Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Vietnam Puts the Pedal to the Metal – Germany Pumps the Brakes

December 5, 2009 in Highest rate of CO2 emissions growth since 1990 reports:

Between 1990 and 2005 Vietnam had the highest rate of emissions growth among countries that emitted more than 100 million tons of CO2 in any year during the past three decades, according to’s analysis of emissions data from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC).

Vietnam’s emissions from fossil fuel use, cement manufacturing, and gas flaring increased 376 percent from 5.8 million metric tons of carbon to 27.8 million tons between 1990 and 2005. Malaysia ranked second with a 224 percent increase.

(General Note: It is maddeningly confusing when people switch between CO2 and carbon tonnage in the same breath – they are very different! 3.67 tons of CO2 equals 1 ton of Carbon.)

Of course Vietnam with a population of 86 million is accelerating to a paltry 1.2 tons of CO2 per person per year. While us Americans as well as the Australians and the Canadians (Yes, the Canadians! Their emissions are terrible and politics worse.) clock-in at a trance inducing 22 tons per person.

If not as dramatic, more worrisome is China’s emissions growth of 133% and India’s 106% growth. In a desperate (and futile) attempt to retain our title, “The World’s Biggest Emitter” the U.S. grew at a galloping 20%.

And so China is now The World’s Biggest Emitter – as notes their tear upward has only gained steam:

China’s emissions have since climbed by another 25 percent to 1.923 billion tons of carbon in 2008, according to preliminary figures from CDIAC.

And it is the growth rate in India, China and Indonesia (120%) that should give us all pause. Because as their populations are growing, with world population passing 7 billion momentarily on its way to 9 billion, so are their per capita emissions and soon they will need to not just slow their growth but reduce their emissions. (Of course we need to drop ours by 90% – now. Minor detail!)

On the flip side of the coin, Germany reduced overall emissions by 3% and Belgium by 7% between 2000 and 2005. Tiny but

So the good news is it can be done – it’s not required that we be maniacs. Let’s hope Copenhagen illuminates a path for all the countries of the world to start applying the brakes on emissions.

And so China and India’s recent announcements on carbon intensity reductions – China saying 40% by 2020 and India, 24% by 2020 – are welcome news…if tentative, non-binding, baby steps.

Oh Canada, say it ain’t so!

December 3, 2009

Until now I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.

That’s one of many scathing passages in George Monbiot’s recent article Canada’s image lies in tatters. It is now to climate what Japan is to whaling. Ouch!

How bad is Canada behaving? Try worse than Saudi Arabia. Smack!

After giving the finger to Kyoto, Canada then set out to prevent the other nations striking a successor agreement. At the end of 2007, it singlehandedly blocked a Commonwealth resolution to support binding targets for industrialised nations. After the climate talks in Poland in December 2008, it won the Fossil of the Year award, presented by environmental groups to the country that had done most to disrupt the talks. The climate change performance index, which assesses the efforts of the world’s 60 richest nations, was published in the same month. Saudi Arabia came 60th. Canada came 59th.

They not only sound worse than Saudi Arabia but they sound a lot like W. Baaam!

In June this year the media obtained Canadian briefing documents which showed the government was scheming to divide the Europeans. During the meeting in Bangkok in October, almost the entire developing world bloc walked out when the Canadian delegate was speaking, as they were so revolted by his bullying. Last week the Commonwealth heads of government battled for hours (and eventually won) against Canada’s obstructions. A concerted campaign has now begun to expel Canada from the Commonwealth.

The apparent reason for the madness are the vast western tar sands, a mommoth repository of oil. As Monbiot describes it:

It’s actually a filthy mixture of bitumen, sand, heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals. The tar sands, most of which occur in Alberta, are being extracted by the biggest opencast mining operation on earth. An area the size of England…

Tar sands are pernicious. Zaap!

Refining tar sands requires two to three times as much energy as refining crude oil. The companies exploiting them burn enough natural gas to heat six million homes. Alberta’s tar sands operation is the world’s biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions.

And while us piggy Americans may find some joy in Canada being called out as the piggiest – we must acknowledge that, of course like the drug wars of Mexico and our drug consumption driving it, the tar sands north of the border, are undoubtedly here to serve America’s unquenchable thirst for oil.

And lest we worry about there not being willing investors for this ghg emissions barn burner, none other than our folk heroes Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have shown growing interest – saying “Wow, this is neat.”

I can’t help but make the side note that it’s no coincidence that Gates and Buffett are also being feed the same horseshit dished out via SuperFreakonomics by Nathan Myrhvold, former Microsoft executive, polymath, and purveyor of climate science (dystopian) fantasies. But I digress.

Monbiot concludes with astonished perplexity.

