Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sarah Palin's views on Big Oil and the environment are a threat to all earthlings

(Couldn't resist this cartoon-photo on Flickr from earthpro/harold)

Weekly Angst: EarthlingAngst is back early from vacation because her angst level has gone way up over the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the GOP vice presidential candidate. Just when we were beginning to think things would have to get better for global warming with the next administration – whoever won – comes a candidate whose views on the environment are worse than George Bush’s.

Sarah Palin:
• Is skeptical that global warming is the result of human activities.
• Questions the science behind predictions of Arctic ice melt.
• Fought designation of the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and now has filed suit against the Interior Department to de-list it.
• Favors drilling in ANWR and has tried to persuade Sen. McCain to take the same position, inviting him to visit the area.
• Favors off-shore drilling.
• Opposed a state initiative to stop metal mining pollution of streams where salmon spawn – the measure failed last week.
• Approves of shooting wolves and bears from airplanes.
• Opposes a federal windfall profit tax on oil, though she taxes them at the state level.

Alaska loves oil
Palin “embodies a distinctly Alaskan perspective” on oil and gas, which provides 85-90% of the state’s budget, according The Daily Green, a Hearst Web site.

Environmental groups were quick to pan the choice of Palin as McCain’s running mate. She’s a candidate who repeats Big Oil’s talking points, said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club.

She would continue the destructive Bush policies and is to the right of Bush on the polar bear, said the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.

With her support for drilling, she would continue the failed policies of Bush-Cheney and their Big Oil friends, League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski said.

EarthlingAngst shudders at the thought that she could be a heartbeat away from a president in his 70s, or even have a strong influence on him. And her main support base is the extreme right social conservatives. (Her other views, in case you missed them, include overturning Roe v. Wade and teaching creationism in school alongside evolution.)

Biden’s environmental record

Is Democrat V.P. candidate Joe Biden better? Yes.

He has a lifetime environmental score of 83% with the League of Conservation Voters. According to LCV, he has been a leader on global warming issues, chairing Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the national security implications of climate change and co-authoring a resolution telling President Bush to negotiate seriously on the international level for a post-Kyoto agreement. He has sponsored bills to decrease reliance on foreign oil and to increase fuel economy in cars. He’s against drilling in ANWR and voted to reduce oil usage 40% by 2025.

(Sources: McClatchy Newspapers,, League of Conservation Voters, Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, Sierra Club.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Kids shortchanged when subject is climate change

(Photo of book one teacher used to try to understand the complex issue of climate change from Flickr and photographer runswithscissors/Ken)

Weekly Angst: One of the state legislatures just passed a law adding climate change to the scientific topics that must be taught in public schools. Then the governor of the state, (drum roll, please) Arnold Schwarzenegger, vetoed it. What was THAT about?

The Governator said he opposed attempts to mandate “specific details or events into areas of instruction, ” but state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), the bill’s sponsor, denied that the bill “specified exactly how climate change would be taught and would simply have added to 7 others topics the state already requires – issues of such overwhelming importance as "integrated pest management."

Cynthia Thomashow, president of the Center for Environmental Education at Maine’s Unity College, told ClimateWire she suspects adding global warming and the human causes of it is tough for some politicians to swallow. “It means we have to change.”

Thomashow estimates 20-30% of elementary school students in America learn about climate change in any comprehensive way, and maybe 40% of high school students.

There’s not much help from text books. Three top companies, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Prentice Hall and Houghton Mifflin, cover it only in a vague, passing way. And with no emphasis on testing for lessons learned it gets little attention unless teachers or department chairs take the lead.

John Whitsett, president of the National Science Teachers Assn., notes that textbook companies are in business to sell books and “some parts of the country aren’t interested in teaching climate change.”

It was Whitsett’s organization that in 2006 refused to help distribute 50,000 free copies of “An Inconvenient Truth” to schools. He himself told ClimateWire, “We should be teaching the fundamentals of climate, not necessarily this topic.”

The state of California buys about 12% of the nation’s textbook. A change in policy from them could have made a difference in what textbook companies do. But California wasn’t ready to make the leap, so what chance is there with states that won’t teach evolution?

Maybe all is not lost. Textbooks do tend to be out-of-date. It could get 5 degrees hotter before they get it right. But I’m not sure kids pay all that much attention to books now anyway. They’re into movies, TV, videogames and iPods. So we need other tools to teach them what we’re doing to their world and what life will be like when they’re grown up. “An Inconvenient Truth” would have been a good start.

