Monday, November 26, 2007

Bali conference last chance to get it right

Weekly angst: Next week environment ministers from 190 countries convene in Bali, Indonesia, to start working on a global climate agreement – the follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol. The future of the planet hinges on what they decide over the next two years.

Experts agree we need radical greenhouse gas cuts within 8 years if there is to be any hope of averting dangerous climate change, said Rajenda Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But there are many obstacles to agreement. China, the U.S. and India, who will produce the most GHG in coming decades, don’t want others telling them what to do. Australia used to be with them, but new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, elected Saturday, vowed to sign Kyoto. That leaves only guess who? of 38 industrialized countries refusing to sign the agreement to reduce GHG by 5-6% between 2008-2012.

The new agreement, which will start in 2013, should be finalized by the end of 2009, nations agree, in order to leave time for ratification. And some say they’ll probably negotiate around the Bush administration, hoping for a more agreeable president starting in January ’09. They’re likely to start on matters of easier agreement, like deforestation, adaptation (to changes that can’t be stopped) and sharing of clean technology, and wait until 2009 to determine emissions cuts.

The Kyoto Protocol
First a bit of background on how Kyoto is doing: After an initial sharp drop in GHG during the 1990s (due largely to a breakdown in Soviet bloc economies), emissions for the 36 nations that are obligated by the treaty have been on the upswing and are now just 2.8% below 1990 levels and rising. Yet the UN announced earlier this month that it believes the Kyoto goals can be met by 2012, and that if all the policies put in place work as planned, they could end up down 11% by that date. A $30 million carbon-trading market (likely to double next year), carbon taxes and more renewable energy sources will help accomplish this goal, the UN says.

There are great variations among the countries, with Spain, Portugal and Italy doing the worst job of curtailing emissions. Japan recently announced it needed to revise its plan to meet its goal, and will do so by March. In the period 1990-2005, the U.S., which did not sign the treaty, increased emissions 16% and will likely be up 26% by 2012, according to the UN.

Although 172 nations signed the treaty, developing countries such as China and India were not required to cut emissions by the Kyoto Accord, which is why the U.S. said it refused to ratify the agreement.

What countries are saying pre-Bali
*An East Asian Summit agreed this month “to stabilize emissions at a level that would prevent dangerous … interference with the climate system.” The 16 countries, which included Australia and New Zealand, as well as China and India, said “all should play a role based on common but differentiated responsibilities” and that industrial countries “should continue to play a leading role.” They set no numerical targets but vowed to improve energy efficiency through regional cooperation to develop cost-effective carbon reduction, cleaner fossil fuel technologies and biofuels, as well as nuclear power and reforestation. They aim to increase forest cover in Asia by at least 37.5 million acres.
*China reiterated its pledge to reduce energy intensity (use per unit of GDP) 20% in 5 years. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao also told reporters at the summit his country would seek to freeze key pollution emissions at 2005 levels. China says the U.S. must act first, because it has much higher per-capita emissions. China, which takes global warming seriously because of recent floods and drought, also notes that 23% of its emissions come from making goods that are exported to the U.S. and elsewhere.
*U.S. President George Bush wants an agreement that focuses heavily on technology development. He thinks the biggest polluters should set their own national policies. A Congressional delegation headed by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), however, will advocate for mandatory caps.
*Indonesia, host to the conference, wants countries with substantial rainforest to get financial incentives to stopping deforestation – to make up for the money they will lose if they stop chopping down trees for timber, pulp and palm oil. Credits on the carbon market could amount to as much as $400 million to $2 billion annually. Indonesia hopes to rally other rainforest countries like Brazil, Costa Rica, Malaysia and Congo behind the cause. Deforestation accounts for 20% of CO2 emissions globally, more than the transportation sector.
*Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown vows to lead a “green tech revolution” in his country and said any international agreement should include “binding emissions caps” for the industrial countries and a cut in worldwide emissions of at least 50% by 2050. He said we must keep the temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F).
*Africa, the “forgotten” continent, will need substantial funds to adapt to climate change – especially lack of water and food. Under Kyoto, most money for climate change projects so far has ended up going to China and very little to Africa.
*OPEC countries agreed this month to come up with $750 million for carbon-capture research, but said the industrialized nations must take the lead.
*Australia’s new prime minister, Rudd, expects to attend the conference, one of few heads of state planning to do so. He has made averting catastrophic climate change his top priority. Australia, which has the highest per-capita emissions, is suffering an unprecedented drought that is damaging its agriculture economy.

