. Eight years of monitoring the environmental effects of two large offshore wind farms off the coast of Denmark turned up nothing really bad. Cape Cod Today reported the main findings of the study which are of particular interest to local residents since there is great controversy over a proposal to locate a wind farm off the Cape Cod coast. Among the findings were that it was a rare event for a waterbird to crash into a turbine, the wind farms had no noticeable effects on seals, and that fish often swim around the artificial structures. It is hard to imagine how a major effort worldwide to combat global warming could be undertaken without offshore wind farms playing a big part. The Danish study shows that with careful siting, offshore wind farms are a feasible way to provide a renewable energy source for generating large amounts of electricity without great adverse environmental consequences.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Scientists Disagree Over Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Tropical Hydro

The Observer reports that at a meeting this week in Paris scientists will present evidence that when hydroelectric power plants are built in the tropics, the dead organic matter that accumulates in the reservoir behind the dam eventually decays releasing very large amounts of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. As I mentioned in a post last month, I first heard about this extraordinary claim while listening to the radio show EcoTalk. It is tough enough to limit global warming without finding out that what is probably the most important clean method of generating electricity isn’t really clean. According to the Observer, not all scientists in this field agree that the emission of vast amounts of greenhouse gases occurs from hydro plants in tropical regions as some say that after a few years only modest amounts of emissions occur. Certainly global warming policy makers will need to know very soon who is right.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Rooftop Wind Turbines Create a Stir in Britain

Those who say that wind power should play a prominent role in replacing fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions probably do not have in mind the type of small wind turbines that have recently been appearing on rooftops in British cities. An article in The Christian Science Monitor focuses on the first such device to be installed on a roof in the city of Brighton. The owner paid $3,900 to have his miniature windmill. While the reporter was present the device was generating 0.8 kilowatts, enough to run only a small electrical appliance. No wonder questions have been raised in Britain about whether these rooftop wind turbines can ever save enough money to pay for the original installation. Nevertheless, among urban dwellers in Britain who are very environmentally conscious these devices have become very popular. Whether this miniature windmill craze is simply folly, the latest symbol of environmentalism, or actually an important step in combating global warming has become a subject of debate among the British. From this side of the Atlantic it appears to me that the rooftop wind tubines are a positive development.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Have Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs Really Dropped Enough in Price?

An article in The New York Times says that the McKinsey Global Institute will release a study today that says that the rate of growth of energy consumption worldwide can be more than halved during the next 15 years through energy efficiency measures using currently available technology (e.g., compact fluorescent light bulbs). According to the study, both consumers and industry could save money by taking advantage of potential energy savings. Instead of the current projected annual growth rate of 2.2%, greater energy efficiency efforts would lead to a projected growth rate of 0.6%.

In discussing why consumers have been slow to replace conventional incandescent light bulbs with far more energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs the article says that “Years ago, these efficient light bulbs cost up to 10 times as much as conventional incandescent bulbs, and their light had a somewhat different hue. But today, the light spectrum has been corrected and compact fluorescents are only slightly more costly than conventional bulbs, yet they last 10 times as long and consume 75 percent less electricity. The overall financial advantage of using compact fluorescent bulbs is obvious and sizable, even if the initial purchase price is higher.” Only slightly more costly? At a visit at a Wal-Mart this year I found that a conventional light bulb sold in a 4-pack costs about 26 cents whereas an equivalent compact fluorescent bulb costs at least $3. Therefore, according to my calculations a fluorescent bulb costs about 12 times as much as a conventional bulb. If the gap in pricing has closed as the article contends I have so far been unable to locate any stores where this has taken place.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Increasing Rate of Carbon Emissions Confirmed

The BBC reports that the results of a report released a couple of weeks ago by the World Meteorological Organization showing that there has been a marked increase in global carbon emissions over the last 5 years has been confirmed by data just released by the Global Carbon Project. This latest news on carbon emissions thereby pretty much dashes any hopes that somehow the World Meteorological Organization had got it wrong. The latest data show that the annual rate of increase is 2.5% which is close to the 3.2% rate previously reported. The Global Carbon Project suspects that the increase in carbon emissions is largely due to charcoal burning in areas of Asia and Africa. To put this rate in context, during the 1990s the rate of increase was less than 1%. Clearly things are going in the wrong direction. Where this planet is headed is getting kind of scary.

Monday, November 27, 2006

U.S Edging Toward Coal-Fired Plant Building Binge

An article in US News & World Report says that "According to the Department of Energy, 154 coal plants are being proposed nationwide, enough to power 93 million homes." The utilities proposing these plants claim that they are just trying to meet the increasing demands for electricity while critics of the proposed plants contend that the utilities are trying to build as many of these plants as they can before greenhouse gas emissions regulations arrive on the scene. In any event, it will certainly be hard to convince the Chinese to slow down their rapid building of coal plants with this surge of coal plant proposals in our own backyard. All in all, with this large number of proposals for building new coal plants right here in the United States in the face of potential oncoming catastrophic climate change it is clear that the absence of wise leadership on the global warming issue in the White House is leaving all humanity in a position of extreme vulnerability.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

In Bio Town U.S.A. Global Warming Takes Back Seat to Energy Independence

Nightline on ABC last night ran an interesting segment on the small Indiana farming town of Reynolds that is trying to become completely energy independent. Their plan is centered on using pig waste to power everything from cars to TVs. It was pointed out that no one in the town mentioned combating global warming as a motiviation. Rather, a main motivation was becoming energy independent as a way of combating the threat of terrorism. It was easy to see that in this rural midwestern American community, which calls its plan Bio Town, U.S.A., that patriotism is an extremely strong motivating force. The inability to link actions to limit global warming to patriotism makes it more difficult politically for the U.S. to take action to reduce greenhouse gases. Success in limiting global warming would be beneficial for the U.S. but it would also help those countries that the Bush administration perceives to be enemies as well as those countries perceived to be our main economic competitors. For U.S. politicians who want to quickly address the global warming problem there appear to be some daunting challenges ahead.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Why Have Methane Levels Become Stable?

