Saturday, August 29, 2009

Indian Environment Minister Says Westerners Need to Live with Only One Car Not Three

With the countdown to the UN’s climate meeting in Copenhagen reaching the 100-day mark yesterday India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, gave a speech in Delhi in which he reiterated that India will not agree to a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to an article in The Guardian, Ramesh said that “For us this is about survival. We need to put electricity into people’s homes and do it cleanly. You in the west need to live with only one car rather than three. For you it is about luxury.” Luxury? Wait a minute! Perhaps if Ramesh has a family with a teenage driver he should rent a McMansion in one of our cul-de-sac suburban developments for awhile and try to live with one car. Good luck! He would quickly find out that to get to anything other than a nearby neighbor’s house that he would have to drive. If he takes the car to work his wife would be either stranded at home all day or unable to get to her job. If the teenage driver takes the car to see a friend in the evening or on weekends they would both be stranded at home. Ramesh would quickly come to realize that two cars are a necessity and even having that third car avoids a lot of conflicts. These houses don’t have three-car garages for nothing. To really change things Ramesh would have go back in time to the 1950s and stop our government from building the interstate highway system and subsidizing mortgages through the GI bill. In other words, he would have to stop the things that made building our sprawling suburbs possible. We can’t now in 2009 turn back time. “The die has been cast.” If Ramesh and India are waiting for us to go from three cars to one car it promises to be a very long wait.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Phase-out of “Super” Greenhouse Gases Through the Montreal Protocol Might Limit Climate Change

A report by the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) says that using the Montreal Protocol ozone treaty to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals that are now being used in refrigerators and air conditioners as a substitute for chemicals that are responsible for the ozone hole, could be a major step in the fight against global warming. In an article from the Inter Press Service News Agency, a senior U.S. climate campaigner from EIA is quoted as saying that “An HFC phase-down under the Montreal Protocol will do far more for climate protection than the Kyoto Protocol has accomplished in its entire history or than Copenhagen will achieve in the next decade.” The HCFs are called “super” greenhouse gases because these molecules can trap hundreds or thousands of times more heat than carbon dioxide. Phasing out HFCs is particularly important when considering projections of increased use of refrigerators and air conditioners in China and India between now and the year 2050. According to the EIA report, phasing out HFCs by 2050 would be the same as preventing from 118 to 224 billion tons of carbon dioxide being released. The G8 countries have made a commitment to phase-down HFCs. The members of the Montreal treaty next meet in November. So even with all the controversy over climate legislation in the U.S. and the bleak outlook for a global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Copenhagen maybe progress will still be made toward limiting climate change before it is too late.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Huge Antarctic Glacier Melting Much More Rapidly Than Believed

Here is yet another wake up call to the countries of the world that cannot agree on what to do about climate change, the massive West Antarctic Pine Island Glacier has been found to be melting four times faster than it was reported to be melting just 10 years ago. In an article posted on TimesOnline one of the British researchers who studied the glacier is quoted as saying “This is unprecedented in this area of Antarctica. We’ve known that it’s been out of balance for some time, but nothing in the natural world is lost at an accelerating exponential rate like this.” It is now predicted that if this accelerated melting continues the main section of the glacier will completely disappear in 100 years rather than the 600 years which was the previous estimate. Last year it was reported that this glacier was moving toward the sea at an accelerated rate of 7% greater than the previous year. Before the annual rate of increase was 1%. Scientists estimate that the melting of this glacier and the stationary ice behind it could raise sea level by about a foot. Adding that to predictions of sea level rise from other sources equals a more dire situation for coastal areas in the future.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Seal the Climate Deal or Face Disaster Warns UN Secretary-General

As the countdown to the December climate meeting in Copenhagen continues, Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, issued a stern warming in Seoul, South Korea that failure to reach an agreement will result in numerous devastating consequences. Reuters reports that Ban labeled climate change as a “fundamental threat to mankind.” The UN chief is so concerned about the lack of progress in negotiations so far that he has called for a special meeting of world leaders at the UN in New York City on September 22. This week the negotiators are at it again in Bonn, Germany trying to make progress on what appears to be a negotiation going nowhere. This negotiating process has been going on for almost 2 years now and so far there has been no breakthrough to bridge the gap in demands between the developed and developing countries. The two most important countries in this process, the US and China which presently account for almost one half of global warming pollution, remain far apart with China demanding that unless the US agrees to cut its emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 it will not agree to reduce its emissions and the US saying that it cannot reduce its emissions that much but that China must agree to reduce its emissions. The next most important country, India, has been saying that it will not agree to reduce its emissions under any circumstances but on a per capita basis its emissions will not rise above those of developed countries. With the Kyoto Protocol agreement ending in 2012 there is little time left to reach an agreement, ratify it, and then begin implementation. The scientists say that global emissions need to peak by 2015 to have any realistic chance of avoiding going over the warming threshold for catastrophic climate change. Under normal economic conditions global emissions increase by about 3%-4% annually so to level off by 2015 will take some doing. The good news is that in the past the world was able to reach an agreement to fix the problem of the ozone hole. The bad news is that the problem this time appears to be infinitely more complicated than finding substitute chemicals to keep air conditioners and refrigerators running.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Wind Turbine Syndrome a Possible Threat to Human Health

A prominent New York pediatrician, Nina Pierport, has identified a number of medical conditions caused by living close to wind farms, which she has dubbed the wind turbine syndrome. An article on her research was published in The Independent. Among the conditions that she says can be caused by wind farms are heart disease, migraines, vertigo, tinnitus, nausea, and sleep disturbance. Her research, which has been peer-reviewed, will be published in October. Dr. Pierpont has noted that not all people who live close to wind farms are susceptible. Her findings are based on a 5-year study of people living near wind farms in the US and four other countries. Central to her connecting wind turbines with various medical disorders is research conducted last year in the UK and Australia which showed that low-frequency vibrations and noise from the turbines can be transmitted through human ear bones. The research demonstrated that the human vestibular system is sensitive to low-frequency vibration, a phenomenon that was previously demonstrated in fish and frogs. The vibrations and low-frequency noise from the wind turbines therefore can cause abnormal stimulation of the vestibular system. Dr. Pierpont told The Independent that “The wind industry will try to discredit me and disparage me…This is not unlike the tobacco industry dismissing health issues from smoking.” Further research will surely be needed to prove that the wind turbine syndrome actually exists. But in the meantime Dr. Piermont’s research no doubt will be used as ammunition by opponents of wind farms when the siting is anywhere near residential areas and may be considered by planners when it comes to choosing sites.