What to expect
The December meeting, with 20,000 delegates, will mainly set up the framework, timetable and agenda for international negotiations, said Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat. But there is an urgency to get started, he said. The world will replace 40% of its power generating capacity in the next 5-10 years, and China is building 1 or 2 more coal-fired plants each week. Once those new plants are built, they will last for decades and it will be hard to avoid “climate change running out of control,” he said.
(Sources: Reuters, PlanetArk, Associated Press, Greenwire, E&D Daily, The Independent UK)

Congressional round-up

House Energy Chair John Dingell
(D-Mich.), a friend to the auto industry, has said he wants three changes to the Senate bill setting corporate fuel economy (CAFE) standards:
• Separate cars from light trucks
• Maintain the distinction between foreign and domestic cars.
• Give automakers enough time to comply with the new requirements.
He also has many questions about the renewable electricity standards (RES) and wants biofuels under the 2005 Energy Policy Act instead of the new energy bill. Dingell is a major figure in energy bill negotiations, which continue through the recess, with final language anticipated by the end of this week and a vote Dec. 4 or 5. But don’t hold your breath. This is a tough one to put together.
(Source: Greenwire)

News in brief

Bear-human confrontations result from warmer weather

Temperatures as high as 10 degrees above normal and a berry-killing drought have caused more run-ins between bears and people this year in the West. In Colorado alone, 59 “nuisance bears” have been killed, a record surpassing 55 in 2002. The warmer weather found bears looking for food in cities in late fall, rather than settling into their dens for winter. Wildlife managers will meet in January to look for solutions. One possibility: more licenses for hunting bears. (Source: Greenwire)

Wind power will triple globally by 2015, new report says
Worldwide wind power will triple to 290 gigawatts from 91, according to a recent report from Emerging Energy Research, a renewable energy consultant. North America’s capacity is expected to double from to 60GW from 30, while Asia’s goes up to 100GW from 40. The projected increase here will be due to federal tax breaks and some states’ renewal portfolio standards (RPS). In Texas, the leader in wind power, the main incentive is a need to replace natural gas. Offshore wind is big in Europe but has lagged here because the U.S. Mineral Management Service has not yet created permitting guidelines under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Turbine manufacturers have increased their capacity fourfold in the past three years, the report said. Meanwhile, the American Wind Energy Association predicts that by 2030 the U.S. likely will generate 20% of its electricity from wind. This assumes a half-trillion dollar investment over 20 years. (Source: Greenwire)

A new technique in Norway could capture 95% of CO2
A Norwegian company says tests of a new carbon-capture technique have successfully removed 95% of CO2 and could be used commercially in new plants. “A competitive coal-fired power plant could be built today,” the CEO of Sargas technology group told Reuters. Because it works under pressure, only a few existing plants, in Europe and Japan, could use the technique. And companies would need government help for storage of the gases, likely in oil and gas fields, the company said. A different system for capture, using chilled ammonia, will be tested in Wisconsin soon. Coal is the Number 2 source of energy, after oil. (Source: Reuters)

Xtreme weather watch

Cyprus faces an unprecedented water crisis,
after suffering 3 years of drought. The island nation’s reservoirs are less than 9% full and may run out by the end of next month. Due to rising temperatures, less rain and more evaporation, runoff is down 40% since the ‘70s. “Climate change is clearly evidenced in Cyprus,” one official said. A third energy-intensive desalinization plant is due online this summer, but that is not a good solution because of added greenhouse gases, officials said. The country will drill to find pockets of underground water and faces more cuts to agriculture. In 1960 Cyprus was mainly an agriculture economy; now farming is just 2.8% of GDP. (Reuters)

China’s water shortage in its main rice-growing area is the result of an 86% drop in rain in Hunan province since the start of October. Major rivers are at historic lows there and in neighboring Jiangxi province. Meteorologists in China blamed the increase in extreme weather partly on climate change. (Greenwire)

A tiny Tennessee town is getting by on a few hours of water a day since its spring ran dry, a result of the record drought sweeping through the Southeast. Each night the mayor of Orme opens a valve in the water tower, so people can fill jars and wash before faucets run dry. Local businesses and churches have donated bottled water and a federal grant will fund a pipe to bring more water from Bridgeport, Ala. (Reuters)

Take action

Last chance to tell your elected representatives
in Washington to pass a strong energy bill including 35 mph CAFE standards and 15% RPS by 2020. Take a minute and call the Capitol switchboard, at 202-224-3121, to reach your senators and rep. The bill may go to a vote as early as Dec.4. You can make a difference. Please take the time to call.

