… you probably won’t love Cheatneutral — but you will still laugh out loud!
Climate Progress is all about conserving energy. So to save you that and time, here’s a quick round-up of some articles worth pointing out:
The Real News About Global Warming — An opinion piece by Bill McKibben. Things may not be moving as quickly as preferred through Congress and the White House, but there is growing momentum.
The Inconvenient Truth, Part II — Tom Athansiou. “You’ve probably seen the movie; you’ve certainly heard about it. So you already know the first part of the inconvenient truth: we’re in deep trouble. And one good thing about 2006 is that this ceased to be a public secret. We not only know that the drought is spreading, the ice melting, the waters beginning to rise, but we also know that we know. And this changes everything.”
Ending Oil Dependence — David Sandalow, The Brooking Institution. Published in January, Sandalow’s piece calls for a transformation of our auto fleet, fuel supply, oil diplomacy, and climate policies. Aimed at the 97% of our transportation that still depends on petroleum, the study also specifically recommends a federal cap-and-trade program and more R&D into clean energy technologies.
Climate change broke onto the big screen – and then made the summer concert line-up – but it may have brought political action to a new level at the Academy Awards, where Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio announced the event’s having gone green.
Political issues have traveled the Oscar road before, but this year the event’s production went out of its way to act in tune with the message, even passing out carbon offsets in lieu of gift bags!
Years ago the phrase ‘global warming’ began to scare people, and so ‘climate change’ became more common. While making the announcement to go green and then accepting the Oscar for best documentary, Gore referred to our climate crisis.
What our planet and our way of life face is a crisis, and it really shouldn’t be a political issue except that the political arena seems to be the only one not moving forward fast enough on the issue.
For the climate problem above our heads, part of the answer is below our feet. Increasing attention has been aimed at geothermal energy as an abundant and clean energy source, but the federal budget is deaf to all the commotion.
And we really do mean commotion. On March 1 there will be a briefing on Capitol Hill to review geothermal energy and its potential. One featured speaker will be the chair of a recent MIT report on geothermal energy, which concluded “that mining the huge amounts of heat that reside as stored thermal energy in the Earth’s hard rock crust could supply a substantial portion of the electricity the United States will need in the future, probably at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact.” Other speakers includethe head of the Geothermal Energy Association (which also released a recent study), the owner of a geothermal project in Alaska, and the former DOE Geothermal Program Director.
In spite of the enormous potential of geothermal energy, the Bush administration has proposed zeroing out the geothermal energy program for two years running.
Outside the White House, geothermal energy is enjoying a popularity surge (evident everywhere from Capitol Hill, demonstrated above, to the New York Times and even the blogosphere). A piece of Grist commentary underscores that with what it costs to build one clean coal-fired plant, you could invest in 15 years of geothermal energy.
Although plumper budgets would pay off, we mostly need something like an Extreme Home Makeover to rearrange the use of our money and our world’s heat.
Global warming makes droughts longer and stronger–and more likely. That has been a major theme of this blog (just plug “drought” into the search engine). Business as usual greenhouse gas emissions may lead to desertification for a stunning 30% of the Earth’s surface! And now we learn:
Severe water shortages are likely to constrain future expansion of population, agriculture and industry in the south-western US, the fastest growing part of the country, according to a report by the National Academy of Sciences.
A 2005 study led by the University of Arizona, with Los Alamos National Laboratory and the U.S. Geological Survey, examined a huge three-million acre die-off of vegetation in 2002-2003 “in response to drought and associated bark beetle infestations” in the Four Corners area (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah). This drought was not quite as dry as the one in that region in the 1950s, but it was much warmer, hence it was a global-warming-type drought. The recent drought had “nearly complete tree mortality across many size and age classes” whereas “most of the patchy mortality in the 1950s was associated with trees [greater than] 100 years old.”
Most of this tree death was caused by bark beetle infestation, and “such outbreaks are tightly tied to drought-induced water stress.” Healthy trees defend themselves by drowning the tiny pine beetles in resin. Without water, weakened, parched trees are easy meals for bugs.
The authors warn that the recent drought in the Four Corners area “may be a harbinger of future global-change-type drought throughout much of North America and elsewhere, in which increased temperatures in concert with multidecadal drought patterns” cause unprecedented changes in ecosystems. In a 2005 talk I attended, climatologist Jonathan Overpeck noted that this study, together with the recent evidence that temperature and annual precipitation are headed in opposite directions, raises the question of whether we are at the “dawn of the super-interglacial drought.” [See slide 6]
The increased risk of severe drought we are seeing today was predicted back in 1990 by scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. Their model also suggested that, in the second half of this century, severe drought, which was already occurring with about 5 percent frequency by 1990, will occur every other year-and more frequently in the West.
