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.