With cold weather here (for most of us), find out what you can do to save energy and keep your heating bill down. Go to

Monday, November 19, 2007

Weekly angst

Bali delegates need leadership; IPCC report too dense

The latest, synthesized report from the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released Saturday, is a disappointment because it’s so hard to read. This is the report that is supposed to be concise and specific and light a fire under delegates at the big international climate forum in Bali in two weeks. The idea was to provide a compass for decision-makers on how to deal with carbon emissions and adapt to a changing climate. There’s a lot there, but most of it is in vague, theoretical and scientific language and hard to fathom.

For example, one of the clearest sections is a list of reasons to be concerned:
* risks to unique and threatened systems
* risks of extreme weather events (that one’s clear)
* distribution of impacts and vulnerability
* aggregate impacts and
* large-scale singularities.

You get my drift.

It’s just too wordy and hard to cut through, except perhaps some of the charts (though they are wordy too). I hope someone has condensed it into a 15-minute Power Point presentation. They want all the delegates to read it and use it, but I doubt anyone will make it to the end, and that’s too bad because the end is where the important stuff is, at least for the group that will be negotiating the follow-up agreement to Kyoto. I’ll paraphrase it for you:

* If we want to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gases at a safe level, we can do it. But we need to start soon.
* Delay increases the risk of severe impacts on the climate.
* Without substantial investment and effective technology transfer among countries, we may not be able to significantly reduce emissions.

The comments about the report were much more clear than the written word.

“If there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late,” said Rajendra Pachauri, who heads IPCC. “What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” He also noted that the 5–year study doesn’t reflect the recent speedup in climate change, so we’d “better start with intervention much sooner.”

Negotiating an agreement
So thousands of delegates from around the world will head to Bali in early December, with this obtuse 23-page summary to guide them. All will no doubt be thinking about their own needs, so it’s hard to see how they will ever find agreement to substantially reduce Global Warming without strong leadership from someone.

Europe, which is already feeling the impact of climate change, is pushing for strong, mandated reductions. China, the U.S. and India, the top GHG polluters over the next couple of decades, are resisting any mandate that forces them to meet a specific goal (though the U.S. will have a second, Congressional delegation with a different view).

Countries with rainforests want credit given for not cutting them down. Island nations are afraid they will disappear under the rising sea. Oil and coal producing nations are worried about the selling their natural resources. Developing countries want cheap, available fuel (mostly coal) to stoke their booming economies that are lifting people out of poverty.

All these delegates will be starting negotiations with the goal of finding something they can all live with by 2009 (because they know there’s a problem out there somewhere they should deal with). There will likely be a lot of give and take, in an effort to get everyone onboard.

It’s a lot like what’s happening in Washington, D.C., as those who see the coming impact of climate change negotiate with the coal states, the “oil patch” states, the auto state and the skeptics to find a compromise that will get enough votes.

The problem, of course, is there’s no negotiating with Mother Nature.

(Source: , New York Times, Greenwire)

Congressional round-up

3 Western govs tout Lieberman-Warner as fed officials recess

Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and the governors of Utah and Montana have made a TV ad calling for Congress to pass the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill. They point out their states have set ambitious targets to reduce GHG and it’s time for Congress to do likewise. The bill is in the Environment and Public Works Committee, and is scheduled for a vote Dec. 5 or 6. EPW chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) would like to strengthen it but warned her colleagues not to expect too much. Meanwhile, some Republican senators worry about energy prices and loss of job. The EPA and the Energy Information Administration, asked by the sponsors to analyze the costs and benefits of the bill, said they can’t do so before year’s end. But the Clean Air Task Force and a Duke University team have found its impact on the economy to be negligible. Congress is now on recess until Dec. 3. (Source: E&E Daily)

Energy bill might be split in two to get the votes – Durbin
As negotiations continue on reconciling two energy bills passed by different chambers this summer, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said one option is to send two bills to the floor for a vote: one containing the Senate’s CAFE standards of 35 mpg by 2020, the other with the House-passed RES of 15% renewable power by 2020. That may be the best way to get the requisite 60 votes in the Senate, some say. Oil industry taxes remain an issue, according to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who also said a final deal should include something for the coal states pushing for coal-to-liquid, which releases more carbon than gasoline. Meanwhile, some senators want to move the biofuel standards (RSF) from the energy bill to the farm bill, which would lose the energy bill some votes. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it should remain in the energy bill. (Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM)

