Monday, September 28, 2009

Photographic Tribute to Our National Parks

This is a tribute to our amazing national parks and to Ken Burns whose PBS series this week reminds us of the need to be eternally vigilant against their destruction by mining, drilling, hunting and honky-tonk development. Climate change is now attacking the parks as well, melting glaciers, drying up rivers, sparking massive wildfires and messing with wildlife, trees and ecosystems. As one who has visited many of the national parks and finds them every bit as compelling as the much vaunted Alps or New Zealand landscape, I have selected some pictures from Flickr to reproduce the beauty I witnessed:

Grand Tetons National Park photo by Alaskan Dude/Fred Kovalchek

Arches National Park photo by Vtveen

Yellowstone National Park photo by Alaskan Dude/Fred Kovalchek

Glacier National Park photo by Spunkinator/Danny

Grand Canyon National Park photo by Cobalt123

Everglades National Park photo by Bill Swindaman

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, photo by Wugging Gavagal

Bryce Canyon National Park photo by by Vtveen

Yosemite National Park photo by Jim Brekke

Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, photo by RaSchi/Ragnar Schierholz

Burns' series continues tonight (Monday) on PBS.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Global warming update is ‘wake-up call’ to nations

(Photo of retreating Athabasca Glacier from Flickr and photographer Janet.Powell)

Climate is changing faster than forecast just two years ago by the authoritative IPCC, a new UN report revealed last week.

More CO2 is going into the atmosphere, glaciers and ice sheets are melting faster, oceans are getting more acidic, and perennial droughts are more common, the UN Environment Programme update said.

Global temperatures could rise 8 degrees Fahrenheit (above pre-industrial levels), based on pledges by countries so far to cut greenhouse gas emissions – double the temperature scientists in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said would be catastrophic. Some think tipping points will come in a matter of years or decades, rather than in a century, as earlier forecast.

Degree of damage
After assessing the latest peer-reviewed science, the report said:
• CO2 in the atmosphere is growing at 3.5% a year this decade, compared with 1.1% a year in the 1990s.
• At least half of the next 10 years should be warmer than the previous record in 1998.
• Glaciers and sea ice have melted since 2000 at twice the rate of the 1980s and ‘90s.
• Greenland ice in 2007 thawed 60% above the record melt in 1998.
• An ice-free September in the Arctic Ocean could come in 2030, not 2100 as earlier predicted.
• West Antarctica ice loss increased 60% from 1996-2006 and the Antarctic Peninsula thaw was up 140% the same decade. Closing of the ozone hole over Antarctic will likely accelerate warming there.
• Melting land ice and thermal expansion could raise sea levels 6 feet by century’s end, rather than the earlier predicted 1.5 feet.
• Marine ecosystems will turn over 60% by 2050 because of extinctions and invasive species.

Impact on treaty talks
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called the new report a “wake-up call” for countries meeting in Copenhagen in December to try to reach accord on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

"Shying away from a major agreement in Copenhagen will probably be unforgivable, if you look back ... at this moment,” said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.

Countries still disagree about the amount of GHG emissions industrialized and developing countries should cut and how much rich countries should help fund poor ones for adaptation and low-carbon economic development. Some European countries pledging 20% or more in cuts (below 1990 levels) by 2020 criticize the U.S., which is responsible for the most existing atmospheric CO2, for doing too little. The House-passed climate bill targets a 17% reduction (from 2005 levels) by 2020 (that’s about 4% below 1990) and the Senate is thought to be looking at reducing that number. That’s pretty pathetic.

As UNEP report contributor Robert Correl put it: Emissions are accelerating. “We’re not going in the right direction.”

To download the report go to

(Sources: Dallas Morning News, Washington Post,, AP.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cost of climate bill will be slight, CBO reports

(Photo of California wildfire from Flickr and photographer slworking2)

The cost of the House-passed climate bill would be mild, the Congressional Budget Office said Friday. The American Climate and Energy and Security Act (ACES) would reduce GDP by ¼ to ¾ of a percent by 2020 and 1 to 3.5% by 2050, the CBO said in a new report.

The impact on household purchasing power would be less than 1% in 2020 and 1.2% in 2050.

CBO said it did not consider the benefits of averting climate change.

And therein lies one problem with predicting the costs connected with any climate bill or plan. The costs of doing nothing are even higher. In some countries GDP could be cut by as much as 20% by 2030, according the UN-backed Economics of Climate Adaptation Working Group, which sees Florida losing as much as 10% of GDP.

