Saturday, January 20, 2007

Green Thoughts

  • This will be a crunch year for action on the climate crisis, a leading environmental lobbyist said on Wednesday. Never have the opportunities been better and the danger from failure greater, Friends of the Earth chief Tony Juniper said in an interview with Reuters.

    "There is an urgency that wasn't there before," Juniper said. "The science is there, the economics is there and the politics is there ...If they don't take this opportunity then we really should start to think about the future of life on earth." [Reuters via CNN]

  • As the House's new Democratic majority celebrated the completion of their populist 100-hour agenda Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) unveiled the party's next legislative target: an ambitious plan to wean the U.S. from foreign oil and slow global warming.

    Pelosi announced that she intended to create a select panel to help craft the party's environmental agenda and had asked committee chairs with jurisdiction over the issue to pass legislation "to truly declare our energy independence" by July 4.
    Pelosi's plan to create the energy panel was also raising hackles among House Democrats who chair committees with jurisdiction on the matter, especially Rep. John D. Dingell, a veteran lawmaker from Michigan who looks out for the interests of the Detroit automakers.
    Earlier in the week, Pelosi told Dingell, the energy and commerce committee chairman, that she planned to create a separate panel to deal with global warming and other energy issues. The most veteran member of the House and a previous chairman of the committee, Dingell is remembered for keeping the Clean Air Act bottled up for a decade with his opposition to strict pollution control standards.

    Whether Pelosi will succeed in creating the panel remains to be seen — as it will require a vote of the House, and her move to circumvent the committee system has irked some members. If all Republicans stand against it, the defection of just 16 Democrats could scuttle the committee. [LATimes]

  • Speaking of climate change, there are a number of legislative strategies emerging, thanks to political shifts in Washington and increased public worry about the creepy warm winter. Andrew Revkin of the New York Times points out today that of the three Senate sponsors of the most prominent (and probably most politically viable) global-warming bill, two are presidential hopefuls: Barack Obama and John McCain (the other is Joe Lieberman). But, as the Times reports, that bill includes easily abused loopholes that could ease carbon emissions limits "if their impact on the economy were deemed too severe." Deemed by whom, I wonder? The auto industry? The Cato Institute? Another bill, supported by Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer, is far more stringent. But it's important to note that, according to an analysis by the World Resources Institute published as a sidebar to Revkin's article, even with the Sanders-Boxer bill, emissions won't begin to decline until 2010, and temperatures wouldn't stabilize until around 2150! So Sanders-Boxer should obviously be the starting point for further action, not a utopian left-wing impossibility. Under the more moderate Obama-McCain-Joe bill, progress would be much slower [The Nation's Notion blog]

  • If Expedia can make that flight from LaGuardia to Heathrow guilt free for only ten extra bucks, how is one to know whether the offsets one has bought are really making that cross-Atlantic trip carbon even-steven? At the moment, it’s pretty much a crapshoot (with carbon offset prices ranging from $3.56 to $30 a metric ton). But the UK hopes to change that before the Greenland ice sheet melts into their precious gulfstream. The country’s Ministry of Environment announced yesterday that it would set standards for rating the new club of carbon merchants. That way would-be-offsetters can distinguish between quality outfits and those just full of hot air.

    The standards will be based on the same "system used to certify credits from the established Kyoto market." Ideally, this will mean the credits have a "clear audit trail" and be linked to real emission reductions, but don't go back to building your carbon-neutral beachfront villas just yet.

    Even long-established projects, endorsed by the World Bank and certified for cap-and-trade under Kyoto's rules, don't always deliver their promised bang for the buck. Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran a great piece on the chemical industry in China. A particularly dire snippet:
    "Regulators worry that the carbon market is encouraging companies in the developing world to make more of the underlying refrigerant than they otherwise would—so they can produce more of the global warming gas, destroy it, and sell the credits."
    [MoJo Blog]

  • The eelpout is an eel-shaped little fish, a funny looking little fellow, who is being used by German researchers to study the effects of rising temperatures in the North Sea.

    This bottom feeding fish -- some of which are being held hostage in an aquarium in a northern German laboratory -- have a metabolism which reacts to warming water. The German scientists have discovered that once temperatures reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the eelpout's circulation fails, and the fish dies.
    Researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Ocean Research in Bremerhaven say the eelpout's fate can be extrapolated to other organisms and believe that global warming will have dire consequences for many local types of fish if temperatures continue to rise. [MSNBC's World Blog]

  • The European Union is moving awfully close to adding a carbon tax to automobiles and such a tax might wipe out the extra costs of diesel hybrids in Europe according to AutoWeek.

    "If we go from voluntary to compulsory limits and, say, the 120g/km average for 2011-2012 is enforced, then short of going to very small three-cylinder gasoline engines, the diesel hybrid will be required," says Andrew Fulbrook, powertrain analyst at CSM Worldwide's office in London. [Hybrid Car Blog]

  • Joseph Romm's Hell and High Water may be the most depressing book on global warming I've ever read.

    He writes of a "Planetary Purgatory" [UPDATE - by the 22nd Century], where sea level rises 20 feet, many coastal cities are subject to such frequent hurricanes they are abandoned, and most of the Greenland ice mass melts. What are today considered heat waves become normal summers, with more and more forest and agricultural land lost to fire and drought.

    Here's the really bad news: this is not what Romm is trying to avoid, but what he hopes to settle for. [book review at Grist]

  • Guardian columnist George Monbiot [...] says that U.S. publishing houses have so far spurned his bestselling (in the UK and Canada) Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning.

    George says the U.S. editors have all said a version of the same thing: "Americans aren’t ready for it."

    That is, first of all, a dim view of Americans who, on the whole, are great deal brighter than their publishing industry imagines. It’s also self-fulfilling: if U.S. publishers refuse to carry good new books on climate change, then Americans will have to go on making decisions based on the kind of corrupt information currently being peddled out of the ExxonMobil-funded think tanks. [Richard Littlemore at DeSmogBlog]

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