News in brief

Mediterranean could become a saltier, stagnant sea

Europe is heating up faster than the rest of the world and Italian researchers fear the impact on the Mediterranean Sea will be devastating. Surface temperatures are increasing 1 degree per decade and the heat and salinity could eventually wipe out half the fish and plant species, scientists said at a recent climate conference in Rome. As the sea evaporates and become saltier, it could start flowing out to the Atlantic at Gibraltar instead of vice versa. And a decline in algae could mean the Mediterranean would absorb one-third less CO2, the scientists warned. (Source: Associated Press)

UN asks OPEC ministers to discuss climate change at summit
OPEC should look for ways to limit carbon emissions, Yvo deBoer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said last week. In response, OPEC officials said climate change is one of three topics the ministers would address at their summit in Riyadh over the weekend. “International action on climate change is a war against emissions, not a war against oil,” deBoer said. OPEC markets 40% of the world’s oil. He specifically suggested they look at funding research on carbon capture and sequestration and “put the first dollar on the table” so other nations would follow suit. OPEC Sec. Gen. Abdullah al-Badri turned it around a bit, saying if developed nations with the know-how and financial resources take the lead, “We’ll try to contribute.” (Source: PlanetArk)

Midwest governors strike regional cap-and-trade agreement
Six Midwest states and Manitoba, Canada, signed a pact last week to start a regional cap-and-trade program, starting in 2010. This brings the number of states in such agreements to 20. Similar pacts exist in the Northeast, Southwest and West. Signing on were Ill., Iowa, Kan., Mich., Minn. and Wis. Their goal is 60-80% reduction in GHG by 2050. Three other states – Ind., Ohio and S.D. – signed on as observers, while Mo., Neb. and N.D. did not sign at all. Details are still to be determined. At the same time, 8 states and Manitoba pledged to increase efficiency, renewable energy sources and carbon capture and storage within a regional framework by 2010. (Source: E&E News PM)

London’s famous red buses will start turning ‘green’
London, England, is buying 10 hydrogen-powered buses, to help curb pollution and CO2 emissions. It will test two different types: 5 with fuel cells and 5 with hydrogen-burning internal combustion engines. The buses are costing about $2 million each. The mayor’s goal is to have 5% of all public sector vehicles on hydrogen by 2015. London has 8,000 buses, some of which are diesel hybrids. (Source: PlanetArk)

Xtreme weather watch

Winter forecast: much warmer than usual in NE, Midwest

Temperatures will be above normal starting in mid-December in the Midwest and Northeast, according to an Accuweather forecast. The Northeast, which was 7 degrees above normal in October, may see colder-than-usual temps over the next month, but January and February should be much warmer. The Pacific Northwest is expected to be colder than usual. The Southeast can expect continued drought, probably for a number of years, in part because of a warming trend in the Atlantic. La Niña is also a factor in the winter warmth. (PlanetArk)

Crocs on loose as more floods hit Vietnam, raise death toll
Hundred of crocodiles escaped from cages in Vietnam as floods swept through a breeding farm last week. Several were caught and shot. A new onslaught of rain raised the season’s official death toll to 332 by midweek, as 61,000 homes were submerged. A similar disaster in August left 1 million hungry. This year’s floods were some of the worst in decades. 2,500 foreign tourists were confined to hotels as roads and railways in the country were washed out. (PlanetArk)

Cyclone hits Bangladesh, 600,000 evacuated to shelters
Cyclone Sidr, the worst in a decade, swept across Bangladesh Thursday, driving hundreds of thousands to shelters and killing at least 3,000. The toll could go as high as 10,000 when outlying islands are reached. Low-lying Bangladesh is vulnerable to cyclones and storm surges and is predicted to be one of the places most in danger from rising seas due to Global Warming. About 10 million people live along the coastline. (Reuters, Associated Press)

Take action

Starting your holiday shopping?
Think green. Some ideas: reusable shopping bags, reusable water bottles, a mass transit pass, “An Inconvenient Truth” DVD or book, a donation or membership to an organization that fights Global Warming (Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council), CFL lightbulbs, anything organic. For more ideas, Check out:

Monday, November 12, 2007

Opening comment: NBC just had Green Week, calling attention to Global Warming. I didn’t see much of it, but I did look at CNBC now and then as the stock market fell off a cliff. And I witnessed at least 4 skeptics casting aspersions on Al Gore, the Natural Resources Defense Council and all who want to do something about Climate Change. One said it was “almost anti-capitalism.” Well, yeah. If capitalism means short-term greed trumps everything else: your children’s future, nature, health, caring about the well-being of people around the world, not wanting coastal cities to disappear … Arrrgh! May his Long Island summer home be swept away in the next storm surge! This is what we’re up against, folks, despite the number of corporations that are in the fight with us: short-sighted greed, and the blind ignorance that goes with it.

