Friday, May 30, 2008

Environmental organizations protest nuclear amendment to Senate global warming bill

(Photo of nuclear power plant in Byron, Ill., from Flickr and photographers iluvcocacola/Bill and Vicky Tracey.)

Washington Report 1:
Ten environmental organizations have sent a letter to Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) protesting their nuclear title amendment to the global warming bill (S. 3036), which would give a portion of carbon-credit auction revenue to support the making of nuclear reactor parts. The groups say the money isn’t needed because nuclear energy already gets loan guarantees, production tax credits and disaster insurance from the 2005 Energy Bill, and that it is likely to sit unused. Instead the funds should go to energy efficiency and renewables, say Clean Water Action, Environment America, the Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the League of Women Voters, Nuclear Policy Institute/Beyond Nuclear, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Public Citizen and the Sierra Club. (Source” E&E News PM)

Labor, other groups back Global Warming bill

Washington Report 2: The following eclectic list organizations gave their seal of approval this week to the revised Boxer/Lieberman/Warner global warming bill (S. 3036): GE, National Resources Defense Council, Alcoa, Florida Power & Light, Environmental Defense Action Fund, Trout Unlimited, the boilermakers union, plumbers and pipefitters, electrical workers, brickmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger (R-Calif.) Those calling for changes in the bill include Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club and Oxfam America. (Source: E&E News PM)

Strong climate bill unveiled by Rep. Markey

(Photo of Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) from Flickr and photographer Keith Ivey.)

Washington Report 3: Expect U. S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a champion of strong climate change legislation, to introduce his iCap bill (Invest in Climate Action & Protection Act) in the House Tuesday. The bill calls for:
• 85% cut in greenhouse gases by mid-century
• a cap-and-trade plan to start in 2012
• 94% of credits auctioned from the start, with 6% given to vulnerable industries like glass, steel and cement
• Auction proceeds going to tax cuts for low- and middle-income people, energy technology research, energy efficiency, adaptation to climate change
• A carrot-and-stick approach to trade with other nations, with the carrot being access to billions for clean technology and forestation for those with similarly strong climate plans and the stick an added cost in the form of having to buy carbon credits if they want to export carbon-intensive products to us
• Overriding the EPA decision to deny California (and many other states) the ability to curb tailpipe emissions
• New EPA regulations for coal mines, landfills, large animal feeding operations and other emitters of greenhouse gases not otherwise covered in the bill.
This is a bill environmentalists have to love. It shows many of the Senate bill’s shortcomings. (Source: ClimateWire)

Polar bears in cross-hairs of legal maneuvers

(Photo of polar bear from Flickr and and photographer metrognome0.)

Washington Report 4: A flurry of lawsuits have been filed against the Interior Department in the wake of it’s decision earlier this month that the polar bear is “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act but that it will do little to protect the marine mammal that requires sea ice to hunt, mate and dig a den for its offspring. The day after the decision, several environmental groups filed a complaint saying the new special rule against regulating greenhouse gases violated the ESA. Then Alaskan officials sued to reverse the “threatened” status, apparently concerned about the oil business, though under this Administration they need not worry. Finally, a hunting group, U.S.-based Safari Club International, sued to allow hunters to continue bringing back trophy polar bear carcasses from Canada. The group pointed out that hunters must pay $1,000 for each carcass they bring back and that money goes to research and conservation of the polar bear. Huh?? (Source: E&E PM)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Renewable energy use here down 1% last year due to dought, carbon dioxide emissions grew

(Photo of hydroelectric waterfall from Flickr and photographer grendelkhan.)

News Update 1: Consumption of renewable energy in the U.S, slipped slightly in 2007 because lack of rain cut hydroelectric power 14%. Drought is predicted to be a continuing problem because of climate change. Other forms of renewable energy were up, according to a report from the Energy Information Administration. Wind rose 21% and biomass 7% (mostly because of ethanol). Overall renewables were down 1%, following several years of growth. Sources of energy in 2007 were:
• renewables 7%
• petroleum 40%
• natural gas 23%
• coal 22%
• nuclear 8%
Meanwhile, carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. grew 1.6%, according to the EIA, with all the growth attributed to residential and commercial buildings. Since 1990 C02 growth in the U.S. was nearly 20%. Nations that signed the Kyoto treaty (not us) were committed to cutting C02 5% from 1990 levels.
(Source: E&E News PM, Greenwire)

San Francisco Bay Area imposes carbon fee

(Photo of Bay Area from Flickr and photographer brothergrimm/Matthew Grimm.)

News Update 2: The Bay Area Air Quality Management District imposed a carbon fee on refiners, cement plants, gas stations and other stationary sources, despite vociferous opposition from the oil industry, which will be hardest hit. The fee of 4.4 cents per metric ton of carbon dioxide or its equivalents applies to a 9-county area in Northern California, around San Francisco. The district said the rule is based on the need to cut emissions expressed in the California climate law, A.B.32. (Source: E&E PM, Mercury News.)

