Archive for 2005 July

How to Lead and How to Mislead

According to the Financial Times, the US and Australia will on Thursday announce a plan they say will reduce the escalating emissions of greenhouse gases.

As part of the as-yet-unnamed scheme, they will  offer Asian nations China, India, and South Korea new technologies to reduce their emissions as well, early reports say.

The White House suggests the deal "goes beyond" the infamous Kyoto Protocol, even though the Kyoto Protocol called for substantial reduction in the emission of six gases, and, according to the Financial Times: "The partnership does not set any new targets for greenhouse gas emissions, or involve specific commitments on the transfer of technology from the US to developing countries."

It’s "largely symbolic," according to The Australia. The Financial Times and Reuters quote enviros who say this deal is an end run around Kyoto-style caps designed to reduce total emissions.

Jennifer Morgan, head of the World Wildlife Fund’s climate change program, said that "A deal on climate change that doesn’t limit pollution is the same as a peace plan that allows guns to be fired."

This post will not attempt to debate the merits of the plan, but will point out how differently the allied governments of Australia and the United States came to their publics with this plan.

In Australia today , the government released to the public an alarming report on the likely effects of global warming in that country.

A Federal Government study says Australia should expect higher temperatures, more droughts and severe storms. Temperatures could rise by up to 6C by 2070, affecting native plants and animals, damaging urban areas and threatening agriculture.

By contrast, the White House-neutered Environmental Protection Agency "made an 11th-hour decision Tuesday to delay the planned release of an annual report on fuel economy," according to a story in Thursday’s New York Times. Why?  Maybe because:

The contents of the report show that loopholes in American fuel economy regulations have allowed automakers to produce cars and trucks that are significantly less fuel-efficient, on average, than they were in the late 1980’s.

Releasing the report this week would have been inopportune for the Bush administration, its critics said, because it would have come on the eve of a final vote in Congress on energy legislation six years in the making. The bill, as it stands, largely ignores auto mileage regulations.

Even if we don’t agree with Canberra’s involvement in this plan, we can respect them for leveling with their people. Under the Bush administration, by contrast, Washington does everything possible to mislead its public on this issue. More business as usual?

Full Story »

George W. Bush’s Top Ten Solutions for Global Warming


from David Letterman and his writers–7/25/05

Full Story » Comment (1)

The Energy Appliance

National Geographic is not the magazine it used to be–it’s better. At least when it comes to reporting on natural resource issues, no other magazine can blend the personal, the photographic, and the graphic as well. In this month’s issue, in a warmly-written and highly informative story called "Powering the Future," can be found this exciting new idea:

"…in Flagstaff, Arizona, Southwest Windpower makes turbines with blades you can pick up in one hand. The company has sold about 60,000 of the little turbines, most of them for off-grid homes, sailboats, and remote sites like lighthouses and weather stations. At 400 watts apiece they can’t power more than a few lights.

But David Calley, Southwest’s president, whose father built his first wind turbine out of washing machine parts, is testing a new product he calls an energy appliance. It will stand on a tower as tall as a telephone pole, produce up to two kilowatts in a moderate wind, and come with all the electronics needed to plug it into the house.

Many U.S. utilities are required to pay for power that individuals put back into the grid, so anyone in a relatively breezy place could pop up the energy appliance in the yard, use the power when it’s needed, and feed it back into the grid when it’s not. Except for the heavy loads of heating and air-conditioning, this setup could reduce a home’s annual power bill to near zero. If, as Calley hopes, he can ultimately sell the energy appliance for under $3,000, it would pay for itself with energy savings within a few years.

Full Story »

Line of the Week

Speaking of the escalating chaos in Iraq, James Wolcott wonders when the spinmeisters will awake to the obvious, and pointedly asks:

…will it be like global warming, which Russert, Stephanopolous, Chris Wallace, and the rest ignore altogether, as if waiting for heatstroke deaths to dot the capital lawns before acknowledging something momentous is happening. They’re still waiting for the memo that’ll verify what any fool can see.

Full Story »

Some Good News for Ventura County

On Friday, Ventura County got some good news. Although Los Angeles is allowing Newhall Ranch to develop an entire new city on the outskirts of Santa Clarita, the Nature Conservancy bought 377 acres  of habitat for endangered species along the Santa Clara River near Piru Creek from a mining company for less than $600,000.   