Weekly angst

World will still be hooked on fossil fuels in 2030 – IEA

Fossil fuels will still reign in 2030, the International Energy Agency said last week in its Annual World Energy Outlook. Oil will remain the single largest source of energy (32%), but will lose some ground to cheaper, more abundant coal (28%). Natural gas will come in third at 22%. Nuclear is seen shrinking to 5%, with biomass/waste at 9%, and other renewables and hydro each at 2%.

A 55% increase in energy use is expected by that date, mainly in Asia, where booming economic growth is lifting millions of people out of poverty.

Global temperature could soar
The average world temperature is expected to rise at least 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit), as emissions increase a projected 57%. That means we’ll exceed the IPCC-recommended limit of 450 ppm of CO2, which would result in a temperature increase of 2.4C (4.3F).

To achieve the recommended level, greenhouse gases would have to peak by 2015 (that’s just 8 years away) and then fall 50-80% by 2050, IEA said. This would require a massive energy-efficiency campaign, a switch to non-fossil fuels, and unprecedented technological advances at considerable cost.

Not very likely, says IEA.

Their most optimistic scenario is a 1% rise in GHG per year till 2030, resulting in a 5.4F peak temperature, then a steady decline. The most pessimistic scenario is for a 10.8F peak, if China and India continue their strong economic growth unabated. To put that in context, the average world temperature has grown just 1.44 degrees F in the 107 years since 1900, and that increase has caused melting glaciers and ice sheets, as well as permafrost retreat. A 10-degree rise would be cataclysmic.

China and India
“Staggering” economic growth in China and India, and throughout Asia, is the main reason for the expected future surge in GHG. China accounted for 58% of the increase from 2000-2006 and its share of world emissions will rise from 20% to 25%, though per capita emissions will still be less than half that of the U.S. By 2015, the 3 biggest GHG polluters will be, in order, China, the U.S. and India, the report said.

Keeping Global Warming within safe limits may be out of reach, the report said, in part because there is more talk than action in most countries. If governments did everything they are talking about, renewables could provide 17% of power, GHG could be held to an increase of 25%, and the average temperature would rise 5.4F.

“Unprecedented political action” is needed to keep the planet at a safe level, said IEA. And that will be costly, no doubt about it. For example, the world will have to retire some fossil fuel plants prematurely, at an estimated cost of $1 trillion.

But we’re going to pay the price, one way or the other.

This report comes out as world governments prepare to meet next month in Bali, to start forging an international agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. Let’s hope they all read it – and feel the heat.
(Sources: Greenwire, PlanetArk and Agence France-Presse)

Congressional round-up

The Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill
(S. 2191) is scheduled for a vote in the Environment and Public Works Committee Dec. 5-6, Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Thursday. Earlier, Boxer had hoped to vote the bill out of committee this week, but she was under severe criticism from some members who wanted more time. Votes on amendments are expected the 5th, with a final committee vote that day or the next, she said. There are pressures to both strengthen and weaken the bill. Key sponsor Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) told reporters last week he doesn’t expect the 2020 target to change from 15% below 2005 levels, but there may be consensus on tightening the 2050 limits (now 63%) and moving up the date for 100% auction of credits from 2036. Boxer said it’s unlikely the bill will see final action on the Senate floor before year’s end.

6,000 college students rallied for 80% by 2050 on Capitol Hill last Monday, as a new coalition, 1Sky, pushed for a more aggressive cap-and-trade bill. They urged support for the stricter Sanders-Boxer and Waxman bills instead of Lieberman-Warner, and called for 100% auction of credits, a moratorium on new coal plants, and using cap-and-trade proceeds to create 5 million new green jobs.

