"Energy and global warming news for January 5, 2011: Scientist proves conservatism and understanding of climate science aren’t incompatible; House Energy Chair Upton (R-MI) shows up at an oil industry event"
According to the conventional wisdom that liberals accept climate change and conservatives don’t, Kerry Emanuel is an oxymoron.
Emanuel sees himself as a conservative. He believes marriage is between a man and a woman. He backs a strong military. He almost always votes Republican and admires Ronald Reagan.
Emanuel is also a highly regarded professor of atmospheric science at MIT. And based on his work on hurricanes and the research of his peers, Emanuel has concluded that the scientific data show a powerful link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
“There was never a light-bulb moment but a gradual realization based on the evidence,” Emanuel said. “I became convinced by the basic physics and by the better and better observation of the climate that it was changing and it was a risk that had to be considered.”
As a politically conservative climatologist who accepts the broad scientific consensus on global warming, Emanuel occupies a position shared by only a few scientists.
In much the same role that marriage and abortion played in previous election cycles, denial of climate change has now become a litmus test for the right.
The vast majority of Republicans elected to Congress during the midterm election doubt climate science, and senior congressional conservatives “” Republican and Democrat “” have vowed to fight Obama administration efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s why scientists such as Emanuel rattle the political pigeonholes. Some are speaking out, using their expertise and conservative credentials to challenge what many researchers consider widespread distortions about climate change.
Texas Tech atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian who travels widely talking to conservative audiences and wrote a book with her husband, a pastor and former climate change denier, explaining climate change to skeptics.
A physicist by training, John Cook is an evangelical Christian who runs the website skepticalscience.com, which seeks to debunk climate change deniers’ arguments. Barry Bickmore is a Mormon, a professor of geochemistry at Brigham Young University and the blogger behind Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah, where he recently rebuked Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) for his climate views and posted editorials mentioning his Republican affiliation.
Spotted at an American Petroleum Institute event Tuesday previewing the oil industry’s agenda for 2011 was Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Upton is planning this year to aggressively challenge the Obama administration’s energy agenda, including efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and impose new regulations on the oil industry.
API, the country’s most powerful oil-and-gas industry trade group, is unveiling its “State of American Energy” report that, in part, calls on Congress to “reject new energy taxes and turn aside unnecessary regulations on oil and natural gas development.” An API spokesman says Upton was an invited guest to the event held at Washington’s Newseum.
Leading reinsurer Munich Re said Monday that extreme natural catastrophes in 2010 led to the sixth-highest total loss for insurers since 1980 and showed evidence of climate change.
Severe earthquakes, floods and heat waves last year led to $37 billion in insured losses, according to Munich Re’s annual review. Total economic losses, included those not covered by insurance, rose to $130 billion from $50 billion in 2009.
Out of the last 100 years, 2010 was one of the most intense for storms, with 12 of 19 tropical cyclones attaining hurricane strength. Floods caused by monsoons in Pakistan caused $9.5 billion in damage.
“The high number of weather-related natural catastrophes and record temperatures both globally and in different regions of the world provide further indications of advancing climate change,” Munich Re said in a statement.
Texas filed yet another legal action against the federal government before the new year, charging a recent takeover of the state’s air permitting program violates the Clean Air Act.
The suit is the latest in an ongoing power struggle between the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which took an unprecedented regulatory takeover of the Texas program Sunday. The federal agency had given Texas, and 12 other states, about a year to implement new permitting procedures meant to regulate greenhouse gases, but it intensified efforts after repeated disputes.
In September, the state filed four motions in the U.S. Court of Appeals to stop the guidelines on cars and other emitters, charging the agency based rules on flawed climate data and that changes would harm the local economy.
Shell faces another setback in its plans to drill for offshore oil in the Arctic, this time from a federal board that sided with Alaska Native and environmental groups and kicked air quality permits back to the Environmental Protection Agency for further review.
The order by the Environmental Appeals Board invalidates Shell Offshore Inc.’s permits for both the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. It said the EPA had failed to adequately consider the impact of nitrogen dioxide emissions during drilling operations on nearby communities and that the agency erroneously determined when a drillship, the Frontier Discoverer, would be subject to air quality issues.