Ocean acidity from greenhouse gases speeding up much faster than expected

(Photo of California coast from Flickr and photographer Alykat/Alyson Hurt.)

News Update 3: Greenhouse gas emissions have caused surface water in the ocean off the West Coast to acidify far faster than anticipated, according to a new study published in Science. Some areas have reached acidity levels not expected until 50-100 years from now. The oceans have absorbed about one-third of the carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere in the past 150 years, and acidity has grown 30%, researchers said. This could damage shellfish, corals and ultimately be disastrous for fish. While much of climate change involves warming temperatures, ocean acidity is another direct result of greenhouse gases, just as warming is. (Source: E&E News PM)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Global warming debate in Senate set for next week

(Photo of Capitol Building from Flickr and photographer Charles Pence.)

Weekly Angst: Prepare to turn on C-Span next week and watch the debate over the Senate global warming bill. It should be revealing.

Environment Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) came up with a “substitute” bill (S. 3036) last week, which incorporates the one by Lieberman and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), but tries to meet some objections to garner more support. It includes, for example, a $955 billion fund (from now through 2050) to pay down the federal deficit, to make the bill budget neutral (if not carbon neutral). The debate is expected to start in the early evening June 2, with a cloture vote that even staunch opponents are likely to go along with – they want a debate too. Lieberman and Warner have signed off on Boxer’s substitute and John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Me.) are co-sponsors.

It should be a zoo. This topic elicits strong feelings because global warming is an enormous issue that threatens the planet but also has implications for industry, as it calls for a seismic shift from fossil fuels to carbon-free (or at least low-carbon) energy. The bill sets up a cap-and-trade system, which puts an ever-lowering cap on greenhouse gas emissions and auctions or gives away credits that businesses can trade depending on whether they meet their emissions targets. If they don't, they must buy credits from those who do.

All kinds of amendments planned, from one by Lieberman and Warner to include more nuclear power, to one by Republicans to return revenue from the auction of carbon credits to the taxpayers as tax cuts. Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) wants to tell the U.S. to engage in global climate negotiations for real, and a likely Republican amendment will ask for inclusion of offshore drilling for oil and gas. Dems have been alerted, too, about planned GOP amendments specifically designed to embarrass them and their likely presidential nominee, Barack Obama.

Environmental groups (2 dozen of them) released a statement late last week saying the bill still “needs to be strengthened to ensure it will meet the reductions science dictates” (at least 80% cut by 2050), which it does not. Boxer did not increase the target, which is 71% by 2050, but really only 66% because it does not include all greenhouse gas emissions. It's not clear to me if there’s been any change in the percent of credits auctioned off, which start as 26.5% in 2012, going up to 79% in 2031. Bur since there’s been no mention of it, I assume it hasn’t changed much. That percentage is deemed too low by most environmentalists, because it means more free credits to polluters and less money bolster renewable energy. Many want 100% auctioned.

Where the revenue will go
The Boxer version of the bill lists specific payoffs to different segments from the bill’s revenues, which will come from auction of credits:
• $911 billion for consumers for help with increased energy costs and energy efficiency projects. Most ($850B) would help with energy costs.
• $231B in assistance to steel, glass, aluminum, rubber and paper companies to make needed changes -- they're seen as the industries that will have the most trouble adjusting.
• $566B for states to deal with GHG cuts.
• $307B for electric utilities to revamp.
• $150B for renewable energy companies.
• $68B to the auto industry to retool for hybrids, plug-ins, electric and fuel-cell vehicles.
• $250B for adaptation to climate change, largely for coastal states.
• $288B for wildlife adaptation.
• $560B for a fund states can access if they switch over from their own emissions programs to the federal one.
(All these amounts are spread over 40 years)

Free credits for fossil fuels have shrunk in the new version but more credits will be given for capture and storage of carbon dioxide. But if I’m reading this right, there is WAY too little going to renewable energy like wind, solar and geothermal. We need to be virtually switched over to them from fossil fuels by 2050. So why so stingy? Could it be that the lobbyists for these fledgling industries don't have the money to spread around that oil, gas and other mature industries have? You betcha.

It looks like nuclear energy will be one of the winners in this new version. The bill now provides $92 million in incentives, on top of what the nuclear power industry already gets from the government. And a successful Lieberman-Warner amendment would bring them even more. Nuclear, which now provides 8% of U.S. power, is a huge bone of contention with many environmentalists who don’t like the radiation involved and say "no nukes, no way." Even those who think some nuclear plants might be necessary to wean us off fossil fuels -- if safety and disposal problems can be solved -- would far rather see money go to really clean sources like wind, solar, geothermal and wave action.

