Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Explanation for End of Last Severe Global Warming Episode

The last time there was a severe global warming the episode, which was 55 million years ago, it may have been terminated by an increase in ocean plant life. The Discovery Channel news site reports that a team of scientists led by Adina Payton from the University of California at Santa Cruz arrived at this conclusion as a result of finding increased accumulations of barite (barium sulfate) in the ocean sediment. Barite forms when barium, which is in animal tissues, combines with sulfur. This reaction occurs when the barium saturates water, and therefore, when large amounts of dead plants have accumulated on the ocean bottom. The scientists published their findings in the journal Geology. The Discovery article quotes climate expert James Zachos, who was not a member of the research team, as saying that “this process is slow and thus lags the buildup of carbon in the atmosphere." Slow is right. According to Payton, the process of barium accumulation lasted for about 170,000 years. Nevertheless, the findings of this study might give a boost to proponents of schemes to sequester carbon dioxide by spurring the growth of algae or seaweed. Such schemes should even seem more attractive in the future if global efforts to reduce carbon emissions come up empty.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Positive Feedback Releasing Methane Drove Global Warming 55 Million Years Ago

When climate scientists say that global warming will become unstoppable if we fail to soon reduce greenhouse emissions what they mean is that positive feedback mechanisms will kick in which will make our future actions to limit emissions basically irrelevant. Science Daily reports that there is now evidence from a warming period 55 million years that warming was amplified by a release of methane from icy methane hydrates in sediments below the sea. A team of researchers reported in a letter published in Nature that evidence of such an event was found in sediments in the ocean floor off New Jersey. During this global warming period of the past global temperatures rose 6 C (almost 11 F). This research seems to provide yet more evidence that unless measures are quickly adopted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally we are headed for a catastrophic future.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

2007 on Course for Fifth Warmest Year

According to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2007 will wind up as the fifth warmest year since recordings of global temperatures began. If this prediction is accurate 2007 will edge out 2006 for a spot in the top five. The NCDC says that the temperatures so far this year rank it as the fourth warmest on record but La NiƱa conditions will prevent it from staying ahead of 2003. Seven of the eight warmest years, counting this year, have occurred since 2001 suggesting an ominous trend. The NCDC says that global temperatures are increasing by about 0.15 C (0.27 F) per decade which is three times as fast as the average increase in global temperature last century. It is projected that if greenhouse gases from human sources continue to increase that the the global temperature will keep increasing by about 0.15 C per decade throughout the rest of the century well into the range where predictions of catastrophic climate change would occur.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sea Level Rise May Be Double Previous Predictions

The greater than predicted melting of ice from increasing temperatures that has been observed recently has made it very difficult for scientists to predict with confidence how high sea levels will rise during the rest of this century. According to an article in Reuters scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change have suggested that the increase in sea level would be about 32 inches at most. This figure has now been challenged by a report published in Nature Geoscience which predicts a potential rise of as high as 64 inches. The research team, led by Eelco Rohling of National Oceanography Centre in Britain, made the estimate based on studies of the interglacial of about 124,000 to 119,000 years ago. During this period sea level reached about 20 feet above the present level. The researchers, who found that each century during this period there was an average sea level rise of 64 inches, contend that their study is the first to provide really good documentation of how quickly sea level can rise.
This report seems to continue a trend of mostly bad scientific news. It was just reported a few days ago that the Arctic may be free of ice during the summer in as little as 5 years. This time frame has quickly shrunk from a 100 years to 35 years to about 60 months. It is logical that these types of reports would spur leaders to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible but this does not appear to be the case.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bali Summit Leaves Lots of Unanswered Questions in Its Wake

It appears that US did not succeed in completely wrecking the UN Summit in Bali on global warming that just ended. According to a report in The Guardian, after opposition to the refusal of the US to cooperate grew so intense it finally conceded a point and agreed to stop opposing technological and financial assistance to the poorer counties. But the US did succeed in removing from the final document all references to specific reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which probably was its main objective. So while the process moves forward, perhaps concluding with a final agreement by the end of 2009, it remains unclear where the process is headed. The science says that at a minimum greenhouse gas emissions must be stabilized by 2015 and reductions of about 80% from 1990 levels must occur by 2050. There is nothing in the final Bali document to acknowledge these goals which are aimed at preventing catastrophic climate change.

Politically, it appears that to have any hope of avoiding this impending catastrophe three things have to happen in the US elections next November: the Democrats retain control of the House, the Democrats win the Senate by several seats, and a Democrat or John McCain is elected president. Unless those three things fall into place there doesn’t seem to be any reason to continue to hold out hope. Even if those three things happen there still is no reason for any optimism. At the moment, the problem of limiting climate change seems overwhelming.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

IPPC Leader Says Developing Countries Need Increase in Carbon Emissions

Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ICPCC) recently said when the IPCC released its fourth report of the year that "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment." It is hard to but it better than that. However, it appears the “we” which Pachauri refers to includes only the developed countries because in a statement made at the world conference on climate change being held in Bali, Indonesia he said that to get millions people out of poverty developing nations need to boost carbon emissions. In an AFP article Pachauri is quoted as saying that “If you have the case of India, a half billion people who do not even have electricity, what mitigation (of carbon emissions) can you carry out?”

Pachauri’s view is opposite to the conclusion from a report by the Center for Global Development (CGD) which I described yesterday. That report said that an increase in carbon emissions by developing counties to get large populations out of poverty would result in catastrophic climate change regardless of what developed countries did. Perhaps the president of the CGD, Nancy Birdsall, has the answer to this dilemma when she says as reported in DailyIndia that “To avoid a shared global disaster, we in the rich countries need to cut our own emissions quickly and do much more to help developing countries shift to a low-carbon future while at the same time meeting the just aspirations of their people for a better life.” The latter task is likely to be a tough sell in the developed countries but it may be our best hope.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Report Says Developing Countries Need to Curtail Carbon Emissions

The idea that severe climate change can be prevented by developed countries sharply cutting back on carbon emissions while developing countries continue to increase emissions to lift their populations out of poverty has been dealt a blow by a report from the Center for Global Development which concluded that the developing countries too must back and soon. According to, the report, which has the long title of “Another Inconvenient Truth: A Carbon-Intensive South Faces Environmental Disaster, No Matter What the North Does,” found that even if emissions from the North suddenly dropped to zero emissions from the South alone would drive atmospheric carbon dioxide levels past 450 ppm by 2060, generally regarded as the point where climate change has catastrophic consequences. The lead author, David Wheeler, is quoted as saying that “Our results reveal the dangerous fallacy in the notion that the South can utilize carbon-intensive growth to dramatically increase incomes--a kind of last-minute, fossil-fueled development push--before the onset of catastrophic climate change.” To make matters worse, Wheeler claims that the conclusions of the report are on the conservative side because it only included carbon dioxide emissions, leaving out other greenhouse gases and the effects of positive feedbacks. All in all, it is a grim picture that emerges as the meeting about what do to after the Kyoto Protocol ends takes place in Bali, Indonesia.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Malaysia Leads the World in Greenhouse Gas Emission Growth Rate

It is hard to believe that any country can outdo China in increasing the rate of greenhouse gas emissions with the Chinese building new coal-fired power plants at the rate of about one a week but it looks like Malaysia has done just that. According to the recently released United Nations Development Report, during the period of 1990 to 2004 emissions of carbon dioxide increased in Malaysia by 221%. This growth rate is tops among the 30 biggest greenhouse gas emitters. According to the Associated Press, this rapid growth in emissions has occurred even though Malaysia ratified the Kyoto Protocol and “has taken several initiatives to use renewable energy as well as ways to cut emissions.” Overall, this country of 27 million people ranks as the 26th largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. Based on its growth rate of emissions it appears likely to move up the list quickly. In the fight against global warming Malaysia seems to be a country that needs to be closely watched.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Black Friday a Dark Day for a Green Future

Once again another holiday season has rolled around and as reported by Reuters “Eager shoppers stormed malls and stores across the country on Friday to snap up the early-bird specials that mark ‘Black Friday,’ the first official day of the U.S. holiday shopping season.” This shopping madness might be good for the bottom line of major retailers but for the natural systems that we all depend on this consumerism frenzy is bad news. Bill McKibben has written an excellent essay on Gristmill blog called “The Problem with Christmas” about finding the antidote for this annual self-destructive ritual. McKibben argues that “our environmental problem, at root, isn't that the stuff we're buying uses too much energy or too much plastic, or that its paint has lead in it, or that it's been shipped too far. Our environmental problem is that we consume way too much because we've agreed to try and meet basic human needs -- status, respect, affection -- with material ends.” Something to think about while reading all those ads about what is on sale at the mall this holiday season.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Will the US Budge on Global Warming at Bali?

