Posts tagged ‘global warming’

For Earth Day, 7 New Rules to Live By

On the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, is the middle-aged green movement ready to be revived by some iconoclastic young Turqs?

No, that’s not a misspelling. The word is derived from Turquoise, which is Stewart Brand’s term for a new breed of environmentalist combining traditional green with a shade of blue, as in blue-sky open-minded thinking. A Turq, he hopes, will be an environmentalist guided by science, not nostalgia or technophobia.

Ordinarily I’d be skeptical of either the word or the concept catching on, but I believe in never ignoring any trend spotted by Mr. Brand, especially on this topic. He was the one, after all, who helped inspire Earth Day by putting the first picture of the planet on the cover of his “Whole Earth Catalog” in 1968.

Now he has another book, “Whole Earth Discipline,” in which he urges greens to “question convenient fables.” In that spirit, let me offer a few suggestions gleaned from the four decades since Earth Day. Here are seven lessons for Turqs of all ages:

1. It’s the climate, stupid. The orators at the first Earth Day didn’t deliver speeches on global warming. That was partly because there weren’t yet good climate models predicting warming in the 21st century and partly because the orators weren’t sure civilization would survive that long anyway.

They figured that the “overpopulated” world was about to be decimated by famine, the exhaustion of fossil fuels, global shortages of vital minerals, pollution, pesticides, cancer epidemics, nuclear-reactor meltdowns, and assorted technological disasters. Who had time to worry about a distant danger from a natural substance like carbon dioxide?

Well, the expected apocalypses never occurred, and it’s the unexpected problem of greenhouse gases that concerns scientists today. Greens say they’ve shifted their priorities, too, but by how much?

2. You can never not do just one thing. Environmentalists of the 1970s liked to justify their resistance to new technologies by warning that you could never do just one thing. It was a nice mantra and also quite accurate. New technologies do indeed come with unexpected side effects.

But resisting new technology produces its own unpleasant surprises. The “No Nukes” movement effectively led to more reliance on electricity generated by coal plants spewing carbon. The opposition to “industrial agriculture” led to the lower-yield farms that require more acreage, leaving less woodland to protect wildlife and absorb carbon.

3. “Let them eat organic” is not a global option. For affluent humans in industrialized countries, organic food is pretty much a harmless luxury. Although there’s no convincing evidence that the food is any healthier or more nutritious than other food, if that label makes you feel healthier and more virtuous, then you can justify the extra cost.

But most people in the world are not affluent, and their food budgets are limited. If they’re convinced by green marketers that they need to choose higher-priced organic produce, they and their children are liable to end up eating fewer fruits and vegetables — and sometimes nothing at all, as occurred when Zambia rejected emergency food for starving citizens because the grain had been genetically engineered.

In “Denialism,” a book about the spread of unscientific beliefs, Michael Specter criticizes the “organic fetish” as a “pernicious kind of denialism” being exported to poor countries.

“Total reliance on organic farming would force African countries to devote twice as much land per crop as we do in the United States,” he writes. “An organic universe sounds delightful, but it could consign millions of people in Africa and throughout much of Asia to malnutrition and death.”

4. Frankenfood, like Frankenstein, is fiction. The imagined horrors of “frankenfoods” have kept genetically engineered foods out of Europe and poor countries whose farmers want to export food to Europe. Americans, meanwhile, have been fearlessly growing and eating them for more than a decade — and the scare stories seem more unreal than ever.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences reported that genetically engineered foods had helped consumers, farmers and the environment by lowering costs, reducing the use of pesticide and herbicide, and encouraging tillage techniques that reduce soil erosion and water pollution.

“I daresay the environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we’ve been wrong about,” Mr. Brand writes in “Whole Earth Discipline.” “We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment, and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool.”

5. “Green” energy hasn’t done much for greenery — or anything else. Since the first Earth Day, wind and solar energy have been fashionable by a variety of names: alternative, appropriate, renewable, sustainable. But today, despite decades of subsidies and mandates, it provides less than 1 percent of the electrical power in the world, and people still shun it once they discover how much it costs and how much land it requires.

