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.