With the time window closing rapidly on taking effective action against global warming what happens next month at the world conference in Bali, Indonesia has taken on great importance. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon speaking about the upcoming Bali meeting at yesterday’s release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, "The world's scientists have spoken clearly and with one voice. I expect the world's policy-makers to do the same.” According to the Associated Press, the report, which was basically a compilation of the three previous IPCC reports this year, stated that “carbon emissions, mainly from fossil fuels, must stabilize by 2015 and then drop. At best, temperatures will keep rising from carbon already in the atmosphere...Even if factories were shut today and cars taken off the roads, the average sea level would reach as high as 4.6 feet above that in the preindustrial period, or about 1850.”

Getting carbon emissions to stabilize by 2015 will not be easy since they are increasing globally by about 3% to 4% annually with almost half of the increase attributable to China. For any success the process for reducing emissions must start very soon, for example, in Bali. However, George W. Bush continues to reject a mandatory cap on emissions. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that an administration that has accepted large sums of money from the fossil fuel industries for campaigning, has a political base that includes Rush Limbaugh ditto heads and the global warming denying religious right, and is ideologically opposed to government regulation of business is about to change course any time soon. Bali seems likely to be one more world conference on global warming where little if anything gets accomplished.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ships Are Outpolluting Planes

The was a large global warming protest recently at London’s Heathrow Airport but so far there has been no such protests at any shipping port. Maybe there should be. A shipping industry group called Intertanko has released a report which says that carbon dioxide emissions from shipping are now almost double that from aviation. In an article on the report from ABC News in Australia it says that Intertanko attributes the growth in carbon dioxide emissions from shipping to an increase in global trade and the use of more fuel to speed up the delivery of goods.

Concerns about shipping in this country have largely focused on terrorism. In the US critics of the government’s security measures have complained that a large percentage of shipping containers that arrive in this country are never checked. There has been little concern over the amount of carbon dioxide released getting the containers over here. This report should finally place shipping under the global warming microscope.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Is Preserving the American Lifestyle while Fighting Global Warming Incompatible?

Energy efficiency expert Joe Romm from the Center for American Progress says in a recent post on Gristmill blog that “The deniers and delayers want people to believe that environmentalists are hyping climate change to achieve a hidden agenda of government limits on their consumption,” He also points out that he doesn’t "know any major environmentalist or environmental group that has promoted such a message.” Nevertheless, there are environmentalists (perhaps not considered major environmentalists by Romm) who do have that message and are keeping the debate alive within the environmental community. The position for need to reduce consumption is well articulated by Glenn Barry in a post on his Climate Change blog on his website Climate Ark. Barry states that “The crazily consumptive, super size, sexily scintillating, over the top American lifestyle is precisely the reason global climate is changing and the Earth's ecosystems collapsing.” He goes on to say that “Climate policy can only be effective if based upon ecological truths. And one such truth is that going green DOES mean sacrificing the American lifestyle. And it is deeply wasteful of time and resources necessary to solve global ecological crises to suggest otherwise.”

If we are going to successfully fight global warming we better hope that Barry is wrong. It his highly unlikely that people in large enough numbers will give up the American lifestyle. If we can’t work around that problem then we probably will not solve the problem of climate change.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Biofuels May Be Fueling Global Warming

The main knock against using food like corn for fuel is that because of the high price of gasoline which it can replace as ethanol it drives up the price of food which makes the problems of world hunger even more acute than they already are. Until now at least, those in favor of biofuels could at least argue that by replacing gasoline with ethanol from crops like corn, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. But even that argument is now in jeopardy as a result of paper by Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen and colleagues who found that the nitrogen fertilizer used to grow crops such as corn results in greater amounts of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide being produced by microbes than was previously thought. In fact, so much nitrous oxide results that it is calculated that by using corn for fuel the contribution to global warming can be as high as 1.5 times as burning fossil fuels. According to an article on SciDev.Net sugar is the only biofuel crop that is exempt from this problem because it requires less fertilizer. However, growing sugar in places like Brazil results in deforestation which also increases global warming.

Considering the effect on food prices alone, the rush to turn corn into ethanol hasn’t made much sense. If the results of this new study are confirmed this transformation from food to fuel will make even less sense.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Should Step It Up Give It Up?

Where are all the planned Step It Up events for A National Day of Climate Action on November 3rd? With 35 days left it looks like there are less than 200 events planned. I say looks like because the grand total is no longer available for viewing. I guess the events were adding up so slowly that it was thought that showing the total would lead to discouragement. It seems almost hard to believe but back in February with 45 days left before A National Day of Climate Action on April 14th there were already 753 planned events listed on the Step It Up website. Looking back, I guess that was the Golden Age of Step It Up.

Maybe the Civil Rights movement is not a good model for a global warming movement. Maybe we really don’t need a global warming movement. Maybe just doing what needs to be done without gathering in large groups for demonstrations is the way to go. In any case, I plan to attend one or two Step It Up events but it seems like it won’t be the same as those heady days last spring when tens of thousands of people gathered at over 1,400 events to ask Congress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. How did Bill Mckibben pull that off? He is probably wondering himself.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Another Geoengineering Scheme—Floating Pipes

Every few months it seems a new geoengineering scheme to save us from global warming hits the news. The lastest one is from a very improbable source, British scientist James Lovelock who gained fame for his Gaia theory of a self-regulating Earth. Lovelock teamed up with another British scientist, Chris Rapley, to write an article in the journal Nature to propose a geoengineering scheme to enhance the take up of carbon dioxide by tropical waters. The scheme involves placing huge numbers of floating vertical pipes in the water in order to draw cold water up to the surface by downward movement from ocean swells. Since cold water is richer in life than warm water more carbon dioxide would be taken up, at least in theory. An article on the BBC News website points out that Lovelock and Rapley were not aware that an American company named Atmocean has already begun testing such a scheme. Long pipes placed in water allow cold water in at the bottom and have a valve to block the downward flow of cold water during upward motion.

Why is Lovelock jumping on the geoengineering bandwagon? He told BBC News that “We are taking the very strong line that we are not going to save the planet by the regular approaches like the Kyoto Protocol or renewable energy. What we have to do is to look at it in a systems sense, or a Gaian sense, and see if it’s curable by direct action.”

It is hard to argue with Lovelock’s pessimism about our ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough. If this were a baseball game the home team would be down by 10 runs in the bottom of the ninth with 2 out. However, it is also very difficult to embrace any geoengineering scheme. Whether it is mirrors in space, microscopic sulphate particles placed in the atmosphere, stimulation of plankton growth, or whatever, one has to wonder whether these people really know what will be the results of what they are doing. One thing at least is clear. We should have acted on this problem 20 years ago. It really may be too late.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Is Step It Up Losing Momentum?

