Archive for 2007 March

Chart of the Week

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor as of Wednesday, March 27th:


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The Answer to Global Warming: More Temper Tantrums

James Inhofe, the Republican senator from Oklahoma who adamantly refuses to recognize the reality of global warming, yesterday with a hissy fit shut down the possibility of an Al Gore-affiliated rock concert on the Washington Mall in July. The idea was to raise awareness and funds to deal with the problem. Numerous such occasions have been staged there before, including Earth Day, but that means nothing to Inhofe. As Kevin Drum puts it, in a polite moment: "Apparently he thinks the answer to global warming is more temper tantrums."

Also apt is the reaction, quoted in the LATimes, from Edward Markey (D.- Mass).

"Not since former Interior Secretary James Watt tried to ban the Beach Boys from appearing on the National Mall has such a misguided effort at political censorship been undertaken by a Republican official," Markey said. "It’s dangerous enough to deny science; it’s sheer lunacy to deny song."

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The Limits of Emission Reduction Legislation

A complicated subject, well-navigated by Brian Beutler for the American Prospect. He asks:

Is there a connection to be drawn between the reality of global warming and the wackiness of this past winter? Kevin Trenberth, a respected scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, has pioneered the research on the murky connection between El Niño and global warming, and, in his view, as goes the latter, so goes the former. He expects that winters like this past one will only become more common.

Beulter talks about the bills before Congress, but admits their limits:

All of the bills operate as cap-and-trade policies and none involve a carbon tax. Nor do any of them provide for the creation of a major government program — modeled on the Manhattan Project — devoted to researching the technological developments, large and small, that will be necessary. That’s because neither of those options is yet considered politically achievable.

Evidently another proposal that is not achievable is James Hanson’s idea of a carbon czar, comparable to the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, who would look at the big picture, and adjust emission reductions taxes and/or caps depending on the state of the economy and the state of the environment.

Thanks for coming, Jim, but, you know, get real. We value our money more than we value our planet.

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Bill McKibben Launches Invasion of American Media

For the sake of preserving the loveliness of our cimate, Bill McKibben is doing his best to take over the American media. In a short feature in the NYTimes [$], McKibben explained why he’s launched Step It Up, a popular movement, as well as writing countless articles and ten books:

”I think it [climate change] has been too big for people to get their heads around. Those who wanted to do something did things at home — your car, your light bulb. Washington was blocked off for work for a long time.”

But McKibben is most accustomed to working from the top down, from publications such as The New Yorker (where he first published the essay The End of Nature). Last year In the National Geographic, he introduced the central idea from his new book, which is called Deep Economy. The crucial line:

Humans have never faced a civilization-scale challenge before. Whether we deal with it gracefully or not depends, I believe, on what happens to that creed we call environmentalism.

In the Los Angeles Times (last week), he explained it in a slightly different way. The crucial line, which happens to be the headline, is:

Global warming can’t buy happiness.

In Mother Jones, in a longer and well-detailed story called "Reversal of Fortune," he writes more specifically:

In general, researchers report that money consistently buys happiness right up to about $10,000 income per capita. That’s a useful number to keep in the back of your head—it’s like the freezing point of water, one of those random figures that just happens to define a crucial phenomenon on our planet. "As poor countries like India, Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil, and South Korea have experienced economic growth, there is some evidence that their average happiness has risen," the economist Layard reports. Past $10,000 (per capita, mind you—that is, the average for each man, woman, and child), there’s a complete scattering: When the Irish were making two-thirds as much as Americans they were reporting higher levels of satisfaction, as were the Swedes, the Danes, the Dutch. Mexicans score higher than the Japanese; the French are about as satisfied with their lives as the Venezuelans. In fact, once basic needs are met, the "satisfaction" data scrambles in mindlnding ways. A sampling of Forbes magazine’s "richest Americans" have identical happiness scores with Pennsylvania Amish, and are only a whisker above Swedes taken as a whole, not to mention the Masai.

And this month in the and in the New York Review of Books, he gets down to the nitty-gritty of emission reductions:

Even if we do everything right, we’re still going to see serious increases in temperature, and all of the physical changes (to one extent or another) predicted in the [IPCC] report. However, there’s reason to hope that if the US acts extremely aggressively and quickly we might be able to avoid an increase of two degrees Celsius, the rough threshold at which runaway polar melting might be stopped. This means that any useful legislation will have to feature both a very rapid start to reductions and a long and uncompromising mandate to continue them.

All together, it’s an impressive collection of work. My wife and I (and perhaps our youngest child, if we can drag her away from her homework) plan to be at a Step It Up demonstration in Oxnard on April 14th.

Go Bill!


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Global Warming: A Lizard’s Perspective

Matt Wuerking, on global warming from a lizard’s point of view. Seems to be a little conflicted:


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Good News Friday: Fewer Cow Burps, Less Warming

This Friday you get a two-for-one dose of good news.

Three for one, if you’re a cow.

A massive pill invented by a German scientist promises to substantially reduce methane emissions from cows. Methane produces an estimated 4% of global warming, according to the Guardian story.