Even if this bill should pass the Senate, it's unlikely the House will act before the end of the year. And this president would not sign a bill that would satisfy anyone who sees a need for urgent change. So the debate is probably just the first salvo in a battle that may be more successful with the next Congress and next president. But it still should be interesting to watch it unfold.
(Sources: Greenwire, ClimateWire, E&E News PM)

Take action: Send an e-mail to your senators.

Friday, May 23, 2008

House passes bill to extend renewable energy tax credits, despite White House veto threat

(Photo of solar panels from Flickr and photographer kqed quest.)

Washington Report: The House of Representatives voted 263-160 Wednesday to approve yet another bill extending tax incentives for renewable energy such as wind and solar. But the White House is threatening to veto the $59 billion tax package, not so much on the credit extensions as the means to pay for them. The vote was largely along party lines. Renewable energy industries are eager to see extension of the incentives, due to expire in December, in order to maintain momentum. A House bill that included extensions paid for by repeal of oil and gas breaks, passed late last year but stalled in the Senate. Then earlier this year the Senate attached renewable incentives to a housing bill, but without any means to pay for them. The House, whose leaders want all expenditures paid for, added revenue from tax changes for offshore and multinational businesses to this bill. And that is the part President Bush objects to most. The bill extends production credits for wind till the end of 2009 and for geothermal and biomass for 3 years, as well as investment credits for solar for 6 years. It includes a $4,000 credit for residential solar power and $3,000 or more for buying plug-in cars. House Dems and Republicans disagree about the bill’s chances in the Senate. Meanwhile, House Republicans unveiled their own energy agenda, which would increase incentives for domestic production of fossil fuels, alternative fuels and nuclear energy, in addition to renewables and efficiency. (Sources: Greenwire, E&E News PM)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Massive new study links global warming to physical, biological changes on planet

(Photo of Alps from Flickr and Philippe Tarboureich.)

News Update: An international team of scientists has affirmed and expanded on last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report by linking human activity and rising temperatures to physical and biological changes observed on Earth over the past 30 years. “The human footprint on the planet is clear,” said one of the authors, Cynthia Rosenzweig of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The study, published in Nature, matched changes like melting glaciers, thawing permafrost, warming lakes and rivers, longer growing seasons, earlier migration and breeding of birds, movement of heat-intolerant species up mountains, and changes in fish communities. They point to a few specifics, by continent: 89 flower species blooming earlier in Europe, melting glaciers in the Alps and in Patagonia, changes in the freeze depth of permafrost in Russia, and a 50% decline in the Emperor penguin on the Antarctic peninsula. Temperature was far more a factor than land use, pollution and population, according to the 30,000 data sets studied. In a second study published in Nature, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was found to be 28% higher than at any time in 800,000 years, according to gas bubbles in ice in Antarctic -- and methane was 124% higher. Both add carbon to the atmosphere. (Sources: E&E News PM, The Daily Green, Planet Ark.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wind energy could be 20% of total U.S. power by 2030, Energy Department says

(Photo of windfarm from Flickr and photographer Brent Danley.)

News Update: The U.S. could be getting one-fifth of its energy from wind by 2030, the Department of Energy said last week – so long as there is support from private industry and government agencies. A jump to 20% is possible technically, but would require a good interstate transmission grid, DOE said. A 20% share would mean a cut of 25% in greenhouse gas emissions, and wind energy would require 17% less water. Today, wind is only 1% of the total here, but growing. Last year, 3,100 turbines were installed in 34 states. Another 2,000 are under construction. (Sources: PlanetArk, E&E News PM)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Environmental leaders weigh in with their solutions to global warming

(Photo of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. from Flickr and photographer King dafy/Devin Ford.)

Weekly Angst: Last weekend we heard from several climate leaders that the impact of global warming will be even worse than predicted a year or two ago. Now, some words of wisdom on what we need to do to salvage the situation.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance:
The U.S. has the second largest geothermal resources in the world, plus enough wind in 3 states to meet all our electricity needs, as well as enough potential solar power in 19% of desert in the Southwest to meet nearly all our needs, even if everyone had a plug-in car. In order to bring about a renewable-energy revolution, the new president should immediately:
1) Initiate a cap-and-trade system to put pressure on carbon emissions and reward energy innovation.
2) Revamp the antiquated power grid so it can transmit renewable energy over long distances. Open it up by getting rid of state rules that restrict access and add “smart” features to deliver power where and when it is needed.
3) Spend $1 trillion over the next 15 years on infrastructure, paid for by government, utilities, investors and entrepreneurs.
4) Encourage much more efficient buildings and machines, through energy efficiency and tax credits.
(Source: Vanity Fair)