To keep the momentum of their global warming movement going following the success of the first day of Step It Up events on April 14th author Bill McKibben and company have called for another day of Step It Up events on November 3rd. Unfortunately it appears there is less enthusiasm for this second go-around. Forty-five days before April 14th there were only two states, North Dakota and South Dakota, in which events were not planned. Well here we are only 42 days before November 3rd and the list of states without events planned is rather long. The list includes Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. Not only does there appear to be a lack of enthusiasm among event planners, but politicians do not seem to be accepting invitations to attend the events. Among 221 members of Congress who have been invited only two have to this date accepted. Among 14 presidential candidates who have been invited none have so far said they would go. Since I think it fair to say that momentum for fighting global warming is not on the wane in the US and if anything it has picked up, it is likely that the reduced enthusiasm for Step It Up events has more to do with Step It Up than the issue per se. Perhaps the problem is that the novelty of showing up at global warming protest events has worn off. We’ve done that, now what? Perhaps people have concluded that the first round of Step It Up events had no effect on politicians so why go through all the bother of doing it again. In any case, if this truly is a political movement it appears to be somewhat in trouble.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

IPCC Climate Impact Report Filled with Gloom and Doom

At a meeting held in London to launch the complete report on climate change impacts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) British climate scientist Martin Perry, who co-chairs the working group that wrote the report, had some particularly pessimistic comments to make. According to an article in the Guardian he said the following:

“We are all used to talking about these impacts coming in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren. Now we know that it’s us.”

“…we cannot mitigate out of this problem. We now have a choice between a future with a damaged world or a severely damaged world.”

“…it’s evident from the work of the IPCC that even with a maximum of a 2C we’re not going to avoid some major impacts at the regional level.”

Perry doesn’t believe that there is much chance of holding global mean temperature to a 2C increase. According to climate scientists like James Hansen going beyond 2C could push us beyond some climate tipping points that might make global warming unstoppable and eventually lead to a world that we would find unrecognizable.

Overall the picture appears to be pretty bleak and with every passing year it just seems to get bleaker.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Is Fred Thompson Going After the Sun is the Cause of Global Warming Vote?

Now that Fred Thompson has declared that he is running for president a statement of his on global warming that he wrote on the ABC Radio Networks website back in April is receiving a lot of attention. Here is the statement:

Some people think that our planet is suffering from a fever. Now scientists are telling us that Mars is experiencing its own planetary warming: Martian warming. It seems scientists have noticed recently that quite a few planets in our solar system seem to be heating up a bit, including Pluto. NASA says the Martian South Pole's ice cap has been shrinking for three summers in a row. Maybe Mars got its fever from earth. If so, I guess Jupiter's caught the same cold, because it's warming up too, like Pluto. This has led some people, not necessarily scientists, to wonder if Mars and Jupiter, non-signatories to the Kyoto Treaty, are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their air-conditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle. Silly, I know, but I wonder what all those planets, dwarf planets and moons in our SOLAR system have in common. Hmmmm. SOLAR system. Hmmmm. Solar? I wonder. Nah, I guess we shouldn't even be talking about this. The science is absolutely decided. There's a consensus. Ask Galileo.

The statement seems to suggest that Thompson is a global warming denier blaming increased solar activity for the rise in mean global temperature on Earth rather than greenhouse gases from human sources. Perhaps he is? On the other hand there are huge numbers of American voters who believe that increased solar activity is the culprit even though scientists have found not a shred of evidence to support this notion. If I had to make a guess I think that Thompson believes that “the science is absolutely decided” and “there’s a consensus.” The other stuff is probably to get votes by sticking it to liberals. His comments are amusing but for those of us who think that that facts presented in peer-reviewed scientific journals carry more weight than flip remarks by conservative politicians and that taking quick action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is absolutely urgent there is more reason to laugh at Thompson rather than with him.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Book on Climate Tipping Points Makes the Point

For those who still don't feel a sense of urgency to take action when climate scientists such as James Hansen from NASA warn us that if he don’t start reducing greenhouse gas emissions very soon we will pass climate tipping points that will propel us into disaster it might be a good idea to read With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change by Fred Pearce, a former editor at New Scientist. If this book has a clear message it is “don’t mess with Mother Nature on a global scale.” The book of course will be lost on those souls who truly believe that global warming is a left wing conspiracy to take over the world via United Nations carbon police, but for all others this book is one more reality check as it is chocked full of possible ways that small changes can be rapidly amplified by various positive feedback climate mechanisms to result in the climate flipping from one state to another. The science seems clear enough, but the big question that remains is will we soon reach the tipping point for meaningful action. There are no answers to that in Pearce's book.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Is a 3,000 Square Foot House a McMansion?

Michigan Democrat John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and well known thorn in the side of environmentalists for blocking legislation to raise fuel efficiency standards for cars, is drafting a bill which would eliminate the tax deduction on mortgage interest for a house larger than 3,000 square feet. Dingell is quoted in the Washington Post as saying:

remove the mortgage interest deduction on McMansions -- homes over 3,000 square feet.

There probably would be a lot of support for removing this tax deduction for McMansions but does a 3,000 square foot really classify as a McMansion? While there is no agreed on definition, a house of 3,000 square feet seems a bit small to make the grade. In a post on this blog that I wrote earlier this month it was noted that nationally known land use law expert John Nolon from Pace University Law School uses the definition of 6,000 to 8,000 feet. He was quoted in the Guardian as saying that:

A 6,000 sq ft-8,000 sq ft house is a climate change disaster. If the country doesn't rein in the construction of these mansions the message to individuals is that they're encouraged to follow their urges. The phenomenon with McMansions is similar to that with SUVs: they express a certain sort of success, they're available and they're fun.

Nolon clearly is talking about very large houses when he uses the term McMansions. Dingell however is including houses that are only slightly larger than the average size new house. Why is he even using the term McMansion?

Perhaps Dingell is trying to appear green while proposing legislation which has no chance of passing. If he used Nolon’s definition and made the cutoff at 6,000 square feet that might be hard for the real estate and developer lobbies to defeat. The Washington Post article says that realtors and home builders are already up in arms about Dingell’s proposal. They probably won’t be the only ones.

Dingell is the chairman of an extremely important committee when it comes to the issue of global warming. We can only hope that he sincerely is trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and not just trying make it look like that is his goal.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nothing Funny About Belching Livestock

It is not surprising that many people find it hard to take seriously the claims that methane expelled by cows can be a threat to the planet. It seems more like gross-out humor than serious climate science. Particularly since many people believe that the methane comes out at the end of the digestive tract as in humans. Actually most of this methane is expelled by belching.

According to a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor cows burp about once every 40 seconds. Their digestive processes yield as much as 100 gallons a day of methane and much of it is released through belching. Multiply that by all the cows in the world and you can be begin to see why this has no relationship to toilet humor. Considering that methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide with regard to heat trapping (although it does not last nearly as long in the atmosphere) it is clear that this is very serious business.

To make this subject even more grim cows are not the only type of livestock that burp methane. For example, sheep are also part of this problem. A reporter from a Western Australian radio station discovered that in her part of the world this is particularly true because of the high salinity which results in the sheep eating bush that generates lots of burping.

Kay Balatero recently discussed the issue of belching cows on Gristmill blog and noted that scientists are looking for ways to change the diet of livestock to cut down on the belching. She finds herself doubting the wisdom of this effort:

But I'm somewhat skeptical about this dietary tampering; the idea of manipulating cow diets even further than we already have is a little disconcerting. We've seen corn-fed CAFO [confined animal feeding operations] cows become more susceptible to disease as a direct result of eliminating their natural diet of grass, leading to overuse of antibiotics by the beef industry. Would it be better to leave well enough alone, and simply consume less (sustainably raised) beef?