Negotiations to reconcile the energy bills continued, as advocates pressed for inclusion of the Senate’s corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards and House’s renewable electricity standards (RES), as well as a provision on biofuels, transfer of tax breaks from oil to renewables, and removal of loan guarantees for new nuclear plants. The final bill is expected to go the House and Senate for a vote in December. 60 votes are needed in the Senate to avoid a filibuster.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has called on the EPA to explain why it gave permission for a new coal-fired plant in Utah without requiring greenhouse gas controls. He called the approval a missed opportunity and illegal under the Clean Air Act. The EPA responded that it has no regulations in place yet for regulating GHG. Waxman said he plans to investigate and will introduce a bill to prohibit permits unless plants use state-of-the-art technology to reduce emissions. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced a similar bill in the Senate in April. Kerry also has a bill to boost R&D funds for demonstration projects on capture and sequestration of carbon at 6-10 plants.
(Congressional round-up sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM)

News in brief

Americans overwhelming want better auto fuel economy

A poll conducted last week showed that 86% of the people want improved auto fuel efficiency and don’t buy the arguments against it by the auto industry. Support for improved fuel-economy standards cut across all major political demographic groups, with 90% of Democrats in favor, 83% of Republicans and 83% of Independents. Their greatest concerns were security (oil dependency) and the price of gasoline. While the general public has always wanted improved fuel efficiency, it has risen to a top priority, said the Democrat and GOP pollsters who conducted the survey. (Source: E&E News PM)

California sues EPA over long waiver delay; other states to join
California sued the EPA Thursday, seeking to force a decision on whether the state can implement the nation’s first greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks. Other states that plan to join the suit are Ariz., Conn., Ill., Maine, Md., Mass., N. J., N. M., N. Y., Ore., Pa., R. I., Vt. and Wash. California sought the waver about 2 years ago, and turned up the heat earlier this year when the Supreme Court said greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The EPA said there would be an answer at the end of the year, along with a set of regulations for GHG emissions. But California says there’s urgency because their rules apply to 2009 car models, which are being planned now. A waiver for California would allow 11 other states that have adopted the regulations to enforce theirs as well. Several other states are in the process of adopting similar restrictions. (Source: Associated Press)

Worldwide poll shows people willing to sacrifice, pay more
In a BBC global poll announced last week, 83% of those surveyed realized lifestyle changes will be needed to mitigate global warming. In 14 of the 21 countries surveyed, 61% said it will be necessary to pay increased energy costs and be more energy-efficient. A smaller number, but still a majority, were OK with a climate tax as long as all the money went to clean energy and efficiency. The poll surveyed 22,000 people and will be used as ammunition when environment ministers meet in Bali in December to discuss a post-Kyoto agreement. (Source: PlanetArk)

Chicago goes green with world’s largest commercial building
The 4.2 million-square-foot Merchandise Mart and the McCormick Place convention center have both received LEED certification, the city announced last week to the U.S. Green Building Council’s GreenBuild conference in Chicago. The Mart will undergo an extensive energy retrofit through the city’s partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative, which brokered $5 billion for Chicago and 15 other cities to become more energy-efficient. The announcement was the leading edge of Chicago’s extensive Climate Action Plan, which will be rolled out over the next few months. Energy efficiency for commercial and multi-family residential buildings will be a major part of the plan to cut 25% of GHG emissions by 2020. The soon-to-be tallest building in the world, the Chicago Spire, is aiming for LEED certification, too. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, and is a program of the U.S. Green Building Council. (Source: Greenwire)

Xtreme weather watch

Lush Kauai in Hawaiian Islands is going dry. Last month only 0.39 inches of rain were reported in the town of Lihue there, the driest October since records began in 1950. And August-October saw only 1.27 inches of rain, the lowest for any three-month period on record. Though a rainstorm last week dropped a welcome 1.47 inches, there’s concern the drought will get worse this winter. (New York Times)

Tibet is so dry people are waking up with nosebleeds. Humidity was at record lows in October in the country, which is heating up faster from Global Warming than any other place on Earth, according to China’s state media. Scientists have warned of melting glaciers, dried up rivers and desertification. (PlanetArk)

At least 82 were killed in floods in Vietnam last week as the nation was on alert for a possible typhoon to add to the misery. Nearly 200 have died in since early October and there are concerns the flooding will spread bird flu. (PlanetArk)

Take action

Do everything you can to urge Congress
to pass a strong energy bill, with corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards of 35 mpg by 2020 and renewable electricity standards (RES) of 15% by 2020. Your reps will be on recess from Nov. 16-Dec. 3. Call or take friends and visit them in their home office, to remind them this is a top priority for their constituents. Ask your mayor to weigh in and send a letter to their congressional delegation. Write a letter to the editor to let the media know this issue is important. At a minimum, go on your senators’ Web sites and send them a message to “pass a strong energy bill this year.” For help, visit the Sierra Club's energy Web site at Also, go to and sign a letter to the leadership and your elected representatives in Washington.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Weekly angst

How much CO2 did the California fires release?

