Archive for 2007 February

A Bum Deal

While attempting to make a living, I’m going to fall back on another sketch that Tom Toles decided wasn’t worth taking to press. We all should be so gifted. Thanks, Tom.

A_bum_deal

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“We Didn’t Want to Be on the Wrong Side of History”

The obvious news on the climate change front is that "An Inconvenient Truth" won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Given his chance to speak to the fabled billion people live for fifteen seconds, Gore spoke about climate change as a moral issue, not a political issue, and said we have everything we need to get started, except maybe the will to act. (The quotes come from Eli Rabett.)

But the unexpected news is that the largest utility in Texas, the notoriously anti-environmental TXU Corporation, has agreed to a huge buy-out in a deal brokered by a former head of the EPA, William Reilly, a Republican who served under the first President Bush. The deal would cancel eight out of eleven planned new coal plants, and include California-style incentives for conservation, in an effort to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

It’s a complicated deal, and according to the LATimes, may face resistance from the Public Utility Commission. But a fascinating NYTimes article about the deal points to what brought the two sides together. Resistance to the deal from Texas mayors and local officials convinced investors that the deal might collapse of its own weight, driving down the TXU stock price, and opening the door to a deal brokered by Goldman Sachs, which has long had a strong interest in reducing emissions.

The crucial quote (from an official who insisted on anonymity):

"We didn’t want to be on the wrong side of history."

That’s the sound of the turning of the tides. Even in Texas, the environment still matters.

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Mt. Rushmore Beach, Sponsored by Diesel

The Washington Post features a well-written piece by Libby Copeland on Diesel’s heavily-ironic ads for their new line of absurdly-overpriced jeans. To wit:

In print ads promoting its spring/summer collection, the Italian-based clothing company depicts landscapes that have been transformed by environmental disaster. The proud buildings of Manhattan and the presidential faces of Mount Rushmore are half-submerged in water from melted glaciers. Paris is a steamy jungle. Life looks pretty awesome, though. Diesel’s models are dressed fashionably if barely (to accommodate the weather) and they lounge amid this hip dystopia in glamorous unconcern…

Sounds like modern life, doesn’t it? I’m old-fashioned, and don’t want to ironize all issues, but I have to say, as a "waker-upper," I like this image:

Mt_rushmore_beach

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How to Reduce Emissions and Grow the Economy

Paul Krugman has a good, hard-hitting piece in today’s NYTimes on practical solutions for climate change. It’s behind the firewall, but let me share a couple of excerpts. Here’s Paul:

Aside from a few dead-enders on the political right, climate change skeptics seem to be making a seamless transition from denial to fatalism. In the past, they rejected the science. Now, with the scientific evidence pretty much irrefutable, they insist that it doesn’t matter because any serious attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions is politically and economically impossible.

Behind this claim lies the assumption, explicit or implicit, that any substantial cut in energy use would require a drastic change in the way we live… To be fair, some people in the conservation movement seem to share that assumption.

But the assumption is false.

Let me tell you about a real-world counterexample: an advanced economy that has managed to combine rising living standards with a substantial decline in per capita energy consumption, and managed to keep total carbon dioxide emissions more or less flat for two decades, even as both its economy and its population grew rapidly. And it achieved all this without fundamentally changing a lifestyle centered on automobiles and single-family houses.

The name of the economy? California.

Paul, what happened? Aren’t you a New Yorker? You’re so positive. So optimistic

[cut]

The energy divergence between California and the rest of the United States dates from the 1970s. Both the nation and the state initially engaged in significant energy conservation after that decade’s energy crisis. But conservation in most of America soon stalled: after a decade of rapid progress, improvements in auto mileage came to an end, while electricity consumption continued to rise rapidly, driven by the growing size of houses, the increasing use of air-conditioning and the proliferation of appliances.

In California, by contrast, the state continued to push policies designed to encourage conservation, especially of electricity. And these policies worked.

People in California have always used a bit less energy than other Americans because of the mild climate. But the difference has grown much larger since the 1970s. Today, the average Californian uses about a third less total energy than the average American, uses less than 60 percent as much electricity, and is responsible for emitting only about 55 percent as much carbon dioxide.

How did the state do it? In some cases conservation was mandated directly, through energy efficiency standards for appliances and rules governing new construction. Also, regulated power companies were given new incentives to promote conservation, via rule changes that “decoupled” their profits from the amount of electricity they sold.

And yes, a variety of state actions had the effect of raising energy prices. In the early 1970s, the price of electricity in California was close to the national average. Today, it’s about 50 percent higher.

And yet the state’s economy continues to flourish. Is this really possible? Not according to Rep. Ralph Hall, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Science and Technology, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi has designated to look at the science of global warming. After Pelosi spoke of searching for a bipartisan consensus to move forward, Hall gloomily declared (2/8/07):

"As a nation, we can’t figure out to write a cap-and-trade bill that does not cause an immediate spike in natural gas prices. A spike that endures for several years at the very least. A spke that causes the closing of more factories, the closing of steel mills, lumber mills, paper mills, lumber mills, and many others. Gas price increases over the last six years, even without carbon regulation, have already caused millions of permanent lay-offs.”

Ralph, are you saying that Texas can’t do what California already has?

 

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Size Matters, but Not Every Night

When it comes to precipitation numbers; yes, size matters, but not every night. The numbers for Southern California and Upper Ojai, Ventura County this year are unimpressive: 7 inches or less so far this year, when an average year will total just under 25 inches.

As my meterologist friend Brad Muller wisely pointed out, not only is this well under normal, it’s downright shocking for an El Nino year. Neither of us could recall another year when that happened.