"Not only is the acreage good, but the amount of river they’ve captured is quite long," said Ron Bottorff, chairman of Friends of the Santa Clara River, a nonprofit group working to restore habitat on 230 acres farther downstream. "That’s what we want to see: the river flood plain and the surrounding terraced lands protected."

Also good news is the passage of a ten billion dollar water bill in the Senate that includes over seventy million towards the taking down of Matilija Dam, the white elephant outside Ojai. Amazingly, the consensus that this dam should be taken down has held. No lawsuits have been filed to stop it since the environmental review was published last fall. (The fact that the dam is all but useless for flood control, irrigation, or anything else helps, no doubt.) It’s also interesting that Ventura County’s congressman, Elton Gallegly, has actively pursued the funding for this environmentally-minded project, despite complaints of taxpayer groups of "pork."

"This is the first step of a long and involved process that will unfold over several years before Matilija Dam has been deconstructed," said Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Thousand Oaks, who worked for the project’s inclusion in the water bill.

Full Story »

Time to Drill?

Judith Lewis, who helped inspire this blog, takes a thoughtful look at the possibility of new oil wells popping up in the Los Padres National Forest. At the heart of her story is a warm, richly-detailed portrait of Al Hess, the man the Forest Service has put in charge of the decision-making process.

Hess, an outdoorsy type with a full head of gray hair, large-framed wire-rimmed glasses, and socks in his Birkenstocks, considers himself a “reasonable person.”

He is well-regarded by oilmen and environmentalists alike, including [Pamela Flick, of the Defenders of Wildlife] as a man who gives straight answers and isn’t beholden to any one side. “You couldn’t have a better man working on this project,” says Bruce Palmer, the former coordinator of the condor-recovery program for U.S. Fish and Wildlife. But Hess clearly misses the days before endless lawsuits and appeals followed every decision.

“Some people just won’t see the other side,” he griped. “I personally don’t have any use for those people, because they just stifle progress. There’s usually room to find a solution, if you really look at it. If people are reasonable, they can get there. But if you start out ‘I’m over here and you’re over there and that’s all there is to it,’ what can you say?”

Fair, open-minded people such as Al Hess make me proud to live in Ventura County. Our politics are diverse, but one thing is clear: Ventura county residents care deeply about the land we share.

Full Story »

Seven Dead in Phoenix in Two Days

According to an editorial in the Arizona Republic, seven people in Phoenix have died in the last two days of a vicious heat wave, with record-breaking temps topping 116 degrees.

The editorial adds:   

"…there’s something else that’s eerie and ominous about this heat wave. Sunday’s storm notwithstanding, the monsoon – a seasonal shift in wind patterns that we count on for midsummer rain and heat relief – is mysteriously absent.

The average monsoon starts on July 7, but we’re now pushing toward a record-late commencement of what’s expected, in any event, to be a drier than average season."

Metereologists expect the monsoon to arrive this weekend. For the sake of Phoenix and the entire southwest, let’s hope they’re right.

Full Story »

Elephants Squabble Over Climate Change

A Republican Congressman from Texas has launched an investigation into the research of three climate scientists, notably Michael Mann, arguing–based on an article in the Wall St. Journal–that their representation of a warming climate is fundamentally flawed. The threatening nature of inquiry is apparent in the Congressman’s letter. For example, here’s one passage:

4. Provide the location of all data archives relating to each published study for which you
were an author or co-author and indicate: (a) whether this information contains all the
specific data you used and calculations your performed, including such supporting
documentation as computer source code, validation information, and other ancillary
information, necessary for full evaluation and application of the data, particularly for
another party to replicate your research results; (b) when this information was available to
researchers; (c) where and when you first identified the location of this information; (d)
what modifications, if any, you have made to this information since publication of the
respective study; and (e) if necessary information is not fully available, provide a detailed
narrative description of the steps somebody must take to acquire the necessary information
to replicate your study results or assess the quality of the proxy data you used.