In theory, the problem could be solved by humans becoming vegans in vast numbers. Who needs billions of livestock if we no longer eat beef or lamb or consume dairy products such as milk, cheese, ice cream, and yogurt. The chance of this happening seems to be zero. If civilization is going down, it hardly seems likely that people would give up such perceived pleasures as eating a choice cut of grilled steak or a juicy hamburger from the barbecue during the descent.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Does DiCaprio’s Lifestyle Matter?

Most humans don’t fly. Among those who do most do not fly in their own private jets. But Leonardo DiCaprio does fly in his own private jet and since he is a celebrity calling for action against global warming this really bothers some people. It really bothers Glenn Barry who runs the climate change and global warming portal Climate Ark. It bothers Barry so much that he has issued an action alert to :

Let Leo know that the battle to stop the growth in aviation's greenhouse gas emission is one the most important environmental battles ever that requires his personal example. To be a credible messenger of global ecological sustainability Leonardo must both walk the walk and talk the talk. Let him know you will see his movie if he swears off private jets.

On other extreme, David Roberts blogging on Huffington Post has a simple reaction to all this agitation over how DiCaprio travels. Roberts says “eh.” Roberts explains his “who cares” attitude by saying:

I care about global warming. I don't think celebrity behavior is going to affect the issue one way or the other…

Whether or not celebrities matter in the fight against global warming it is a sure bet that we are going to keep hearing from celebrities on this issue. Celebrities are so much part of the media that is it almost impossible to imagine the media without them. Probably the mayor of Seattle, Greg Nickels, who originated the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement which has now been signed by over 600 mayors and town supervisors has done more to combat global warming than all of the celebrities combined if you leave out Al Gore but outside of the Seattle area you are unlikely to see him show up in the media. The value of the media to the fight against global warming is largely to show pictures of the effects of climate change such as melting glaciers, stranded polar bears, etc. When it comes to taking action against global warming the media will focus on celebrities which is not where the action is.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What’s the Deal with Dingell?

A debate among environmentalists is raging over whether the proposals by Michigan Democrat John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, represent a sincere effort to fight global warming or a sneaky way to prevent meaningful legislation on raising CAFE standards for cars. On Gristmill blog, David Roberts is defending Dingell while Joseph Romm accuses Dingell of using the “poison pill” strategy to undermine legislative efforts to raise CAFE standards.

Trying to decipher Dingell’s motives becomes even more complicated when you realize that only last December when asked whether a scientific consensus on global warming has been established Dingell replied:

"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."

So here is someone who only recently was wondering whether humans are to blame for global warming and now has proposed the following strong measures as listed by David Roberts:

A carbon tax of up to $100 per ton.

A gas tax of $0.50 a gallon.

A cap-and-trade system.

Ending the mortgage tax deduction for "McMansions" over 3,000 sq. feet.

All with the goal of reducing GHG emissions 60-80% by 2050.

Clearly there would be great political opposition in the United States to at least three of these proposals, the carbon tax, gas tax, and end of the mortgage deduction for many people. And coming from someone who only about eight months ago appeared to have been in the global warming skeptics camp has to raise doubts over the sincerity of these proposals. However, after holding hearings on global warming and energy maybe Dingell has had an epiphany and has decided that he is the one to put forth truly strong legislation, sort of like Richard Nixon, who made his reputation by being an anticommunist deciding that he would be the one to open the door to communist China.

Even if Dingell’s motives can not be unequivocally determined, his proposals seem to provide hope that the debate in the US Congress has at last shifted from whether human sources are the cause of global warming to what to do about it.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Folly of Building McMansions

Although people buying SUVs have taken most of the heat for making foolish purchases while the global warming crisis has taken on alarming proportions the folly of those buying McMansions is now starting to gain attention. An article in the Guardian quotes John Nolon, a leading land use law expert from Pace University Law School, as saying:

A 6,000 sq ft-8,000 sq ft house is a climate change disaster. If the country doesn't rein in the construction of these mansions the message to individuals is that they're encouraged to follow their urges. The phenomenon with McMansions is similar to that with SUVs: they express a certain sort of success, they're available and they're fun. If legislative folks don't take some kind of position on mansionisation, it will go unchecked.

Compared with modest size houses of perhaps 2,000 square feet McMansions of 6,000 to 8,000 square feet take more energy to heat in the winter and cool in the summer. Also, there is a lot more space to light and more room for all those energy using appliances such as TVs and computers. With about half of electricity being generated with coal burning in the United States it is not hard to see why McMansion building is another driver of global warming.

The article points out that there are places that are starting to take action to halt this madness. For example, Boulder, Colorado, the first city in the US with a carbon tax, has imposed a cap on the size of new house after the average size new house grew to over 6,000 square feet.

The excesses in American society seem endless. Limiting house size might be a good place to start attacking the bigger is better problem. Bigger isn't better because our planet isn't getting any larger.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Will Greener Planes Bring Meaner Conditions Around Airports?

Generally reducing greenhouse gas emissions is associated with providing other environmental benefits but in a Washington Post article the director of research and technology at Rolls-Royce, Richard J. Parker, says that focusing on reducing carbon dioxide emissions by engineers might result in new engines that are noisier or produce more of the environmentally troublesome nitrogen oxides than present engines. In the words of Parker:

"Will people living near airports win out, or will the planet as a whole win out?"

Not a great choice. Of course, there is always the option of flying less but this also has negative consequences, particularly for people in less developed areas who depend on hoards of tourists booking their hotels to survive economically. It seems that choices have to be made and everyone can’t win.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Al Gore: a Help or Hindrance?

It is almost taken for granted that Al Gore has made an immeasurable contribution to the cause of fighting global warming, nearly single-handedly it sometimes seems moving the issue from the green edges of society into the mainstream. Yet, on Earth Meanders blog Glen Barry strongly criticizes Gore’s strategy when he says:

I am concerned with the direction Al Gore, as the self-appointed climate movement leader, is taking -- emphasizing celebrity and inadequate small personal responses, to the detriment of grassroots inspired major cultural change necessary to save the Earth.

Perhaps a bigger problem of Gore leading the charge is that he is a polarizing figure. Millions of conservatives don’t like him, Bill, or Hillary. Although he says this should not be a partisan issue it is hard to see how it can not be if he is the one out in front. There must be many people who won’t listen to his recommendations simply because he is Al Gore.

Despite all the problems with the second half of the Clinton-Gore ticket being seen at the leader in the fight to stop global warming and all the celebrities he has enlisted in the cause it still must be acknowledged that he is capable of reaching people in the mainstream with his message that grassroots environmentalists have no way of reaching. These are probably people who tend to closely follow the world of celebrities in television, film, music, sports, etc but do not pay much attention to “serious” political issues. Gore has somehow bridged the gap. But I guess it is Barry’s point that in doing so there is a trade off in that the suggested changes can not be too radical, even it that is what it takes to deal with the problem which Barry and many others have concluded.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Southern Utilities Cling to Coal Burning

We know historically that the South has been extremely slow to change and in fact has been so slow that it has been forced to change when it came to slavery and segregation. It appears that this pattern of resisting change is continuing when it comes to switching from coal burning to renewable energy sources. According to an article from the Associated Press, whereas nearly half of the states now have adopted mandates requiring electric utilities to produce a specific percentage of electricity from renewables, Texas is the only state in the South with such a mandate. Moreover, half of the votes in the Senate to defeat federal legislation to require 15% of electricity to come from renewables were cast by senators from southern states.