Fred Krupp,
president of the Environmental Defense Fund and author of the new “Earth: The Sequel”:
The Congress must mandate a cap-and-trade system with a steadily declining limit on global warming pollution. Survival depends on a “wholesale reinvention of the way we make and use energy. We need a “second industrial revolution as sweeping as [the one] a century ago … We will need to harness energy from the sun, the waves, living organisms, and the heat embedded in the planet. We will need to reinvent automobiles, clean up emissions from the immense and rapidly growing coal infrastructure, use the energy we have far more efficiently and put an end to tropical deforestation. A cap on carbon will launch all these solutions into the mainstream.” Energy innovators abound but are up against industries that have subsidies, trade agreements and regulations in their favor, plus control distribution routes. Cap-and-trade would allow the market to decide who “really can deliver the goods.” (Source: “Earth: the Sequel.”)

Bill McKibben, author of “The End of Nature” (1989) and founder and organizer of Step It Up 2007, which has turned into, and now founder of a new global group,
The key is to rally public opinion. “We need a movement … a political swell larger than the civil rights movement …. Without it we’re not going to best the fossil fuel companies and automakers and the rest of the vested interests that are keeping us from change.” Once there’s a price on carbon, money will flow quickly to efficiency and conservation. The savings will be huge. “There’s not enough money in the world to deal with global warming if it gets out of control.” (Sources: Greenwire, Salt Lake Tribune, Yes! Magazine.)

Guy Duancy, organizer, speaker and co-author of “Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change”:
Buildings, transportation and food/forests are each responsible for about a third of CO2 emissions. So, the solutions lie in those areas, as well as the electricity that powers homes and industry.
1) Buildings: The U.S. Conference of Mayors approved an initiative to have all new buildings and major renovations in the U.S. carbon neutral by 2030. Britain requires new buildings to be carbon neutral by 2016. In existing buildings, owners could cut energy use 20-50% with new windows, super-insulation, heat-recovery, and efficient boilers and appliances. We need tax credits and rules like San Francisco’s requiring owners to upgrade buildings before they are sold.
2) Transportation: A switch to electric cars and plug-in hybrids made of light-weight material, combined with high-speed trains, bus rapid transit, biking, walking and telecommuting could reduce fuel need to about 5%. Long-distance trucking emissions should be severely curtailed by using more goods locally and switching to hydrogen-enhanced hybrid biofueled trucks.
3) Food: Livestock accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gases. Methane from cows’ stomachs and nitrous oxide from their manure, and in fertilizer, are far more potent than CO2. The solution is to eat less meat and dairy and more locally grown and organic vegetarian fare.
4) Forests: Destruction of the world’s rainforests releases 17% of world carbon emissions. We need to protect forests in the Amazon, Indonesia and the Congo by buying them, putting them in trust for indigenous people, and paying for policing against illegal logging.
5) Electric power: The challenge is to make the transition to renewable energy in time. We need non-corrupted governments to cap oil wells, close coal mines, require efficiency in autos, buildings and appliances, and redirect investment to renewables.
(Source: Yes! Magazine, click on buildings, electricity, transportation, food and forests.)

Take action: If you haven't already done so, join the 1.2 million-plus who have signed up for Al Gore's We and read the list of solutions they propose.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Inslee, Markey and Waxman set 'principles' for global warming legislation in House

(Photo of Rep. Jay Inslee (D- Wash.) from Flickr, uploaded by Jay Inslee.)

Washington Report 1: Three key Congressmen are collecting their colleagues’ signatures on a set of principles they say must be part of any climate change legislation. Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) aren’t leaving it up to chance or to the Energy Committee, headed by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) to set the course for legislation in the House. At least that’s my take. They also may be serving a warning to the Senate that parts of its global warming bill are not acceptable. The overriding principles they cite are pretty bland: 1) Reduce emissions to avoid dangerous global warming, 2) Transition America to a clean energy economy, 3) Recognize and minimize any economic impacts, and 4) Aid communities and ecosystems vulnerable to harm from global warming. The specifics, however, mark out a much stronger territory:
• Set strong science-based targets for near- and long-term emissions;
• Auction emissions allowances rather than giving them free to polluters;
• Invest auction revenues in clean-energy technologies;
• Return some auction revenues to consumers, workers and communities to offset any economic impacts;
• Preserve state authority;
• Protect against trade disadvantages to U.S. industry; and
• Dedicate a portion of auction revenues to address harm from already unavoidable global warming.
Take action: Call, visit or write to urge your representative to sign on to this letter of principles. We don't want -- and the planet can't tolerate -- anything weaker.

One more try to extend renewable tax credits so wind, solar growth doesn't lose power

(Photo of wind turbines from Flickr and photographer Nick Atkins.)