Several government agencies and non-profits are working on materials and curricula of their own.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration unveiled a slick new brochure this spring called “Climate Literacy: The Essentials of Climate Science.” It’s for adults too – something to educate the public about the calamity facing us. But NOAA wants to get the brochures into schools too. So far, it’s distributed just 27,000 copies – that’s less than 1% of the nation’s science teachers. So they’ve got a long way to go. Both NOAA and NASA have grant programs to encourage innovative approaches to teaching climate change.

The non-profit National Wildlife Federation is also working on a booklet and lesson plans. And of course there are plenty of resources on the Internet. One of the best appears to be

It looks as if it will be up to teachers and parents to push for our children to be properly educated about this issue. Clearly we can’t leave it to the bureaucracy. Teach climate change at home but also push to get information into the schools. Some people’s children won’t get it at home.
(Special thanks to ClimateWire and reporter Lydia DePillis, the main source for this posting)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Offshore drilling battle could lead to government shutdown Oct. 1

(Photo of Capitol Building from Flickr and photographer seansie/Sean Hayford O'Leary)

Washington Report:
Republicans and Democrats may be headed for a showdown in Congress that could shut down government, halting paychecks and benefits and causing layoffs. Unable to reach agreement on an energy bill, Dems may add the yearly extension of the offshore drilling moratorium to a short-term government funding bill that will be needed at the end of September, which 3 dozen GOP senators have vowed to “fight vigorously.” Offshore drilling is an issue Republicans think could work for them politically if Dems continue to oppose it. Both parties’ leaders have agreed to an Energy Summit when Congress returns Sept. 8, but details have yet to be worked out. Democrats’ answer to high gas prices is release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a requirement that oil companies drill on the 68 million acres they have under lease before bidding on new leases, and curbs on energy futures speculation. They also want repeal of oil tax breaks, a renewable energy standard of 15% by 2020 and extension of renewable tax credits. The Republicans’ fossil-fuel-heavy plan calls for repealing the offshore drilling moratorium on the east and west coasts, drilling in ANWR, oil shale extraction in the Rockies, increased incentives for nuclear energy, extension of credits for wind, solar and hydrogen, new tax breaks for coal-to-liquid, tax breaks for electric cars and speeding up permits for oil refineries. “The Gang of 10,” a bipartisan group of senators, came up with a compromise bill just before the August break, which might have a chance of breaking gridlock, so long as one side doesn’t see a political advantage in stalling. But it’s going to be hard to get agreement when the parties are so far apart, and the petroleum industry opposes it. Main provisions include:
• Drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico
• Drilling offshore from 4 Southeast states – Virginia, Georgia, North and South Carolina – if the states agree
• Repeal of billions in oil company tax breaks
• Extension of tax credits on renewable energy sources like wind and solar
• New loan guarantees for coal-to-liquid
• Speeding of permits for nuclear plants
• Billions for R&D for advanced biofuels and batteries
To read more see the Grist blog. (Souces: Greenwire, San Francisco Chronicle)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Undisturbed forests store more carbon than logging plantations to help fight global warming

(Photo of old growth eucalyptus tree from Flickr and photographer Tony from Sidney)

News Update 1:
A new Australian study says natural forests, with their taller trees and larger canopies, store 60% more carbon than plantation, or industrial, forests. They also store more than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated in its 2007 report. Researchers at Australian National University found that in addition to growing larger, untouched trees grew older and stored carbon longer than trees cut down on a rotating basis. Biomass and soil store about 3 times as much carbon as that in the atmosphere, the report said, and 35% of the CO2 in the atmosphere came from past deforestation, while 18% of annual carbon emissions now are from deforestation. (Source: Reuters)

New London mayor undoes earlier steps to curb greenhouse gases, including driving charge

(Photo of London traffic congestion from Flickr and photographer gerdragon)

News Update 2: New London Mayor Boris Johnson, in office less than 100 days, has eliminated the emissions-based congestion charge for drivers and canceled contracts for a fleet of zero-carbon hydrogen powered cars, vans and motor bikes. He also is considering increased flights in and out of the city by 50% and building another airport in the Thames estuary. Angry green groups complain he has no environmental expert on the London Development Board and see his actions as harmful to the city’s goal of cutting CO2 emissions 60% by 2025. Johnson had campaigned on a promise of making London the greenest city in the world. (Sources: The Guardian, E&E News)

More people taking the train due to high gas prices; Amtrak likely to break record

(Photo of Amtrak coach cars from Flickr and photographer J.H. Gray)

News Update 3: Amtrak is on track to carry a record 28 million passengers this fiscal year, compared with 25.8 million last year. July service was up nearly 14% from last July. As high gas prices drive more people to trains, they have become overcrowded and are showing their age. Congress recently OK’d a 33% increase in Amtrak’s budget, starting in October, and will provide grants to states to expand rail service. (Source: Greenwire)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Will China become a Green Dragon when it comes to clean energy to fight climate change?