A good appreciation of the coal-burning situation in the South can be gained by watching the film Kilowatt Ours. The film shows how burning coal in the South has resulted in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park often being filled with haze instead of usually offering crystal clear views of distant mountains as in the past and how the need for coal in the South, which uses more coal than the national average for generating electricity, leads to the disgraceful practice of mountaintop mining in West Virginia.

The AP article says that the US Environmental Protection Agency ranks three southern utilities—Southern Co., Duke Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority—among the top four greenhouse gas emitting utilities in the US. The number one emitter, Southern Co., doesn’t even appear to admit that emissions of carbon dioxide are related to global warming based on statements such as the following by senior executive Chris Hobson who was quoted in the article as saying:

"If we are irrational about it and we cripple our economy or cripple our industry and we realize carbon dioxide wasn't the source of the problem, then we'll be real regretful."

Maybe someone at Southern Co. should read the latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If they did they would learn that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted from human sources are the source of the problem. Scientists will never say they are 100% sure of a conclusion but this statement was about as close as they will ever get. The Old South may be mostly gone but the New South needs to transform into the Green South.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

More Energy Efficient Light Bulbs but not TVs

The gains in energy efficiency being made by replacing the familiar incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents that use much less electricity are probably being wiped out and then some by replacement of cathode ray TVs with large screen plasma or LCD TVs which use far more electricity. Add in all the new gizmos with rechargeable batteries and it is hard to see how we can carry out Al Gore’s pledge item 3 “To fight for a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store the CO2” without leaving ourselves in the dark. Since it is very expensive to trap CO2 and the technology for storing it safely is not yet proven and may never be the pledge may really mean no new coal plants period. All the more reason to stress energy efficiency.

The British seem to be more worried about this problem than we are here in the US. A recent article in the Guardian on report by the Energy Saving Trust (EST) said the following:

The proliferation of home entertainment equipment such as flat screen TVs, digital radios and laptops in homes means that by 2020 this type of technology will account for 45% of domestic electricity use.

The running cost of today's plasma and LCD screen TVs can be as much as three times that of traditional cathode ray tube sets. The largest domestic plasma TV on the market - with a massive 103 in screen - has a power rating of 1.5kw, which means watching it uses as much energy as leaving 25 light bulbs on.

This means 14 power stations will be required just to power equipment used for communication and entertainment, the EST said in its report the Ampere Strikes Back.

Al Gore has done a great job in educating the public about the threat of global warming but he has yet to make the same impact with regard to educating us about energy efficiency. Should he tell us to stop buying all these large screen TVs? So far I don’t think he has. Where is the US version of the Ampere Strikes Back? All we seem to have in America is millions of people buying giant TVs to watch the Empire Strikes Back, etc. At the rate we are going what we are going to have is the climate striking back.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Carbon Dioxide Emissions Per Capita Problem

If there is any issue that appears to be an insurmountable obstacle to reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally it appears to be the issue surrounding per capita emissions of carbon dioxide. Spokesmen for China, which has recently been crowned as the number one greenhouse gas polluter in the world, displacing the long-time reigning champion the United States of America, are quick to point out that on a per capita basis their emissions are far below those of the US, which is correct since each of us in America on average is responsible for more than four times the amount of emissions than those who live in China.

If global emissions of carbon dioxide are now about 30 billion tons a year, then on average the 6.5 billion inhabitants of our planet are responsible for about 4.5 tons each. With the average American responsible for emitting about 20 tons annually we are way above the average. The climate scientists say that to have a decent chance of avoiding the most serious consequences of global warming we have to reduce our emissions globally by about 80% by 2050. So the 30 billion tons a year would have to fall to roughly 6 billion tons a year. It is predicted that there will be 9 billion people on Earth by 2050 so on average they would have to be responsible for emitting only about 0.7 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Hopefully the math here is wrong (it probably is) because that seems like a very difficult goal to achieve, particularly in face the demands for equality in emissions per capita between the developed countries and developing countries.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Live Earth in Retrospect

It is hard to know what to make of the Live Earth concerts on Saturday. It seemed like an odd mixture of environmental activism, hedonism, and consumerism. Can this type of strange brew really lead to radical change? How ironic was it that the webcast of the concerts was sponsored by General Motors, the same company that has been leading the fight against higher fuel efficiency standards for cars over more than a decade. Before you could watch the concerts online you had to see a Chevy commercial. At least the webcast wasn’t sponsored by ExxonMobil, the leading financial backers of misinformation about global warming. But is GM really that far behind in being one of the global warming bad boys? Then there is the issue of pop and rock stars who unfairly or not could be considered as icons for consumerism. Private jets, yachts, numerous homes, etc. When it comes to making carbon footprints many of them are Godzillas. Add to that their international tours and they are responsible for pumping out a heck of a lot of carbon.

There didn’t seem to any songs that compared to the 60s classics such as Blowin’ in the Wind, The Times They Are a-Changin’, I Ain’t Marching Anymore, etc. I agree with Al Gore that music can reach people in ways that are unique but the music at the concerts came up short with regard to delivering any message.

It was hard to understand why there was no concert in India. The big three who are not going along in trying cut greenhouse gas emissions are the US, China, and India. All three will have undertake all out efforts to cut emissions if there is any hope of limiting global warming before climate change reaches catastrophic proportions based on what the leading climatologists are saying.

Of course Live Earth is only one small part of the overall efforts to address climate change. Most of what is happening does not make headlines. Perhaps the real hope for change lies in the less glitzy stuff that is going on.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Dem Debaters Don’t Dwell on Global Warming

Nobody expected global warming to be a main topic at the recent debate by Democratic presidential candidates held at Howard University but in retrospect it seems surprising that so little was said about it. Major problems such as the war in Iraq, an inadequate health care system, inequalities in education were, and discrimination against blacks were addressed in depth but global warming was not. It is particularly surprising that none of the debaters mentioned global warming when the topic turned to helping Africa. The reports on climate change indicate that the adverse consequences will be felt most severely in Africa and Asia, particularly among the poor with Africa seemingly in line to take the hardest hit. Not even, Mike Gravel, the former senator from Alaska, who seemed to stray quite far from the more conventional views did not say anything about how global warming needs to be addressed to prevent catastrophe in Africa. If Al Gore had been one of the debaters it is hard to imagine that global warming would have gotten so little attention. At least next Saturday at the Live Earth concerts he will have his chance to tell everyone about the need to fight global warming to save Africa and all of the other continents.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

China Zips Past the US as Number One Carbon Dioxide Emitter

After all the speculation about when China would pass the US in emissions of carbon dioxide, this year, or in 2008, or later, it turns out that China has already attained the dubious distinction as the world’s top emitter of carbon dioxide according to an article in the Guardian. It was the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency which came up with this surprising finding. The calculations show that China actually outdid the US in carbon dioxide emissions last year by a whopping 8%. A scientist from the agency in the Netherlands said that the difference in carbon dioxide emissions between China and the US was so great in 2006 that almost surely China also took the lead as the number one greenhouse gas emitter. There it is, we have a new champ. Of course on a per capita basis China isn’t close to the US in pumping out greenhouse gases. The US quadruples China. No contest. Now that the China has passed the US in carbon dioxide emissions the prognosticators can turn their attention to India. In what year will India pass the US? Let the guessing begin.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Carbon Offsets Are Offsetting More Guilt than Carbon

An investigative report in the Guardian continues to strip away the claims about the benefis that have been touted for carbon offsets. According to the report very little carbon has actually been offset for two reasons:

“First, these schemes are unregulated and wide open to fraud.”

“Second…even the most well-intentioned schemes suffer from basic weaknesses in the idea of carbon offsetting - an idea which flows not from environmentalists and climate scientists trying to design a way to reverse global warming but from politicians and business executives trying to meet the demands for action while preserving the commercial status quo.”