The letter and its demands have created quite a furor, both within the scientific community and within Congress. (Mann has responded to the letter with an avalanche of detail in a letter of his own.) A neutral observer, Roger Pielke, Jr., a professor at the University of Colorado who has a prominent website on this and other scientific issues called Prometheus, compared Barton’s demand for background study data to being asked to supply the background on a bill:

For those of you who were in Congress let me give what I think is an entirely appropriate analogy: your boss was the main sponsor of a law that passed in 1998. You wrote the original bill starting in 1996 and were the main shepherd all the way through conference committee. Based on an article I just read in the American Prospect, it turns out the premise on which this law is based has been questioned. Please go back and reconstruct the entire bill-writing process, providing your notes of all conversations you had from any stakeholder while you were drafting the bill, all notes from any meetings with lobbyists and constituents, all notes from all meetings with other staffers from the authorizing committee, all conversations that led to the three hearings on your bill, how you chose the witnesses who testified at those hearings, the process that went into the Chairman’s Substitute at markup and how much influence any stakeholder community had in altering that mark, the information you provided to other staffers prior to committee markup, etc…. Even though we realize that it took 2 years and 3 months from initial draft to President’s signature, we expect all this information by July 16th. Thanks!

Interestingly, Pielke looks for "a third way" out of the controversy. He considers the letter from the Texas congressman threatening an investigation a form of grandstanding, and supports the National Academy of Sciences’ offer to investigate the controversy scientifically, outside of the political realm. But at the same time, he argues in his "unbearably long post"  that Mann’s almost-famous "hockey stick" graph (representing warming in the late 20th-century) is an emotion-charged symbol of a much larger political debate, and not necessarily the best representation of the science on the issue. "Rep. Barton and others opposed to action on climate change will continue to gnaw at the hockey stick like a dog on a bone so long as they perceive that it confers some political benefits," Pielke points out. He predicts that the hockey stick as a symbol for the science will soon be left in the dust (if it hasn’t already in the field) by other developments.

The over-the-top emotion of those unwilling to act on climate change can be seen in the back-and-forth of letters between the two Congressman, Barton of Texas, and Sherwood L. Boehlert
of New York, also a Republican, who called Barton’s investigation "misguided and illegitimate." (Congressman Henry Waxman of California, a Democrat, put it even more bluntly, calling it "a transparent effort to bully and harass climate change experts who have reached conclusions with which you disagree.")

"Chairman Barton appreciates heated lectures from Representatives Boehlert and Waxman, two men who share a passion for global warming," committee spokesman Larry Neal said. "We regret that our little request for data has given them a chill. Seeking scientific truth is, indeed, too important to be imperiled by politics, and so we’ll just continue to ask fair questions of honest people and see what they tell us. That’s our job."

Given that Barton has dismissed the offer to investigate from the National Academy of Sciences, it’s pretty evident, despite his protestations, that he’s not interested in the science of the matter. Perhaps his office recalls the last time the NAS was asked to double-check the science of global warming — by the White House  — they resoundingly backed the supposedly controversial IPCC Third Assessment Report of 2001, adding that global "tempeatures are, in fact, rising."

Full Story » Comment (1)

Chevron Walks the Talk — in New Guinea

What follows is a long, thoughtful, detail-packed excerpt from Jared Diamond’s epochal "Collapse." This particular excerpt concerns the actions of a Chevron subsidiary in a Papua New Guinea, a part of the world close to Diamond’s heart, since he worked there as an ornithologist decades ago.

In a nutshell, Diamond suggests that–at least in this example–that Chevron is an environmental hero. We might have to see it to believe it, but thanks to the miracle of the printed word–and the Internet–here we can:

(from Jared Diamond’s "Collapse," the "Big Business and the Environment" chapter, pp442-446)

Diamond first briefly discusses seeing a horror of an oil field in Indonesian New Guinea in l986. In contrast…

"My second experience was of the Kutubu oil filed that a subsidiary of the large international oil company Chevron Corp. operated in the Kikori River watershed of Papua New Guinea… The environment in the Kikori River watershed is sensitive and difficult to work in because of frequent landslides, much limestone karst terrain, and one of the highest recorded rainfalls in the world (on the average, 430 inches per year, and up to 14 inches per day). In l993 Chevron engaged World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to prepare a large-scale integrated conservation and development project for the whole watershed. Chevron’s expectation was that WWF would be effective at minimizing environmental damage, lobbying the Papua New Guinea government for environmental protection, serving as a credible partner in the eyes of environmental activist groups, benefiting local communities economically, and attracting World Bank funding for local community projects. From l998 to 2003 I made four visits of one month each to the oil fields and watershed as a consultant to WWF. I was allowed freedom to travel throughout the area in a WWF vvehicle and to interview Chevron employees privately."

