Saturday, January 27, 2007

R&D for Sunlight Blocking Schemes Advocated by US for UN Climate Change Report

The Guardian has reported that the US response to a draft of the UN report on climate change prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which will be released in three parts beginning on February 2nd says that a statement advocating research on the development of technology to block sunlight as a way of stopping global warming if other measures fail should be included. Schemes to block sunlight that have been suggested so far include giant space mirrors, sulphate droplets scattered into the atmosphere, and distributing into the atmosphere tiny shiny balloons. According to the Guardian the US wants the following statement placed in the policymakers statement at beginning of each report:

“Modifying solar radiance may be an important strategy if mitigation of emissions fails. Doing the R&D to estimate the consequences of applying such a strategy is important insurance that should be taken out. This is a very important possibility that should be considered.”

The IPCC draft said that sunlight blocking schemes were “speculative, uncosted and with potential side-effects.”

Although these ideas to block sunlight as a way to combat global warming are often considered as wacko, and in most cases the US position seems counterproductive to stopping global warming, in this instance I have to say that I agree with the US. If the goal as is often stated is to limit global warming to a 2°C increase above preindustrial levels and to achieve this requires that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels can not rise above 450 parts per million and this would require a worldwide reduction of carbon dioxide emissions in the order of 70% to 80% by the year 2050 then I think we have to face the fact that although this is probably theoretically possible the political obstacles make it an almost impossible goal to reach. The list of political hurdles to overcome seem nearly endless. A large majority of the US population would have to be convinced that global warming is linked to human activities. A carbon tax or the equivalent would have to accepted around the world. People in developed countries would have to accept limitations on lifestyle. China and India would have to agree to reduce emissions and Western countries would probably have to pay for their implementation of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures to make this possible. Tremendous investments would have to be made for research on new energy technologies. The ability of the oil and coal industries to successfully fight change would have to be overcome. Etc, etc, etc.

Sunlight blocking schemes at best can only buy time and might cause unexpected adverse consequences. However, we are now at point of time where I think we need a Plan B.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Poll Finds Most Americans Still Unconvinced About Human Role in Global Warming

The results of a recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that although about three fourths of Americans believe our planet is warming only 47% believe that there is solid evidence to implicate human activity as the main cause. If Al Gore, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and our leading climate scientist James Hansen can’t convince the majority of Americans that human activity is to blame for the rising global temperature who can? Does it have to be written in the Bible? Actually, perhaps the polling results are not surprising. Tens of millions of Americans don’t believe in Darwinian evolution although the scientific evidence is overwhelming. How about this statistic? Whereas 61% of Americans thought that an immediate government response to global warming was needed when polled last August the number fell to 55% this January. Sounds as though not enough Americans read about the Stern report a couple of months ago which predicted economic disaster from climate change if action was not taken. Supposedly the fourth report from the Intergovermentmental Panel on Climate Change which will be released on February 2nd contains a statement that there is a 90% probability that global warming is due to human activity. In scientific terms, that is a very strong statement. But with the report being released only two days before the Super Bowl will Americans be paying attention?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Beware of Bush’s “Clean Fuel” Proposal

George W. Bush may have gained a little political breathing room on the global warming issue in his State of the Union address with his proposal to replace a portion of gasoline use with biofuels but many environmentalists are far from impressed by the proposal according to an article in The Independent. One environmentalist pointed out that using ethanol to replace gasoline would result in carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation and processing of ethanol. Also, in industrialized countries fossil fuels play a large role in growing crops such as corn that can be used for making ethanol. Another criticism involved transforming coal into a liquid for use as a transportation fuel. It was pointed that this technology would result in twice the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted as fuels based on petroleum. Although Bush seems to have at least grasped that global warming is a serious problem it is apparent that we will have to wait for a new president in 2009 before anyone occupying the Oval Office offers truly serious proposals, such as a mandatory cap on carbon emissions, to avert the very real risk of catastrophic climate change.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Urgency to Curtail Global Warming Missing from State of the Union Speech

George W. Bush did manage to utter the words “global climate change” in his State of the Union speech last night but only as an afterthought to the issue of energy independence. Leading climate scientists such as James Hansen from NASA who have been warning us that we have less than 10 years to begin worldwide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the risk of unstoppable global warming may as well be residing on another planet as far as Bush’s descriptions of the major problems that we face. It appeared that television commentators were complicit in ignoring the urgency of addressing global warming as usual. The rebuttal by the Democrats also completely ignored the problem which didn’t help.

Perhaps some Democrats who are campaigning for president can elevate the issue of global warming to the top of the national agenda where it belongs. Perhaps they can close the present disconnect between scientific understanding and political policy. Perhaps one or more of the candidates can break through the denial which still seems to envelop much of the US population. There are about 150 coal-fired power plants on the drawing board in the US and in China about one such plant is built every week. Someone better do something fast.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Organizing for Global Warming Actions on April 14th

Author Bill McKibben and a few of his associates are trying to start a global warming movement and they have picked April 14th as the day to begin. The idea has received a warm reception and people all over the country are beginning to organize. I am trying to pitch in here in Westchester County, New York. According to McKibben:

If we're going to make the kind of change we need in the short time left us, we need something that looks like the civil rights movement, and we need it now. Changing light bulbs just isn't enough.