(Photo of wind power in China from Flickr and photographer drs2biz/David Schroeter)

Weekly Angst:
All eyes are on China this week. That’s because of the Olympics, but there’s a far more important reason to China-watch. As the world’s fastest-growing economy it has great power for good or evil – when it comes to global warming.

China has passed up the U.S. as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, releasing 24% of the world’s total, and it’s building an average of one coal-fired power plant a week. That’s scary.

At the same time, it’s leading the world in hydropower, is a major producer of photovoltaic solar panels, and will likely soon lead in making wind turbines.

Its autos are required to have 40% greater fuel economy than ours and it has mandated 15% renewable energy by 2020 – something our own Congress failed to pass.

A report released Aug. 1 by The Climate Group, an independent nonprofit, pulls together information about “China’s Clean Revolution”:
* It leads the world in total installed capacity of renewable energy.
* It is second to Japan in solar photovoltaic production.
* It is likely to be the largest exporter of wind turbines by 2009.
* It has 60% of the world market in solar water heaters.
* It’s the third largest ethanol producer.
* It leads the world in hydroelectric power and is 5th in wind power.
* It spent $12 billion on clean energy last year, second only to Germany, which spent $14 billion (they have similar-sized economies) and more than the United States. For shame.

In 2005, China enacted fuel-economy standards for autos and new-building efficiency design codes that would cut energy use in half. In 2006, in passed a Renewable Energy Law, mandating the purchase of wind, solar and biomass for power plants, and a tax of up to 20% on SUVs.

Seizing green economic advantage

“China’s beginning to unleash a low-carbon dragon,” said Steve Howard, CEO of The Climate Group, which advises government and businesses on how to combat climate change, and co-author of the report.

Clean-energy demand has given the Chinese economy an opportunity and they are forging ahead of us. Tens of thousands of companies are making everything from solar panels to electric bicycles to energy-efficient appliances to wind turbines. The 6 largest solar companies have a market value of $15 billion.

One city, Rizhao, has set out to become a carbon-neutral showcase and is half-way there, according to a recent story on ClimateWire. Highrise buildings will collect solar power during the 260 days of sunshine in the oceanside city, which plans to close down cement, paper and steel businesses that use coal. Rizhao shares this goal with a small number of other cities: Arendal, Norway; Vancouver, Canada; and Vaxjo, Sweden.

Coal still main energy source
All is not blue skies though. Fossil fuels provide most of the power, and if trends continue, 70% of China’s new electric power by 2030 will come from coal, the Climate Group report said. So by that year China will be adding an estimated 4 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere, more than the European Union’s total now.

But China realizes it can’t sustain the kind of dirty industrial development the West had and must look for a better, cleaner way. Motivation comes from the enormous air-pollution problem and shortage of natural resources in a country trying to lift its population (one-fifth of the world) out of poverty.

China depends heavily on imports, and the high cost of fuel has made renewable energy far more attractive, The Climate Group’s China director, Changhua Wu, told the BBC.

“In China we are concerned about the speed of growth of emissions. It’s really scary,” Wu said. The government wants to stabilize emissions by 2020, mainly through efficiency, renewable energy and electric cars, she said, but more policy incentives are needed.

As a growing world power, and leading emitter of greenhouse gases, China will be one of the most important countries in seeking an international solution to climate change. But China has taken the position that the developing world, which was responsible for the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gases until recently, must show its sincerity and ability to cut its own GHG before expecting new economies to do likewise.

“If they are not able to do it with the technology available to them, then is it reasonable to expect China and India to do it?” asked Wu.
(Sources: The Climate Group, BBC News, ClimateWire, Reuters)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Ice chunk the size of Texas melts in Arctic's Northwest Passage; heat floods Canadian park

(Photo of hikers in Auyuittuq National Park from Flickr and photographer Peter Morgan

News Update 1: Strong southerly winds have melted a piece of Arctic ice in the Beaufort Sea the size of Texas, making it likely the Northwest Passage will be navigable for the second summer in a row. While end-of-summer ice melt is not expected to surpass last year’s record, it is likely to be a close second and Beaufort is open further north than ever before, one-third of the way from Alaska to the North Pole. The melting of the large chunk of ice is a sure sign of global warming, said Mark Serreze, of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Elsewhere in the Arctic, record high temperatures forced closure of most of Auyuittuq National Park on Canada's Baffin Island. Melting permafrost, erosion and flooding led to evacuation by helicopter of 21 park visitors. Temperatures reached into the 80s for two weeks. The July average is usually 57. (Sources: Greenwire, Anchorage Daily News,PlanetArk )