Back in September there was a report that atmospheric methane levels have stabilized since 1999 because so much swampy land was lost to either development or drought and not because of emission reductions from human sources based on measurements of methane emissions from various sources. However, the BBC now reports that scientists who have published a paper in the journal Geophysical Research Letters speculate that measures taken by humans to reduce methane emissions such as reducing methane released from gas pipelines, paddy fields, and landfill sites might be the explanation. It would be nice if our efforts to reduce methane emissions are really working but I am more inclined to believe the findings of the first report that blames the loss of swampy land.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Rooftop Solar Panels Nixed by Local Board

In the very upscale suburban village of Scarsdale, New York, the application of a couple who wanted to take advantage of alternative energy and install solar panels on the roof of their “cozy” new 8,000 square foot house was turned down by the Architectural Review Board. The reason for the rejection as reported by The Journal News was that “More than a dozen neighbors sent a petition to the board saying the solar panels were not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood and might cause glare. The Architectural Review Board agreed that the panels in question would "negatively impact the aesthetics of the community." I agree with the editorial comments in the paper about this issue which said that “The board should make it easier, not harder, for homeowners and homebuilders who are trying to be energy-responsible.” On the other hand, given the predicament we are in as the climate crisis builds an obvious question to raise is the following: How energy responsible is it to build an 8,000 square foot house in the first place?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Geoengineering Starting to Gain Respectability

One sure sign that attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale are failing is the recent increased interest in academic and government circles in climate manipulation through geoengineering. The Boston Globe has reported that this past weekend a wide range of intellectuals met to discuss how to go about researching strategies for geoengineering schemes to cool the Earth if necessary because of global warming. The two-day meeting was organized by NASA and Stanford University. One of the climate scientists at the meeting, Ken Caldeira from Stanford, said climate modeling shows that his idea of blocking 20 percent of the sunlight over the Arctic Ocean could restore sea ice. Although Caldeira’s idea and other ideas that have been advanced to cool the Earth by blocking sunlight may seem way too far out to be worth pursuing such ideas continue to gain ground as confidence in being able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally wanes. This loss of confidence is certainly easy to understand. It has been 18 years since NASA climate scientist James Hansen gained media attention by describing the dangers of global warming and 15 years since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scientifically documented the risk of not taking action and still no real progress has been made. In fact, it has been estimated that the annual rate of increase in global carbon emissions is several times higher than it was during the 1990s and the two biggest greenhouse gas polluters, the United States and China, are so far refusing to cap carbon emissions. We have to hope that that there will never be reason to attempt a geoengineering fix to the global warming problem but from all appeances the odds of it happening are slowly beginning to grow.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Climate Change Conference in Nairobi Failing to Clarify the Future

A report by Reuters on the happenings at the Climate Change conference in Nairobi, Kenya confirms what might have been expected, the rich and poor countries disagree on how to proceed and a number of countries are simply waiting until the U.S. has a new president in 2009. Whether the global warming problem is ever properly addressed at all seems to be boiling down to one question: will the United States provide strong leadership in 2009 or not? Obviously, the answer at this point is far from clear. From today’s perspective it seems uncertain whether global warming will be a major election issue in 2008. It is unclear what it would take to give global warming more visibility on the U.S. political map. Except in California, it was basically invisible as an issue during the recent election campaigns. For whatever reason, in the U.S. global warming has not achieved the status it deserves as a political issue. Time is unfortunately growing short to change that.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bush Taken to Court for Failure to Issue Climate Report

Where is the latest national climate assessment from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program? The Associated Press has reported that three environmental groups, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace, got tired of waiting for President Bush to produce the document and sued on the grounds that the report should have been issued in November 2004 according to the requirements of the Global Change Research Act of 1990 which calls for a national assessment every four years and the last one was issued in 2000. Let’s hope the courts move quickly on this because as climate scientists such as James Hansen from NASA have been explaining time is quickly running out to take action that can prevent catastrophic climate change. It seems obvious from all the recent climate science data that if the report were issued and the scientific judgments in it were untainted by the censorship of Bush political appointees that it would indicate that much stronger measures than Bush’s global warming policy which relies on purely voluntary measures are needed to avoid placing the long-term prospects of civilized human life on the planet Earth in jeopardy.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

First Carbon Tax in U.S. Approved

This should make former Vice President Al Gore happy, there is now a carbon tax in a U.S. municipality. Gore has been advocating such a tax and lo and behold a report from Reuters says that the voters in Boulder, Colorado, the home of the University of Colorado and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, have approved such a tax which is based on how much electricity is used. Most of the electricity in Boulder comes from coal-fired plants. The tax is waived for residents who choose to get their electricity from wind power. The revenue generated by the tax will be used for home and business energy audits and for giving homeowners expert advice on how to improve energy efficiency. If people take advantage of the advice they receive they should save money in the long run and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to Boulder Mayor Mark Ruzzin as quoted in USA Today, “The City Council authorized the ballot measure to fund a city plan to reduce greenhouse emissions 7% below 1990 levels. To accomplish that, Boulder would have to cut emissions 24% by 2012. About half of the city's emissions are attributed to burning fossil fuels for electricity.” Perhaps the passage of the measure can be to some extent explained by the Mayor’s observation that “We have probably more climate scientists living in Boulder than any other city in the world.”

Monday, November 13, 2006

U.S. Mayors Gather in Sundance, Utah for Meeting on Climate Protection

More than 30 U.S. mayors and a number of leading U.S. climate experts are attending a 3-day meeting on climate protection at the Sundance Preserve founded by actor and environmentalist Robert Redford. A major purpose of the meeting is to provide the mayors with the tools for effectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their communities. One particularly interesting item on the agenda is a 30-minute presentation by former Senator Gary Hart of Colorado which is scheduled for tomorrow. The title of the presentation is 100 Days of Climate Action: A Leadership Plan for the Next US President. I would like to be there myself to hear what former Senator Hart has to say.