The other problem in making predictions is that most groups figuring the costs have an ax to grind – they’re either for or against greenhouse gas restrictions and that colors the way they make their estimate.

Hard to figure
The Congressional Research Service (part of the Library of Congress), in a second report released Friday, said any estimate should be “viewed with attentive skepticism.” They examined predictions from such diverse sources as the EPA, MIT, National Black Chamber of Commerce, Heritage Foundation, and National Association of Manufacturers. (The last three oppose the climate bill.)

An EPA study earlier this year said household costs would go up $54 a year, for example, while the Energy Information Administration said $83. An older CBO estimate was $175. The estimates are all over the map.

Efficiency a key
Energy-efficiency programs are important to reducing costs, several organizations have pointed out, so a lot depends on how much efficiency is part of the package. Energy savings could outweigh energy price increases.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Society and Center for American Progress estimated household savings could be $215 years with proper energy efficiency.

Cost of doing nothing
But the cost of climate change that continues unabated will be billions more than the cost of curbing it, a new Union of Concerned Scientists study says. Hurricane damage in Florida could be $33 billion by 2030, the report says.

It’s easy to point to the cost of doing something. But that’s not the whole story.

I used to have a poster in the '60s that said, “Not to decide is to decide.” Those who oppose climate legislation or cap-and-trade as too expensive – or want to put it off – are turning a blind eye to what happens if they fail to act.

We need to consider the costs of flooding, hurricanes, heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, rising seas and all the other weather calamities that will hurt agriculture, businesses and real estate. Remember New Orleans? And there’s also the cost of adaptation – the rush to throw up sea barriers and the like when the results of global warming become more evident. Experts are already recommending expensive adaptation measures like dams, barriers and improved drainage.

(Sources: Congressional Budget Office,ClimateWire, Reuters)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Senators try to stop EPA plan to regulate GHG

(Photo of power plant from Flickr and photographer bass_nroll)

Some senators are trying to block the EPA's newfound power to regulate greenhouse gases. They intend to tack an amendment on the EPA funding bill coming up this week. (To object, go to

This effort comes at a time when EPA regulation may be our best hope for curbing greenhouse gases, as the Senate – embroiled in health care – seems more and more likely to punt climate legislation into next year. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said as much this week.

And if climate change doesn’t get resolved early in 2010, it will likely be delayed past mid-term elections to 2011 and a new Congress.

In the meantime, EPA regulation would get the country moving and give the president some achievement to take to the international climate treaty talks in Copenhagen in December. (That treaty is likely to face delay too – it’s very unlikely to be finalized this year. Meanwhile, the planet isn’t waiting for us humans to get our act together.)

Rules for autos ... and more
The EPA, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, announced this week new fuel economy and greenhouse gas rules to bring the fleet average of new cars and light trucks in 2016 up to 35.5 mpg, as well as GHG emissions down to 250 grams/mile.

Not only does this put fuel economy 5 years ahead of where the Congress mandated it in 2007, but more important: It’s the first time the EPA will regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The agency is entitled, even required, to do so under the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts vs. EPA, but the Bush Administration let it slide.

This has ramifications for all sources of GHG, including large industrial facilities and power plants. In addition to the automobile rules, the agency is finishing up work on its endangerment findings – showing GHG as pollution that endangers people’s health. The EPA is also finalizing regulations to make greenhouse gases part of the permitting process for facilities emitting more than 25,000 metric tons of GHG a year. EPA head Lisa Jackson may sign the endangerment finding as soon as late this month.

Plan B
Some suggest the Senate may leave controversial and complex cap-and-trade on the shelf and just take action on energy – efficiency and renewable sources. They may “defer to the regulatory agency and duck tough political choices,” James Connaughton, former Bush environmental advisor, told ClimateWire.

But “energy-only is worse than no bill at all,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Problems with EPA rules
EPA restrictions alone may not do the job, though, with time running out to stop the growth of greenhouse gases. With EPA regulation only, “you can’t get enough of the job done fast enough,” warned the Natural Resources Defense Council’s David Hawkins.

Furthermore, lawsuits could delay progress for years. Already the National Automobile Dealers Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce have filed suit to prevent regulation of motor vehicles at the federal or state level.

The best answer is to have both – EPA regulations and climate change legislation, which is what most environmental groups want.

