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.