Washington Report 2: A new effort to assure continuation of renewable energy tax credits got the green light yesterday from the House Ways and Means Committee. The proposal backs off on paying for the $16.9 billion in credits by rolling back breaks for oil and gas, instead paying for them with totally unrelated tax changes for offshore and multinational companies. The Senate had objected to a tax hit on Big Oil but the House wanted to pay as you go. So it seems this may satisfy both, which would salvage the incentives that keep renewable energy viable. The three times since 1999 that wind credits were allowed to expire, installations dropped 70%, according to the American Wind Energy Assn. The new bill extends wind production tax credits till the end of 2009, biomass and geothermal credits for 3 years, and the solar energy incentive 6 years, also doubling the solar credit cap to $4,000. The bill also provides incentives for cellulosic biofuel and renewable diesel, installation of E85 pumps, and buying plug-in cars, as well as allowing $1.4 billion for coal and gasification projects that store carbon. (Source: E&E Daily)

"Threatened' polar bears will get no protection from global warming or oil drilling

(Photo of polar bear from Flickr and photographer Ironmanixs/Richard I Jzermans.)

Washington Report 3: Two Congressmen have introduced a “Polar Bear Seas Protection Act” and Earthjustice says it will pursue its three lawsuits in the wake of an Interior Department decision to list polar bears as “threatened” rather than “endangered “ Wednesday under the Endangered Species Act. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne made it clear the designation did not mean the government needs to do anything to reduce global warming, which he acknowledged was responsible for the bears’ melting habitat, or stop oil and gas exploration in the area where they dwell. In fact, Interior held up making the designation for several months while it sold $2.66 billion in oil and gas leases in the Chuckchi Sea, including in prime bear habitat. So essentially the government will do nothing to protect the polar bears. The bill introduced by Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) asks for oil spill and cleanup standards, designation of critical habitat and a study of the impact of oil and gas drilling. If melting Arctic ice continues as predicted, two-thirds of polar bears will be gone by 2050, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. (Sources: E&E Daily, PlanetArk, The Daily Green.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Grand Canyon eyed for uranium mining – is nothing sacred as nuclear energy demand explodes?

(Photo of Grand Canyon from Flickr and photographer Cobalt123.)

News Update 1: A British company, VANE Minerals, wants to mine uranium ore in the Kaibab National Forest at the south and north rims of the Grand Canyon. Another thousand requests may be pending near the canyon as the demand for uranium rises with the re-emergence of nuclear power as a carbon-free alternative to coal. The Grand Canyon reportedly holds huge uranium reserves. Environmental groups and local tribal leaders are objecting that toxicity and the risk of radioactivity endanger animals and drinking water in the area. The problem is national forests don't have the same rights national parks do to prevent mining. The Sierra Club and others are fighting in court to stop the mining and in April got a temporary restraining order. Arches and Canyonland national parks are also targets. (Sources: The Australian and the LA Times.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Survey reveals most Republicans don’t believe in global warming or human cause

News Update 2: The percentage of Republicans believing the global temperature is rising has dropped significantly since January 2007 – to 49% from 62%, according to a new Pew survey out last week. That compares with 84% of Democrats and 75% of Independents. And just 25% of Republicans surveyed said warming was caused by human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, while 58% of Dems and 50% of Independents said it was. Age and education were found to make a difference, with more than half of those younger than 30 believing humans are the cause and just 37% of those over 64 believing it. While a college education seems to correlate with belief in human causes, among the GOP higher education led to more skepticism. Could it be their political and corporate leaders are leading them astray? Looks like we still have an awful lot of public education to do. (Sources: ClimateWire, Pew Center for People and the Press.)
Take action: Tell the media to talk more about global warming during election campaign. Sign the League of Conservation Voters petition.

All-electric car sells for $109,000; Governator and Clooney both plan to be in driver’s seat

(Photo of George Clooney from Flickr and photographer Martin de Witte.)

News Update 3: Tesla motors opened its first store in LA last week, to sell its sleek two-seat luxury Roadster. Despite the $109,000 price tag, orders are pouring in for the 600 electric cars planned this year and there’s now a 15-month wait. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) and actors George Clooney and Kelsey Grammer are among the first to buy. The car, which operates on a lithium-ion battery and can go 200 miles on a charge, has sleek lines like a Porsche. More Tesla stores are expected next year in New York and Chicago. Watch a video of the car’s unveiling or learn more about it at the Tesla Web site. (Source: and

Climate Counts site ranks companies’ commitment to curbing global warming emissions

(Photo of Google logo from Flickr and photographer Douglas Porter.)

News Update 4:
Nonprofit Climate Counts has released its second annual ranking of 56 consumer companies’ commitment to going green. Criteria are measurement of emissions, plans to reduce them, and disclosure. Google, with its target of becoming carbon neutral, moved up 38 points to 55. Most companies showed some improvement, but the average is still just 40 out of a possible 100. See the scorecard at to check out the companies whose products and services you use. (Sources: Greenwire, New York Times,

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Climate change leaders now say global warming is happening faster than expected

(Photo of German coal-fired plant from Flickr and photographer Bruno D. Rodriguez.)