Picture the freeway in Los Angeles at morning rush hour, with rows and rows of cars making their long daily commute. Now picture the wildfires that hit Southern California last month. Which put the most carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

According to a study published in the journal Carbon Balance and Management, the fires released about 8.7 million metric tons of CO2. That’s equal to all the fossil fuels burned in the state of California in a week. The estimate for the entire U.S. was 293 million tons per year from 2002-2006, or 4-6% of total CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. The study, by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Colorado, had a margin of error of 50%, because it’s so hard to know exactly how much carbon was in the trees and plants and what percent of them burned.

Other estimates varied wildly. The Forest Foundation, which advocates for active timber management, came in higher, estimating the amount of all greenhouse gases released – including methane and nitrous oxide – at 26.5 million tons, equivalent to 5 million cars. Other estimates were closer to the Colorado study. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) said less than 6 million tons of CO2, based on preliminary data. The U.S. Forest Service came in at 5-6 million tons. All used different models and different data, with a huge margin of error.

So clearly it’s an inexact science. With many more fires on the horizon (the fire season has lengthened by 78 days), we need to get a better handle on this.

Wildfire CO2 vs. fossil fuels
The Colorado researchers see a difference between emissions from fires and those from the burning of fossil fuels. The carbon from the fires, as part of a natural cycle, will eventually be absorbed by plants as they regenerate, they said. The carbon from fossil fuels, however, has been locked in the ground as oil and coal for millions of years and won’t be reabsorbed by the ecosystem.

But the ability of some forests to absorb enough CO2 is called into question by another new study, this one in the journal Nature. University of Wisconsin researcher Tom Gower measured boreal forests in Manitoba, Canada, and found they went from weak carbon “sinks” to weak carbon sources in recent decades, mainly because of fires. In addition to the trees that burn, exposed soil hit by sunlight speeds decomposition, releasing more carbon, he said.

There may already be a feedback loop in the boreal forests, in northern latitudes such as the upper parts of Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Scandinavia and China, Gower said. That means the more GHG emissions, the warmer and dryer it gets, the more fires there are, the more GHG are released … ad infinitum. And maybe it doesn’t all get reabsorbed.

Need better understanding
Clearly we need better measurements of how much carbon forests store and release, and under what conditions, so we can maximize their role as sinks to mitigate Global Warming.

The California Air Resources Board is moving in that direction. In late October it passed the nation’s first standards for forest-generated carbon emissions. The Forest Protocols, which took 4 years to develop, will help quantify emission reductions for forests based on management and planting. The agency thinks California forests have the potential to take 10 million tons out of the air by 2020.

It’s time for other states – and nations – to follow suit. Especially if carbon offsets are going to be offered for planting or stopping destruction of trees. We need to know better how this all works.
(Sources:, E&E Daily, PlanetArk, Greenwire, Land Letter)

Congressional round-up

Senate votes to increase funds for Amtrak expansion
The Senate last week approved a measure to increase Amtrak funding from $1.3 billion a year to nearly $2 billion annually, for the next 6 years. While most is for operations, $1.4 billion will be available for states to expand or start new rail service as an alternative to automobile or air travel. The House is expected to act on a similar bill next year. (Source: Greenwire)

GOP Energy Action Team wants more coal, oil, gas and nuclear
Some House Republican leaders have formed an action team to speak out against the energy bill negotiations now in progress, criticizing the individual bills passed by the House and Senate as falling short on coal-to-liquid, oil, gas, nuclear power and offshore drilling. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) has asked Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to try to influence the negotiations through House Energy Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.). (Source: E&E News PM)

Cap-and-trade bill OK’d in subcommittee by 4-3 vote
After turning back amendments to strengthen it, the Global Warming Subcommittee narrowly approved the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill (S. 2191) last week. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) was the only Republican to vote for the bill, by proxy because of complications from recent heart surgery. Independent Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who submitted the amendments, voted against it. Subcommittee Chair Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said the amendments would have made the carefully crafted compromise fall apart. The bill now moves on to the full Environment Committee for hearings starting Thursday. (Source: Greenwire)

House cap-and-trade version stalls behind energy negotiations
In contrast to the Senate, where cap-and-trade is moving ahead simultaneously with efforts to reconcile the two energy bills, the House won’t act until energy negotiations are over, said House Energy Chair Dingell and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who drafted the House bill. Earlier they said they’d consider the bill this fall, but now next year seems more likely. (Source: E&E Daily)

