Archive for 2006 August

California Leads the Way on Air Pollution…Again

Yesterday the California legislature reached agreement on a deal to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Here’s how the Washington Post introduced the story:

In stark contrast to the Bush administration’s consistent opposition to mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change, California’s bill requires its industrial sectors to cut the state’s carbon dioxide pollution by 25 percent in order to bring it back to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Other states may soon follow suit, which could put pressure on federal officials to create a national system capping emissions and allowing companies to trade pollution credits.

"It really does point out the country needs to solve this problem in a uniform way," said William Reilly, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H.W. Bush and now co-chairs the bipartisan National Commission on Energy Policy. "It will rebound in Washington. The country’s largest state is setting a new standard for the climate issue."

The Post also noted that part of the deal is a provision to require out-of-state energy producers to reduce emissions if they wish to send energy to California, to prevent the exporting of pollution. This is an important part of the story that has not gotten much attention; more soon, I hope, especially if I can do anything about it.

The  Wall St. Journal [$] made an interesting point about the deal between the Republican governor and the Democratic legislature:

One reason Gov. Schwarzenegger ended up agreeing to the bill was that some of California’s business community supported it. He began tipping his support toward the bill after a delegation of executives from Silicon Valley last week told him many businesses wanted the bill as a way to provide them regulatory certainty and for other reasons, say lobbyists in the statehouse.

"This bill provides a new opportunity here in California," said Bob Epstein, cofounder of Sybase Inc., a software maker in Dublin, Calif., and a leader of a group that represents businesses that support environmental action.

The deal is a big step forward. Predictably, fossil fuel groups are not happy, but California has a long and honorable history of leading the nation on air pollution regulation. California now has more than twice as many vehicles registered in the state than it did in l970, but overall ozone levels are less than one-fourth of what they were back in the days before catalytic converters were required and inspections were mandated, and gee, you don’t see any tumbleweeds blowing down Wilshire Boulevard.

As Kevin Drum points out, the cap-and-trade market-based system this regulation implies hasn’t yet been codified, but still deserves support on the left.

Reaction on the right has been gloomy: Dan Walters of the Modesto Bee claims it’s "mostly symbolic" because India and China are not part of the deal. To which the logical reaction is surely: Well, duh!

When was the last time the California legislature made policy for China? And if you believe, as most Californians do, that reducing emissions is an important goal, we need to act for our own sake and to avoid hypocrisy when asking for changes from others.

But doomiest of all is the reliably whack Iain Murray of the National Review, who declares that "what California has done today…is to decide to join the Third World."

Right. The sixth-largest economy in the world, bigger than China by most estimates, even though China has about one billion residents, and California has about thirty million, is headed for economic  chaos and disintegration because we are going to ask power plants and factories to provide data on their CO2 emissions and then find ways to reduce those levels.

Where is that famous conservative optimism now?


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How To Be Cary Grant at an Enviro Party

Want to keep your party going? Tired of being labeled a Gloomy Gus? Need something light to say to keep that cute blonde from walking away?

Here are a couple of items likely-to-charm in a Cary Grant-ish way

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Sunday Morning on the Planet (Tom Toles edition)

He’s back! Thank God.


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Cynicism and Ugliness: An American Marriage

Though Hunter S. Thompson still casts a long shadow, the best ranter alive has to be James Howard Kunstler, who in a new essay breezes past Thompson and Marx and Mencken and into a realm of his own:

The new stuff built all over America in the late 20th century was analogous to the content of the television programming to which the lower classes insidiously became addicted – a cartoon simulacrum of a real world that was systematically being obliterated.  Instead of a real countryside outside the hated cities, we now had suburbia, a cartoon of country living. Instead of towns, shopping malls. Eventually the theme park, as represented by developments of the Walt Disney corporation and their clones, became both the embodiment of the destruction wreaked across the land and paradoxically the last refuge from it. Americans would flock to Walt Disney World in Orlando to put themselves in a saccharine replica of the authentic Main Street environments that they had thoroughly trashed in their own home places.

He connects as so few can the physical ugliness of American life with the brutal cynicism of development; the thrill of destruction, the roar of greed.

In other words, our living arrangement essentially became the remaining basis of our economy, in the absence of any other purposeful creation of value or wealth, such as manufacturing things.  And because it was a racket devoted to a way of life with no future, it spawned enormous cynicism.  Just as the immersive ugliness of the suburban highway strip was economic entropy made visible, so the cynicism of the public was entropy applied to human values, a force propelling things into disorder.  When nothing was sacred, everything became profane.

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Graph of the Week: GCMs Accurately Predict Ocean Heat

A first-rate post in Real Climate by Gavin Schmidt with a great graph makes clear an important point that is, I think, little understood. Climate models are not speculative; they’re checked against observations. No one doubts the complexity of the challenge, but what is not generally understood  is how remarkably accurate the biggest and best General Circulation Models have proven to be on the big questions. (Regional climate changes are not as reliably shown, at least not yet.)

Here’s an example of the accuracy of the big picture, based on an important and almost-ignored study published last year in Science by James Hansen and his associates at GISS.

Notice how well these numerous different models track the observations of rising levels of thermal energy (heat) in oceans around the world. Note the internal consistency of the models’ results, as well as the overall match between the model and the observations.