Weekly Angst: At the end of 2006 and early part of 2007, a series of reports finished the job started by Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and woke the slumbering world to the urgent need to stop global warming or suffer severe consequences. After the Stern and IPCC reports, the debate ended for most, but progress has been slow as governments and fossil-fuel businesses balked at change. Now the same people who told us we needed to take action in the first place are raising the decibels as they warn it’s even worse than they thought. Here is what they and others are saying, little more than a year later.

Nicholas Stern, former World Bank chief economist, whose ground-breaking 2006 report was the basis for policy in the UK and EU, now admits he was overly optimistic about the ability to cut GHG emissions and absorb some of the CO2. Stern now says he "badly underestimated the degree of damages and risks of climate change … Emissions are growing much faster than we'd thought, the absorptive capacity of the planet is less than we'd thought, the risks of greenhouse gases are potentially bigger than more cautious estimates, and the speed of climate change seems to be faster." He now says the developed world must cut emissions by 90% to meet a world-wide 50% reduction by 2050.(Source: Business Green)

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
’s assumptions were too optimistic about cutting CO2, a new study in the journal Nature says. The IPCC report, which won the panel the Nobel Peace Prize and is the basis for international negotiations, assumed that even without changes in government policy, new technology would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions this century. But with huge growth in Asia, based mainly on fossil fuels, the world is going in the wrong direction, say scientists from the University of Colorado, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and McGill University in Canada. We need enormous advances in technology to meet our goals, but also policies that motivate innovation, the researchers say. (E&E News PM, EurekAlert)

James Hansen of NASA
, one of the lead scientists to sound the alarm about about global warming, has dramatically reduced the amount of CO2 he thinks the atmosphere can tolerate and still keep the planet similar to the one on which civilization developed. Recent research has led Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, to the conclusion that CO2 in the atmosphere must be brought down to 350 parts per million (from the current 385) to avoid a tipping point that would cause melting ice sheets and rapidly rising seas. The only way to do that, he says, is to phase out the use of coal by 2030 (unless it can be captured and sequestered). He calls for a moratorium on new coal-fired plants, as well as improved agriculture and forestry to reduce carbon 50 ppm by the end of the century. This assumes that we’re nearing the end of oil reserves and no more drilling will occur on public lands or in pristine areas. It also assumes little extraction of unconventional fossil fuels like tar sands. Hansen says bringing down CO2 levels to 350 would also solve the problem of acidity in oceans and destruction of coral reefs. He warned there must be global cooperation and it needs to start in the next few years. (Source: Environmental News Network.)

The UN Environment Programme warns in a new report, by 338 experts, that the future of humanity is at risk and may be pushed beyond the point of no return. The balance between consumers and resources is seriously out of whack, says Achim Steiner, executive director of the programme. The planet is increasingly stressed by climate change, which is “accelerating at a pace that goes beyond the scenarios and models we’ve been using.” Some regions may soon reach a point of environmental devastation from which they won’t be able to recover, he said, noting the increasing droughts in Africa and melting ice in the Himalayas that will leave China and India short of water. (Source: NaturalNews.)

Next week:
Some suggested solutions

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Looks like Lieberman-Warner global warming bill is running out of gas

Washington Report: Sponsors of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act are having trouble lining up the necessary 60 votes to avoid a Senate filibuster. Environment Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) conceded last week she didn’t know if they could get to 60, but this bill showed progress and they still plan to have a debate in early June. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) admitted the votes aren’t there at this point. Several Senators are holding back, looking for more benefits for their states, while others oppose the bill for fear it will hurt the economy. Co-sponsor John Warner (R-Va.) is looking for a way the president could slow the cuts in emissions if the technology needed was not available, and also for a safety valve if the economy was under stress due to the high price of gasoline. Sen Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he plans to put a revised bill out there for others to comment on and tell him how to “improve.” Don’t hold your breath for a global warming bill to pass this year. With the make-up of this Senate, it’s just not going to happen. As they say in baseball, “Maybe next year.” Meanwhile greenhouse gas emissions keep climbing and the years to do something tick away. (Source: E&E Daily)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Still waiting for Chicago’s Climate Action Plan to fight global warming

(Photo of new blue carts in some neighborhoods from Flickr and photographer Zenia/ee.)