"As my airplane flight from Papua New Guinea’s capital of Port Moresby droned on towards the field’s main airstrip at Moro and was approaching its scheduled arrival time, I looked out the airplane window for some signs of the oil field infrastructure I expected to see looming up. I became increasingly puzzled still to be seeing only an uninterrupted expanse of rainforest stretching between the horizons. Finally, I spotted a road, but it was only a thin cleared line ten yards broad through the rainforest, in many places overhung with trees growing on either side–a bird-watcher’s dream. The main practical difficulty in rainforest bird studies is that it’s hard to see birds inside the forest itself, and the best opportunities to observe them are from narrow trails where one can watch the forest from the side. Here was such a trail over 100 miles long, from the highest oil field at an altitude of nearly 6,000 feet on Mt. Moran down to the coast. On the following day, when I began walking along that pencil line of a road during my surveys, I found birds routinely flying across it, and mammals, lizards, snakes, and frogs hopping, running, or crawling across it. It turned out that the road had been designed to be just broad enough for two vehicles to pass safely in opposite directions. Initially, the seismic exploration platforms and exploration oil wells had been put in without construction of any access roads at all, and had been serviced instead just by helicopter and on foot."

"My next surprise came when my plane landed at Chevron’s Moro airstrip, and again later when I flew out. Although I had already gone through baggage inspection by the Papa New Guinea Customs Department upon my arrival in the country, on both arrival and departure at Chevron’s airstrip I had to open all my bags for further inspections more thorough than on any other occasion I had experienced except when I flew to Israel’s Tel Aviv airport. What were those inspectors looking for? On the flight in, the articles absolutely prohibited were firearms or hunting equipment of any sort, drugs, and alcohol; on the flight out, animals or plants or their feathers or parts that might be smuggled. Violations of those rules results in immediate automatic expulsion from company premises, as a WWF secretary innocently but foolishly carrying a package for someone else discovered to her misfortune (because the package turned out to contain drugs)."

"A further surprise came the next morning, after I had walked out on the road before dawn to bird-watch and returned a few hours later. The camp safety representative summoned me to his office and told me that I had already been reported for two violations of Chevron regulations, which I was not to repeat. First, I had been noticed stepping several feet out into the roadway to observe a bird. that posed the hazard that a vehicle might hit me, or that in swerving to avoid hitting me it might crash into an oil pipeline at the side of the road and cause an oil spill. From now on, I should please stay off the road while bird-watching. Second, I had been seen bird-watching while not wearing a protective helmet, but this whole area was a hardhat area; at this point the officer gave me a hardhat, which I should henceforth please wear for my own safety while bird-watching, e.g., in case a tree fell."

"That was an introduction to Chevron’s extreme concern, constantly instilled in its employees, about safety and environmental protection. I have never observed an oil spill on any of my four visits, but I do read the reports posted each month on Chevron bulletin boards about incidents and near-incidents, which are the concern of the safety representative who travels around by plane or truck to investigate each. Out of interest, I recorded the full list of fourteen incidents from March 2003. The most serious near-incidents requiring scrutiny and review of safety procedures in that month were a truck backed into a stop sign, another truck was reported with its emergency brake improperly set, a package of chemicals lacked the correct paperwork, and gas was found leaking from a compressor needle valve."

"My remaining surprise came in the course of bird-watching. New Guinea has many bird and mammal species whose presence and abundance are sensitive indicators of human disturbance, because they are either large and hunted for their meat, hunted for their spectacular plumage, or else confined to the interior of undisturbed forests and absent from modified secondary habitats. They include tree kangaroos (New Guinea’s largest native mammals); cassowaries, hornbills,  and large pigeons (New Guinea’s largest birds); birds of paradise, and Pesquet’s Parrot and other colorful parrots…and hundreds of species of the forest interior. When I began bird-watching in the Kutubu area, I anticipated that my mail goal would be to determine how much less numerous these species were inside the area of Chevron’s oil fields, facilities, and pipeline than outside it."