It seems likely that no matter how little is actually accomplished by carbon offsets people will continue to buy offsets because it makes one feel like one is doing something about global warming. The main contribution of carbon offsets might be to make money for both those who are honest and have the best intentions and those who are ethically challenged and simply out to make a quick buck. There are of course many other methods available to fight global warming but whether they will be employed in time on a wide enough basis seems at the moment very uncertain.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

China and India Say No Thank You to G8 Climate Deal

According to an article on the website both China and India have rejected the G8 climate change deal in which it was inferred that when negotiations on specifics of greenhouse gas reductions take place developing countries would be included. Responses from leaders in China and India imply that these two highly populated countries expect to work more in tandem on climate change and want the developed countries to go first. The developed countries should have already gone first. The potential threat of global warming was well understood in the 1980s and became more clear in the early 1990s with the first report was issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The US should have taken the lead back then, but instead did nothing. So here we are in 2007 with China and India, now with booming economies that are churning out greenhouse gases at an alarming rate, saying that the developed countries should take the lead and the developed countries saying that the developing countries must be included. Basically we seem to have a circle of statements going nowhere.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Validity of Kyoto Carbon Savings Questioned

A report in the Guardian says that “The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which is supposed to offset greenhouse gases emitted in the developed world by selling carbon credits from elsewhere, has been contaminated by gross incompetence, rule-breaking and possible fraud by companies in the developing world….” The CDM is one of the main ways being used by countries trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reach the targets set under the Kyoto Protocol. According to the Guardian report UN paperwork indicated the following:

Most of the concern is around the crucial CDM test of "additionality" - proof that a project is delivering cuts in greenhouse gases that would not otherwise have happened. In an unpublished report, one of the CDM board's expert advisers, Axel Michaelowa, examined all 52 Indian projects which had been registered up to May 2006 and found that a third of them failed this additionality test.
Mr Michaelowa found evidence of projects supplying false information which was then accepted by the companies who were supposed to check it. In one case cited in the report, he accuses an Indian company of making statements which were "blatantly false". Despite his protests, that scheme was approved.

There are enough obstacles to achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions on a scale sufficient to prevent catastrophic climate change without integrity being a major problem. Add concerns about integrity of the process and hopes for success grow that much dimmer. Maybe the first step in solving the problem of reducing greenhouse gas emissions should be figuring out a way to reduce human greed. Bring on the psychologists.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

US Fails to Embrace G8 Global Warming Proposals

The Washington Post reports that the environmental organization Greenpeace has leaked a document showing that the US is fundamentally opposed to proposals made by Germany to combat global warming which would involve timetables and targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The proposals by Germany are being made to secure an agreement at the G8 summit which will be held on June 6 to 8 in Heiligendamm, Germany. The US opposition is hardly surprising. The Bush administration has almost always seemed more interested in following its extreme conservative ideology than in solving problems. Ideological triumph appears to be its ultimate objective. The disasters of Iraq and Katrina and the looming disaster of climate change do not seem to matter. What does matter is gutting government regulations and spreading unfettered capitalism. It seems clear that we will have to wait for 2009 until any real action is taken on the international level to fight global warming, however, with the window of opportunity rapidly closing based on the latest scientific findings even that might be too late.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Has a Key Global Warming Tipping Point Already Been Passed?

An explanation by climate scientists of why carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have recently been spiking suggests that global warming is now reducing the ability of the environment to absorb carbon dioxide from human sources. An article in The Sydney Morning Herald says that scientists have been fearing that increasing temperatures could reduce carbon absorption by the environment. If this tipping point has in fact been reached, then even the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which said that reduction of carbon emissions must begin globally no later than 2015 to avoid catastrophic climate change (see previous post) may need to be revised to an even more pessimistic conclusion. The research team, which published their findings in Geophysical Research Letters, studied the spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels during 2002 to 2003. The scientists found that the only explanation for the spike was that because of unusual conditions of heat and dryness plants took up less carbon dioxide that they normally do. So, is unstoppable global warming already here? Perhaps that might be the next inconvenient truth.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Only About Three Thousand Days Left to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms that time is quickly running out to take effective action against global warming. According to the Guardian, “The report said global emissions must peak by 2015 for the world to have any chance of limiting the expected temperature rise to 2 C, which would still leave billions of people short of water by 2050.” That’s eight years or about 100 months or approximately 3000 days. The consequences of global warming are expected to be catastrophic if the 2 C limit is exceeded. Not much time to go from annual global increases of greenhouse gas emissions to annual reductions. Perhaps naming a specific year by which the U turn must occur will help. Nothing like a tight deadline to get people’s attention. Nevertheless, most factors point to continued increases of greenhouse gas emissions globally for decades to come: increasing populations; spreading affluence in the developing world; reluctance of the US, China, and India to agree to any mandatory cap on emissions; the abundance of coal as a cheap source of energy; the ability of large oil and coal companies to protect their profits regardless of the environmental consequences; the energy inefficiency that has been built into the way of life in the US; etc. It may still be too early to throw in the towel. The political dynamics could be changed by next US election in November of 2008. Perhaps when the election results become clear it will be time to head for the linen closet.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Step It Up to 95% Reduction in Carbon Emissions

The photos of Step It Up events from last Saturday showing banners calling for Congress to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 may not have reached individual members of Congress yet and already the 80% figure appears to be too low. According to a report in Reuters two scientists from the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway are saying that to hold global warming to a 2 C increase from preindustrial levels (anything beyond that level of warming is considered to be extremely dangerous) the wealthy countries such as the United States would have to reduce emissions by 95% from 2000 levels by 2050. Overall global emissions would have to be reduced by 80%, the Step It Up figure, but since developing countries such as China and India would not be expected to reduce their emissions by that much the wealthy countries would have to make up the difference. Al Gore actually called for a 90% reduction when he spoke before the congressional committees a few weeks ago so he was closer to the mark. The scientists, who will be publishing their paper in the journal Climatic Change, also made this depressing statement: “Any delay in implementing emissions reductions will make the 2 degree target practically unreachable.” Do we have until 2009 at least? Seems unlikely much will happen before then given the present occupant of the White House.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

StepItUp WrapUp

The StepItUp events of last Saturday are now over and we will probably have to wait awhile to really assess how successful they were. Clearly with respect to number of people participating they fell far short of the larger civil rights and anti-war protests but I think it is fair to say that StepItUp was the largest photo-op event in the history of US protest movements. It was photo-ops from sea to shining sea. Can great photos take the place of mass demonstrations and nonviolent civil disobedience to accomplish political goals? Maybe that is what will work, a thousand “Kodak moments” only these days the photos are all digital.

I participated in an event on a farm in Bedford Hills, New York, which is about 40 miles north of New York City. This type of event never could have occurred before Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth,” and before Katrina devastated New Orleans. Politicians and other speakers warned us about the dangers of global warming and how we must take action quickly. The photo shows Congressman John Hall addressing the crowd.

The results of StepItUp seemed to both signify hope but also disappointment. The fact that tens of thousands of people actually went to global warming protest rallies is a hopeful sign. Some sort of threshold was crossed. It was disappointing, however, because in many states last Saturday was just business as usual with only a few scattered events held in those states. If as Thomas Friedman says “green is the new red, white, and blue,” the word sure hasn’t gotten out in large swaths of America.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Carbon Offset Tree Planting Can Spur Global Warming

More evidence that using carbon offsets to plant trees is a bad idea has been presented by scientists from Stanford University and Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists. According to a report in the Guardian the scientists found that tree planting increases warming unless it occurs within a thin strip of tropical land at the equator. The problem with planting trees elsewhere is that whereas grassy areas and snow reflect a lot of sunlight back out of the atmosphere, trees, being dark in color, absorb most of the suns rays. This soaking up of the heat overwhelms the cooling effect of absorbing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. In areas near the equator trees promote the formation of convective clouds which produce cooling and the overall effect of adding trees in such tropical areas is cooling.