News Update:
The long-awaited Chicago Climate Action Plan is still inactive. Expected last fall, it was to have been unveiled in April, Suzanne Malec-McKenna, city director of the environment, told environmental leaders in March. I figured Earth Day would be appropriate. But Earth Day has come and gone, and so has April, and here we are still waiting. Maybe the city is reeling over its (Cook County’s) recent designation as the third most carbon-emitting county in the nation. Or from the flunking grade it got last week from the American Lung Association for ozone and short-term particle pollution. The city’s “green” label is becoming a bit frayed. This would be a good time to release an ambitious master plan to deal with greenhouse gases. To Chicago’s credit, it has finally admitted it’s 13-year-old blue bag recycling program (where newspapers, plastics, glass and cans were packaged together and thrown in the garbage) is a failure and will fast-track expansion of its new cart program despite budget woes.

Is Big Oil turning back from wind and solar to focus on oil and gas despite carbon emissions?

(Photo of Shell station in Britain from Flickr and photographer Lee Jordan.)

News Update: Shell Oil pulled out of plans to build a large off-shore wind farm in the UK last week, sparking concern about the viability of the project, which could have powered a quarter of London’s homes. The company said it was selling its one-third share in 341-turbine London Array wind farm, casting doubts about the viability of the 1-gigawatt project. Another partner said it was weighing its options. The cost of the project had skyrocketed from $2 billion to about $5 billion, largely because of the high demand for wind turbines. Britian was counting on the project to help it meet its target of 20% renewable energy by 2020. Shell said it would continue to invest in onshore wind in the U.S., but a story in The Guardian questioned whether two oil giants, Shell and BP, were turning away from renewables to focus more on oil and gas, after ExxonMobil made the biggest profit this year while avoiding renewable investment. BP is cooling on solar, The Guardian said, and putting money into tar sands, after earlier refusing to do so because of the greenhouse gases emitted. Meanwhile, descendents of John D. Rockefeller, who started Standard Oil, forerunner of Exxon, pushed the company to begin investing in renewables, citing the dangers of climate change. Leading the charge was Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) (Sources: The Financial Times and The Guardian.)

Etc.: Arctic melt forecast, ocean ‘deserts,’ and ozone hole’s impact on climate change

(Image if the Arctic summer ice melt from Flickr and Image Editor.)

Arctic ice will shrink to a record level this year because it is thinner and younger than ever, according to a climate researcher at the University of Colorado. Last year saw a record melt as well. Over the past 10 years ice in the Arctic has shrunk about 10% as temperatures warmed. Arctic ice acts as an air conditioner for the rest of the world as air currents pass over it. See Reuters.

As the ozone hole over the Antarctic closes, ice there may begin to melt faster, scientists warn. For the past 3 decades the North and South poles have been polar opposites, as ice melted in the Arctic and increased in most of the Antarctic. But as ozone-harmful gases have been curtailed and the hole begins to close, we now face the likelihood of melting at the South Pole too, according to a study published in Eos. The hole has strengthened westerly winds, which cut the Antartic off from areas to the north that were warming. Only the northernmost peninsula has been warming. (ClimateWire)

Oxygen-deprived ocean “deserts” are spreading as waters warm and circulation patterns change, according to a study published last week in Science. The increase is consistent with what climate models forecast as a result of increased greenhouse gases. As water warms it holds less oxygen and these deserts in the tropical Atlantic and Pacific are unable to support most marine life. The deserts are different from the “dead zones” in rivers, mainly caused by fertilizer run-off. See

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Energy conservation: Jimmy Carter did it, kids get it, and George W. Bush doesn’t have a clue

(Photo of President Carter from Flickr and Ping News. Uploaded by David Shapinsky.)

Weekly Angst: I remember the oil crisis back in the ‘70s. There wasn’t enough gasoline and people lined up for blocks to fill their tanks.

And I remember President Jimmy Carter, who catches a lot of flack these days for being a citizen of the world, sprang into action and asked the nation to conserve energy. He even put solar panels on the roof of the White House (Ronald Reagan reportedly took them down).

We responded to Carter’s pleas and were glad to be able to help our country, and at the same time ourselves – because who wanted to wait an hour to get a tank of gas and sometimes find the pump empty.

We responded
In short order we (my husband and I):
• Turned in our two American cars for smaller, lighter Japanese models.
• Turned down the temperature on our water heater and wrapped it in insulation.
• Taped huge sheets of plastic over our sliding glass doors and on windows for the colder months.
• Put a rolled up towel by the front door so heat didn’t escape under it.
• Turned down the thermostat and wore a sweater (if the president could do it, we could).
• Drove as little as possible and car-pooled.
• Observed the 55 mph speed limit. Nixon had lowered it during an earlier oil crisis and Carter demanded strict enforcement. His successor, Gerald Ford, continued it. (Now people in Western states are driving 80 and 90 mph.)

I remember too that when we went into the city, the lights in the office buildings were dimmed, as businesses turned out most of their lights at night. Today they’re all shining brightly -- a criminal waste of energy.

