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.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Leading Dem Presidential Candidates So Far Say Little About Global Warming

Looking over the websites of the three leading Democatic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, it would be hard to conclude that we are faced with a climate crisis that threatens to wreck havoc with human populations unless urgent action is taken. The sites of Clinton and Edwards do emphasize the issue of energy independence but do not say anything about global warming. The only candidate in the field that seems to be seizing on the issue of global warming at this very early stage of the campaign is Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa. He has issued a statement on energy and the environment which includes the following:

In particular, we should move immediately to impose a cap on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and businesses, and create a market-based system of tradable credits that rewards investments in innovative clean energy technologies. At the same time, America must undertake a national push for public and private investment in clean and renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, and biofuels, and in the technologies that can make them affordable and readily available.

The campaigns for Congress in 2006 seemed to focus on the issue of energy independence and ignore global warming. It appears that neither Clinton, Obama, or Edwards have really gone beyond this but clearly Vilsack has and he is also trying to make his campaign carbon neutral. It will be good news if Vilsacks’ emphasis on combating global warming turns into campaign support. If it does, the other candidates may realize that the issue of global warming deserves much more attention than they have been giving it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Presidential Campaign Goes Carbon Neutral

Running for president of the United States these days can generate a lot of carbon dioxide emissions with all the plane flights crossing the country, offices churning out campaign literature, and so forth. According to a report in the Contra Costa Times one of the Democratic presidential candidates, Tom Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, has decided to try to offset all of the carbon dioxide emissions that his campaign produces. His strategy is based on paying money to a company in Vermont that invests in renewable fuels. With regard to global warming, Vilsack’s communications director is quoted as saying “No question that this is one of the, if not the most important issue in the presidential campaign.” This suggests that Vilsack really “gets it.”

It will be interesting to see if any other presidential candidates attempt to elevate global warming as an issue to the level that Vilsack appears to be trying to do. Since Vilsack’s strategy includes the controversial topic of carbon offsets this could make him a political target as well as someone to emulate.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Deep Saline Aquifers Found Suitable for Long-Term Carbon Dioxide Storage

Reuters has reported that researchers have found that carbon dioxide could be stored for centuries by injecting it into deep saline aquifers. One member of the research team, Ruben Juanes from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was quoted as saying “We have shown that this is a much safer way of disposing of CO2 than previously believed because a large portion—maybe all—of the CO2 will be trapped in small blobs in the briny aquifer.” If this type of sequestration is feasible the CO2 gas emitted from coal or gas power plants could be trapped and injected for very long-term underground storage. Since CO2 is considered to be the main greenhouse gas contributing to global warming this research finding would seem to provide some additional hope that the warming of the Earth from greenhouse gas emissions can be contained. The main concern over sequestration methods has been slow leakage of CO2 from the storage site. This study appears to address that concern.

Last year researchers reported that carbon dioxide could be permanently stored in deep-sea sediments. This would seem to represent a problem with regard to transporting carbon dioxide emitted from power plants far from the ocean to deep-sea sites for storage. Perhaps it would be more feasible for plants along the coast. Certainly the deep saline aquifer storage strategy would seem to make more sense when logistics is taken into account.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Global Warming Legislation Will Be Controlled by John Dingell’s Committee

For anyone hoping for sweeping improvements in auto fuel efficiency in the United States it might be a good idea to be prepared for a considerable wait. According to the Detroit Free Press, an agreement among Democrats in the House of Representatives states that all climate change legislation will be under the control of the Energy and Commerce Committee which is chaired by John Dingell from Michigan. The agreement stipulates that the special global warming committee formed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have no legislative power.

While John Dingell is no James Inhofe, the senator from Oklahoma who has proclaimed that global warming is a hoax, neither is he another Al Gore. The quote below suggests he might in fact be closer to Inhofe. As I reported in a previous post, when asked by an interviewer 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 much for scientific consensus found in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released last Friday.

Among environmentalists Dingell is best known for his years of opposing increases in fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles. Essentially all strategies for reducing carbon dioxide emissions call for sizable improvements in fuel efficiency standards. One of the great questions we now face, therefore, is whether Dingell is ready to compromise on the issue of fuel efficiency standards or not. For the sake of humankind as well as numerous species of animals, let’s hope so.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Geoengineering the Climate from the Perspective of James Lovelock

In an interview posted on the well-known British scientist and environmentalist James Lovelock, who proposed the Gaia hypothesis, had some things to say about geoengineering proposals to combat global warming which sounded rather positive. His extremely pessimistic view of the global warming situation and his advocacy of nuclear power as part of the answer have gotten a lot of press recently whereas his views on geoengineering seem to be relatively unknown. In the interview he comments on two specific schemes. One involves placing sunshades in space at the point between the Earth and the Sun that is gravity neutral. Lovelock says that “It would take a lot of time and a lot of politics to get it working, but it might happen.” The other scheme involves dispersing tiny particles of sulphuric acid into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight as way of mimicking the effects of an erupting volcano. According to Lovelock “if commercial airlines could burn sulphur-rich fuel (unrefined kerosene) as they fly, instead of the highly-refined stuff, it would put enough sulphur in the atmosphere to give you a Pinatubo every couple of years.”

These type of schemes are generally considered to be something to be used as a last resort if greenhouse gas emissions cannot be reduced to limit global warming. With greenhouse gas emissions now increasing worldwide at about 3% per year and no plan in sight to alter this trend the likelihood that a method of last resort will actually be used to try to stop global warming seems to be growing more likely every day.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

IPCC Report Unlikely to Generate Major Global Warming Action in US for at Least Two Years

If this were a rational world the report released yesterday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (see for early analysis) would have politicians around the world spending their weekend figuring out what to do to save our planet. But this world is anything but rational and in the US our president is much more interested in instilling fear about terrorism than about global warming. The difference is that fighting terrorism doesn’t require a lot of government regulations whereas fighting global warming does. That is why we will have to wait until 2009, when a new president takes office to see if the dire warnings in the IPCC report lead to real action that begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Whomever this new president is, he or she would have to make fighting global warming a top priority and the Senate and House would have to be able to get enough votes to support effective legislation. Admitingly this is a long shot, particularly if Iraq continues to dominate politics in the US. One of the great unknowns looming out there is whether effective implementing of energy efficiency and renewable energy would be enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the US to the desired goal or whether strong conservation measures that would include drastic changes to lifestyle would also be needed. It is obviously difficult in a democracy for a politician to advocate sacrificing a luxurious way of life. Making the case for a Spartan lifestyle is probably not going to win many votes.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Scientists Say Dangers of Global Warming are Exaggerated at Elite High School Forum in NY

As the world’s leading climate scientists raise concerns about the possible catastrophic risks of global warming in Paris at the meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change it was a little surprising to open my local newspaper, The Journal News, and find out that an environmental panel of scientists speaking at Bronxville High School, one the more elite public high schools in the US, didn’t think there was much cause for alarm. The panel included one of the leading scientific skeptics Richard Lindzen from MIT. According to Lindzen, there is research showing that there will be only a slight increase in global temperature during the next 100 years. Klaus Jabob, a scientist from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, agreed. Another scientist on the panel, Amos Linenberg, said that he was more worried about polluted drinking water than global warming. On the side taking action to fight global warming was an environmental lawyer and a college student environmental activist. The newspaper article failed to point out that almost all the world’s climate scientists would strongly disagree with these scientists on the panel providing another example of dismal journalism that pervades our media when it comes to global warming. In this case neither the school nor the press did their job in presenting the scientific picture of global warming which most climate scientists endorse.