And no doubt it is similarly coincidental that the pro-pollution, anti-science extremists who run the House of Representatives are demanding relief efforts for these disasters be offset by cuts in clean energy programs that create jobs and cut emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases that make extreme weather disasters more likely.
I believe Congressional Democrats and the White House should be willing to shut the government down rather than giving in to the GOP masters of disaster.
UPDATE: TPM reports, “Senate Averts Government Shutdown Threat, Funds FEMA“: “The threat of a government shutdown, and the possibility that FEMA will run out of money this week, will both be averted, thanks to some clever accounting and the GOP’s lack of will to keep holding disaster relief funds hostage to budget cuts.” So it looks like the GOP overplayed an inanely weak hand and blinked:
The technology needed to cut the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050 already exists, according to a joint statement by eleven of the world’s largest engineering organisations….
The statement says that generating electricity from wind, waves and the sun, growing biofuels sustainably, zero emissions transport, low carbon buildings and energy efficiency technologies have all been demonstrated. However they are not being developed for wide-scale use fast enough and there is a desperate need for financial and legislative support from governments around the world if they are to fulfil their potential.
That’s the news release from the UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME), one of the 11 signatory groups. The groups explicitly call for a peak in global emissions in 2020 and an intensive effort to train workers for green technology jobs.
Dr Colin Brown, Director of Engineering at the IME, says bluntly:
“While the world’s politicians have been locked in talks with no output, engineers across the globe have been busy developing technologies that can bring down emissions and help create a more stable future for the planet.
“We are now overdue for government commitment, with ambitious, concrete emissions targets that give the right signals to industry, so they can be rolled out on a global scale.”
Our guest blogger is A. Siegel, of Get Energy Smart Now. The Solar Decathlon is running on Potomac Park off the National Mall until October 2. Tomorrow, ThinkProgress Green will present A. Siegel’s full guide to the 19 teams competing in the Solar Decathlon.
U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 collegiate teams, representing five countries and four continents.
One of the nation’s most important intercollegiate competitions has just opened in Washington, DC: the biennial Solar Decathlon. For two weeks, 19 university teams from around the globe put up solar-powered demonstration homes that compete across the decathlon’s ten categories, including the functionality of the house (for example, for household tasks like washing dishes and cooking dinner), measured performance items (how much electricity does the house produce), and perception items that can’t be tangibly measured (aesthetic design quality). The houses are open to the public, and team members are on hand to discuss the architecture and technology that underlie these visions of a clean green future that is available today. Here’s the Department of Energy’s preview:
Each year, the Solar Decathlon is awaited by many, including this author, with much anticipation and bated breath. After years of work, the homes were assembled at Potomac Park off the National Mall and opened to the public this past weekend. In preparation for visiting the homes, here are some general observations:
The Solar Decathlon is a serious competition. The Solar Decathlon has truly transformed. A decade ago, it took only a few moments to sort out which teams would be on top and which weren’t in the same caliber. Even just two years ago, while every single house had elements meriting praise, sorting “top” from “bottom” wasn’t that difficult. (My ‘top five’ prediction, in terms of team composition, was off by one in 2009 as I expected the Spanish team to compete with the German team for #1 rather than placing 14th …) This year, looking at the teams and having visited the site, I believe that the judges, happily, face much more difficult challenges in ‘juried’ elements and can’t predict how the teams will sort out in measured performance. This competition is wide open with what look to be 19 tremendous houses and teams putting their finishing touches on their homes prior to opening doors to the public in just a few days.
Marketable Solar Homes. It is easy to see every single one of these homes commercialized. Every single one looks to be (very) livable, attractive homes that fit some form of market niche. This has not necessarily been true, despite team aspirations otherwise, in the past. The 2011 Solar Decathlon’s emphasize on affordability hopefully has driven the teams to truly cost-sensible solutions. If so, might this be the Solar Decathlon where a team emerges (or teams emerge) with a meaningful path toward producing large numbers of their house (or derivatives of it)?