Soot’s contribution to climate change bigger than reported last year by IPCC

(Photo of coal plant emissions from Flickr and and photographer hAdamsky)

News Update 3: A new study from Texas A&M suggest that soot, once it reaches the atmosphere, combines with other chemicals, especially sulfuric acid from power plants, and then inhibits the formation of clouds. It also helps form a brown haze that acts as insulation and keeps temperatures warm at night. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, said the interference with cloud formation could mean as much as 20% less rain in Houston, Texas. This study follows one in March, from California and Iowa scientists, that said soot could be the second only to CO2 as a contributor to global warming and adds 4 times as much as reported last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (Sources: Greenwire, Houston Chronicle

VC investment in clean tech soars in down quarter

(Photo of photovoltaic solar panels from Flickr and and photographer Dale 331)

News Update 3: Venture capital investment in clean tech jumped 41% this quarter to a record $961.7 million, in a period when VC generally slumped 8%, according to Ernst & Young. The investment amount was a record for the clean-tech sector. Solar photovoltaics and other energy-generating companies took more than half the money, with efficiency coming in second with 20%. Smart energy meters were popular as an example of investment with a quick payback. Two major solar deals occurred during the quarter, April-June. SunEdison in Maryland got $131 million and eSolar in California $130 million. (Source: Greenwire)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Unregulated ships spew greenhouse gases into atmosphere and untreated waste into ocean

(Photo of Chinese freighter from Flickr and photographer fusionpanda/David Grant)

Weekly Angst: When I was on an idyllic cruise in French Polynesia eight years ago, I was astounded at how clear the water was. I’d never seen anything like it. Imagine my dismay to learn our ship was dumping all kinds of waste in the water, befouling this pristine sea. Cruise ships continue to use the ocean as a dumping ground and that’s a huge problem addressed by Friends of the Earth in its latest magazine (see summary below).

But there’s another problem – one I wasn’t aware of in 2000 when I marveled at the clear waters off Bora Bora and Moorea.

Ships help cause global warming.

Shipping worldwide released 1.12 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide last year, according to the International Maritime Organization. That’s equivalent to the CO2 given off by 205 million cars (more than all the cars in the U.S.).

Shipping emits 3% of all CO2 emissions. If it were a country, it would rank No. 6, between Japan and Germany.

With world trade expanding, shipping has grown about 5% a year for the past 3 decades and is likely to continue to do so, according to a new report by Oceana , an international advocacy group. Ships carry 90% of all trade, with more than 90,000 vessels plying the seas, the report says.

Ships don’t just release carbon dioxide, they also spew black carbon (soot), nitrogen oxides and nitrous oxide, all of which add to climate change. The emissions are especially damaging to the fast-warming Arctic, and problems will likely accelerate as the Northwest Passage opens up to more shipping. Soot, for example, absorbs sunlight and can speed the melting of snow and ice.

No regulations
With virtually no regulation, ships are using the cheapest and dirtiest kind of fuel and doing little to become more efficient. Some quick and easy fixes could help the situation, says the Oceana report.

Switching from the worst fuel available, residual oil, to marine diesel or marine gas oil, could reduce CO2 and nitrogen oxides about 5%, particulate matter 63% and nitrous oxide 91%, the report says. Better fuel would also allow for placement of emission controls that would further reduce GHG.

Just slowing down could make a big difference. Ships burn fuel based on speed rather than weight, so cutting back 10% on speed would save 23% in fuel emissions, the report says.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have financial incentives for reducing speeds within 20 nautical miles of the ports and are getting 80% compliance. With 100% compliance they figure they could cut particulates (including black carbon) in half and reduce nitrogen oxides 37%.

Ships also could cut off their diesel engines when in port and hook up to power lines on shore to furnish electricity.

The industry also could work on more efficient designs for both the vessels and their engines, the report says.

And there is now some experimentation with adding sails or kites to capture wind power on the high seas. That could provide a carbon-free energy boost.

Oceana calls for the EPA to regulate ship emissions within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and the International Maritime Organization to regulate worldwide shipping, because of the substantial impact ships have on climate change.

A coalition of states, environmental groups, government agencies and New York City has served notice to the EPA that it plans to sue the agency for failure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions coming from ships and airplanes. The action follows petitions last October and December that were ignored.

Earthjustice will represent the coalition in the lawsuit against the EPA. Coalition members include Oceana, Friends of the Earth, the Center for Biodiversity, the states of Connecticut and New Jersey, the California Air Resources Board, the California Southern Coast Air Quality Management District and the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection.