Here is a list of most of the mayors who are attending:

Martin J. Chavez, Albuquerque, NM

Mark Begich, Anchorage, AK

Ellen O. Moyer, Annapolis, MD

Helen Klanderud, Aspen, CO

Will Wynn, Austin, TX

Elizabeth Kautz, Burnsville, MN

Sam Sallee, Cookeville, TN

T.M. Frank Cownie, Des Moines, IA

Roy D. Buol, Dubuque, IA

Dennis Walaker, Fargo, ND

Dan Coody, Fayetteville, AR

Graham Richard, Fort Wayne, IN

Pegeen Hanrahan, Gainesville, FL

Darryl Clare, Galt, CA

George Heartwell, Grand Rapids, MI

Carolyn Peterson, Ithaca, NY

RT Rybak, Minneapolis, MN

Kevin Burns, North Miami, FL

Roger Chase, Pocatello, ID

Rosemarie Ives, Redmond, WA

Heather Fargo, Sacramento, CA

Rocky Anderson, Salt Lake City, UT

Gavin Newsom, San Francisco, CA

Joseph T. McElveen, Sumter, SC

Bill Baarsma, Tacoma, WA

Glen D. Gilmore, Township of Hamilton, NJ

Scott Avedisian, Warwick, RI

Christopher Cabaldon, West Sacramento, CA

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Carbon Emissions Rate on the Rise

Carbon is being spewed out at a far greater increasing rate than just a few years ago. A news report in Nature says that “Global carbon emissions are now growing by 3.2% a year, according to results presented at an Earth science conference in Beijing on 9 November. That's four times higher than the average annual growth of 0.8% from 1990-99.” Of particular note is that China, which accounts for 16% of emissions, accounts for 40% of the increased rate. The news report says that “China plans to reduce the amount of its 'energy intensity', defined as the emissions per person per unit of GDP, by 20% by 2010, although it has no official emissions targets.”

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Report Urges Much Faster Action on Climate Change

A new report from the Institute of Public Policy Research of the UK says that steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are moving much too slow. The report says that to prevent global temperature from rising more than 2°C, which is considered to be the highest increase possible without extremely serious changes in climate occurring, carbon dioxide emissions would have to peak during the period of 2010 and 2013 and start declining by 4% to 5% by 2015 to 2020 so that by 2050 emissions would be 70% to 80% below 1990 levels.

Simon Retallack, the leader of the IPPR climate change group stated:
Above all, our research shows we urgently need to rethink our timetable for action. We do not have decades: we have less than ten years to stop the growth in global CO2.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Senator Barbara Boxer Announces Plans for Global Warming Policy

With the Democrats surprisingly winning not only the House of Representatives but the Senate as well in this week’s mid-term election the chairmanship of the Senate Environmental Public Works Committee will shift from Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who may be best known for standing on the Senate floor a few years ago and announcing that global warming was a great hoax, to Democrat Barbara Boxer of California, one the most pro-environmental members of the Senate. Confirmation that this change in chairmanship will mean a sweeping change in Committee policy on global warming came in a conference call with reporters yesterday. According to a report by the Associated Press, Boxer said that with regard to global warming, “Time is running out, and we need to move forward on this, the states are beginning to take steps, and we need to take steps was well.” Clearly this is quite a shift from Inhofe who spent his time on the issue blocking legislation to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Boxer said that for formulating policy she would use the recent California law for capping greenhouse gas emissions as a model.

Since Boxer will be Chairwoman of the Senate environment committee and not the President of the United States it still seems unlikely that there will be any major shift in U.S. policy on global warming until 2009 at the earliest when George W. Bush will finally, at long last, leave office. Hopefully, in 2009 there will still be time to act in order to avoid reaching what NASA climate scientist James Hansen calls the "tipping point."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Tropical Hydro May Be Large Greenhouse Gas Generator

Yesterday on EcoTalk, the national radio show hosted by Betsy Rosenberg, one of the guests, Patrick McCully, Executive Director of International Rivers Network, said that scientific studies have shown that building hydropower dams in tropical areas results in huge emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly methane, but also carbon dioxide. This of course is in direct contrast to the way we usually think about hydro which is as a clean energy source that is an alternative to burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. In the United States at least, most of criticism of hydro has revolved around environmental issues such as the loss of wild rivers and the filling up of spectacular canyons with water. According to McCully, the building of hydropower dams in the tropics creates a much different problem than building such dams here in a temperate climate. He said that in the tropics, various factors in the reservoirs created behind the dams such as high water temperatures and low oxygen levels at the bottom of the reservoirs result in large amounts of greenhouse gases being created and eventually released from bubbles when the water flows through the spillways. Also, in the tropics when the impounded water behind the dam floods the surrounding areas the thick vegetation dies and greenhouse gases are generated in the decomposition process. This appears to be an issue that deserves more attention as efforts are undertaken to find sources of energy that do not contribute to global warming.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Kyoto Protocol Projects Are Claimed to Threaten Indigenous People

Reuters reports that at a news conference at the UN talks on global warming in Nairobi, Kenya speakers for indigenous people from around the world described how clean energy projects backed by the UN to allow industrialized countries to meet their Kyoto Protocol targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the carbon market are threatening their way of life. The speakers claimed that the efforts to combat climate change through these projects, which the UN formally calls the Clean Development Mechanism, are equally as damaging to the indigenous people as the effects of climate change itself. Examples given of planned projects that will damage the natural environment included hydropower dams and plantations of fast growing trees. The European Commission’s chief climate official, Artur Runge-Metzger, is quoted as saying that “The negative effects are not intended by the Clean Development Mechanism” and that all views to improve the Clean Development Mechanism are welcome.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Vision of a Low-Carbon Future

One of the big questions about fighting global warming is whether solutions will involve drastic changes in Western lifestyles. In an essay in the Guardian Madeleine Bunting imagines a low-carbon future where free-wheeling Western lifestyles are a thing of the past.