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A Dream Down the Road

Here’s my review of this year’s Ojai Playwrights Conference. (Please ignore the little typos: Sometimes these things happen on a tight deadline.) The line that haunts me from that weekend:

"Maybe the truth ain’t what you see in front of you but a dream down the road."


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Maybe You Had To Be There…

From the White House transcript of today’s press conference:

"THE PRESIDENT: Right, I’ve listened to them very carefully. I’m a thoughtful guy, I listen to people. (Laughter.) I’m open-minded. I’m all the things that you know I am."

The press seems to think this was a joke. Everyone in D.C. today knows that Bush trusts his "gut" to make decisions and others to follow, and so when he makes a show of listening–to the Republican Party in Connecticut, no less–people in the press room laugh.

Maybe you had to be there. That’s the best I can say. To me it seems as if this President is a joke, and bad one.

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Category 5 Level Argument against Inaction

Yesterday the Washington Post published an op-ed on climate change that, if it were a hurricane, would have to be rated Category 5. Entitled "We’re All New Orleanians Now," Mike Tidwell argues:

Barring a rapid change in our nation’s relationship to fossil fuels, every American within shouting distance of an ocean — including all of us in the nation’s capital — will become de facto New Orleanians. Imagine a giant floodgate spanning the Potomac River just north of Mount Vernon, there to hold back the tsunami-like surge tide of the next great storm. Imagine the Mall, Reagan National Airport and much of Alexandria well below sea level, at the mercy of "trust-us-they’ll-hold" levees maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. Imagine the rest of Washington vulnerable to the winds of major hurricanes that churn across a hot and swollen Chesapeake Bay, its surface free of the once vast and buffering wetland grasses and "speed bump" islands that slow down storms.

Because of global warming, this is our future. Oceans worldwide are projected to rise as much as three feet this century, and much higher if the Greenland ice sheet melts away. And intense storms are already becoming much more common. These two factors together will in essence export the plight of New Orleans, bringing the Big Easy "bowl" effect here to the Washington area, as well as to Charleston, S.C., Miami, New York and other coastal cities. Assuming we want to keep living in these cities, we’ll have to build dikes and learn to exist beneath the surface of surrounding tidal bays, rivers and open seas — just like New Orleans.

In Prometheus, Roger Pielke, Jr. claims that "arguments such as this make one think that the environmental community is hell-bent on its own self-destruction." Pielke says that we cannot change our fossil fuel consumption fast enough to reduce the risk, so–he argues–to claim that coastal cities in the East and along the Gulf Coast face Katrina-style disasters is irresponsible.

But what about the irresponsibility of doing nothing to prevent such disasters? That’s what concerns the enviro community. Isn’t that an argument for taking responsibility–specifically, for the responsibility of the Federal government to act to reduce the risk?

After all, the government has not acted to reduce the risk of hurricane damage, as Pielke has been proposing for years. Nor has it acted to reduce CO2 emissions.

It’s the total lack of action that brings forward this sort of apocalyptic reasoning; and, if truth be told, it’s the same lack of action that makes this sort apocalyptic argument all too credible.

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Song of the Redwood Tree (Sunday Morning on the Planet)

Excerpted from Walt Whitman’s "Leaves of Grass." The poem was written in 1874: Sixty years later, the California legislature named the sequoia the state tree.

"Song of the Redwood-Tree"

The flashing and golden pageant of California,

The sudden and gorgeous drama, the sunny and ample lands,

The long and varied stretch from Puget sound to Colorado south,

Lands bathed in sweeter, rarer, healthier air, valleys and mountain cliffs,

The fields of Nature long prepared and fallow, the silent, cyclic chemistry,

The slow and steady ages plodding, the unoccupied surface ripening, the rich ores forming beneath;
At last the New arriving, assuming, taking possession,
A swarming and busy race settling and organizing everywhere,

Ships coming in from the whole round world, and going out to the whole world,

To India and China and Australia and the thousand island paradises of the Pacific,

Populous cities, the latest inventions, the steamers on the rivers, the railroads, with many a thrifty farm, with machinery,

And wool and wheat and the grape, and diggings of yellow gold. . . .

The new society at last, proportionate to Nature,

In man of you, more than your mountain peaks or stalwart trees imperial,
In woman more, far more, than all your gold or vines, or even vital air.

Fresh come, to a new world indeed, yet long prepared,
I see the genius of the modern, child of the real and ideal,

Clearing the ground for broad humanity, the true America, heir of the past so grand,

To build a grander future.

"A new society proportionate to Nature"…that’s the ideal in the 21st century, isn’t it? Whitman is still ahead of his time…

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Graph of the Week: Indications of Change

Here’s a graph, from a good clear NOAA website called Artic Change. (Amazingly, this site seems to have escaped the Bush administration meddling that has marred some other gov sites on this topic.)

This graph breaks down climate not in terms of temperature but in terms of change, using principal component analysis. It’s a potent argument for the seriousness of the crisis that faces us, I think, because it points to the acceleration of change and hints at the wider swings of variability that go with what is known as global warming. 

This is a crucial and paradoxical aspect of climate change that just now is beginning to dawn on the general public.


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