Virginia’s legislature commissioned a $50,000 study to determine the impacts of climate change on the state’s shores. To greenlight the project, they omitted words like “climate change” and “sea level rise” from the study’s description itself. According to the House of Delegates sponsor of the study, these are “liberal code words,” even though they are noncontroversial in the climate science community.
Instead of using climate change, sea level rise, and global warming, the study uses terms like “coastal resiliency” and “recurrent flooding.” Republican State Delegate Chris Stolle, who steered the legislation, cut “sea level rise” from the draft. Stolle has also said the “jury’s still out” on humans’ impact on global warming:
State Del. Chris Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, who insisted on changing the “sea level rise” study in the General Assembly to one on “recurrent flooding,” said he wants to get political speech out of the mix altogether.
He said “sea level rise” is a “left-wing term” that conjures up animosities on the right. So why bring it into the equation?
“What people care about is the floodwater coming through their door,” Stolle said. “Let’s focus on that. Let’s study that. So that’s what I wanted us to call it.”
There is a resistance to calling science what it is, even in the studies commissioned to investigate the impact of climate change. The reality is that coastal cities are spending millions to respond to rising sea levels, like Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk spends $6 million a year to elevate roads, improve drainage, and help homeowners raise their houses, according to BBC. Already, 5 percent to 10 percent of the city’s lowest-lying neighborhoods have heavy flooding. The world’s largest naval base, based in Norfolk, is spending hundreds of millions to replace piers to withstand rising water. Yet they manage to make no mention of climate change or sea level rise in their response strategy.
We’re near 400 parts per million atmospheric concentration of C02, rising 2+ ppm a year (a rate that is projected to rise as emissions increase and carbon sinks saturate). While no one knows the exact line of demarcation for the various tipping points, the latest science suggests that if we go substantially above, say, 450 ppm we risk starting the chain of events, while going substantially above 500 ppm seems downright suicidal (see links below). We are, sadly, on track for 800 to 1000 ppm this century, which would be the end of modern civilization as we know it today, according to the most recent science. Long before then, however, we’ll cross all the big tipping points. Indeed, as Dr. Tim Lenton explains in Scientific American, ”The worse case would be that kind of scenario in which you tip one thing and that encourages the tipping of another. You get these cascading effects.”
A prestigious group of scientists from around the world is warning that population growth, widespread destruction of natural ecosystems, and climate change may be driving Earth toward an irreversible change in the biosphere, a planet-wide tipping point that would have destructive consequences absent adequate preparation and mitigation.
“It really will be a new world, biologically, at that point,” warns Anthony Barnosky, professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of a review paper appearing in the June 7 issue of the journal Nature. “The data suggests that there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including, for example, fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations.”
The Nature paper, in which the scientists compare the biological impact of past incidences of global change with processes under way today and assess evidence for what the future holds, appears in an issue devoted to the environment in advance of the June 20-22 United Nations Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The result of such a major shift in the biosphere would be mixed, Barnosky noted, with some plant and animal species disappearing, new mixes of remaining species, and major disruptions in terms of which agricultural crops can grow where.
The paper by 22 internationally known scientists describes an urgent need for better predictive models that are based on a detailed understanding of how the biosphere reacted in the distant past to rapidly changing conditions, including climate and human population growth. In a related development, groundbreaking research to develop the reliable, detailed biological forecasts the paper is calling for is now underway at UC Berkeley. The endeavor, The Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology, or BiGCB, is a massive undertaking involving more than 100 UC Berkeley scientists from an extraordinary range of disciplines that already has received funding: a $2.5 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and a $1.5 million grant from the Keck Foundation. The paper by Barnosky and others emerged from the first conference convened under the BiGCB’s auspices.
“One key goal of the BiGCB is to understand how plants and animals responded to major shifts in the atmosphere, oceans, and climate in the past, so that scientists can improve their forecasts and policy makers can take the steps necessary to either mitigate or adapt to changes that may be inevitable,” Barnosky said. “Better predictive models will lead to better decisions in terms of protecting the natural resources future generations will rely on for quality of life and prosperity.” Climate change could also lead to global political instability, according to a U.S. Department of Defense study referred to in the Nature paper.
This morning, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the city’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy, saying it helped “take guns off the streets and save lives.” “Stop-and-frisk” is a policy strategy where officers stop and search “people they consider suspicious.”
Bloomberg did, however, acknowledge some issues with the program, saying the practice needed to be “mended not ended.”