It feels odd to be writing this. The immediate threat to the global effort to sustain a peaceful and stable world comes not from Saudi Arabia or Iran or China. It comes from Canada. How could that be true?

Storms of my Grandchildren

December 3, 2009

Jim Hansen, the preeminent climate scientist and now political activist has recently emailed out a new note, Never-Give-Up Fighting Spirit: Lessons From a Grandchild. The note was adapted to an article in Sunday’s Observer, and is in part publicity for his new book Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity and part a call-to-arms in the run-up to Copenhagen.

Hansen writes:

The most foolish no-fighting spirit statement, made by scores of people, is this: “we have already passed the tipping point, it is too late.” They act as if a commitment to a meter of sea level rise is no different tha a commitment to several tens of meters. Or, if a million species become committed to extinction, should we throw in the towel on the other nine million? What would the plan be then – escape to Mars? As I make clear in “Storms of My Grandchildren”, anybody who thinks we can transplant even one butterfly species to another planet has some loose screws. We must take care of the planet we have – easily the most remarkable one in the known universe.

Hansen asks:

“Is There Any Real Hope of Cutting Global Carbon Emissions?”

His answer, in line with his recent statements and political actions remains radical:

Absolutely. It is possible – if we give politicians a cold hard slap in the face. The fraudulence of the Copenhagen approach – “goals” for emission reductions, “offsets” that render even iron-clad goals almost meaningless, an ineffectual “cap-and-trade” mechanism – must be exposed. We must rebel against such politics-as-usual.

Hansen notes that coal must be phased out in 20 years, yet we are cutting deals to increase our coal imports from Canada. And he calls for a progressive, uniform, rising price on carbon, collected at the source as the only real leverage to ignite the required transition to clean energy.

Hansen is an invaluable vanguard pushing the envelope out and forward. However, I wish Hansen could find a more constructive frame for the argument than to call Copenhagen a fraud. It is a counterproductive position – easily used by those wishing to thwart any progress.

Copenhagen is a weak next step to be sure – but that is the political reality. However flawed Copenhagen is, it will be a fundamentally important international consensus, becoming a new floor on which we must rapidly build.

Given the tipping points we face, the current emissions reductions goals for 2020 and 2030 are horribly laughable – but the goals will accelerate…they must accelerate. Otherwise our children and grandchildren will face a world of unmitigated horror.

It is time Americans and others internalize the fact that we are not talking about preventing horrors on the Maldives, or Bangladesh or some other far away land, we must act to save our own children and grandchildren from a life of misery, and so we must act to save the climate for all the world’s children and grandchildren.

With the realization that we face a truly existential threat to all, to us! – then maybe society’s consensus will be radicalized, like Hansen’s – and demand rapid carbon emissions cuts – demand the elimination of coal.

The lesson, as stated by Hansen’s 5-year-old grandson, Conner, is a simple one:

“I don’t quit, because I have never-give-up fighting spirit.”

Leaders not Politicians?

July 20, 2009

greenpeace Obama protestI love Greenpeace and I admire the Presidents carved in Mt. Rushmore BUT…reality check please.

Wouldn’t Greenpeace have torn these giants down in their day for being rank politicians of the lowest order? Somehow me thinks yes, yes….

If anything the Greenpeace protest draws attention to the fact that the best leaders are often terribly compromised and conflicted politicians.

And while it is clear we must engender dramatic changes in our energy production/consumption, the path and political moves are not so clear. My money is still on Obama.

and The Bad News….

January 27, 2009

It is now inexcusable for us to not radically drop our CO2 emissions….. NOAA reports.     To do otherwise is to doom our decendents to hell on earth.   Read the checklist and do what you can now.

The Good News

January 27, 2009

Obama indisputably gets it. Not just Chu at Energy, not just a real EPA, but now….a Climate Change Envoy, Todd Stern – a heavy hitter.

“7 in 10 Americans Reducing Carbon Footprint”

August 25, 2008

Or 7 in 10 at least say they are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. That’s according to a new ABC News/Planet Green/Stanford University Poll released August 9th.

Yes, this headline appears very much a result of higher gasoline prices, and so:

59 percent say they’re using less gasoline — driving less, using smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, carpooling, taking mass transit and the like.

Yet it goes beyond just gasoline:

60 percent, also say they’re cutting their consumption of power (and water), and 33 percent are recycling

Let’s dig in and run through some of the numbers –

Of those reducing:
25% – mainly to save money
33% – environmental reasons
41% – combination of money and environment

The sweet spot is undoubtedly the 2fer, money & environment. And while I’ve heard some argue that we should be careful not to dilute the environmental message with ideas of economic self interest, a.k.a. saving money – it seems a no-brainer that the economic benefits for average families are potentially substantial and fully exploiting that fact is imperative. We’ll all be conservatives! ;)

Of those not reducing:

54% plus – “say it’s unnecessary, too expensive, too inconvenient, won’t do any good, or that they just aren’t interested”
22% of those not reducing say they’re not trying because they’re not sure of what to do.