It is, of course, purely an ironic coincidence that severe droughts (and wildfires) have hit Oklahoma and Texas, Wyoming, Australia, and China–states and countries with political leaders (or former leaders) opposed to climate action. But it is no coincidence that severe droughts are on the rise. We are changing the climate and much worse is to come if we don’t take action soon
These days, a key rite of passage for a major political issue is a concert–and at last the global spotlight is shining on climate change.
Now set to follow in the tracks of, and even ‘dwarf’, the Save Tibet, Farm Aid, Live8 and Live Aid concerts is “SOS” – a concert to advocate action, not just awareness, on climate change.
The concert is slated for July 7th and will be a series of performances in London, Rio de Janeiro, Kyoto, Washington, DC, Cape Town and Shanghai. So far, it’s a star-studded event, featuring more than 100 big names like the Foo Fighters, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sheryl Crow, and Snoop Dog.
Speaker Pelosi is encouraging Congress to pass climate and energy legislation by July 4th, hopeful to declare the holiday Energy Independence Day. These next spring months look to be pretty crucial in rallying political and popular support for climate action.
But even after July, we need to make sure the spotlight doesn’t fade – and may the events’ production and travel set a carbon neutral example!
At last, some of the nation’s biggest newspapers have been making a big deal of energy efficiency and conservation.
Over the weekend the Washington Post ran an article on California’s ambitious and profitable efforts by utilities. The Post‘s article followed an energy series by the Wall Street Journal on cutting energy use and costs.
Two of the WSJ pieces worth highlighting are”How to Cut Energy Costs” (subs. req’d), which provides options for saving energy and money around the house, and “The Bottom Line” (subs. req’d), whose content overlaps with the Post‘s piece.
All three pieces overlap in that their bottom line is that energy conservation is literally at your fingertips, with just the flip of a switch, and energy savings are as equally tangible. Mechanisms differ, but many utilities are climbing on board to maintain profits and avoid unnecessary construction costs.
Irony is no stranger to our posts derived from the U.S. Drought Monitor, and again, this case is no exception.
The monitor reveals severe to extreme drought covering most of the state of Wyoming (for at least the last three months), the home of none other than Vice President Dick Cheney.
Cheney represented Wyoming for just over a decade on Capitol Hill (in the House) and his career is sturdily rooted in the coal and petroleum businesses he backed in Wyoming, before becoming CEO of Halliburton.
In some form or another, Cheney has contributed his share of greenhouse gases, to say the least. If only he would realize how his actions and policies have threatened his community with longer and stronger droughts.
In the end, adherence to the norm of balanced reporting leads to informationally biased coverage of global warming. This bias, hidden behind a veil of journalistic balance, creates . . . real political space for the U.S. government to shirk responsibility and delay action regarding global warming.
–Maxwell Boykoff and Jules Boykoff, 2004
This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result.
–Edward R. Murrow, March 9, 1954
If we do not avert Hell and High Water, global warming will be the news Story of the Millennium. In a world where sea levels are risingma foot or more every decade for centuries, our coasts are ravaged by superstorms, and we face endless mega-droughts, global warming won’t be the most important story–it will be the only story.
If we do avert catastrophe, global warming will still be the Story of the Century. Starting very soon, and for many decades to come, the top news will focus on the country coming together to embrace an aggressive government- led effort to preserve the American way of life by changing everything about how we use energy–on a scale that dwarfs what the nation achieved during World War II.
While the media has begun providing more coverage of global warming, that coverage is still a long way from adequately informing the public about the urgency of the problem and the huge effort needed to avert catastrophe. The media’s miscoverage of global warming makes it much less likely that the country will act in time, and it is a key reason why only a third of Americans understand that global warming will “pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime,” according to a March 2006 Gallup Poll.
We don’t have any Edward R. Murrows today, at least not on the climate issue. What we do have is a declining number of science reporters, and only a handful of those are dedicated to covering climate. Worse, the media has the misguided belief that the pursuit of “balance” is superior to the pursuit of truth–even in science journalism. The result is that global warming and its impacts are systematically underreported and misreported.
We had a record-melting 2006, which is going down as the sixth warmest year for the globe and the warmest for the United States. Meanwhile, predictions place 2007 as the warmest, thanks to the combined forces of El Ni±o and global warming.
Professor Phil Jones, director of the Climate Research Unit in the UK, describes what we are facing:
El Ni±o makes the world warmer and we already have a warming trend that is increasing global temperatures by one to two tenths of a degrees celsius per decade. Together, they should make 2007 warmer than last year and it may even make the next 12 months the warmest year on record.
El Ni±o is not a sole scapegoat for the warm weather, nor an excuse for inaction on greenhouse gases. El Ni±o combines with global warming and does not replace or disprove the realities of climate change.