Methane, the principal component of natural gas, is more than twenty times as potent a heat-trapping gas as carbon dioxide. Cow burps sound like a dumb joke, but their gaseous emissions are a real problem. According to this SFChronicle story, a cow can burp out 100-200 liters of methane a day.

Not to mention what’s coming out the other end, which also can become methane emissions.

To make the best of this gaseous situation, a new project is helping provide $280,000 methane digesters to over a dozen farms around California, including a dairy farm in Point Reyes north of San Francisco. Harvesting the fumes from the waste manure–produced in massive varieties by 280 cows–not only avoids adding harmful emissions to the air, it generates electricty.

Best story seen on this to date comes from USAToday, which helpfully points out that this effort was driven by a mandate from the California legislature, which after the crisis of 2001 required utilities in the state to generate 10% of their power from renewables by 2010. Methane is a big part of that.

Some call it poop power.

The Bush administration has their own version of the idea, called it Methane-to-Markets. The administration’s record on global warming is pitiful for the most part, but this is one exception. Methane adds up to 16% of global greenhouse gases emitted from human-created sources, according to the EPA, and they say this program if fully implemented could produce as much energy as 50 coal plants producing 500 megawatts a year. To be realistic, It’s an international program, and it’s unclear how much success it has had. To date the administration has committed a maximum of $53 million dollars.

Still, it’s something. Interesting that the Current Occupant of the White House hasn’t mentioned it since 2004.  Probably he doesn’t want to raise the subject of total emissions, currently rising at 11% a year


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Al Gore Praised, Even By Repubs

Folks, I am so sorry I have been incommunicado for these past few days, especially since so much has been going on when it comes to climate change and the environment. (I’ve been working on a couple of stories, one related to drought, and the science has been daunting.) The good news is that Al Gore has been more than holding up his end. He got the "rock star" treatment on Capitol Hill yesterday, according to NPR, and appears to have more than lived up to the billing. 

For a few snippets of video narrated by the Washington Post’s terrific Capitol Hill reporter Dana Milbank, take a look at this. Milbank focuses on the confrontation between Gore and James Inhofe, former chair of the committee, who a couple of years ago famously declared global warming a "hoax." Milbank shows the video in which not only does Inhofe ask Gore insulting questions about a serious issue, but refuses to let Gore answer except in writing, making himself look about as petty and unreasonable as a Senator can in a hearing. Following Inhofe came the much-admired Republican John Warner, who treated Gore with the greatest possible respect, asking to "learn" from him. Warner said he hoped he could "join" with Gore in his efforts. The contrast could not be more telling.

A couple of other points: my editor David Roberts has numerous interesting posts on Gore’s appearances yesterday. Here’s his blow-by-blow on his House testimony, which I think is very entertaining.

But let me wrap up with a couple of comments from the conservative side of the fence. This is where the real politics of the issue is playing out (at least in 2007, before we get down to the nitty gritty of emission reduction).

Last week while enduring some Limbaugh, I heard a woman call in and praise the host to the skies, but also impishly add that she thought Gore was doing a "wonderful thing" for his legacy by bringing attention to the issue of global warming. Limbaugh had no good answer, except to get rid of her as quickly as possible, and after that change the subject. It’s true: Gore is now surely by now by far the most beloved of all former presidential candidates. Who else even compares?

And take a look at this comment from a true Corner conservative, John Podhoretz:

Senators and congressmen get the idea that it’s okay for them to act like bullies because some people in their home state cast votes for them, but it isn’t, and it doesn’t matter what party they belong to. Message to Inhofe: It’s inappropriate behavior to ask a witness, even Al Gore, a question that contains an insult and then ask for the answer in writing so you can go on to your next, also presumably insulting, question.

Yes! Could better evidence of Inhofe’s self-defeating tactics possibly be found? Doubtful.

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…again. Thanks to fellow Flickr member Dogs in Socks for the image.


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Drought Forecast Ahead, but…

…can’t get into that today. For now, here’s one piece of interesting news, courtesy of the WSJ: Coal Industry Faces Bleak Future.

The coal industry faces a bleak future unless ways are developed on a commercial scale to capture and store carbon dioxide in the campaign against global warming, according to a study released Wednesday.

Here’s a web version of the study from MIT, which includes a fascinating chart comparing how various climate change issues are reaching the public in three countries. Surprisingly, even though the British public anecdotally is more alarmed than the American public about global warming, more news about climate change seems to be registering with poll respondents in the US. Hmmm.

Funny, just thinking about coal for a minute makes me feel a little dirty, a little used. Perhaps that’s because it really is "the enemy of the human race," as my editor memorably put it.

Here’s the question the pollsters asked: Have you heard or read about any of the following in the last year?


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Planet Gets Hot–Wants Revenge

As wildfires rage in early March in Southern California, the NYTimes runs on the front page a story by Michael Cieply about environmental revenge. Several big movies, including a monster movie by James Cameron (of Terminator fame) will show the humans threatened by the consequences of damaged environments.

The plots are closely-guarded secrets, but the idea is simple, at its core: "a monster [is] created by environmental change." For more on this, please see the rest of the post at Grist.

For now, please enjoy this snap of one of the good guys (I think) of the upcoming Transformers, which is about robots fleeing a civil war on another planet. They come to earth looking for peace and sanctuary. Fools!


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