Like the 28% still supporting Bush, some are never going to come around – best to write them off and not be distracted by them. However for the 22% not knowing what to do we must make sure they are reached and helped to engage. Far beyond what “We” and 1Sky and other great privately run public awareness groups are capable of, a big federally financed public awareness and education campaign is a must.

On the global warming threat:
61% – say it’s not a threat in their lifetime – if nothing is done about it (reduced from 69% in 1997)
73% – say it will be a threat in their children’s lifetime – if nothing is done (no previous polling data shown)
81% – say it will be a threat to future generations (up 2 points from 2005)

It seems a safe bet, perhaps, that as more people come to think it threatens their children’s and even their own generation, more will take action to reduce their carbon footprints. I’m now 41 – so in 2050, health willing, I’ll be 83, and my daughter will be 43. And at the rate of things, it’s going to be very bad in 2050. The federally financed public awareness and education campaign must flip the first number and push it to 75% saying it WILL threaten their generation. (Again the last 25% are “Bush dead-enders”.)

Attitudes toward policy approaches:

78% – support stricter fuel efficiency standards for cars
59% – support Cap/Trade
74% – support Cap/Trade when told similar approach succeeded against acid rain
68% – support U.S. action even if other countries do less

Heartening numbers – particularly the last. The new administration needs to run with them.

Likely economic effects of addressing global warming:

33% – say will help U.S. economy
32% – say will hurt U.S. economy

I’m not sure how these numbers add up but the idea that there’s a split is not surprising and to me, heartening as well. Public education and effective implementation that demonstrates the economic benefits should drag the numbers into a clearly supporting position.

On the not so good side:
63% – favor expanding off-shore oil drilling
55% – favor wilderness area drilling

Only 44% favor building more nuclear. Split by party it’s: 60% of Republicans and 33% of Democrats favoring.

If not great, not surprising either. I think Obama’s approach to these is basically correct. Use them as bargaining chips to secure the real action that is going to meaningfully address the problem – getting beyond the stalling and to work.

25% – say global warming is the biggest environmental problem (down 8 points from 2007. First, how could this number be going down? And how could it be so ridiculously low, period? )
80% – say global warming is occurring (down 5 points from 2006 – how could this too possibly be going down? Maybe see here.)

50% – reduction in global warming news stories in month prior to poll, from same period in 2007. (Shocking, right?)

47% – trust scientists’ statements regarding climate
49% – don’t trust scientists’ statements regarding climate
(I believe in always retaining a healthy skepticism but these numbers are ridiculous.)

I think these last numbers are a testament to the power of FoxNews, Rush Limbaugh and the Right Wing Noise Machine – with their campaign, well coordinated with the GOP, to confuse, disinform and generally, as Stephen Colbert so deftly reveals, celebrate ignorance. They’ve cowed members of the 4th Estate into not fulfilling their civic responsibility to inform our citizens. All around it is shameful.

So as not to close on a sour note: I think the take away must be that despite the Right Wing Noise Machine’s best efforts, there is apparently broad support for meaningful public policy action to tackle the threat – with 68% supporting U.S. action even if other countries do less. That is hopeful indeed.

The Importance Of Being Pristine – Another IPCC Shortcoming

August 20, 2008

As deforestation accelerates and grows ever more concentrated the consequences on climate change are even greater than previously thought. As reported in New Scientist:

Pristine temperate forest stores three times more carbon than currently estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and 60% more than plantation forests, according to research in Australia.

Yes, the IPCC underestimates yet again. The numbers:

Plugging the data into a computer, the team calculated that trees in areas untouched by logging store on average 640 tonnes of carbon per hectare, compared with an IPCC estimate for temperate forest of 217 tonnes.

The study?

Mackey and colleagues used remote sensing and direct sampling to study eucalyptus trees at 240 sites across a 14.5-million hectare swathe of natural forest in south-east Australia.

The study can be found here.


The global implications are not yet clear. It could be that the carbon-storing ability of other temperate forests, such as those along the Pacific coast of the US, have also been underestimated. Mackey’s team is now investigating this possibility.

One thing is clear: the IPCC desperately needs to update their projections to include data such as this, as well as “slow” feedbacks such as permafrost melt, wetland destruction, actic ice loss and
to name a few. As humanity debates what to do to combat climate change it’s clearer than ever that the climate change beast is still not fully exposed to be the potential cataclysm it is morphing toward.

For the next American administration to make a serious attempt to combat climate change up-to-date consensus climate models will be invaluable. The past year has brought an avalanche of data that is destined to profoundly affect the models.