Other cruise ship problems
In addition to emitting heat-trapping gases, the world’s cruise ships are using the oceans as dumping grounds. As long as they are 3 miles offshore they can and do dump raw sewage directly in the water. When you flush on a ship, that’s where it goes. Within 3 miles they are supposed to use a rudimentary treatment device, but there is little monitoring. They also dump wastewater from sinks, showers, galleys and laundries; oily bilge water; and hazard waste from dry-cleaning and photo processing as well as batteries, paints and fluorescent lights.

How much waste do cruise ships discharge? According to Friends of the Earth, a large ship in one week generates approximately:
• 210,000 gallons of blackwater (human waste)
• 1 million gallons of graywater (showers, galleys, etc.)
• 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water
• More than 130 gallons of hazardous waste.

If that outrages you and you want to take action to help get this dumping under control, call your reps in Washington and tell them to support the Clean Cruise Ship Act of 2008 (more likely to pass in 2009), spearheaded by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.)

Somehow, it’s easier to get exorcised over the dumping – something we can see – than greenhouse gases, which we can’t see. But they’re both a problem for our planet, our oceans, and ultimately ourselves.
(Sources: Greenwire, E&E News PM, Oceana, Friends of the Earth)

Saturday, August 02, 2008

'Gang of 10' Senate proposal gets Obama backing

(Photo of offshore drilling from Flickr and photographer absolutwade/Beau Wade)

Washington Report 1: The Senate “Gang of 10” drew support from Barack Obama Friday for a bipartisan compromise energy package that would relax restrictions on some offshore drilling, while repealing some tax breaks on the oil industry and funding renewable energy and conservation. Obama had previously opposed more offshore drilling but said he favored some of the other provisions in the bill and compromise was needed to get anything passed. The proposal, led by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) was the result of many meetings to craft a bill that would satisfy voters upset over high gas prices and reduce dependence of foreign oil. It will likely come to the floor after the August break. It would:
• Reduce the no-drilling area in the eastern Gulf of Mexico to 50 miles off the Florida coast from 150 miles offshore (both Florida senators strongly objected).
• Allow drilling offshore from four Southeastern states -- Virginia, Georgia, North and South Carolina -- if the states agree, and share some revenue with the states.
• Repeal tax breaks worth $30 billion for oil companies, which made record profits this quarter (see below).
• Extend renewable energy tax credits, due to expire this year, until 2012, to encourage development of wind, solar and other renewable sources.
• Give incentives to coal-to-liquid plants that can capture and store carbon.
• Fund R&D on advanced batteries and help automakers retool.
• Develop and demonstrate next-generation biofuels.
• Give tax credits for highly efficient cars and those that use non-petroleum fuels. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave the proposal luke-warm praise as a starting point for some agreement on energy. The American Petroleum Institute opposed the repeal of some oil tax credits (calling it "tax increases), saying it would discourage domestic drilling. (Source: Greenwire)

Oil companies earn record quarterly profits

(Photo of pump prices in May from Flickr and and

Washington Report 2: While drivers were paying high prices at the gas pump over the past few months, oil companies were raking in profits. The major oil companies all announced record 2nd-quarter profits in the past week:
• Exxon Mobil: $11,680,000,000
• Shell: $11,600,000,000
• BP: $9,460,000,000
• Chevron: $5,980,000,000
• ConocoPhillips: $5,439,000,000
And that’s just for 3 months. All those zeros kind of take you aback, don’t they? (Source: Greenwire)

LCV adds Stevens to ‘Dirty Dozen’ list to defeat

(Photo of Sen. Ted Stevens (left) after committee hearing from Flickr and U.S. Army photographer Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill)

Washington Report 3: The League of Conservation Voters has added indicted Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to its list of targets for defeat in the coming election. Stevens has an LCV lifetime voting record of 14% on bills to protect the environment and has consistently voted for billions in breaks for oil companies, LCV said. Others on the list:
• Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who has the worst voting record on the environment among Dems running for re-election.
• Rep. Stevan Pearce (R-N.M.), a congressman running for an open senate seat against Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.). Pearce’s lifetime percentage on the environment is 1%, compared with Udall’s 96%.
• Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), minority leader of the Senate who has been a roadblock to clean energy and global warming legislation.
• Former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-Colo.), who left the House to work for an oil company and is now challenging Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) for an open senate seat.
• Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), former chair of the Environment Committee, who has said global warming is a “hoax.”
• Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), one of the biggest opponents to progress on global warming and clean energy.
The final 5 in the dozen are yet to be named . LCV helped oust two of its targets in 2006, former Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and former House Natural Resources Chair Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) (Sources: Greenwire, LCV)