The Solar Decathlon Appeals to All Ages. While I will provide some of my reactions to the houses, my seven and ten year old children’s comments will appear in a few. The Solar Decathlon, in part, provides an exciting vision for a path toward a sustainable and prosperous climate-friendly future. This excitement is shared, in my experience, by the vast majority who get there — of all ages. As a window on this, my seven-year old chose to watch the team videos (rather than asking to watch TV). And, she watched them … every single one … and when my better 95+% came in, my daughter had team videos that she wanted to show her mother, highlighting specific features that she thought her mom would love. And, well, “beautiful … can we buy that … that is really cool …” were the types of phrases coming out of her mouth, in wonder, in over an hour of watching (not all at once). And, well, my ten-year old son ended up doing much the same thing the next morning. And, they can’t wait to visit The Solar Decathlon to see the homes. As a parent, this joy, wonder, attention to detail, and intellectual interest (more my son) were a real pleasure to experience. As someone concerned about our energy reality and seeking to help foster a better path forward, this youthful passion and enthusiasm was an encouraging note.
[T]he federal commitment to [oil & gas] was five times greater than the federal commitment to renewables during the first 15 years of each subsidies’ life, and it was more than 10 times greater for nuclear.
The political reaction to the Solyndra scandal has been laughably devoid of both short-term and long-term historical perspective. In an attempt to exploit a political opportunity, many House Republicans are railing against government investments in the renewable energy sector. However, those same politicians requested millions of dollars for cleantech projects in their own states just a year or two before.
This bad case of amnesia stretches far beyond the last two years. Apparently, many in Congress have forgotten about the last 100 years of government investments in oil, gas and nuclear — all of which have far outpaced investments in renewable energy like solar PV, solar thermal, geothermal and wind.
As a percentage of inflation-adjusted federal spending, nuclear subsidies accounted for more than 1% of the federal budget over their first 15 years, and oil and gas subsidies made up half a percent of the total budget, while renewables have constituted only about a tenth of a percent. [See graph above.]
The researchers are somewhat selective about which subsidies they factor in. In order to come to directly-comparable figures, they outline four criteria for evaluating subsidies: The subsidy is designed to increase production of the targeted resource; all the data for the subsidy is available; the subsidy existed during the early stages of of domestic production; the inclusion of the subsidy allows for meaningful comparison across different sectors.
When adding them all up over time, the report’s authors found that on an average yearly basis, renewables represent a small fraction of the total government investments in the energy sector. Here are two great charts that make that clear:
Most of the political press has responded to President Obama’s attack on Gov. Rick Perry’s (R-TX) climate denial by portraying it as a partisan conflict:
Politico’s Maggie Heberman covers the conflict, not the facts. “This is a fight that is mutually beneficial to both Obama and Perry.”
Politico’s Matt Negrin, with yet another story on the same Obama quote, also did not comment on the fact that Obama was stating facts.
Time’s Mark Halperin also covered only the partisan angle: “POTUS tries to energize base with Perry attacks at Sun. night re-election fundraiser.”
The Washington Post’s David Nakamura also avoids mentioning that climate change is real. “Republicans might want to turn the 2012 presidential campaign into a referendum on President Obama’s handling of the economy, but he has other ideas.”
Television coverage was no better:
CNN’s Carol Costello: “No doubt about it, President Obama is throwing some red meat to a liberal base upset that he seems weak in the face of Republican attacks.”
Good Morning America’s Josh Elliott: “He’s taken the clearest shot yet at Rick Perry.”
Other political-media bloggers did mention in passing that global warming is a fact:
Time’s Michael Crowley writes: “This is a very satisfying line of attack for a Democratic audience.” In a later aside, he writes: “(Obama’s message might resonate less with members of the general public, however, many of whom doubt — despite an overwhelming scientific consensus — man-made climate change, as well as a connection between global warming and extreme weather.)”
Politico’s Ben Smith does a better job, linking to one of the many explanations of the link between Texas’ disastrous year and global warming, a blog post by Texan climate scientist Dr. Ronald Sass. However, he doesn’t bother to set the record on climate change straight when noting that “Republican voters tend not to think it’s real.”