So while the media remains insistent on hedging what has been with a few exceptions a bad to worse story – Al Gore’s remarks back in January at Davos ring truer than ever: “the climate crisis is significantly worse and unfolding more rapidly than those on the pessimistic side of the IPCC projections had warned us,

As many scientists have anecdotally said: “Things are happening 100 years ahead of schedule”.

Yet, disconcertingly, the IPCC is not scheduled to issue another scenario report until 2013.

AGW & Florida

June 30, 2008

I’ll admit I’m a single issue voter this year and my issue is AGW. For if we don’t solve this problem all else is lost.

Yet AGW will NOT be a significant general election issue for most of the country – the economy will rule the day. Florida could be different.

69% of Floridians believe coast threatened by rising sea levels

Unlike the country as a whole (see here) understanding of AGW seems to be growing in Florida. And more incredibly, so is their apparent willingness to actually do something about it.

A survey of 1,077 adults in Florida from May 1, 2008 to May 19, 2008 found that 65 percent of Floridians believe that global warming is already having or will have dangerous impacts on the state within the next 10 years. 55 percent say they believe global warming is caused mainly by human activities, while 80 percent believe climate change will cause worse storms, hurricanes and tornadoes.

Can I hear a WOW?

The survey found more than sixty percent of Floridians support state policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even if these policies have personal economic ramifications, including requiring state utilities to generate at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, introducing subsidies for energy efficiency, and supporting the installation of solar panels on state-owned buildings “even if the electricity generated is significantly more expensive than what state government normally pays for its electricity”.

The zeitgeist is forming before our eyes – sitting there for Obama or McCain to seize.

The question is: Who will seize it?

“Cap and Bulldoze”

April 14, 2008

James Hansen sent off another wonderful letter today – this time addressed to Governor Jim Gibbons of Nevada.

The money quote – toward the bottom of the second page – to get us rolling:

Utilities and the fossil fuel industry must reckon with the fact that the laws of Nature and the human instinct for survival will overrule any paper agreements that may exist now or be wrangled in the near-term. “Grandfathering” of fossil fuel plants and any ineffectual “cap and trade” scheme, should it be initiated, will necessarily be replaced by “cap and bulldoze”. Uncaptured CO2 emissions from coal must be eliminated.

He goes on, as only Hansen can:

Is it possible that I am wrong, that the governments are so larded with fossil fuel special interests that they will allow us to destroy the planet that we leave for our children and grandchildren? Sure – just as there was a chance that the United States andn the Soviet Union could have blown each other off the face of the planet with nuclear weapons – but it is much more likely that we will come to our senses soon, as the scientific story and emperical evidence overwhelm the deceit of short-term special interests.

One of the “Fossil Fuel Facts” is that a substantial fraction of fossil fuel CO2 emissions stays in the air for what is, for all practical purposes “an eternity”, more than 1000 years. That is a well-established scientific fact – there is no debate. A direct implication is that we cannot be aiming for a 50, 80 or 90 percent reduction of emissions. We must transition over the next several decades to practically zero net CO2 emissions. Thus our energy focus must be to develop renewable energies and energy efficiency.

Again, like with Mr. Rogers, he lowers the boom:

Governor Gibbons, I understand that you have also supported proposals for new coal-fired power plants, in Ely, Mesquite and White Pine. These coal-fired power plants would expose ratepayers and Nevada to grave financial risk. Steeply rising construction costs and coal prices are themselves ratcheting up the cost of coal-fired electricity, and sure-to-appear federal legislation that demands elimination of CO2 emissions will drive costs much higher. Given that Nevada’s geology is not very well-suited for storing CO2 , any assumption about retrofitting a coal-fired plant for CO2 capture is a dubious and financially risky proposition.

As for the insidious sponsors of the presidential debates:

A major additional disadvantage of coal is the pollution associated with it. There is no such thing as “clean coal”.

With another whack at coal he clears a path through Nevada to the promised land:

Although the fossil fuel industry pedals misinformation, claiming that renewable energies can only be a niche contribution to energy needs, that contention defies common sense. As proof of the contrary, consider just one of the renewable energies, solar power. The technology for solar thermal power stations already exists, power stations can be built rapidly, and as the market for them increases their unit costs will fall steadily, as the cost of coal power continues to rise. There is enough solar energy in a small fraction of our desert Southwest to provide all of the electrical needs of the United States. Nevada has the potential to be a leader in this field, providing power for itself and for distant location as a low-loss grid is developed. Leadership would provide great economic benefit to Nevada and provide a large number of high-pay jobs and new businesses.

Let’s recap (with minor elaboration):

1. We must reduce to practically zero CO2 emissions.
2. Solar thermal is a significant part of the answer.
3. Nevada has the sun exposure to power practically the whole country.
4. With next generation low-loss transmission lines the power can be distributed.
5. Keep coal in the ground.