6. “New Nukes” is the new “No Nukes.” In the 1980s, Gwyneth Cravens joined the greens who successfully prevented the Shoreham nuclear reactor from opening on Long Island. Then, after learning about global warming, she discovered that the reactor would have prevented the annual emission of three million tons of carbon dioxide. She wrote a book on the nuclear industry titled, “Power to Save the World.”

Mr. Brand has also renounced his opposition to nuclear power and now promotes it as green energy because of its low-carbon emissions and its small footprint on the landscape. He wants to see the development of small modular reactors, and he quotes a warning from the climate scientist James Hansen, “One of the greatest dangers the world faces is the possibility that a vocal minority of antinuclear activists could prevent phase-out of coal emissions.”

Some groups, like the Natural Resources Defense Council, are still resisting nuclear power, just as groups like Greenpeace are fighting genetically engineered crops. But if Mr. Brand is right, maybe some greens will rediscover the enthusiasm for technology expressed in his famous line at the start of “The Whole Earth Catalog:” “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”

Technological progress, not nostalgia or asceticism, is the only reliable way for greens’ visions of “sustainability” to be sustained. Wilderness and wildlife can be preserved only if the world’s farmers have the best tools to feed everyone on the least amount of land. Solar power will be widely adopted only if there are breakthroughs that make it more efficient.

Greenhouse gases will keep accumulating unless engineers build economical sources of low-carbon energy or develop techniques for sequestering carbon. And if those advances aren’t enough to stop global warming, we’ll want new tools for directly engineering the climate. Given the seriousness of the danger, Mr. Brand supports climate-engineering research, and he has updated his famous line from four decades ago. The update makes a good concluding lesson for Turqs:

7. We are as gods and have to get good at it.

April 21, 2010 at 9:43 AM Leave a comment

More Americans Say Global Warming Exaggerated: Poll

A growing number of Americans, nearly half the country, think global warming worries are exaggerated and more people doubt that scientific warnings of severe environmental fallout will ever occur, according to a new Gallup poll.

The new doubts come as President Barack Obama pressures Congress to produce legislation significantly cutting smokestack emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for climate change problems.

Gallup’s survey was released on the same day that the Obama administration unveiled in Texas a public-private report underscoring threats to birds as climate change alters their habitat and food supply, pushing many species to extinction.

With congressional elections in November, many lawmakers are hesitant to take on a controversial energy and environment bill, especially if voter interest is waning.

Around the world, concerns about climate change have dipped as economic worries took higher priority, according to a Nielson/Oxford University survey in December, which found the highest concern was in Latin America and Asia-Pacific countries like the Philippines, where typhoons are a big threat.

While U.S. worries about climate change fell significantly in the Nielson poll, they did not come close to some eastern European countries such as Estonia, which ranked bottom.

In response to escalating attacks from global warming skeptics, the Union of Concerned Scientists on Thursday released a letter they said was signed by more than 2,000 climate scientists and economists, including some Nobel prize winners, urging the U.S. Senate to pass a climate change bill.

“The strength of the science on climate change compels us to warn the nation about the growing risk of irreversible consequences … as temperatures rise further, the scope and severity of global warming impacts will continue to accelerate,” they wrote.

The Gallup poll, conducted March 4-7, indicates a reversal in public sentiment on an issue that not only involves the environment, but also economic and national security concerns.

Forty-eight percent of Americans now believe that the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated, up from 41 percent last year and 31 percent in 1997, when Gallup first asked the question.

The survey follows reports that some of the scientific details of findings that went into international global warming reports were either flawed or exaggerated.

Supporters of a global effort to keep the Earth’s temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels agree that scientists need to be more fastidious in their research, but there is overwhelming evidence that a warming planet will lead to ice melting, flooding, drought, refugees and the spread of disease.

The United States has made a non-binding pledge to seek a 17 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, from 2005 levels, mostly by switching to alternative energy, such as wind and solar power. But without legislation from Congress, that goal is unlikely to be met.