There were actually some media hits that clearly delineated the difference between Obama’s fact-based argument and Perry’s denial. The Hill’s excellent energy blogger Ben Geman deserves kudos for actually fact-checking the dispute:
Perry, on the stump, has repeatedly questioned the consensus view among scientists that the planet is warming up and emissions from burning fossil fuels are a key reason why.
Mediate’s James Crugnale also reminded readers of the facts, writing that Politifact rated Perry’s portrayal of climate change as a global conspiracy “False.”
By Climate Guest Blogger on Sep 26, 2011 at 2:24 pm
by Susan Lyon and Matthew Kasper
Last week, Environment America released Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011, a comprehensive ranking of metropolitan areas’ dangerous air days in 2010 and 2011. But unlike past studies, this one incorporates the most recent science on what healthy air really looks like – and finds dirtier results than we’ve been told.
The report calculates additional days of unhealthy air relative to the 2008 EPA ozone standard, 75 parts per billion (ppb), which scientists and the EPA’s independent advisory panel now argue is not sufficient. Environment America’s calculations are at 70 ppb or below, a standard that is more consistent with what scientists say is necessary to protect public health. The new report adds up bad air days based on the best science, finding:
“The problem may have been even worse than we thought. Because the national health standard for smog pollution set in 2008 was set at a level that scientists agree is not protective of public health, people across the country have been exposed to days of poor air quality each summer without even knowing it. We have calculated the additional days on which the air was unhealthy to breathe, according to a pollution threshold that is more consistent with what scientists say is necessary to protect public health. But because the 2008 standard was set too loosely, the public was not alerted to these days of unhealthy air.”
Across the state of California, for example, there were 135 smog days in 2010 exceeding recommended levels – that’s more than a third of the year. According to the report, ten metropolitan areas – Houston, TX, the Washington, DC area, Baltimore, MD, Philadelphia, PA- NJ, Riverside-San Bernardino, CA, Visalia-Tulare-Porterville, CA, Bakersfield, CA, Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA, Fresno, CA, , and Atlanta, GA – rank worst in the country for smog pollution based on the number of unhealthy air days they experience.
Despite making promises not to do so, House Republicans are holding disaster relief funding hostage, demanding the money be offset by spending cuts elsewhere so as to not increase the deficit, even though this has never been done in the past. House Republicans finally passed a bill to fund FEMA and the rest of the government last week, but only days after the Senate passed their own version without offsets and after House conservatives killed an earlier version with slightly fewer spending cuts.
But speaking this morning on CNN, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain said Congress should fund FEMA now and worry about the offsets later, drawing a sharp line against lawmakers using the funds as a “political football” while people are suffering:
CAIN: I would make sure that FEMA got the money it needed, and if I had to go find the offsets later, go find it later. Stop playing with peoples’ tragedies — these are real people we’re talking about.
HOST: So you’re saying, right now we should just fund FEMA and forget about the offsetting spending cuts, and maybe later, if we find them, then go back and get the deal done that way.
CAIN: Yes. … We’re going to have a gentleman’s agreement that we will find the offsets, rather than finding the offsets right in the middle of it and making it a political football.
Asked about Sen. Mark Warner’s (D-VA) comments yesterday that the Tea Party faction in the House is to blame for the hold up, Cain said the conservative lawmakers need to pick their battles better. “I would not make this a battleground, Cain said. “This is one that I would basically try to, you know, fall on my sword for — go ahead and do what’s right for the people.”
Cain added that Congress “should put politics aside” and fund FEMA because “people should not have to suffer because of the political bickering.” Congress returns to work today to try again, with FEMA money running out soon and funding for the rest of the government ending Friday.
The Politico reported these zingers from President Obama at California fundraiser on Sunday:
“Has anybody been watching the debates lately? You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change,” Obama said to applause in San Jose, according to the pool. “It’s true. You’ve got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don’t have health care and booing a service member in Iraq because they’re gay.”