Here are 10 important facts about the contentious program:
1. In 2011, NYC officers made 685,724 stops as part of the “stop-and-frisk” policy. Of that group, 605,328 people were determined not to have engaged in any unlawful behavior. [NYCLU]
2. Only 5.37% of all stops in a recent five-year period resulted in an arrest. In short, many people stopped did nothing wrong. [NYT, 5/17/12]
3. In 2009, 36% of the time officer failed to list an acceptable “suspected crime.” Reasonable suspicion of a crime is required to make a stop. [NYT, 5/17/12]
4. More than half of all stops last year were conducted “because the individual displayed ‘furtive movement’ — which is so vague as to be meaningless.” [NYT, 5/14/12]
5. Of those frisked in 2011, a weapon was found just 1.9% of the time. Frisks are supposed to be conducted “only when an officer reasonably suspects the person has a weapon.” [NYCLU]
6. 85% of those stopped were black or Hispanic even though those groups make up about half of NYC’s population. [NYT, 5/17/12]
7. Young black and Latino men account for 4.7% of NYC’s population but 41.6% of the stops in 2011. [NYCLU]
8. The number of stops involving young black men in 2011 (168,124) exceed the city’s population of young black men (158,406).[NYT, 5/15/12]
9. Even in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, police stopped more blacks than whites.[NYT, 5/15/12]
10. In 2012, police are on pace to make more than 800,000 stops, more than twice the population of Miami. [NYT, 5/15/12]
Yet while Yergin’s book has 6 chapter — 100 full pages (!) — devoted to climate science and policy, this op-ed is utterly silent on the energy issue of the century, which is also the human issue of the millennium. He concludes:
America’s new story for energy is still unfolding. It includes the continuing development and expansion of renewables and increased energy efficiency, both of which will be essential to our future energy mix. But what is striking is this great revival in oil and gas production in the United States, with wide impacts on jobs, economic development and the competitiveness of American industry. This new reality requires a new way of thinking and talking about America’s improving energy position and how to facilitate this growth in an environmentally sound way — recognizing the considerable benefits this will bring in an era of economic uncertainty.
While Yergin is happy to detail America’s new orgy of fossil production, he is has nothing to say about how we could do this in an environmentally sound way, in part, I suspect, because he knows that we can’t.
Producing more oil is transparently incompatible with serious climate action. Producing more gas is only compatible with climate action over a very short period of time, maybe a decade, to quickly replace most of U.S. coal — and even then you must simultaneously have an aggressive strategy to reduce methane leaks along with a serious and rising carbon price to make sure the gas is replacing coal 1-for-1 and not renewables (see “Natural Gas Is A Bridge To Nowhere Absent A Carbon Price AND Strong Standards To Reduce Methane Leakage“).
After 2020, American would need to then replace the gas with carbon-free power over two or at most three decades, which of course would render much of the original investment in gas infrastructure wasteful, if not counterproductive.
To be clear, since Yergin isn’t clear (either here or in his book), an 80% to 95% reduction vs. 1990 levels is the target that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes the rich countries (Annex I) should adopt if the goal is to stabilize at 450 ppm CO2-eq, which stabilizes around 2°C (3.6°F) above preindustrial levels. I discussed the science underlying this at length three years ago. Here’s the key chart from the full Working Group III report (Box 13.7, page 776):
A 60% reduction by 2050 gets you 550 ppm CO2-equivalent, which is about 450 ppm CO2 (because of the warming from the other greenhouse gases). That would mean ultimately stabilizing at 3°C (5.4°F) above preindustrial levels using the “best estimate” of climate sensitivity — see the IPCC’s Synthesis Report “Summary for Policymakers” (Table SPM.6).
But hey, no worries, it’ll create thousands of unsustainable jobs in the short term, so let’s throw a party. Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we … well, you know how it turns out.
The point is, that if you want to listen to scientists and preserve a livable climate and minimizes to billions of people, then you want to stay as close to 2°C total warming as possible. To cut U.S. CO2 emissions by 80% below 1990 levels by 2100, you won’t be using more gas than you are today. You’ll be using less.
Although Yergin spends 100 pages in his book on climate, he ends his discussion with the decisiveness of an eight-armed economist:
On June 10 1963 — exactly 49 years ago today — President John Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act to prohibit wage discrimination against women. From his remarks that day:
This act represents many years of effort by labor, management, and several private organizations unassociated with labor or management, to call attention to the unconscionable practice of paying female employees less wages than male employees for the same job. This measure adds to our laws another structure basic to democracy. It will add protection at the working place to the women, the same rights at the working place in a sense that they have enjoyed at the polling place.