2007 is upon us, and it is utterly crucial that we bear in mind the relationship between global warming and El Ni±o so as not to lose sight of the component we control. The heat is on to put into practice the polcies and technologies necessary to fight anthropogenic warming.
The more efficient use of energy remains one of the central strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Until recent, the subject has not been exciting enough to get the kind of media attention that alternative energy generation technologies, like solar, receive. But because of the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we all will ultimately have to become expert on both cleaner energy supply and energy efficiency.
A recent report highlights state regulatory mechanisms that encourage utilities to pursue customer energy efficiency programs by providing the types of financial incentives that make “cents” for the utilities. An American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) report provides a lay person’s guide to regulatory reform for energy efficiency in the utility industry. It explains industry jargon such as “lost revenues”, “demand side management programs”, “decoupling” and “shareholder incentives,” as well as detailed information on which states are offering incentives for energy efficiency programs.
The report is worth a look because more than a third of this country’s dioxide emissions (the primary human-generated greenhouse gas) come from the generation of electricity. Therefore, getting the electric utility industry to accelerate energy efficiency programs into their markets is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Providing financial incentives that place energy efficiency programs on an equal revenue stream with traditional generation revenue allowances is a signal that gives senior level utility managers a reason to cut greenhouse gas emissions without harming the overall financial health and viability of the company.
As if it were news, a report by Intellichoice.com found that over a five-year span, the owner of a Prius saves more than $13,000 compared to the owner of a similar non-hybrid.
In fact, the savings apply “across the board,” to all 22 hybrids evaluated. What’s more, the study was the most inclusive of any yet: It factored in insurance, fuel, taxes, maintenance, and the works.
Read it to believe it, but it just confirms what many of us have been saying for years.
Reports out of Spain over the holidays indicate that Siberian bears aren’t the only ones losing sleep this winter. In the Cantabarian mountains of northern Spain, mother bears are postponing hibernation to gather food that isn’t usually available.
Experts predict that 2006 will go down as Spain’s warmest year on record. The warmer winter is causing nuts and berries to last further into the season, thus proving it “energetically worthwhile” for the bears not to hibernate and collect food instead.
In an article starring the bears, Mark Wright from the World Wide Fund for Nature commented:
I think it’s an indication of what’s to come. It shows climate change is not a natural phenomenon but something that is affecting not only on the weather, but impacting on the natural world in ways we’re only now beginning to understand.
His statement draws particular attention to the anthropogenic, or human, causes of climate change. In other words, this case and the “other seasonal freaks” mentioned in the article should have pivotal policy implications for the 110th Congress.
The “international fairness” issue is the emotional home run. Given the chance, Americans will demand that all nations be part of any international global warming treaty. Nations such as China, Mexico and India would have to sign such an agreement for the majority of Americans to support it.
–Frank Luntz, 2002
We don’t need an international treaty with rules and regulations that will handcuff the American economy or our ability to make our environment cleaner, safer and healthier.
–Frank Luntz, 2002
What country’s insatiable thirst for oil imports is most responsible for the tightening world market since the mid- 1990s? Hint: It’s not China. From 1995 to 2004, China’s annual imports grew by 2.8 million barrels a day. Ours grew 3.9 million. China sucks up about 6 percent of all global oil exports. We demand 25 percent, even though China has a billion more consumers.
In what year will China’s total contribution to climate change from burning fossil fuels surpass ours? Hint: Climate change is driven by rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and those concentrations have been driven by cumulative emissions since the dawn of the industrial revolution. While China’s CO2 emissions might well exceed ours by 2010, its cumulative emissions might not surpass ours until after 2050.
Any speech by NASA’s James Hansen deserves attention. His remarks “On Acceptance of WWF Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal” are no exception.
Two features are especially noteworthy. First, Hansen includes his slides, so you can understand what he’s saying very clearly. Second, he speaks with increasing poignancy about what we are doing to this planet:
It is an uncomfortable inconvenient scientific truth: we cannot pour into the atmosphere all of the fossil fuels that were buried in the ground over millions of years without creating a different planet, without destroying creation, without being miserable failures in our stewardship of the planet we were blessed with.
As Pedro Moura Costa, founder of the carbon credit trading company EcoSecurities, explained:
If you pick a winner in the right technology in the search for a low carbon economy you are talking about potentially billions. It is really the holy grail.
The EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme is giving investors in the carbon market a glimpse of the future and it’s a “green goldrush.” The flood of investments in carbon trading and green technology funds has quickly created a market worth billions, and projected to be as much as $40 billion by 2012. One businessman in New York guesses that “the next Bill Gates” will be an environmental entreprenuer, someone who taps into the emerging clean technology market and moves it into homes.
Henrik Hasselknippe, manager of the carbon market analyst group PointCarbon, observed that, “[the carbon market] is increasingly a capitalist arena. The eco-warriors are being replaced by the eco-capitalists.”