But that’s a subject for another day. Today I want to bring up the lovely fact that over
half an inch of rain fell today. I walked outside and looked at the muddy yellow water running down the gutters and gathering in pools and I knew; one more big storm, and the streams will begin to run again. I recalled seeing a map in the paper, with storms coming down the coast from the north, as they do traditionally at this time of year. And last night I dreamed of the lines moving across the map, coming slightly backwards against the grain towards us across the continent, across Montana, Idaho, Nevada, and into California. The light flickering on the falling water, the gentle pounding on the concrete walk outside, the cool breeze through the window…I dreamt of rain …

Here how the clouds looked after this afternoon’s shower mostly cleared:

After_the_rain_sky_1

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For the Sake of the Planet, an Ego-Free Moment

Although the competition this year for the Academy Award in the Best Documentary category is strong, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is nonetheless expected to win, given that it changed the debate around climate change, stood up to intense scrutiny with no difficulty, and was hugely popular besides. (Peter Bart, a Hollywood legend, currently editor of Variety, claims it was Paramount’s "single most profitable release," but I think he forgot to add "this year.")

This means a potential scrum at the elegant lectern over who takes credit for the film, but the producers have agreed to back off and give it over to the director, Davis Guggenheim, who still has not gotten the credit he deserves for humanizing Gore’s slide show, and to Gore himself, who should take the opportunity to speak on the issue to the infamous billion people who watch the Oscars.

Tom Roston at Premiere has an illuminating backstage look:

I’ll be honest, although Truth is a carbon-neutral movie (meaning it was created with carbon offsets which equalize global warming-inducing emissions), I doubt that this was a totally ego-neutral production. I don’t think such a thing is possible in Hollywood. But these producers managed to harness their pride for the greater good. Plus, they’re hoping for a show-stopping moment that sounds like it could only be scripted in Hollywood: A forsaken son rising from the ashes to fight for justice. If that sounds dramatic, I’m sorry, but I think seeing Gore rising up to the podium and speaking out to millions of viewers worldwide about the effects of global warming will be a moment to transcend all Oscar moments (it may even bump Jack Palance’s open-handed push-ups down a notch).

Predictably, this has right-wingers such as Rush Limbaugh grumbling. Limbaugh tried to mock the Live 7 24-hour concert series from all seven continents that Gore will headline this July. (Limbaugh scoffed because one of the concerts will come from Antartica. Well, why not? Heck, maybe the hot young British band the Artic Monkeys could play that gig.)

But Limbaugh admitted that Gore would probably win the Academy Award for his "stupid movie." Well, if that’s the best you can manage, Limbaugh, I don’t think we need fear your criticism…

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The Power of Silliness

Cary [Odes], on a President’s Day hike, with boulder:

Ouch

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A Marriage Made in Heaven: Oil Industry Lobbyist and Bush Administration Environmental Official

Believe it or don’t, Toles isn’t making this up:

Oil_lobbyist_and_environmental_official

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Chart of the Week

From NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, the Precipitation Anomaly tab:  Precipitation_anomaly_2007_1

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Will: Reagan Changed Conservatism, Maybe for Worse

George Will, who last year literally attempted to wave off global warming, this year types an unusually interesting assessment of a president he has often praised, Ronald Reagan.

Quoting a new book by New York historian John Patrick Duggins, he suggests that Reagan changed the nature of conservatism, and possibly for worse.

"God couldn’t create evil so the desires he planted in us are good." (Duggins wrote.) "Therefore there is no need for the people to discipline their desires. So, no leader needs to suggest that the public has shortcomings and should engage in critical self-examination."

Will goes on to mention that Duggins, an apparent admirer of Reagan, even brings up the  "unmentionable irony" of the right-wing icon, which is that "big-goverment conservatism is the inevitable result of Reaganism."

What Will means is George W. Bush, although these are words he seemingly cannot bear to commit to print. 

In fairness, he’s not thinking of the natural world, he’s thinking of Bush’s expansion of the government.

There’s no arguing that point, even on the right. From Bruce Bartlett (author of "Impostor: How George Bush Bankrupted America, etc.") to Rush Limbaugh ("there are no real conservatives on the national scene today") to George Will, it’s agreed that G.W. Bush has failed to reduce the size of government. In fact, it’s grown enormously on his watch.

But instead of training all our eyes on Washington, D.C., there’s another way to look at it. Not only did Bush’s mentor Reagan do all he could to diminish government, to take away its powers, he also did all he could to cut industry loose to do its work on the natural world we share.

That’s obvious in the legacy of James G. Watt, who promised when he took office that "We will mine more, we will drill more, we will cut more timber."

So has Bush cut loose the exploiters and the wasters. In 2001, when Vice-President Dick Cheney went back to the same ideas, Watt noticed, approved, and declared:

"Any reasonable, halfway intelligent person is going to come to the
same conclusion: you’ve got to have more oil, you’ve got to have more
coal, you’ve got to have more of everything," Watt said.

Back in 2001, the subject of global warming didn’t come up in the interview with Watt. After half an hour Googling, I find no evidence that in the years since anyone has asked James G. Watt his opinion of anthropogenic climate change. Maybe someone should.

But in the meantime, I will assume that the man who said "I never use the words Democrats and Republicans. It’s liberals and Americans" would scoff at the idea, as his fellow Reagan fans and followers almost always do (including Rush Limbaugh, James Imhoff, and Dick Cheney).

In truth, Watt at least was open about his intentions. Under the "big-government conservative" Bush, the same ideas were pursued with better lies ("Healthy Forests," "Clean Air Act").

Will isn’t interested in that, and he continues to scoff at the threat of global warming. But on one point I agree with him. He said Reagan changed conservatism.

The truth is, Republican conservatism sold out its legacy for a smile.

I wonder if George (the columnist) will ever admit it. The president obviously won’t.

Reagans_smile

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