News in brief

Seas could rise 1 meter in next 50 years, some scientists say
Several climate scientists say seas could rise a meter (39 inches) in the next 50 years. Others agree they will rise that much, though it might take 100 years or even 150. And “there’s nothing we can do about it,” University of Victoria’s Andrew Weaver, a lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, told Associated Press. Among those in danger from high water are Wall Street, Silicon Valley, major airports and interstates, and popular beaches in Texas and Florida. Maps at the University of Arizona show what will happen when melting ice sheets and glaciers, plus expanded warm sea water cause a rise of 1 meter, engulfing an estimated 25,000 square miles of U.S. land. Subway floods like those in NYC last summer, could become a regular event and storm surges will be more devastating. Expect a future debate on what is worth saving and at what cost, said Donald Boesch, a scientist at the University of Maryland. The change will be slow, though, allowing people to ignore it for some time. (Source: AP)

Corporations not living up to their greenhouse promises
A closer look at some companies that pledged a reduction in GHG reveals that many of them aren’t meeting their stated goals. Fed Ex, for example, said in 2003 it would buy 2,000 hybrid trucks a year, but 4 years later it has purchased fewer than 100. The company says hybrids cost 75% more. Aspen Skiing Co., despite high goals, gets only 1% of its power from hydro and solar. The person in charge of sustainability at Aspen told Business Week, “How do you really green your company? It’s f------ impossible.” And Nike, which slightly lowered its emissions lately, is up 50% since 1998, while Sony is up 17% in a year. (Source: Greenwire)

New company to provide charged batteries for electric cars
Shai Agassi has a plan to separate electric cars from their batteries, to make them more practical and cheaper than gasoline-powered cars. The software engineer, formerly with SAP AG, has started a company called Better Place. Automakers will furnish the cars, he will provide the batteries (which he sees as more like fuel). Better Place will set up a network of stations that will switch out drained batteries for recharged ones, for a subscription price. He thinks that will also enable drivers to use smaller batteries than carmakers now envision. (Source: Greenwire)

New York City eyes law to require recycling of plastic bags
A law was introduced in New York City Council last week to require stores of more than 5,000 square feet to provide in-store recycling of plastic bags. About 700 grocery stores would be affected, as well as big retail outlets like Home Depot and Target. The state of California passed a similar law in July, and San Francisco banned the use of plastic bags in supermarkets last spring. Americans use an estimated 84 billion plastic bags each year, which eats up 12 million barrels of oil. (Sources: PlanetArk, Greenwire)

Xtreme weather watch

An atypical La Niña weather pattern will bring more dryness to drought-stricken Australia this winter, rather than the rain it usually brings. Abnormally cool seas north of Australia and into the Indian Ocean have altered expected weather patterns associated with La Niña, said the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. WMO warned that La Niña could cause weather disruptions on a “planetary scale.” (PlanetArk, E&E News PM)

Hurricane Noel was the deadliest storm in the Atlantic this year, leaving at least 115 dead as it raged through the Caribbean. The storm poured a record 15 inches of rain on the Bahamas and 10-20 inches on treeless hillsides in Haiti, where 90% of the forests have been cut down for charcoal. In Cuba, a dam overflowed and damaged at least 2,000 home. (AP, PlanetArk)

Governors of drought-stricken Georgia, Alabama and Florida met with federal officials last week and reached a temporary agreement to cut the flow from Georgia’s Lake Lanier by 16%. Georgia is concerned the reservoir, the main source of Atlanta’s drinking water, will dry up in three months and wanted to cut back the flow by half. Alabama and Florida, on the other hand, worried the flow to them, if curtailed that much, would endanger the fishing industry and an electric power station. A permanent deal is sought by February, in a 20-year water dispute that has grown much more serious because of the drought. (E&E News PM)

Take action

Help put pressure on the EPA to grant California a waiver to regulate tailpipe emissions. Submit a question today, asking why they haven’t granted the waiver yet, at California has been waiting for nearly 2 years for the EPA to act. By stalling, the agency is keeping other states from regulating GHG from cars too. If you live in any of the following states, you need California to get its waiver so your state can implement the law it passed: Md., N.J., Conn., Mass., R.I., Vermont, Maine, Pa., Vt., Ore. and Wash. If you live in Ill., Utah, Ariz., N.M. or Fla., your state is considering a clean car act, but won’t be able to enforce it. Some of the questions submitted will be answered this Thursday in an online forum. Send a copy of your question to who will monitor the forum to see if the EPA is avoiding questions about the waiver.