Monday, November 06, 2006

CO2: Trees Taketh and Trees Giveth Away

Canada has vast forests and Canadian political leaders are counting on the trees of these forests to take up enough carbon dioxide to offset the carbon dioxide emitted by the burning of coal, oil, and gas in Canada when it comes to meeting their Kyoto Protocol targets. However, an article in the Ottawa Citizen points out that scientists have found that trees do not appear to take up carbon dioxide over time. Rather, their measurements in a black spruce forest in Canada show that at certain times trees do take in carbon dioxide but at other times tree give off carbon dioxide with the net effect being about zero change in carbon dioxide. The issue gets more complicated when it comes to planting new forests which can store carbon dioxide and the burning of forests which releases carbon dioxide and whether it is the short-term effects or the long-term effects on carbon dioxide levels that are being considered. It seems unlikely that there will be any consensus soon about the role of trees in combating global warming making the whole issue of offsetting carbon emissions with trees that much more confusing.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sun Shade Proposed for Global Warming Emergency

What happens if we don’t bring global warming under control and it becomes evident that catastrophic climate change is perhaps only a decade or so away? University of Arizona professor Roger Angel, an optics expert, thinks he may have the answer. His solution is described at Angel proposes that we launch trillions of small transparent free-flying discs, each about 2 feet in diameter and only 1/5000 of an inch thick, to form a 60,000 mile long cylindrical cloud several thousand miles in diameter situated lengthwise between the Earth and sun in the L-1 orbit which is an obit aligned with the sun. To get these objects up there Angel proposes using 20 electromagnetic launchers to launch the objects in stacks of one million at a time. Stacks would be launched every 5 minutes for 10 years. Once in orbit the discs should divert enough sunlight to reduce the amount of sunlight reaching Earth by about 2 percent which would produce enough cooling to counter the heating effects of a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. This proposal will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It appears that the threat of global warming has now reached the point where serious people are taking proposals like Angel’s seriously.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tropical Peat Bogs Overlooked as a Major Source of Greenhouse Gases

Has burning fossil fuels been getting a bad rap for being the most important human source of greenhouse gas emissions? Certainly we have been led to believe that burning these fuels is the main culprit but in a report from Reuters Marcel Silvius from the nonprofit organization Wetlands International says that a Dutch research institute has found that the greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands in Southeast Asia are much greater than emissions from burning fossil fuels in the major polluting countries. The release of carbon dioxide from peat bogs occurs when these peatlands are either cleared or burnt. According to the article, if these peat bogs are taken into account, the country of Indonesia would jump up from 21st place to 3rd place right behind the U.S. and China as the world’s biggest greenhouse gas polluters and Malaysia would not be far behind.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Urgent Appeal from EcoTalk Radio Show

This message arrived in my e-mail yesterday:
Dear Friends of the Planet,
Did you know you now have your own national radio show -- devoted exclusively to environmental challenges and sustainable solutions? EcoTalk with Betsy Rosenberg has expanded to a daily format and is heard across the nation five days a week on AM radio (Air America Radio Network) and XM Satellite Radio, streamed on the Internet, and podcast through iTunes. Nowhere else will you hear the voices behind green news, the eco-visionaries who deserve to be in the headlines but are overlooked by mainstream media, as well as the inside story about policy and politicians - and the decisions that have a direct impact on our health, the world’s resources, and what we may or may not be leaving to future generations.

We are writing to you because we urgently need your help on three fronts:

First, its ratings season! Now is the time for you and your friends to tune in to your environment through EcoTalk. These conversations are relevant to everyone who eats, drinks or breathes! To find a local station, go to <> or listen on iTunes -- and then forward this letter to help spread the word about EcoTalk’s powerful, "tree-free" interview program. If your local radio station doesn’t carry EcoTalk yet, you can call the program director and ask them to air EcoTalk. Ratings matter - because that’s what attracts sponsors, and those sponsors will allow us to remain on the air so we can continue to green the red and blue states one show at a time.

Second, and a special request to our Bay Area friends -- EcoTalk’s flagship station, KQKE, 960 AM San Francisco is currently reshuffling its lineup in light of Air America’s financial reorganization. Please let Bob Agnew, KQKE’s program director, hear from you ASAP at and ask him to keep EcoTalk on the air each evening!

Finally, EcoTalk needs sponsors and funding to remain on the air! We have an incredible, targeted national audience and want to continue spreading the word. EcoTalk derives all of its revenues from sponsors, partners and foundation support. If you know of any businesses or environmental organizations interested in advertising or partnering with EcoTalk, please send us an email, at Every $5,000 we receive will keep EcoTalk on the air across the country for another week – it’s that simple. We are also immediately seeking individual investors or donations as we restructure, expand and grow the business – as well as foundation support for our Environmental Journalism Program.

Can we count on your support? Please send any testimonials, sponsor leads, or investment inquiries to and any monetary contributions to EcoTalk, P.O. Box 29025, San Francisco, CA 94129. Questions? Call our office (415) 561-2165.
With tremendous gratitude, warm regards, and more than a little urgency,
~ The EcoTalk Team

Investigations Launched on Global Warming Censorship by Bush Administration

The Associated Press reports that inspectors general from the Commerce Department and NASA have begun investigating whether government scientists who study global warming have had their voices muzzled and research censored by the Bush administration. Word about the investigations came from Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. There have been a number of reports about censorship of scientific findings by the Bush administration but these investigations may uncover material that documents what has really has gone on in an effort to suppress scientific information for political purposes.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Stern Report Fails to Faze White House

The report released this week by Nicholas Stern describing likely devastating economic effects that will occur because of global warming if the business as usual approach continues turned out not to be a wake up call for the Bush administration which according to an article in the Telegraph brushed it off as merely another “contribution” to the growing stack of studies on global warming. The reaction, or lack there of, from the White House was pretty much expected as was the lack of alarm from the energy industry and the conservative think tanks. All this absence of concern provides more evidence that nothing much will happen at the federal level about fighting global warming during the time remaining in Bush’s second term as President.

The Telegraph article also gives the perspectives of two more large greenhouse gas polluters, China and India. Neither viewpoints are encouraging.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bush Blasted for Censoring Information on Climate

The Rutland Herald has reported that at an international conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists held in Burlington, Vermont, home state Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy attacked the Bush administration for withholding important information on climate change as well as other environmental problems from the public. Another speaker who voiced dismay over the extent of government secrecy was NASA climate scientist James Hansen who warned that “I think people are unaware how close we are to the tipping point. That’s not speculation. The science is clear.”