We need to protect the right of the EPA to regulate and they need to get started because once they do so it will be more difficult for opponents to have legislation pre-empt them. At the same time a cap-and-trade system will help put a cap on emissions and move the country toward its desired goal. And a new administration wouldn't be able to stop progress in its tracks by changing the rules.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairs of the Environment and Foreign Relations committees, have been crafting a Senate climate bill they will release later this month. They seem committed to moving ahead with it. Urge your Senators to keep climate and energy on their urgent agenda for this fall at the EDF website.

(Sources: Greenwire, ClimateWire, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club,

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

64 groups join to fight for climate change bill

(Photo of Capitol from Flickr and photographer Linedog1848)

Groups that realize we need a climate bill now are not going to lie down and let the anti forces roll over them. That’s sure good to hear, after the drubbing health care reform has been taking.

A coalition of 64 environmental groups, unions, sportsmen, religious organizations, veterans, businesses and others announced Tuesday formation of Clean Energy Works, a multi-million-dollar campaign to pass a climate bill in Washington.

Members include such varied organizations as the Sierra Club, Service Employees Union, NAACP, VoteVets and Catholics United. Some of the coalition members lobbied hard for the successful passage of the House bill in June. Others have joined to make a “bigger, bolder and stronger” force as the bill moves to the Senate, according to a Clean Energy Works spokesman.

The group plans to hold 50 events this week to coincide with the release of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy report on the economic benefits of passing a climate bill.

The coalition is not specifying what it wants to see in the Senate bill, or final bill that goes to the President, though individual members will continue to fight for issues important to them.

A staff of 35, provided by member groups, will steer the effort. Plans include grass-roots actions in 28 states and a massive advertising campaign. Ultimate targets of the campaign are about 20 swing votes in the Senate.

Also targeting those Senators are climate bill opponents like the American Petroleum Institute, American Coalition for Clean Coal and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who have already launched a huge campaign of grass-roots events, media advertising and lobbying, warning about potential job-loss, high costs and government takeover.

There’s also a group – Climate SOS – working on the left to kill the bill and start over again, saying the House bill – the American Clean Energy and Security Act – doesn’t go far enough. That group plans non-violent civil disobedience, occupation of offices (including those of key proponents Barbara Boxer and John Kerry) and protests on Sept. 22. Groups in SOS include Progressive Democrats of America and the Energy Justice Network.

Perhaps the more militant group on the left (they’re right, you know, it doesn’t go far enough, but we don’t have time to put this off and it’s probably the best we can do) will help Clean Energy Works seem mainstream (it is) and perhaps get it more support.

I’m very relieved a large coalition is pushing for a bill. But we can’t make “them” do all the work. This affects “us” and when Clean Energy Works and its member organizations reach out to us we should do all we can, especially those living in swing states. Keep after your senators. We need this.

(Sources: E&E News PM, Business Week )

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Fed climate bill to pre-empt states on cutting GHG

(Photo of power plant in New York City from Flickr and photographer Salim

Some states are complaining they won’t be able to set stricter greenhouse gas curbs under a federal climate bill. The House bill passed in June calls for cutting GHG 17% (from 2005 levels) by 2020 and pre-empts states and regional coalitions from requiring stronger measures.

Five state attorneys-general (from California, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Arizona) have written Senate leaders asking them to include in their version of the climate bill a 20% cut by 2020 and permission for states to impose stricter limits if they choose.

At risk is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, made up of 10 Eastern states, which has already raised $350 million for clean energy and efficiency from auctioning permits in its new cap-and-trade market. RGGI is on its way to cutting emissions from power plants 10% by 2018.

Also in danger is the Western Climate Initiative, a plan for 11 states and Canadian provinces to begin cap-and-trade in 2012. A number of other states are “observers.” They don’t want to make a commitment but are watching to see what happens.

Under the House American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), these programs would have to stop in 2012, which means the Western plan would never get off the ground.

The best solution here would be a stronger Senate bill that caps emissions at 20% (at least) but also allows states to do more if they want, just as California has led the way on auto emissions. The East and West Coasts are far more likely than much of the rest of the country to have the political will to do what needs to be done to stop global warming and they shouldn’t be restrained.

But just to put it all in perspective, industrialized nations altogether have plans to cut GHG an average of 10-14% from 1990 levels (which is lower than 2005), according to Reuters, while the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says the world needs to cut 20-40% and China and India want the U.S. and other industrialized countries to cut 40% by 2020 to allow for economic growth in developing countries.

(Source: Reuters PlanetArk,,