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 TomDispatch.com. 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.”