Hansen has been at odds for some time with the White House since he called for making prompt reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming. Hansen pointed out that the reason the administration is withholding needed scientific information from the public is that revealing the information would lead to policy implications that they are against. Basically it appears that Bush administration would rather go down with their ideology that opposes government regulation of business intact than take action to save us from a growing climate crisis.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Europeans Not Walkin’ the Walk on Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The leading advocates of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Europeans, seem to be better at talking about reducing emissions than actually doing it according to the latest European Union projections for meeting the EU target for the original 15 members of an 8% reduction below 1990 levels. The Guardian reports that at the moment EU-15 countries are on course to achieve a mere 0.6% reduction below 1990 levels by 2010.

This lack of progress by the Europeans does not bode well for the fight to stave off serious climate change. The Europeans need to be able to tell the United States something to the effect that if we can do it you can do it. Also, advocates of emissions reductions in the United States will require all the ammunition they can get for countering the tactics of the powerful oil and coal industries which have such an influential role on government decision-making in Washington, DC.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Global Warming: The Great Vanishing Election Issue

While the movie The Great Warming is set to open around the country on November 3rd, the subject of the movie, global warming, as pointed out in a recent article in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, has largely vanished as a political issue as we near the election. Instead of trumpeting solutions to global warming candidates are busy making claims on how we can achieve energy independence. Perhaps energy independence in the political world is really a code word for global warming. Then again, perhaps not. In any case, the way things are going neither seems likely to be solved in the near future, if at all. Of course energy independence and global warming are not the same issues. We will probably do quite well even if we remain energy dependent, which is overwhelmingly likely. Conversely, if we fail to deal with the global warming problem the outlook is not good. In fact, from all indications it is downright bleak. It would seem that a challenge for environmentalists is to get global warming into the political dialog and particularly to do so before the 2008 election rolls around.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Cut Emissions or Face Economic Devastation

The Guardian reports that former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern will release a detailed report next Monday which shows that unless greenhouse gas emissions are cut to deal with global warming the economies of the world will plummet into deep recession as a result of climate change. The report contains data derived from analyses to the year 2100. It is of course difficult to predict the effect of any report on a particular government leader but it is probably a safe assumption that the effect of the report on George W. Bush, who has claimed that cutting emissions will be economically harmful, will be negligible.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Bill McKibben Supports Carbon Tax

Support for a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions seems to be growing. First it was Al Gore last month at a speech in New York City and now writer Bill McKibben in an article called How Close to Catastrophe? that will be published next month in the New York Review of Books, but which is available for reading now because the New York Review of Books allowed it to be posted on McKibben articulates the danger posed by global warming in very scary terms when he says “But very few understand with any real depth that a wave large enough to break civilization is forming, and that the only real question is whether we can do anything at all to weaken its force.” McKibben’s reason for advocating a carbon tax is as follows: “Almost every idea that might bring us a better future would be made much easier if the cost of fossil fuel was higher -- if there was some kind of tax on carbon emissions that made the price of coal and oil and gas reflect its true environmental cost.”

Monday, October 23, 2006

Seven More U.S. Mayors Join Fight Against Global Warming

Mayors of U.S. cities are continuing to sign up at a rapid pace to take action against global warming. In the last two weeks seven more mayors have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement according to the Web site of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels who launched the initiative last year. The additional seven mayors brings the total to 320. In this agreement the mayors pledge to support the following:

A. We urge the federal government and state governments to enact policies and programs to meet or beat the target of reducing global warming pollution levels to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, including efforts to: reduce the United States’ dependence on fossil fuels and accelerate the development of clean, economical energy resources and fuel-efficient technologies such as conservation, methane recovery for energy generation, waste to energy, wind and solar energy, fuel cells, efficient motor vehicles, and biofuels;

B. We urge the U.S. Congress to pass bipartisan greenhouse gas reduction legislation that includes 1) clear timetables and emissions limits and 2) a flexible, market-based system of tradable allowances among emitting industries; and

C. We will strive to meet or exceed Kyoto Protocol targets for reducing global warming pollution by taking actions in our own operations and communities such as:

1. Inventory global warming emissions in City operations and in the community, set reduction targets and create an action plan.

2. Adopt and enforce land-use policies that reduce sprawl, preserve open space, and create compact, walkable urban communities;

3. Promote transportation options such as bicycle trails, commute trip reduction programs, incentives for car pooling and public transit;

4. Increase the use of clean, alternative energy by, for example, investing in “green tags”, advocating for the development of renewable energy resources, recovering landfill methane for energy production, and supporting the use of waste to energy technology;

5. Make energy efficiency a priority through building code improvements, retrofitting city facilities with energy efficient lighting and urging employees to conserve energy and save money;

6. Purchase only Energy Star equipment and appliances for City use;

7. Practice and promote sustainable building practices using the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program or a similar system;

8. Increase the average fuel efficiency of municipal fleet vehicles; reduce the number of vehicles; launch an employee education program including anti-idling messages; convert diesel vehicles to bio-diesel;

9. Evaluate opportunities to increase pump efficiency in water and wastewater systems; recover wastewater treatment methane for energy production;

10. Increase recycling rates in City operations and in the community;

11. Maintain healthy urban forests; promote tree planting to increase shading and to absorb CO2; and

12. Help educate the public, schools, other jurisdictions, professional associations, business and industry about reducing global warming pollution.

Some actions that cities have already taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are described in a report by the Associated Press.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Call to Action on Global Warming by the Religious Right

As concerns about global warming have been increasing over at least the last 20 years to the point of outright alarm the religious right has remained focused on other issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research. However, it looks like finally many of these religious fundamentalists are waking up to the danger of accumulating greenhouse gases. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Christian Coalition and the National Association of Evangelicals are announcing a Call to Action on the global warming issue in a number of states as the election on November 7th approaches. Obviously this must be making Republican strategist Karl Rove somewhat nervous.

Bill Moyers’ recent PBS show Is God Green? showed some glimpses into this transition that many evangelicals are undergoing as they are beginning to respond to the dangers of global warming by deciding to join the fight to avert potential disaster. It could be that rather than being certain voters for the Republican ticket in 2008 the votes of these people who are now deeply concerned about global warming might be up for grabs.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

New Global Warming Book Says Time Is Running Out

Former Guardian environment correspondent Paul Brown has written a book on global warming which is titled Global Warning: The Last Chance for Change. It documents that there is little time left to flip the switch from increasing greenhouse gas emissions to decreasing greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale if we are to avoid a likely catastrophic change in climate. This looks like a book that every top executive at ExxonMobil should read cover to cover.