I agree that we need to take to the streets but I can’t imagine a global warming movement ever approaching the civil rights movement in size or intensity. How many people are willing to go to jail over global warming? Or worse, risk death? I think if a global warming movement does gain traction it probably will look much different than the civil rights movement. Nonviolent civil disobedience simply doesn’t seem appropriate in the global warming context. Perhaps a new model for a movement needs to be invented. Building an effective global warming movement may be as difficult as taking the needed type of actions to curtail global warming. But, ultimately I think that McKibben is right in trying.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Continue to Spike

It is bad enough that climate change is occurring more rapidly than scientists predicted, but things may be even worse because now we are finding out that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are increasing faster than they predicted. For 30 years, starting with 1970, the average increase in carbon dioxide was about 1.5 parts per million. Based on estimates of carbon dioxide emissions there did not seem to be any reason for this trend to change. Yet, beginning in 2001 carbon dioxide levels have spiked to average about 2.2 parts per million and that trend has continued through 2006 according to a report in the Guardian. What this seems to mean is that when climate scientists such as James Hansen say we have less than 10 years to begin to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid extremely serious consequences of global warming this warning may not even be urgent enough. Further concerns are raised because the cause of the spike has not yet been identified. Whether it is due to warming itself, emissions that actually exceed estimates, or some other reason remains obscure. As time goes on it appears that the truth about global warming is growing more and more inconvenient.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Are Pelosi and Dingell on a Collision Course Over Global Warming?

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representative, wants to legislate a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming. John Dingell, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee who is from Michigan has been a long time protector of the US auto industry which seems to specialize in selling Americans gas guzzling SUVs and trucks. Pelosi knows that Dingell is a formidable roadblock to getting her legislation through and according to the Associated Press has come with the idea of sidestepping Dingell and any other House committee chairmen in her way by forming a select committee to work on global warming legislation. If Pelosi succeeds with her strategy she would ultimately have to confront President George W. Bush, an even more formidable roadblock to achieving mandatory reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Pelosi clearly has her work cut out for her as she sets out on this political obstacle course that she needs to somehow navigate through if the problem of global warming is ever going to be seriously confronted.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Climate Change Edges Doomsday Clock Closer to Midnight

The well known “Doomsday Clock” with a minute hand that has been moved over the years closer and further from midnight as fears of nuclear war have increased and ebbed has now been moved two minutes closer to midnight because of increasing fears about climate change. According to BBC News the lastest move puts the minute hand at five minutes to midnight, which is as close as it has been to the doomsday mark since the height of the Cold War. This is the first time that the famous clock, which was devised by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, has reflected any threat other than nuclear weapons.

Whereas the threat of nuclear war tends to waiver back and forth it is hard to see how the threat of climate change will do anything but grow during the coming decades. With climate change in the mix the minute hand may in the future be moved in only one direction as the countdown to what seems like almost inevitable catastrophe begins.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Former US Kyoto Protocol Negotiator Pessimistic About US Entering International Global Warming Agreement

Stuart Eizenstat, who during the 1990s led the US team that was involved in negotiations over the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, doubts that the US will enter into a binding international-level agreement to reduce carbon emissions any time soon. According to Eizenstat, for the US, the Kyoto agreement is “radioactive.” Of course, given the short time frame that is now available to take worldwide action to begin reducing emissions soon enough to avoid catastrophic climate change if Eizenstat is right we are charging headlong toward eventual disaster. Intense public pressure should be able to speed up US actions to take a leadership role on the global warming issue but whether such political pressure from the public can be generated in time remains to be seen.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Slide Shows Featured in Global Warming Grassroots Movements

Large numbers of Americans will see a global warming slide show in person this year as slide show presenters from Al Gore’s global warming campaign and from the Sierra Club give presentations before audiences in communities across the country. Al Gore has trained about 1,000 people to give a version of his "An Inconvenient Truth” slide show which was seen in his very successful documentary film. The original slide show was almost all science but the newer version will contain more slides on solutions to the problem. The Sierra Club’s slide show is all about solutions and is named “Smart Energy Solutions.” Presenters have to train themselves using the files that they can download to their computers. Since the Sierra Club is relying on volunteer members in hundreds of groups throughout the country to become presenters it is not possible to predict how many members will be giving presentations.

Perhaps the best hope that the US will take the lead in combating global warming is that these grassroots movements will energize enough people to write e-mails and letters and call their representatives in Washington and perhaps even take to the streets to demonstrate. Overcoming the efforts of the powerful oil and coal industries to prevent Americans from turning away from these industries’ products to use renewable energy sources and energy efficiency instead to meet our energy needs and provide leadership for the rest of the world to do the same will not be easy.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Livestock Are Major Contributor to Global Warming

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has issued a report called “Livestock’s Long Shadow” which says that together cows, sheep, goats, and pigs account for more of global warming effects than all of the transportation sources in the world, a hefty 18%. With worldwide meat production expected to double by 2050 and scientists calling for at least a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by that year to prevent catastrophic climate change the livestock situation clearly presents a major challenge. With so much attention with regard to the global warming problem focused on transportation, industry, and electricity generating sources of greenhouse gases the emissions from livestock are sort of getting a free pass. It’s the cows, stupid.