"Instead, I discovered to my astonishment that these species are much more numerous inside the Chevron area than anywhere else that I have visited on the island of New Guinea except for a few remote uninhabited areas. The only place that I have seen tree kangaroos in the wild in Papua New Guinea, in my forty years there, is within a few miles of Chevron camps; elsewhere, they are the first mammal to become shot out by hunters, and those few surviving learn to be active only at night, but I saw them active during the day in the Kutubu area. Pesquet’s Parrot, the New Guinea Harpy Eagle, birds of paradise, hornbills, and large pigeons are common in the immediate vicinity of the oil camps, and I have seen Pesquet’s Parrots perching on the camp communications towers. That’s because there is an absolute prohibition against Chevron employees and contractions hunting any animal or fishing by any means in the project area, and because the forest is intact. The birds and animals sense that and become tame. In effect, the Kutubu oil field functions as by far the largest and most rigorously controlled national park in Papua New Guinea."

Full Story »

Chevron Gets Serious

Chevron (er, excuse me, ChevronTexaco) recently has launched a truly exquisite website called will you join us? It’s about the fact that at this moment in history we as a busy, busy species have burned through at least half of the available oil reserves on the planet…and are expected by many experts to burn through the remaining reserves in the next thirty years.

Red or blue or other in our politics, all of us who care about our world must face this fact, and ChevronTexaxo has every right to be the first to remind us, given that it is the second-largest energy and oil corporation in the country, and one of the largest in the world.

The remarkable thing, at least to yours truly, is that they have done such an exemplary job of laying out the basic facts. It’s startling. They begin with the same idea frequently brought up by Jared Diamond in his epochal and widely-praised book about how civilizations sometimes "Collapse" — the concept of "natural capital."

Go to the "Environment" tab in their issues section, and this is the first thing you read in Chevron’s introduction (which even has footnotes!):

Every person on the planet is dependent on the natural resources that make up our environment—our "natural capital."1 We sometimes take it for granted, but this capital is vital for sustainable economic and social progress.2

Obvious? Perhaps, but it’s not something you hear from their rivals, ExxonMobil. Where ExxonMobil has gone to extraordinary length of funding over forty ""public interest groups"  to obfuscate the science showing the on-coming of global warming. Chevron is staring a conversation about the heritage all mortals on this planet share. Is it just me, or isn’t that kind of amazing?

In truth, when it comes to facing facts, Chevron sounds downright presidential at times. By contrast, here’s the current officeholder on the subject of climate change, as reported in CNN just before the recent G-8 summit. (For this summit Tony Blair pushed very hard on two issues–aid to Africa and climate change–and got some aid for Africa, but no change or commitment on climate change.)

Bush described climate change as "a significant, long-term issue that we’ve got to deal with" and acknowledged that human activity is "to some extent" to blame.

Here’s Chevron on the same subject on their website:

One of the most critical environmental challenges facing the world today is reducing long-term growth in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.15 The use of fossil fuels to meet the world’s energy needs has contributed to an increase in GHGs—mainly carbon dioxide and methane—in the earth’s atmosphere.16 Many think this increase is leading to climate change, with potentially adverse effects on people, economies, and the environment—from coastal flooding, to droughts, to changes in ecosystems and biodiversity.17, 18

Now I ask you–who’s the responsible parent? The oil company or the President? It’s astonishing, especially since Chevron’s last footnote on the subject (18) takes us directly to the supposedly controversial report from the UN-sanctioned IPCC of 2001 that the White House didn’t want to believe and asked the National Academy of Sciences to verify! (The NAS turned aside the objections, backing the report to the hilt, pointing out the threat of greenhouse gases and adding sharply the irrefutable fact: "Temperatures are, in fact, rising.")

Chevron’s record is not beyond criticism, as the interesting Knowmore compilation site points out (and rates Chevron negatively), but I sense the possibility of something new here. And let me add that Jared Diamond had a similar reaction, after encountering a Chevron oil production facility in one of the wildest parts of the world he’s ever seen…an on-the-scene report tomorrow.



Full Story »