Here is a brief excerpt:
The phrase "tipping point" is heard a lot more from scientists. This is where a small amount of warming sets off unstoppable changes, for example the melting of the ice caps. Once the temperature rises a certain amount then all the ice caps will melt. The tipping point in many scientists' view is the 2˚C [about 4˚F] rise that the EU has adopted as the maximum limit that mankind can risk. Beyond that, as unwelcome changes in the earth's reaction to extra warmth continue, it is theoretically possible to trigger runaway climate change, making the earth's atmosphere so different that most of life would be threatened.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Add California to Northeast CO2 Cap and Trade System

The Associated Press has reported that a visit to New York City by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has resulted in the governor deciding to have California join six northeastern states (it should be seven when Maryland joins next year) in a program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by power plants. Under this program, power plants are allowed to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide and those plants that exceed their limit can buy credits from plants that do not reach their limit. Whether this type of market trading scheme is effective for capping carbon dioxide emissions remains to be seen.

The following analysis of the criticism of emissions trading comes from the PBS Online NewsHour:

Not all agree that the current cap-and-trade proposals are the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ellerman [Danny Ellerman, Executive Director of The Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Reseach at MIT] divides critics of emissions trading into two groups: those that oppose putting a price on carbon and those that prefer taxes or a command-and-control approach over emissions trading.

"In the U.S. at least, I think it is fair to say that companies would prefer emissions trading to any other alternative if they are going to be required to take action to address some environmental problem," wrote Ellerman in an e-mail.

The complexity of any trading program makes it difficult for people understand and also difficult for them to follow. It requires setting up a detailed registry of emissions and a complicated system of accounting.

Because trading works in some sectors and not others, there are complaints about the fairness of regulating certain sectors such as power plants when greenhouse emissions come from the entire economy. Environmentalists and politicians are pushing for trading programs as part of a broad spectrum of policies tailored to each sector.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Michigan Religious Leaders Take on Global Warming

Michigan is the headquarters of the American auto industry which for years has led a successful fight against raising fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles. This is the same auto industry that invented gas-guzzling luxurious SUVs which now clog up our highways and spew out far more carbon dioxide per mile than traditional cars that have to share the roads with these behemoths whose drivers seem so oblivious to warnings about global warming and climate change. The inspiration for this invention came from trying to a find a way to circumvent the fuel efficiency standards for cars. Since SUVs are classified as light trucks they are not counted in the fleet average for cars. Good old American ingenuity. Given this association between Michigan and global warming it is particularly interesting to read an article in The New York Times about a Catholic priest who is fighting global warming in a working class suburb of Detroit. This priest has placed some solar panels and a small wind turbine on the roof of the rectory of his church. He is also very involved with a religious association that is showing films on global warming this month to thousands of congregations throughout the country. The article also describes environmental efforts in Michigan by a rabbi of a Conservative synagogue and a Catholic religious order for women.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Twin Cities Catholics Confront Global Warming

Religious groups have not been prominent in the struggle to take action against global warming but that is finally changing. More evidence of this shift comes from a report in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune which describes an effort being started by the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul to find socially equitable solutions to global warming. Hopefully this type of effort will translate into a political shift that succeeds in electing a president in 2008 who is willing to lead an all-out effort to fight global warming. If the election results in a victory for someone like George W. Bush efforts around the world to keep atmospheric greenhouse gas levels from increasing to levels that will cause catastrophic climate change will be futile.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Phoenix Has Explained Absence

In my previous post I pointed out that Phoenix, Arizona could not be found among the list of U.S. cities that have joined climate protection initiatives for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. In wandering through the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities website I found an explanation for the absence of Phoenix in a letter written by Karen O’Regan, Environmental Programs Manager for the City of Phoenix, which was posted last spring. Here is a portion of what she wrote:

After careful consideration, we have decided not to participate in the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s Climate Change Protection Agreement. The City of Phoenix is actively involved in wide range of programs and projects that address climate change. However, we believe that the inventory and tracking requirements of the Agreement will require extensive staff time and significant new funding for specialized consultant assistance. We feel that our limited public resources are better spent on implementing the programs that will directly impact climate change.

We are also concerned that the Mayor’s Agreement states that participating cities will strive to meet or exceed the Kyoto Protocol targets reducing emissions to seven percent below the 1990 levels by 2012. The cities that have had the greatest success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions are those who have municipal-owned electric utilities. Those cities are able to shift power production from coal to wind, solar and hydro-power or to implement customer incentive programs, to achieve significant emission reductions. Although the City of Phoenix is aggressively implementing a wide range of energy conservation and sustainability programs, the potential for emission reductions is much lower because we do not generate or sell power. The bulk of the emissions in the valley are related to vehicle miles traveled and development. Consequently, our focus is on smart growth policies, transportation improvements such as light rail and expanded bus service, energy conservation programs and building codes, and other sustainable practices including recycling and water conservation. Many of these activities are very difficult to quantify with respect to emission reductions.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Where Is Phoenix?

Among the nine cities in the United States with a population exceeding 1 million only one is not listed as either having a mayor who has signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement or has joined the international Cities for Climate Protection Campaign. That city is Phoenix, Arizona, the nation’s sixth largest city. The next largest city in size that so far has not joined either climate protection initiative is Detroit which once had a population of well over 1 million but has now dipped below that mark.

Only four states, Alabama, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming, do not have even one municipality with a mayor who has signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Not surprisingly, California leads the states with mayors who have signed on, now having a total of 59. Perhaps surprisingly, New Jersey is the state with the second most mayors, with 25 so far signing the agreement. However, in terms of number of Americans represented by the agreement, New York state is right up there with California as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s signature alone represents over 8 million people.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Buyers of Carbon Offsets Beware

The Guardian has reported that an investigation by their newspaper has shown how one can get ripped off by fighting global warming. It involves the buying of carbon offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions one may be responsible for. Typically the offset is created by projects that reduce carbon dioxide emissions or increase carbon dioxide storage. Such reductions in carbon dioxide are then sold as carbon credits. The article says there are suspicions of schemes such as selling the same ton of carbon to several different customers. If all this is true then it appears that claims of being “carbon neutral” by various corporations as a result of buying carbon offsets should be looked at with skepticism.