The Gallup poll of slightly more than 1,014 adults has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percent.

A majority still believes global warming is real but that percentage is falling, with the average American now less convinced than at any time since 1997.

Thirty-five percent said in the latest poll that the effects of global warming either will never happen (19 percent) or will not happen in their lifetimes (16 percent).

Click HERE for source

March 15, 2010 at 2:16 PM Leave a comment

Deep-sea volcanoes play key climate role

A vast network of under-sea volcanoes pumping out nutrient-rich water in the Southern Ocean plays a key role in soaking up large amounts of carbon dioxide, acting as a brake on climate change, scientists say.

A group of Australian and French scientists have shown for the first time that the volcanoes are a major source of iron that single-celled plants called phytoplankton need to bloom and in the process soak up CO2, the main greenhouse gas.

Oceans absorb about a quarter of mankind’s CO2 from burning fossil fuels and deforestation, with the Southern Ocean between Australia and Antarctica among the largest ocean “carbon sinks.”

Phytoplankton underpin the ocean’s food chain. When they die or are eaten, they carry large amounts of carbon that they absorb to the bottom of the ocean, locking up the carbon for centuries.

There have been a number of studies showing iron is released from deep-sea volcanoes, said Andrew Bowie, a senior research scientist with the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center in Hobart, Tasmania.

“But no study has considered that on a global level and considered its importance on Southern Ocean carbon storage,” Bowie, one of the authors, told Reuters.

The volcanoes are dotted along deep ocean ridges that mark major plate boundaries of the earth’s crust and the study is based in part on measurements of how much iron there is in the Southern Ocean at depths of up to four kilometres (nearly three miles).

Click HERE for full article

March 15, 2010 at 2:09 PM Leave a comment

Going green vs. going broke

Will cutting carbon kill jobs in California? That’s the premise of a November ballot initiative proposed by Republican lawmakers, whose cause got a boost this week from a report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office that concluded the state’s landmark global warming law might hurt employment. The report made headlines because it contrasts sharply with an earlier analysis by the California Air Resources Board, which concluded that the law, AB 32, would actually create 120,000 jobs by 2020. So which agency is right? And does it matter?

The air board’s study was based on a sophisticated computer model that’s often used in economic forecasting, but some academics consider it unreliable. The Legislative Analyst’s Office is among the skeptics, arguing in its report that there are too many uncertainties involved in such modeling for accurate predictions. Despite those uncertainties, and without citing much in the way of evidence, the office said that “it seems most likely to us” that AB 32 will lead to short-term job losses. The cuts would be small in relation to the state’s overall economy, it concluded, and it declined to hazard a guess on the long-term effects.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office is right about one thing: It’s almost impossible to predict what’s going to happen to the economy a decade down the road. Advocates on both sides of the climate-change debate tend to cite figures that are based on highly suspicious studies, with conservatives generally exaggerating the economic costs and environmentalists downplaying them. What’s certain is that curbs on emissions will produce winners and losers. Polluting industries will face higher expenses and will doubtless cut jobs, while new “green” industries will emerge to replace them. Energy costs will rise but energy efficiency will improve.

California Republicans see the state’s 12%-plus unemployment rate as an opportunity to undermine consumer protection, workplace safety and environmental laws they’ve chafed at for years. In the name of producing jobs, they have proposed bills to end eight-hour workday rules, limit consumer lawsuits against manufacturers and eliminate environmental reviews for major developments. (Never mind that the current recession and resulting joblessness were caused not by such government regulation, but the failure of government to properly regulate the financial industry.) Now they’re sponsoring a ballot measure to suspend implementation of AB 32 until the state’s unemployment rate falls to 5.5% or below for at least a year.

This may be their most destructive effort yet. For 40 years, California has been a pioneer in environmental protection, developing measures that have later been adopted nationwide — to the enormous benefit of our country’s air, water, land and public health. With Congress paralyzed by partisan infighting even as the greatest environmental threat of our time bears down, that pioneering role is more important than ever.