Hey, maybe the President or his speechwriter read Climate Progress:
The bad news for Obama is that after Perry’s dreadful debate performance last week, the right wing punditocracy has gone after him hard, and he has begun to sink in the polls and Intrade. Perhaps the President is trying to resuscitate Perry’s campaign.
Of course, the problem with the incumbent president mocking his opponent’s denial of climate science is that it becomes incumbent on him to take serious action on the problem, rather than, say, being recumbent!
UPDATE: The Perry campaign replies:
“It’s outrageous President Obama would use the burning of 1,500 homes, the worst fires in state history, as a political attack,” Perry spokesman Mark Miner told ABC News.
By Climate Guest Blogger on Sep 26, 2011 at 11:48 am
It is with great sadness that the family of Professor Wangari Maathai announces her passing away on 25th September, 2011, at the Nairobi Hospital, after a prolonged and bravely borne struggle with cancer. Her loved ones were with her at the time.
Professor Maathai’s departure is untimely and a very great loss to all who knew her — as a mother, relative, co-worker, colleague, role model, and heroine; or who admired her determination to make the world a more peaceful, healthier, and better place .
Prof. Wangari Muta Maathai started the Green Belt Movement in 1977, working with women to improve their livelihoods by increasing their access to resources like firewood for cooking and clean water. She became a great advocate for better management of natural resources and for sustainability, equity, and justice.
A synopsis of her life and work can be read below.
Wangari Muta Maathai (1940–2011): Nobel Peace Laureate; environmentalist; scientist; parliamentarian; founder of the Green Belt Movement; advocate for social justice, human rights, and democracy; elder; and peacemaker. She lived and worked in Nairobi, Kenya.
“Every person who has ever achieved anything has been knocked down many times. But all of them picked themselves up and kept going, and that is what I have always tried to do.”
“You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand that these resources are their own, that they must protect them.”
By Climate Guest Blogger on Sep 26, 2011 at 11:14 am
Last week the U.S. House passed the sweeping anti-environment TRAIN act. Pete Altman looks at the corporate polluters and “lethal legislators” who made it happen in this cross-post from the NRDC blog
The US House [has passed] a bill that could cost tens of thousands of Americans their lives and cause hundreds of thousands of children to suffer from more frequent and more severe asthma attacks.
The bill in question, the TRAIN (Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation) Act would indefinitely delay clean-up of dangerous power plant air pollution, including mercury, soot, cancer-causing dioxins and acid gases. The minimum delays mandated by the bill would put on hold until at least 2013 two critical Clean Air Act updates: the Cross – State Air Pollution Rule and Mercury and Air Toxics standards for power plants.
The bill started out with a more innocuous goal of creating a new government review panel to slow down the EPA’s efforts to reduce pollution. But thanks to amendments added by Reps Bob Latta (OH-5) and Ed Whitfield (KY-1) the bill takes direct aim at Americans’ lungs. As my colleague John Walke describes it:
TRAIN already was the most irresponsible dirty air legislation ever to be brought to the House floor. But two Republican amendments to the bill quietly introduced last night contain far more extreme attacks on health protections that take us into reckless territory never before seen in Congress…. The bill would cost a minimum of 34,000 lives, with indefinite delay allowing over 25,000 additional deaths every year.
A reasonable person might ask: “Why would members of Congress vote to increase pollution that will kill tens of thousands of Americans?” But it turns out that sadly, a lot of members have been throwing their support behind measures that would put kids and lives at risk.
The Perry campaign expressed outrage that President Obama would call out the governor for his rejection of scientific reality. “It’s outrageous President Obama would use the burning of 1,500 homes, the worst fires in state history, as a political attack,” Perry spokesman Mark Miner told ABC News.