Friday, October 06, 2006

U.S. Cities Signing Up to Protect Climate

According to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels’ website, as of October 5th a total of 313 mayors of U.S. cities representing 51.2 million Americans have now signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. That means 18 mayors of cities have signed up since September 15th, a rate of about one mayor a day signing the agreement in which they pledge to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide in their city to 7% or more below 1990 levels by the year 2012, the Kyoto Protocol target. In addition, there are other U.S. cities participating in the international Cities for Climate Protection Campaign that have agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. All this may be characterized as a tiny step toward adopting the type of measures that are needed to limit global warming to an acceptable level, yet, it is a least a step which is an improvement on the business as usual mentality which in the past has been clearly dominant.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

“Green” Park Designed by Maya Lin

The architect Maya Lin is best known for her design of a monument to the past, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. In contrast, her recently dedicated work constructed in a wooded area on the campus of Manhattanville College here in Westchester County, New York, speaks to the future. This work, which was described in The Journal News, is an environmental park and it incorporates many building design features that need to be used on a widescale basis if we are to avoid overheating the planet. This project includes a small building that was a dilapidated chapel but now is being refurbished with a glass roof designed by Lin. Nearby is a classroom she designed that is made from recycled materials and heated with solar energy. The classroom also has a heat pump which uses geothermal principles.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Wind Turbine in the Backyard

Most Americans would probably cringe at the thought of our landscapes dotted with wind turbines but such a situation seems acceptable in Denmark where it not unusual to have such an electricity generating device in your backyard. Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, went to Denmark herself to look over the situation with regard to offshore wind turbines and recently described her findings on Ecotalk, the Air America Radio show. She found that the Danes have concluded that it is better to have wind turbines all over the place including offshore than to have coal and nuclear power plants. If this Danish view swept the world dealing with the threat of global warming would obviously become more manageable.

Here in the northeast with our beautiful green hills and mountains technological intruders of large dimension are not warmly welcomed in many places. It seems that no cell tower gets plopped on top of a hill without a good fight. Some are camouflaged as trees to make their presence more acceptable. There is a major fight going on now in Massachusetts about siting wind turbines off the Cape Cod coast. Beinecke pointed out in the interview that the Danes have a long experience of living with windmills in their midst whereas Americans do not which she said probably accounts for the difference in attitudes.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Keene Is Keen on Cutting Carbon

A number of American cities have decided not to wait for the federal government to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are taking action on their own. One city that seems to be doing more than most is Keene, New Hampshire. In 2000 the City of Keene joined the worldwide Cities for Climate Protection Campaign. Joining the campaign meant that Keene had to analyze its emission of greenhouse gases for the year 1995 and predict what the emissions would be in the target year of 2015 if no actions were taken to reduce emissions. It also meant that the city had to set a greenhouse gas emission reduction target and devise a plan to meet the target and then implement the plan.

The city determined that in 1995, counting only carbon dioxide from combustion of fossil fuel and methane from decay of landfill waste, that it was responsible for about 204,529 tons of carbon dioxide. This worked out to 9.02 tons per person. It then determined that if no action was taken that in 2015 there would be 257,716 tons of carbon dioxide emitted which came out to 10.3 tons per person. The city set their target goal as a 10% reduction in carbon dioxide from levels in 1995 which was calculated to be 184,076 tons. This meant that to go from the predicted level in 2015 to 10% below the level in 1995 they had to reduce 70,860 tons of carbon dioxide.

The city then determined measures that had already been begun which could reduce greenhouse gases and what new measures would be needed by both the municipal government and the community to reach their target. In addition, they figured out how many years it would take to get a full return on the investments and what the annual cost savings would be for each measure taken.

According to the executive summary of the plan successfully implementing the plan would not be easy:

“Achieving a 10% reduction below 1995 levels will be challenging. It will take each new and existing measure to reach it. It will take the commitment of the City government to provide adequate funding to implement the actions outlined here. It will take the commitment of businesses, small and large, to pay attention to energy consumption and waste generation, and strive to reduce it. It will take the commitment of each individual citizen to make the choices to drive less, conserve energy, produce less garbage, and recycle more. No one entity has the responsibility or the ability to do it alone.”

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Price Tag for Saving Our Planet

Saving the Earth from global warming might cost a lot less in economic terms than many have contended. Here is the price: the loss of one year of economic growth over the next four decades. At least that is the price according to consultants at PricewaterhouseCoopers as reported in the Guardian. The goal would be to stabilize atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide at 450 parts per million by 2050, a level that many climatologists say would result in some climate change but not of catastrophic dimensions. If there is a catch it is that the effort would have to begin without delay. Of course, the obvious question is how could that happen with the White House being occupied by George W. Bush? My only answer is that it could possibly begin in 2009, a delay of about 3 years. In any event, the consultants contend that the combination of energy efficiency, more use of renewables, and capturing carbon would do the trick. Nuclear energy would not have to be part of the equation. The seven leading economic powers (G7) would take the lead in reducing emissions while countries that have only recently begun to take off economically (E7) such as China and India could have a modest increase in emissions.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Methane Levels Will Rise Again

The mystery of why atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas methane have basically remained the same since 1999 may have been solved. According to a team of scientists reporting in Nature we would be mistaken to believe that somehow a harmonious balance has at last been achieved between human and natural methane sources and methane sinks. No such luck. These scientists who measured air samples around the world found that methane emissions from human sources were not reduced to the level of sustainability but rather the effects of increased emissions were hidden because the amount of swampy land was reduced either because of drought or changes in land use. Less swampy land means less methane-producing bacteria. So, the explanation wasn't different diets for cows, more capping of landfills, or improved industrial processes. An atmospheric chemist from Germany, Jos Lelieveld, sums it up nicely "Clearly this is not good news. Rather, wetlands are expected to become larger in northern regions, for example, as areas of permafrost melt. Scientists fear that this might release vast amounts of the greenhouse gas." Lelieveld also offered his opinion on the best way to curb global warming saying that "the easiest and most time-effective way to control climate change is to start acting on methane."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Race Against Extinction

While Americans keep migrating south to the warmer Sunbelt states many species of animals and plants in this hemisphere are migrating in the opposite direction in search of cooler regions because of global warming. In a BBC News article NASA scientist James Hansen is quoted as saying " If we do not slow down the rate of global warming, many species are likely to become extinct. In effect, we are pushing them off the planet." Hansen was part of a research team which showed that the world now appears to be as warm or warmer than it has been since the last major ice age ended 12,000 years ago. The scientists said that the animal and plant migrations are not keeping pace with the increase in temperature. Hansen further warned that if the global temperature increased by another 2°C or 3°C "we will likely see changes that make Earth a different planet to the one that we know."