For Article click HERE

March 12, 2010 at 10:18 AM 1 comment

E.P.A. Plans to Phase in Regulation of Emissions

Facing wide criticism over their recent finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public welfare, top Environmental Protection Agency officials said Monday that any regulation of such gases would be phased in gradually and would not impose expensive new rules on most American businesses.

The E.P.A.’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, wrote in a letter to eight coal-state Democrats who have sought a moratorium on regulation that only the biggest sources of greenhouse gases would be subjected to limits before 2013. Smaller ones would not be regulated before 2016, she said.

“I share your goals of ensuring economic recovery at this critical time and of addressing greenhouse gas emissions in sensible ways that are consistent with the call for comprehensive energy and climate legislation,” Ms. Jackson wrote.

The eight Democratic senators, led by John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said hugely significant decisions about energy, the economy and the environment should be made by elected representatives, not by federal bureaucrats.

The senators, who earlier questioned broad cap-and-trade legislation pushed by the Obama administration, join a number of Republican lawmakers, industry groups and officials from Texas, Alabama and Virginia in challenging the proposed E.P.A. regulations of industrial sources. Senate Republicans are going a step further, seeking to prevent the agency from taking any action to limit greenhouse gases, which are tied to global warming.

Ms. Jackson warned that if the Republicans thwarted the agency’s efforts to address climate change, it would kill the deal negotiated last year to limit carbon pollution from cars and light trucks and would have a chilling effect on the government’s scientific studies of global warming.

“It also would be viewed by many as a vote to move the United States to a position behind that of China on the issue of climate change, and more in line with the position of Saudi Arabia,” Ms. Jackson wrote.

The group led by Mr. Rockefeller asked Ms. Jackson to suspend any E.P.A. regulations of stationary sources — including coal-burning power plants and large industrial facilities — while Congress considers comprehensive energy and climate change legislation. The House passed a major climate and energy bill last summer that would have overridden some of the agency’s regulatory authority. The Senate, however, has not acted on the issue and there is considerable doubt that it will do so this year.

“E.P.A. actions in this area would have enormous implications, and these issues need to be handled carefully and appropriately dealt with by the Congress, not in isolation by a federal environmental agency,” Mr. Rockefeller said.

The Democrats who joined Mr. Rockefeller are Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Begich of Alaska, Carl Levin of Michigan, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Max Baucus of Montana.

Manufacturers, oil companies and business coalitions also filed petitions objecting to the proposed rules.

Environmental advocates said the E.P.A. was justified in declaring carbon dioxide and gases that contribute to global warming to be dangerous pollutants under the Clean Air Act and was moving cautiously to regulate them.

“These answers from Lisa Jackson hopefully will reassure the authors of the letter that the E.P.A. is proceeding in a very measured way and doing what is achievable and affordable to curb global warming pollution and focusing as they should on the biggest sources like power plants and not small businesses,” said David Doniger, climate policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

For Article click HERE

February 24, 2010 at 11:07 AM 1 comment

California Sets Up Statewide Network to Monitor Global-Warming Gases

San Francisco- In California they are preparing to introduce the first statewide system of monitoring devices to detect global-warming emissions, installing them on towers throughout the state.

The monitoring network, which is expected to grow, will initially focus on pinpointing the sources and concentrations of methane, a potent contributor to climate change. The California plan is an early example of the kind of system that may be needed in many places as countries develop plans to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases.

“This is the first time that this is being done anywhere in the world that we know of,” said Jorn Dinh Herner, a scientist with the California Air Resources Board.

While monitoring stations around the globe already detect carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases, they are deliberately placed in remote locations and are generally intended to measure average global concentrations of greenhouse gases rather than local emissions.

The California network, by contrast, is meant to help the state find specific sources of emissions, as well as to verify the state’s overall compliance with a plan it adopted to limit greenhouse gases.