Although it appears that planting trees outside of the tropics increases global warming the scientists by no means advocate chopping down trees in nontropical regions to combat global warming since trees have many important functions such as providing habitat for various animals and plants, protecting watersheds, etc. It therefore appears that outside of the tropics that the main goal should be to preserve the forests that we already have.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The IPCC Predicts a Real Gloomy Future

Earlier today the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its summary report for policymakers on the effects of global warming and nobody can accuse these scientists of being optimists. There were a few good news things but as whole the report spelled out mostly a future of gloom and doom. The most gloomy prospects were for the poor, particularly for those poverty-stricken people living in Africa and Southeast Asia. No continent escaped the pessimistic forecast. The report added many details on why pumping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide can be viewed as a foolish experiment on a global scale which will lead to dire consequences almost everywhere. We have pretty much known this for the last 20 years. But the level of certainty has increased.

The main good news, if you can call it that, is that it is believed that there still is time to avoid the worst. The next report from the IPCC which will be issued on May 7 will explain how to do it. Whether right wing politicians in the United States will continue to attack the science or finally concede the obvious that these scientists with all their sophisticated equipment and methods for studying nature really know what they are talking about remains perhaps the biggest question.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Carbon Trading Schemes Fail to Live Up to Hype

If we have to rely to “carbon cap and trade” schemes to save us from global warming our goose will be cooked as the saying goes if Michael Dorsey from Dartmouth College is right. Writing in today’s Los Angeles Times, Dorsey cities an economic think tank in Europe called Researchers at Open Europe in stating the following about the much-heralded European Union carbon trading scheme:

They concluded that the EU Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trading Scheme represents "botched central planning rather than a real market." As a result, the report said, carbon trading has not resulted in an overall decline of the EU's carbon dioxide emissions.

Worse, the early evidence suggested that the trading scheme financially rewarded companies — mainly petroleum, natural gas and electricity generators — that disproportionately emit carbon dioxide. The pollution credits given to the companies by their respective governments were booked as assets to be valued at market prices. After the EU carbon market collapsed, accusations of profiteering were widespread. In fall 2006, a Citigroup report concluded that the continent's biggest polluters had been the winners, with consumers the losers.

If citizens and politicians keep believing the carbon cap and trade hype it is obvious that we could easily come to believe that we are confronting the global warming problem when in fact we are spinning our wheels and dishing out even more profits to the polluters. A straightforward reduction of greenhouse gas emissions seems like the our only real hope of averting climate change catastrophe.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Forget About Using Nuclear Power to Stop Global Warming

This blog began last September with a post titled “Nuclear Power Not Answer.” It was about the views of antinuclear activist Helen Caldicott who wrote a book in which she gave many reasons why nuclear power can not be used to solve the problem of global warming. A new report by the Oxford Research Group titled “Secure Energy, Civil Nuclear Power, security and Global Warming” also tosses cold water on the idea that building more nuclear power plants should be a key strategy for combating global warming. An article in Reuters said the report points out that a major problem with building the thousands of nuclear power plants that would be needed is that the amount of uranium needed to run the plants is in limited supply and therefore, the only feasible way to do it would be to reprocess the spent fuel in order to obtain plutonium as a fuel. This would create many opportunities for terrorists and criminals to obtain material for making nuclear weapons. Also, as Helen Caldicott emphasized, although the nuclear plants don’t release greenhouse gases the entire process from mining the uranium to building the plants requires lots of energy and therefore large amounts of greenhouse gases would be released anyway.

Despite the drawbacks of using nuclear power to fight global warming many conservatives are embracing the idea and an explanation for this has been offered by Jonathan Chait in the Los Angeles Times. Chait says the following:

You can tell that some conservatives who want to fight global warming understand how the psychology works and are trying to turn it in their favor. Their response is to emphasize nuclear power as an integral element of the solution. Sen. John McCain, who supports action on global warming, did this in a recent National Review interview. The technique seems to be surprisingly effective. When framed as a case for more nuclear plants, conservatives seem to let down their guard.

In reality, nuclear plants may be a small part of the answer, but you couldn't build enough to make a major dent. But the psychology is perfect. Conservatives know that lefties hate nuclear power. So, yeah, Rush Limbaugh listeners, let's fight global warming and stick it to those hippies!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Dakotas Step It Up

A few weeks ago it looked like every state in the United States except North and South Dakota would have Step Up Events on April 14th, National Day of Climate Action. However, both Dakotas have now joined in the fun. In North Dakota there are events planned in Belcourt and Fargo and in South Dakota events are planned in Big Stone City, Rapid City, and Vermillion. According to the Step It Up 2007 website there are now 1,022 events planned in the United States.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

China, the US, and India Lead Global Coal-Burning Binge

According to an analysis by the Christian Science Monitor of plans around the world to build coal-fired power plants during the next five years, pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will reach new levels, with these plants adding another 1.2 billion tons of this greenhouse gas each year. Coal-burning plants are being planned in 37 countries including eight in the European Union which has taken the lead in fighting global warming. China, the US, and India in that order are planning on building the most new coal-fired generating capacity. According to the Monitor, if all these plants in the 37 countries are built by 2012 there would be 7,474 coal-fired plants in the world pouring out 9 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year, a healthy slice of the predicted 31 billion tons from all sources. One ominous note pointed out in the article is that this amount of carbon dioxide exceeds the “business as usual” projections of most climate models. Considering the catastrophic consequences of the business as usual predictions for climate change already being churned out by the models this is worrisome indeed.

It hard to come to any other conclusion that we are on a reckless course to disaster. Nevertheless, many conservatives are still clinging to an outdated ideology that opposes government regulation of industry and the need for tax increases (carbon tax) to shape public policy and hence refuse to acknowledge the obvious. Without a political consensus in the US the path out of this mess appears to be blocked.

Monday, March 19, 2007

US Sinks Environment Ministers Conference on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The G8 environment ministers who gathered in Potsdam, Germany March 16th and 17th to set new limits on greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to fight global warming accomplished absolutely nothing thanks to the opposition of the US on key issues. The Inter Press Service News Agency reports that according to German environment minister Sigman Gabriel only the US opposed consensus on a global carbon emissions trading scheme and that industrialized counties should assist in achieving a “balance of interest” between economic growth and environmental protection in developing countries.

Since everyone already knew the position of the US before the meeting one can only wonder why this special meeting of G8 environment ministers was even held. Usually these ministers meet during the G8 summit which this year will be held in June. What was the rush to accomplish nothing? Clearly there is an urgency to replace the Kyoto Protocol which ends in 2012, but with George W. Bush at the helm in the US everyone knows that trying to take action on this issue is futile.

