From being a marginal and even mocked issue, climate-change litigation is fast emerging as a new frontier of law where some believe hundreds of billions of dollars are at stake.
Compensation for losses inflicted by man-made global warming would be jaw-dropping, a payout that would make tobacco and asbestos damages look like pocket money.
Imagine: a country or an individual could get redress for a drought that destroyed farmland, for floods and storms that created an army of refugees, for rising seas that wiped a small island state off the map.
In the past three years, the number of climate-related lawsuits has ballooned, filling the void of political efforts in tackling greenhouse-gas emissions.
Eyeing the money-spinning potential, some major commercial law firms now place climate-change litigation in their Internet shop window.
Is the measure of a country’s wealth just its gross domestic product? Or should the definition be broadened to value a nation’s forests and fisheries or even its atmosphere?
In a major new publication, the World Bank makes a strong case for embracing a broader definition of wealth as it works to alleviate poverty around the globe. By including agricultural land, protected areas, minerals beneath the ground, energy and even laws and governing institutions as “assets,” economists say they can better spur green growth.
“The problem with GDP growth as an indicator … is that it treats both the production of goods and services and the value of asset liquidation as part of the product of the nation,” authors wrote in “The Changing Wealth of Nations.” “Thus, a country could grow its GDP by depleting its stocks of forests and minerals, for example, but this growth would not be sustainable.”
The book pegs the total economic value of worldwide natural assets at $44 trillion in 2005 and “intangible” capital — things like education or the capacity to innovate — at $540 trillion. Data for 1995, 2000 and 2005 show that as per capita wealth increases in lower- and middle-income countries, the share of natural capital declines.
SolarCity, one of the nation’s largest solar energy installers, has acquired the solar division of Rockville-based Clean Currents as part of the company’s move to establish business on the East Coast.
The San Mateo, Calif.-based company leases solar energy panels to home and business owners, eliminating the upfront costs that executives said often price people out. The company also installs, monitors and finances the projects itself in an effort to simplify the process.
The private company, which would not disclose its finances, boasts a staff of 1,000 and counts 10,000 solar projects that have been completed or are underway in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon and Texas, its current markets. Twelve employees in Clean Currents’ solar division will relocate to Silver Spring and be joined by 30 new hires to sell and install solar projects in the District and Maryland starting next month.
Clean Currents President Gary Skulnik said his company has “been dreaming for a long time of solar for the masses” and felt the leasing model presented by SolarCity could achieve that. He added that the sale’s undisclosed sum will allow the company’s remaining divisions to focus on “fun and new things,” the details of which will come in the months ahead.
The decreases in Earth’s snow and ice cover over the past 30 years have exacerbated global warming more than models predict they should have, on average, new research from the University of Michigan shows.
To conduct this study, Mark Flanner, assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, analyzed satellite data showing snow and ice during the past three decades in the Northern Hemisphere, which holds the majority of the planet’s frozen surface area. The research is newly published online in Nature Geoscience.
Snow and ice reflect the sun’s light and heat back to space, causing an atmospheric cooling effect. But as the planet warms, more ice melts and in some cases, less snow falls, exposing additional ground and water that absorb more heat, amplifying the effects of warmer temperatures. This change in reflectance contributes to what’s called “albedo feedback,” one of the main positive feedback mechanisms adding fuel to the planet’s warming trend. The strongest positive feedback is from atmospheric water vapor, and cloud changes may also enhance warming.
Republicans and Democrats are planning to sit together during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address tomorrow night. That might minimize the raucous high school-like cheering sections that have come to mark these sessions.
As a vehicle for finding common ground, this is mere symbolism. More telling moments may occur the next day in the less ornate hearing rooms of the House Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers will hear testimony from the co-chairmen of the commission investigating the BP disaster last year in the Gulf of Mexico, former Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida and Bill Reilly, a Republican who once headed the Environmental Protection Agency.
Earlier this month, the commission, appointed last May after the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, called for an end to the cozy relationship between government regulators and the oil industry via the creation of an independent agency that would be more shielded from political pressure. If regulators and London-based BP Plc had done their job right and put safety first, the spill wouldn’t have occurred, the Graham-Reilly panel concluded.
At the same time, however, it said the U.S. needs the oil from offshore drilling, and that while the liability cap on companies for accidents should be raised from the unrealistically low $75 million, it shouldn’t be unlimited.
Mobilising the ‘home front’ to fight climate change: When it comes to tackling climate change, there are many lessons we can learn from the wartime generation
The Imperial War Museum in London may seem like a strange place to launch a report on climate change. But that’s where I am this morning, along with speakers from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, the Women’s Institute and the museum itself.
Why? Two reasons. First, climate change is one of the greatest threats to our country since the last world war. It’s not only environmentalists who are saying this. Business leaders, prime ministers, major charities and generals have all recognised the level of risk.
Second, if we are to overcome this threat – and the alternative is simply too awful to contemplate – then we need to mobilise as a nation in a way we haven’t seen since 1945.
The new report – entitled The New Home Front – looks at the wartime experience of those on the “home front” in Britain and the lessons we can learn in facing today’s threats from climate change and the looming energy and resources crisis.
What struck me most about the report was how many positive – and at times inspiring – lessons we could learn from the wartime generation. People put up with so much disruption and deprivation because they knew there was no alternative, and because they believed society would emerge stronger at the end of the war.
For example, evidence suggests that the vast majority households supported rationing, because it was fairer than the alternative of restricting food consumption through prices. Small individual action added up to a massive contribution: collecting food scraps – which due to rationing were nothing like the amount of food waste Britain produces today – was enough to feed over 200,000 pigs. And while people had to forgo some pleasures, such as country drives, attendances at theatres and other amusements rose.
Meanwhile, despite rationing, nutrition improved and infant mortality fell sharply. The social change that wartime impositions such as rationing and billeting of evacuees brought about laid the foundations for reform of education, the welfare state and the creation of the National Health Service.
It would be wrong to glamorise the second world war. But it would also be wrong to ignore the experiences and wisdom of those who lived through it. That’s why, as a follow-up to this report, we’re launching a national campaign to bring the generations together and see how their insights can be applied here and now. Over the coming months, we’ll be finding ways to bring this wisdom into one place and make it available in a new report.