While much remains to be done to achieve full equality of economic opportunity–for the average woman worker earns only 60 percent of the average wage for men–this legislation is a significant step forward.
…It is a first step. It affirms our determination that when women enter the labor force they will find equality in their pay envelopes.
Google is backing it. So is Warren Buffett, America’s most-watched investor. GE, one of the world’s biggest manufacturers, is too.
Each of these corporate icons is placing big bets and hundreds of millions of dollars on a future powered by wind and solar power. Apple just joined them, announcing plans to power its main U.S. data center in Maiden, North Carolina, entirely with renewable energy by the end of this year. So why – yet again – are pundits making dire warnings about prospects for renewable energy?
The answer is that the clean tech industry is at a critical crossroads.
On the one hand, wind and solar power are close to cost competitiveness with fossil fuels in many parts of the world— including the southwestern United States. In recent years, the cost of wind turbines and solar panels has plummeted, fuelling worldwide demand for renewables and leading to double-digit growth. The sector’s mid- to long-term future is very bright. For example, the latest industry analysis by McKinsey & Co. finds that solar PV deployment could increase 50-fold between 2005 and 2020, rivaling the growth rate for natural gas.
On the other hand wind and solar power, still fledgling industries, face the imminent loss of the very government subsidies that have been driving their growth and cost reductions in both the U.S. and Europe. These policy shifts risk stalling progress toward cost competitiveness at the 11th hour.
Despite these set-backs, some major corporate players are willing to ride out the turbulence, confident in clean tech’s long-term viability:
MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, has committed $6 billion to become the largest generator of wind energy among regulated U.S. utilities.
Google has invested more than $915 million in clean energy projects, including 20-year agreements to purchase power from wind energy developers in Iowa and Oklahoma, where it has large, energy-guzzling data centers. The tech giant has also launched Google Energy , a utility subsidiary that sells renewables-generated electricity to the grid.
GE, already one of the world’s leading wind turbine manufacturers, announced in October 2011 that it would build a $300 million solar panel factory in Aurora, Colorado, which will make latest generation thin film panels from 2013.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced it will launch an inquiry into so-called “Stand Your Ground” legislation for racial bias. The laws, which gained notoriety after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, eliminated the duty to retreat from a confrontation that has existed as part of the common law for hundreds of years.
Data compiled by the Wall Street Journal shows a near-doubling of justifiable homicides from 2005-2011 in states where SYG [Stand Your Ground] has passed. Moreover, their data shows that while white killers of black victims comprises only 3.1% of all homicides, such cross-racial killing constitute 15.6% of justifiable homicides.
A separate study by the FBI found “34% of cases involving a white shooter killing a black person were deemed as a justifiable homicide. Meanwhile, in similar situations, when the shooter was black and the victim was white, the homicide was ruled justifiable only 3.3% of the time.”
The committee plans to hold hearings and release the findings of their study within one year.
I’ve recently seen a few articles that claim that historically low coal consumption in the United States doesn’t mean much because dramatic growth in global coal consumption is inevitable.
Assertions like these rely on mind-boggling (and admittedly scary) global coal-consumption growth rates. But, for all the scary numbers, analysts are missing the writing on the wall about coal development around the world: Widespread grassroots opposition, dramatically rising costs, and increasingly competitive alternatives threaten “the inevitable.” It’s time to take a closer look, because international coal is far riskier than you might think.
First, what happens in the U.S. does matter globally. Given that the developing world has based its current plans on what the Western world has done, do we really think they aren’t paying attention to what we are doing now? That’s exactly why historic standards like the EPA’s carbon-pollution rule have a cascading effect by demonstrating to the rest of the world that coal is not the right fuel source for modern countries (something the dramatic ramp-up in clean energy investment in China clearly shows).
What do developing countries see when they look to the West today? In the United States, plans for 168 new coal-fired power plants have been abandoned, and another 100 existing plants are scheduled for retirement due in large part to increased financial and environmental costs as well as intense grassroots opposition. The handful that have sneaked through have raised rates by as much as 30 percent because they simply aren’t competitive in today’s energy market. As a result, coal-fired power generation has fallen to its lowest share of overall generation in the past 35 years. Things are so bad for coal that fully constructed coal plants are being mothballed because they can’t compete.