While this is serious business, can’t you just envision the Monty Python skit? Eco-warriors morphing into eco-capitalists with swords that turn smoke and smog into gold revealing, at last, the Holy Grail….
We have a serious problem. America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.–President Bush, 2006
In the absence of revolutionary changes in energy policy, we are risking multiple disasters for our country that will constrain living standards, undermine our foreign- policy goals, and leave us highly vulnerable to the machinations of rogue states.–Senator Richard Lugar, 2006
Our ever- worsening addiction to oil makes America less secure. Since 1990, we have fought two wars in the Persian Gulf. We suffered a major terrorist attack funded largely by Persian Gulf oil money. Every year we send more than $250 billion overseas because we import most of our oil. Oil prices keep spiking above $70 a barrel, and gasoline above $3 a gallon. The economic lifeblood of our country is held hostage to countries that are antidemocratic and politically unstable–and to terrorists who keep targeting the world’s oil infrastructure. Price spikes above $100 a barrel (and $4 a gallon) are all but inevitable in the coming years. And many fear we may be close to seeing worldwide oil production peak and then decline, which will bring an era of steadily rising oil and gasoline prices.
It’s no wonder that politicians–even those who don’t worry about global warming–keep talking about oil. So why haven’t we taken any serious action on oil for decades? The answer is simple– reducing U.S. oil consumption requires a major government-led effort, such as much tougher mileage standards, and our political leaders have rejected such efforts (except for ones that are merely cosmetic).
The astonishing January 2006 statement by President Bush’s EPA administrator, Stephen Johnson, bears repeating: “Are we going to tell people to stop driving their cars, or do we start investing in technology? That’s the answer, investing in those technologies.” This false choice leaves the nation with no oil policy except strong, empty rhetoric suggesting that the cure for our addiction to oil can be found in happy talk about future technology.
In the House Oversight Committe’s hearing on political intereference with the scientific evidence of climate change, Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) proclaimed in disbelief and frustration that, “Today we have a planet that’s smoking!”
He, like many before him, likened the campaign to cast doubt on global warming with the tobacco industry’s campaign in the 1990s to distort information on the health impacts of smoking cigarettes.
In early 2007, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a report along those same lines, exposing the disinformation campaign by ExxonMobil which used tobacco industry-like tactics. They also published an online periodical table that serves as an A-Z Guide to Political Interference in Science, which one of the witnesses to the House hearing brought up in her testimony.
And wait, there’s more. The UCS paired up with the Government Accountability Project on a report that describes how the White House silenced scientists on climate change. Some 1,600 scientists were surveyed, but only 279 responded, 150 of which reported that they had experienced interference of some kind.
We have a planet that’s smoking and the White House is filtering. Sounds like oil isn’t our only addiction. Menthol, anyone?
More highlights from the IPCC Report.
Climate Conditions Around Us:
• “Mountain glaciers and snow cover have declined on average in both hemispheres. Widespread decreases in glaciers and ice caps have contributed to sea level rise.”
• “There is observational evidence for an increase of intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970, correlated with increases of tropical sea surface temperatures….There is no clear trend in the annual numbers of tropical cyclones.”
• “More intense and longer droughts have been observed over wider areas since the 1970s, particularly in the tropics and subtropics. Increased drying linked with higher temperatures and decreased precipitation have contributed to changes in drought. Changes in sea surface temperatures (SST), wind patterns, and decreased snowpack and snow cover have also been linked to droughts.”
• “The frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased over most land areas, consistent with warming and observed increases of atmospheric water vapour.”
• “Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations has lead to increasing acidification of the ocean.”
Impacts We Can Expect in the Future:
• “Sea ice is projected to shrink in both the Arctic and Antarctic under all projected scenarios.”
• “Future tropical cyclones (typhoons and hurricanes) will become more intense, with larger peak wind speeds and more heavy precipitation…”
• “Both past and future anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions will continue to contribute to warming and sea level rise for more than a millennium, due to the timescales required for removal of this gas from the atmosphere.”
While we would certainly recommend everyone reading the entire IPCC Summary for Policymakers, here are some highlights:
- “The understanding of anthropogenic warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the Third Assessment Report (TAR) in 2001, leading to very high confidence [a 9 out of 10 chance] that the globally averaged net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming.”
- “The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely [<5% change] that global climate change of the past fifty years can be explained without external forcing.”
- “Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”
- “The global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased from a pre-industrial value of about 280 ppm to 379 ppm in 2005. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in 2005 exceeds by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years (180 to 300 ppm) as determined from ice cores.”
- “The primary source of the increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide since the pre-industrial period results from fossil fuel use, with land use change providing another significant but smaller contribution. Annual fossil carbon dioxide emissions increased from an average of 6.4 GtC per year in the 1990s, to 7.2 GtC per year in 2000-2005.”