The appeal was filed by the Arctic Eskimo Whaling Commission, the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice on behalf of other groups.
In early 2009 a team of terrorists managed to enter a nuclear-power plant in the American South armed with machine guns and grenade launchers. After breaking through chain-link and barbed-wire gates, they battled with the plant’s guards. Those terrorists who weren’t killed were able to disable a critical component of the plant’s operating hardware. A meltdown of the reactor core looked imminent, as did the release of radioactive material from waste-storage pools located on-site. The surrounding area faced catastrophic fallout.
Everything up to that point actually happened””sort of. In reality, the attackers were a group of highly trained government operatives””including security consultants and military members on leave””posing as terrorists. Every three years, such teams “attack” each of the country’s 104 nuclear-power plants to find weak spots in security. The raids are carefully choreographed: plant managers are given two months’ notice to prepare the guards, and the intruders follow a prearranged script to evade them. Still, eight times out of roughly 100 attempts over the past five years, the mock terror teams have successfully broken through those defenses.
Nathaniel Keohane, most recently the chief economist at the Environmental Defense Fund, has moved to the National Economic Council at the White House to help direct environmental and energy policy. He replaces Joseph E. Aldy, who is returning to the faculty at Harvard University.
Mr. Keohane, an early and vigorous proponent of the market-based system of cap and trade to control greenhouse gas emissions, will be joining a White House bracing for an onslaught from Republicans in Congress determined to undo much of the administration’s environmental agenda.
In his new role, he will likely undertake economic analyses in defense of domestic and international environmental policies and will work with the major agencies involved in carrying out the administration’s agenda.
When the clocked struck 12:01 on New Year’s, two important green regulations went into effect that may have a long term influence on green building and renewable energy. If successful, either of these regulations would do more to change the green industry than any legal challenge to LEED’s legitimacy (see the continued coverage of the Gifford v. USGBC case here and here):1. CALGREEN
As I have said before, green building practices are becoming code, and California has (as usual) taken the lead. California is the only state to have a state-wide green building code, CALGREEN (PDF), which went into effect on January 1, 2011. If California successfully implements this mandatory green building code without siginificant impact on building rates or building costs, look to other states and municipalities to follow. Implementing green via building code is being made significantly easier throught the creation of the International Green Construction Code (IGCC) which integrates with the ICC construction codes already in place in most jurisdictions.
An interesting question that has been bandied about is what a green construction code will do to LEED. California will be an interesting laboratory. Will developers still seek LEED certification for their buildings when all new construction must be green? How sensitive is the customer base to “green” vs. “more green?”
2. EPA Regulation Of GHG Under the Clean Air Act
EPA limits on greenhouse gases for power plants which also went into effect January 1 (a quick fact sheet from the EPA is available at this PDF). When cap-and-trade or cap-and-tax died in Congress last year, the EPA continued its plan to regulate GHG via the Clean Air Act. There is significant controversy over these limitations, and legal challenges have been filed. On Wednesday, December 29, 2010, the Fifth Circuit Court refused to stay the regulations, and on Thursday December 30, 2010, Texas filed a petition to the Court of Appeals in the Federal Circuit to stay the regulations. If the EPA regulations on power plants remain in place, more GHG regulation of other categories will follow, creating the same massive shift in the priority of green tactics to manage GHG emissions that cap-and-trade would have had.
A U.S. company said Wednesday it wants to start construction this year in China of one of the world’s biggest solar power plants after forming a partnership with a major state-owned utility company.
First Solar Inc. announced plans in 2009 for the facility in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region. The company said it hoped to break ground in mid-2010 but a pre-feasibility study was not approved until September and regulators delayed approval of higher payment rates for solar-generated power.
While Haiti is still picking up the pieces after last year’s devastating earthquake, the good news is that fascinating ideas about how to rebuild the island nation with a safer, more sustainable infrastructure are still pouring in. One of the latest proposals, from architect E. Kevin Schopfer and Tangram 3DS, caught our eye with its vision of Haiti reborn with a beautiful floating city. Dubbed Harvest City, the collection of islands would be a fully-functioning community where 30,000 residents could grow crops, promote industry and start a new life.