Conserving during WWII
Going back even further (much further), I recall some of the changes we made in our lives during World War II. Our family, like so many others, had a Victory Garden. We grew a lot of our own food in village plots, a concept many environmentalists are touting now as an alternative to having food sent over the world by planes and trucks spewing CO2.

Gasoline was rationed, so we couldn't spend the summer at my grandmother’s in the woods of Rhode Island because it required too much gas. Instead, for several years, we took the train and stayed at a beachfront hotel for a week.

Bush doesn’t get it

Today, we face a crisis of planetary proportions, and yet President Bush has not asked us to sacrifice – to save energy for the good of not only the nation but the planet. It may be because he’s not clear on the concept. He’s been handed everything on a silver platter – from a prep school and Ivy League education to an oil company, a baseball team, and then the presidency. The only people asked to sacrifice by this Administration are the families of the thousands of men and women being fed into the war machine. The rest of us have been asked to go out and spend money. (Maybe the “W” stands for “waste.”)

But kids get it
In stark contrast was an e-mail I got yesterday from my 10-year-old granddaughter, Sabrina. She’d gotten it from her friend Danielle, who got it from her friend Alexandra. It tells 20 Things You Can Do To Save the World. I don’t know where this list originated, but it was written by a 12-year-old named Shira, who said:

“The world is at big risk because of Global Warming and we need to do something to help – but fast we don’t have much time. The world’s average temperature is rising, important animals are becoming extinct and much more. You can make a difference. Read these 20 tips and you can change the world.
• Use compact florescent light bulbs
• Bring your own mug or thermos instead of a store’s paper cups for coffee, hot chocolate or tea
• Buy BIOTA water bottles, they are good for the environment
• Use Seventh Generation company for tissues, toilet paper, and paper towels
• Use paper goods that say “30% post consumer waste”
• Never use wrapping paper, old newspapers work just as well
• Use recycled paper
• If your water heater is more than five years old, replace it
• Use canvas/reusable bags at the grocery store or any other store that uses bags
• Take public transportation or carpool to get places
• When you are in a long line in your car, turn your car off
• Unplug plugs even when nothing is connected when you are not using it
• Plant trees
• Write on the back side of a piece of paper
• Email instead of sending a letter
• Don’t litter
• Never waste water
• Save energy
• Buy organic food
• And remember – Reduce Reuse Recycle and Respect."
It's a simple concept 10- and 12-year-olds can grasp. Why can’t you, Mr. President?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Voinovich says wait 22 years for cap-and-trade, touts alternative to global warming bill

(Photo of Capitol Building from Flickr and photographer Jonathon D. Colman.)

Washington Report: As proponents for the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act meet behind closed doors with various Senators to gauge what tweaking would be needed to get the requisite 60 votes for their cap-and-trade bill, Sen. John Voinovich (R-Ohio) has drafted a bill of his own. It drops cap-and-trade in favor of incentives for new technologies, including for “clean coal” and nuclear energy. Cap-and-trade would not be enacted until 2030, so that carbon-capture technology could be operational. (What’s another 22 years' wait?) Voinovich claims Lieberman-Warner would disastrous for the economy. Lobbyists and the White House helped him draft his bill, which should be unveiled soon – except that so far he can’t find a Democrat to co-sponsor. Meanwhile, a coalition of major coal companies and the National Mining Assn. have 14 amendments that would provide incentives for carbon capture and storage, give away more free carbon credits to polluting industry, pre-empt state and regional global warming bills, and create a “safety valve” in case carbon prices get too high. So far, they’ve found no sponsors for their amendments. I don't think any of this will go anywhere, but don't look for Voinovich to vote for Lieberman-Warner. Environmental Defense tell us 10 key senators to watch during the debate in the Senate. Senators will be home the last week in May, before the June debate, so it would be a good time to call their office or go see them and urge them to strengthen, not weaken the Lieberman-Warner bill (S 2191). (Sources: E&E Daily, Environmental Defense)

Environmental groups target 3 Senate races to elect champions to fight global warming

(Photo of Jeanne Shaheen at 2007 Step It Up rally from Flickr and Step It Up 2007.)

Washington Report: A coalition of 5 environmental groups said last week they will work together to elect 3 Senators they believe will be leaders for the environment and against global warming. The three they will support are cousin congressmen Mark Udall (D-Co) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and ex-Gov. of New Hampshire Jeanne Shaheen. Working together will be the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, Environment America, Clean Water Action and Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund. The Udalls are running for vacant seats and Shaheen is opposing incumbent John Sununu. All 3 seats have been held by Republicans, but the Democrats are leading in polls. The Udalls have a strong pedigree. Mark is the son of "Mo" Udall, who was in Congress 30 years and ran for president. Tom is the son of Stewart Udall, Mo's brother, who served as Interior Secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. The 5 environmental groups collaborated to help oust former House Resources Committee Chair Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) in 2004.