Monday, September 25, 2006

Uh-oh, Positive Feedback Triggered

During the 1990s there were warnings from scientists that rising global temperatures could trigger the release of vast amounts of the greenhouse gas methane from melting of frozen bogs in Siberia and other arctic areas. This would create a global warming feedback mechanism as methane would cause increased global temperatures which in turn would release more methane and so on. Unfortunately for us it appears that this very worrisome situation may be happening. The latest evidence comes a group of scientists who detected increased amounts of methane being released from a thawing lake in Siberia. In their September 7th article in the journal Nature they reported that methane was being released at five times the rate of previous estimates.

The good news about methane is that methane molecules tend to last for a much shorter time in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide molecules. The bad news about methane is that methane molecules trap much more heat than carbon dioxide molecules. If this positive feedback mechanism has really been triggered then that's very bad news.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Eureka! CO2 Storage Problem Is Solved

August 7, 2006 may someday go down as one of the most noteworthy days in the fight against global warming. That was the date that scientists from MIT and Columbia published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which they showed that by injecting carbon dioxide into deep-sea sediments several hundred meters below the sediment surface that carbon dioxide could be permanently stored regardless of geological events due to physical and chemical changes which occur at high pressures and low temperatures. According to these scientists, using their method would make it essentially impossible for carbon dioxide to escape. Moreover, they claim that the storage capacity of the deep-sea sediments is so large that carbon dioxide emissions at current levels in the United States could be stored for thousands of years. Further studies will be carried out to test the method and other scientists may find holes in their arguments so there is a long way to go before anyone can announce that there is feasible method for storing carbon dioxide emissions. However, let's hope these guys are on to something. With news on global warming getting grimmer and grimmer this appears to offer at least some hope that there could actually be an exit out of this mess.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Cool Cities Campaign

A few weeks ago I signed up as an activist with the Sierra Club's Cool Cities campaign to fight global warming. The main goal of this campaign is to extend the initiative of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels who last year on February 16th, the day that the Kyoto Protocol international global warming treaty went into effect, introduced an agreement at the U.S. Conference of Mayors which pledges mayors who sign to reduce the level of carbon dioxide emissions in their cities to 7% below 1990 levels by 2012. This is the same percentage reduction in carbon dioxide emissions that the U.S. would have been committed to had our leaders signed the Kyoto Protocol. According to Mayor Nickel's website, as of September 15, 2006 there are 295 mayors representing 49.4 Americans who have taken on the challenge. The Sierra Club is trying to get more mayors to sign on to the agreement and to get those who do sign up to live up to their pledge.

I guess you could say this is a bottom up approach to the global warming problem. Certainly the top down approach hasn't worked. For many years environmentalists have been trying to get the government to raise CAFE standards for motor vehicles without any meaningful success. Our motor vehicles are no more fuel efficient today than they were two decades ago. Perhaps most importantly, all efforts to get the U.S. to sign the Kyoto Protocol failed.

If a bottom up approach is to succeed it must ultimately reach the top, in this case the federal government. Only the federal government can take the steps needed to cap greenhouse gas emissions for the entire country and only the federal government can work with other countries to cap greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Based on what has transpired with regard to the global warming problem in this country over the past two decades, that is, failure of the federal government to take action despite numerous lobbying efforts by the environmental community, the bottom up approach may be our best hope.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sunlight Reflection Scheme Inevitable

Last Thursday on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered they interviewed a scientist who had just published a paper that described a scheme for temporarily halting global warming by injecting material into the atmosphere similarly to what occurs during some large volcanic eruptions. When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991 so much ash was thrown into the atmosphere that there was slight global cooling for a few years due to reflection of sunlight which counteracted the ongoing global warming. The idea is not to solve the global warming problem but to buy us time until we can adequately reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

It is difficult to argue with the notion that we need to buy time. After all, climate experts say that to have atmospheric carbon dioxide level off at a concentration where the further increase in global temperature would only be about 1°F or 0.5°C the amount of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide would have to be reduced by about 70% from 1990 levels. Even that would cause considerable climate change. Moreover, NASA scientist James Hansen has said that to prevent additional increases in global temperature beyond 1°F we must begin to take major action within the next 10 years. Even the most optimistic among us would we hard pressed to be positive about success in these circumstances. The pessimism must be growing because during the interview it was revealed that some climate scientists now believe it is inevitable that some type of scheme to increase the reflection of sunlight worldwide will eventually be attempted. Proposed schemes to reflect sunlight globally, which seemed so farfetched only a short time ago, now appear to be gaining traction in the scientific community as the coming reality.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Nuclear Power Not Answer

Antinuclear activist Helen Caldicott kicked off her book tour this past Sunday in White Plains, New York for her new book Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer. In this book she shows why people such as famous British scientist James Lovelock who says in his new book The Revenge of Gaia that nuclear power is an answer to global warming are wrong. Caldicott effectively counters the slogan by the nuclear power industry that nuclear power is “clean and green.” She shows why tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide are produced from burning fossil fuel when nuclear power is viewed from the mining of ore containing uranium all the way to the disposal of high-level radioactive waste. The amount of carbon dioxide rapidly rises as higher grade ore becomes scarcer and lower grade ore is mined and in the building of new nuclear power plants. She also explains in detail the many potential situations of human exposure to radioactivity related to nuclear power. Those environmentalists who have been reported to be embracing nuclear power to fight global warming need to read Caldicott's book.