The air resources board has bought seven portable analyzers made by Picarro, a company in Silicon Valley that also supplies the machines to the federal government and academic scientists.

By this summer, the analyzers will be deployed on towers in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys, home to large agricultural operations and oil fields, and on Mount Wilson, outside Los Angeles. Data will also be collected from Picarro machines maintained by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the coast and from several monitoring stations operated by other agencies.

Depending on local topography and weather conditions, one Picarro analyzer can cover as much as several hundred miles, the scientists said. For instance, a machine installed on a mountain peak can collect data from most of the Los Angeles basin.

The state’s global warming law requires that greenhouse gas emissions be cut to 1990 levels by 2020. To achieve such reductions, the state is planning an emissions-trading market whose integrity will depend on accurate measurement of the gases from oil refineries, power plants and other industrial facilities.

“I think these monitoring networks are going to be essential, as we really need to have a system in place that makes sure markets match reality,” said Pieter Tans, a senior scientist in Colorado with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The air resources board uses computer modeling to estimate greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The first task of the new network will be to see if actual concentrations of methane match those estimates.

A Picarro analyzer costs $50,000. It is about the size of a desktop PC and takes precise, real-time measurements of greenhouse gases. Picarro’s chief executive, Michael Woelk, said his company’s scientists had charted plumes of methane by placing an analyzer in a car and driving from Livermore, Calif., to Sacramento, a route heavy with animal feedlots, truck depots and other industrial operations.

“This is the first critical step to building a nationwide monitoring network,” Mr. Woelk said.

Full Story HERE

February 12, 2010 at 10:46 AM Leave a comment

Obama set to outline biofuels strategy

The strategy will be laid out in a report by the Biofuels Interagency Working Group, a body the president established to help spur investment in biofuels and make the industry more environmentally friendly.

Obama and members of his Cabinet are scheduled to meet on Wednesday with a handful of state governors to discuss energy policy and the “opportunities and challenges presented by the transition to a clean energy economy,” the official said.

The president is pushing for the United States to overhaul its energy habits by switching to less-polluting fuels and reducing its dependence on foreign oil.

Coinciding with Obama’s announcement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also could issue new rules on measuring carbon dioxide emissions from biofuels such as ethanol.

Under a 2007 energy law, ethanol made from corn must emit less of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, than gasoline over the life cycle of the fuel, from production to being burned. Cellulosic fuels, made from crop waste and the woody bits of nonfood crops, would have to be even cleaner.

The struggling biofuels industry is concerned that the Obama administration will move too quickly away from ethanol, which is mostly made from corn, to more difficult techniques using wood chips and other biomass.

ENERGY INDEPENDENCE

Boosting production of home-grown biofuels such as ethanol would help achieve more energy independence while also creating jobs in rural regions of the United States as the country battles double-digit unemployment, the administration argues.

Obama’s push for ethanol could also shore up his support in farm states where ethanol helps support demand for corn.

The president may touch on other energy policies such as technology for capturing and storing carbon emissions during the meeting with governors.

Since his State of the Union Address, the president has been embracing a range of fuel alternatives including nuclear and clean coal technology in a move likely to win support of some wavering Democrats in coal states and Republicans.

Some expect that Obama will seek to lump the energy initiatives in a climate change bill in order to win broad bipartisan support for a bill to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama charged the biofuels working group, which includes the leaders of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, with retooling the nation’s policies toward biofuels in many areas.

The group was asked to develop a strategy to increase biofuels production, investment in the industry, and the use of “flex fuel” cars, which can run on either gasoline or fuel that is mostly ethanol.

Biofuels, which are made from biomass — organic matter such as wood, crops and animal waste — are used to power vehicles, but critics do not see them as the perfect replacement to high-polluting fossil fuels.

Environmentalists and some scientists say production of U.S. biofuels from corn and other grains can drive out production of other crops, forcing farmers in other countries to burn down forests and clear land to grow those crops — creating new sources of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas blamed for global warming.

Click HERE for article

February 3, 2010 at 10:33 AM Leave a comment

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