Monday, March 12, 2007

India Poised for 25 Years of Increased Coal Burning

While scientists in the US are calling for a moratorium on the building of coal-fired plants to limit greenhouse gas emissions India has plans to quadruple its burning of coal during the next 25 years according to a report by Reuters. To make sure his country has enough coal to burn the minister for coal in India says that India is acquiring “coal properties abroad.” Based on India's plans, world climate scientists apparently have even less influence in India than they do here in the US. According to the UN, India is already number four in the world on the list of greenhouse gas emitters. With about 150 coal-burning plants in various planning stages in the US it hard to see how we are in position to urge India to change its plans in order to prevent possible catastrophic climate change.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

China on Verge of Becoming Number One Greenhouse Gas Polluter

Less than a year ago we were told that China would surpass the US as the top emitter of greenhouse gases by 2020. Several months ago the date was surprisingly revised to as soon as 2009. It has now been revised again. According to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle, China will become the world’s top greenhouse gas polluter as early as this year or perhaps in 2008. Thanks to China’s booming economy consumption of fossil fuels grew by over a whopping 9% last year, a typical figure since 2001. In the US, which is no slacker when it comes to burning fossil fuels, the growth rate was a mere small fraction of China’s rate, 1.2%. For those optimistic about the ability of the world’s nations to reduce greenhouse gas emission by a sufficient amount to avoid potential catastrophic climate change, hearing the figures coming out of China has to be a reality check. What could be less comforting than to realize the fate of the world might be in the hands of a country with 1.3 billion people governed by one party that is hell-bent on attaining a level of prosperity that is comparable to that of Western countries and without the technological know how to try to achieve their goal without very heavy reliance on burning coal, the fossil fuel that creates the most carbon dioxide when burned. Something has to take the place of China’s building about one new coal-fired power plant a week as they have been doing if the global warming problem is going to be successfully addressed. The question is, exactly what?

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dakotas Need to Step It Up for National Day of Climate Action

With only 45 days left until April 14th when Step It Up actions to tell Congress to cap carbon emissions are scheduled to take place across the United States there are 753 actions planned so far but still no actions planned in two states, North Dakota and South Dakota. What is the story in the northern plains? There are so many actions planned here in the Northeast that several small states on the Step It Up 2007 website map have disappeared under the masses of colored dots representing actions. Has Al Gore been banned from the media in the Dakotas? Not much is happening in some other western states as well. For example, there is so far only one action being planned in Wyoming and only two in Nebraska. There are more actions planned here in my county situated north of New York City than in these four states combined. With participation showing distinct regional patterns one has to wonder how the message of this day of action will play inside the Beltway.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Bulldoze Coal-Fired Power Plants Before 2050 Says Climate Expert

The Houston Chronicle reports that well-known NASA climate scientist James Hansen is calling for all older coal-fired power plants that do not capture and store the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide to be bulldozed before the middle of the century. Hansen is also calling for a cessation of the building of coal-fired power plants. To put this in context, over 150 such plants are in the planning stage in the United States. Hansen is speaking today at the National Press Club.

Hansen believes that energy efficiency measures can make the sharp reduction in coal use that he calls for feasible. Since coal is used for about one half of all electricity generated in the United States these energy efficiency measure would have to be sweeping. Since climate scientists say that we have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 to limit global warming to a level that would not be catastrophic Hansen’s proposal seems quite sensible. The alternative, of continuing to use coal to meet increasing energy demand in the United States, can only lead to disaster on scale that is difficult to contemplate.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Only Carbon Neutral Presidential Campaign Bites the Dust

It seems like only yesterday that I posted that former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack was trying to make his campaign for president of the United States carbon neutral. In fact, it was eleven days ago. Somehow in less then two weeks Vilsack has gone from taking the lead on global warming in the presidential derby to dropping out of the race. For those hoping that Vilsack would push the other Democratic candidates to raise the global warming issue to a higher priority this is a disappointing development. While the three leading Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, appear to be leaning heavily on focus group results with regard to global warming based on their campaigns so far, one had a sense that Vilsack might be responding to the urgency that the issue requires which is obvious from the results of scientific research over the last several decades. Perhaps some other candidate will fill the void left by Vilsack’s absence or another candidate (Al Gore perhaps) will enter the race to take up where Vilsack left off.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

List of Planned Actions for National Day of Climate Action on April 14th is Growing

There are now more than 700 global warming actions planned for April 14th according to the Step It Up 2007 website. Based on a map of the US shown on the site, the region of the country where this day of action, which was started by author Bill McKibben, has generated the most response is here in the Northeast. I am involved in the planning of a few of these actions through my local Sierra Club group. Here is what Bill McKibben says this day is about:

Every group will be saying the same thing: Step it up, Congress! Enact immediate cuts in carbon emissions, and pledge an 80% reduction by 2050. No half measures, no easy compromises-the time has come to take the real actions that can stabilize our climate.

Clearly, political pressure for global warming legislation is needed for action to occur. Overcoming the conservative opposition to the mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions that are needed to confront the problem remains a formidable challenge. Congress really does need to be told to step it up.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Americans Remain Uncertain Over Climate Change Problem

It seems that no matter how many prestigious scientific bodies proclaim that global warming is an extremely threatening problem many Americans remain uncertain about what to believe. The latest scientific organization to jump into the fray is the American Association for the Advancement of Science which in no uncertain terms declared yesterday at its annual meeting that “global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now and is a growing threat to society.”

Some scholars at the meeting gave talks trying to explain the lack of connection between the climate change research findings of scientists and the beliefs of the American public.

LifeScience reported that Jon Krosnick from Stanford University said that although Americans are in tune with these scientists on the basics they are uncertain about how bad the problem of global warming really is. Krosnick said that survey results show that whereas a mere 7% of the American public report extreme certainty about their views and 25% claim to be very sure, 41% report being only somewhat sure. It is this lack of absolute certainty says Krosnick which prevents many Americans from having a high level of concern about the problem even though they accept the scientific findings.

A report from Daily India described the conclusions drawn by Anthony Leiserowitz from the University of Oregon who analyzed the results of a national survey on global warming conducted in 2003. Leiserowitz said the survey responses showed that issues such as Iraq and healthcare are given a much higher priority than global warming.

A results of a more recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press suggest that many Americans actually do not accept the research findings of climate scientists. The survey found that only 47% of Americans think that there is enough solid evidence to say that humans are the main cause of global warming although about 75% do believe that global warming is taking place.

It is hard to imagine what could convince far more Americans that it is urgent to begin taking action to limit global warming. The science is out there. Al Gore has brought the message to the masses. Many prominent politicians are on board. Perhaps the only thing left is for conservative political leaders and news pundits to admit that immediate action should be taken to cap greenhouse gas emissions but that seems to be asking for the impossible.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Reduction of Greenhouse Gases from Agricultural Sources Not Receiving Much Attention

The focus of preventing runaway global warming has been on reducing carbon dioxide emissions as it should be, but lost in the discussions seems to be the need to reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions, particularly from agricultural sources. The accompanying illustration from Global Warming Art shows that a good chunk of greenhouse gas emissions is in the form of methane and nitrous oxide and a good portion of these two greenhouse gases comes from agriculture (light green). The role of agriculture in global warming was emphasized in a report called “Livestock’s Long Shadow” which was issued last year by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. Here is a quote from the Executive Summary:

With rising temperatures, rising sea levels, melting icecaps and glaciers, shifting ocean currents and weather patterns, climate change is the most serious challenge facing the human race.
The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than transport.
The livestock sector accounts for 9 percent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The largest share of this derives from land-use changes especially deforestation caused by expansion of pastures and arable land for feedcrops. Livestock are responsible for much larger shares of some gases with far higher potential to warm the atmosphere. The sector emits 37 percent of anthropogenic methane (with 23 times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2) most of that from enteric fermentation by ruminants. It emits 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide (with 296 times the GWP of CO2), the great majority from manure. Livestock are also responsible for almost two-thirds (64 percent) of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute significantly to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems.

When it comes to taking action to stop global warming we hear a lot about using renewable energy sources, more energy efficiency, and occasionally practicing energy conservation, but very little is said about taking measures such as eating less meat or even becoming a vegan. Will any of the many candidates running for president in the United States give up eating meat and ask their campaign staff to do the same? Extremely unlikely. However, the more methane and nitrous oxide emissions can be reduced the less reduction of carbon dioxide emissions will be needed which is important because it is very difficult to greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions since it largely requires replacing coal and oil as energy sources.