India And Pakistan Floods Hit 10 Million People |
“More than two million people have been affected by floods in India as torrential rains lash Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states,” BBC reports. “Heavy monsoon rains have been battering parts of India for the past fortnight. More than 80 people have died in flood-related incidents, and some areas have been cut off by rising waters.” The situation is even more dire in Pakistan. “The Pakistani government says more than eight million people, mostly in Sindh province in the south, have been affected by monsoon rains. The United Nations estimates about 1.5 million people are living in relief camps or temporary settlements.”
The perennial question following any extreme weather event is whether climate change is responsible for the event in question. Until recently, the short answer to this question was ‘No’ but recent findings suggest that this answer needs to be refined. It is still not possible to state categorically that climate change has caused a specific event, and natural variability continues to play a key role in extreme weather. But climate change, through rising temperatures and water vapour levels for example, is changing the odds of extreme events occurring. The last couple of years have certainly seen a large number of extreme events take place, from the floods in Queensland, Colombia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, to the droughts in Texas, Australia, China and the Amazon, and record-setting high temperatures in countries that cover approximately one-fifth of the Earth’s surface. Wildfires, snowstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes have also made the headlines in a number of countries. This has led to the appearance of new expressions: ‘global weirding’ and ‘a new normal’.
It is within this context that Dr James Powell, whose book 2084: An Oral History of the Great Warming is reviewed here, aims to find out whether there is now a ‘preponderance of evidence’ showing that climate change is truly under way, a situation which he argues warrants a response. He focuses on extreme weather for a number of reasons. Weather is what we experience on a daily basis and is therefore more tangible than some vague notion of climate change in distant countries or futures. Additionally, extreme weather can prove very costly in terms of lives, livelihoods and infrastructures, and we therefore all have a stake in taking preventative measures. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, increases in the occurrence of events such as extreme temperatures are the best harbingers of climate change. This is clearly illustrated in figure 1 below. With this in mind, the author frames the issue as one of risk management and compares it to the insurance industry: we take out insurance not because of a high probability of fire or burglary, but because we stand to lose a lot if we are uninsured and such an event takes place. Similarly, Powell argues, increasing and/or intensifying extreme events would require action to be taken – we should aim to ‘avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable’.
Welcome to Clean Start, ThinkProgress Green’s morning round-up of the latest in climate and clean energy. Here is what we’re reading. What are you?
Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaigns to save Kenyan forests, died in hospital on Sunday after a long struggle with ovarian cancer. [Reuters]
China will invest 2 trillion yuan (about $313 billion) to promote a green, low-carbon economy in the next five years, a senior economic planning official was quoted on Sunday as saying. [Reuters]
Climate change is altering the face of the Himalayas but research seeking to confirm this is yet to catch up with the mountain communities sounding the alarm [Guardian]
Warmer winters, thinner ice, stranger weather — climate change has begun to undermine subsistence life along the Yukon River, according to a new federal study that collected and analyzed observations by Native residents in two southwestern Alaska villages. [Alaska Dispatch]
With profits soaring for hard-rock mining and oil and gas companies doing business on public lands, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) is leading the charge to get the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate whether American taxpayers are getting their fair share. [American Independent]
The House on Friday passed the first in a planned series of Republican bills to effectively block the Environmental Protection Agency from reining in toxic pollution under the Clean Air Act. [National Journal]
Warmer winters, thinner ice, stranger weather — climate change has begun to undermine subsistence life along the Yukon River, according to a new federal study that collected and analyzed observations by Native residents in two southwestern Alaska villages.
“They expressed concerns ranging from safety, such as unpredictable weather patterns and dangerous ice conditions, to changes in plants and animals as well as decreased availability of firewood,” say the researchers in this story about their work that was posted by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The study, published this month in the journal of Human Organization, found that hunters and elders in the Yup’ik communities of St. Mary’s and Pitka’s Point noticed a litany of dramatic climate shifts over the course of their lives, forcing changes in how they gather food and wood while making it more difficult to read the sky correctly before heading out into the tundra.
Edited by Joe Romm, we cover climate science, solutions and politics. Columnist Tom Friedman calls us "the indispensable blog" and Time magazine named us one of the 25 "Best Blogs of 2010." Newcomers, start here.