Sunday, November 26, 2006

Of politics and a warming planet

Regarding the recent U.S. elections Ted Glick writes that it was Not the Revolution, But an Opening:

Fundamental, revolutionary, political and social change is clearly needed in the USA and the world. Corporate domination of the economic and political system and mass culture is a huge threat to the possibilities for a decent and sustainable future for humankind and for all forms of life on the earth.

King Coal and Big Oil continue to use their power and vast wealth to keep us locked into a reliance on earth-heating fossil fuels that, if not quickly reversed, will lead to a steady escalation of catastrophic climate events and a breakdown of an already-stressed ecosystem.

The dominance of the Pentagon and corporate-supporting, militaristic approaches to problems, the immense amounts of money wasted in weapons production, robs the masses of people of badly-needed resources for housing, health care, education and economic development. It also generates armed resistance, including the terrorism of the stateless that, in a nuclear age, is indeed terrifying.

Yeah, a very small opening and frankly I'm not too hopeful that this new congress will do squat because there's not much new about it. I'd agree that fundamental, revolutionary political and social change are needed.

Randolph Schmid writing for the AP reports on news that will surprise no one: Signs of warming continue in the Arctic:
Signs of warming continue in the Arctic with a decline in sea ice, an increase in shrubs growing on the tundra and rising concerns about the Greenland ice sheet.

"There have been regional warming periods before. Now we're seeing Arctic-wide changes," James Overland, an oceanographer at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, said Thursday.

For the past five years, it was at least 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above average over the Arctic over the entire year, he said.

The new "State of the Arctic" analysis, released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also reports an increase in northward movement of warmer water through the Bering Strait in 2001-2004. This may have contributed to a continuing reduction of sea ice.

During that time, there were record lows in sea ice coverage in the region, Overland said. This year there was more normal coverage in the Bering area but a record low on the Atlantic side of the Arctic.

In the past when such a shift occurred, there would have been no net loss of ice overall, just a change in where there was a smaller amount. Now, however, there is both the shift and an overall net loss of ice, he said.

Indeed, the report said Arctic sea ice coverage this past March was the lowest in winter since measurements by satellite began in the early 1970s.

Jacqueline A. Richter-Menge of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., said the sea ice decline is now being observed in both winter and summer.

Yet another pile of reasons to put George Bush and his cronies in jail. Will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court does with this: High court to hear global warming case:
The Supreme Court hears arguments this week in a case that could determine whether the Bush administration must change course in how it deals with the threat of global warming.

A dozen states as well as environmental groups and large cities are trying to convince the court that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate, as a matter of public health, the amount of carbon dioxide that comes from vehicles.

Carbon dioxide is produced when fossil fuels are burned. It is the principal "greenhouse" gas that many scientists believe is flowing into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate, leading to a warming of the earth and widespread ecological changes.

The Bush administration intends to argue before the court on Wednesday that the EPA lacks the power under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The agency contends that even if it did have such authority, it would have discretion under the law on how to address the problem without imposing emissions controls.

More concerning the Supreme Court and climate change from this article by Greg Stohr: Nobel Laureates Back Case Pushing Bush to Act on Global Warming:
Environmentalists concerned about global warming want the U.S. Supreme Court to turn up the heat on President George W. Bush.

The justices, taking their first plunge into the debate over emissions that scientists blame for increasing the Earth's temperature, hear arguments Nov. 29 in a case brought by conservation groups and 12 states. Their goal is to force Bush's Environmental Protection Agency to regulate so-called greenhouse- gas emissions from new cars and trucks.

Bush argues that the government needs more scientific evidence before it acts against such emissions. A victory for environmentalists in the case, which may scramble the court's usual ideological lineup, would "light a fire'' under the administration, says Carol Browner, who headed the EPA under President Bill Clinton.

"They will have no choice but to get going,'' says Browner, who -- along with a group of scientists that includes two Nobel laureates -- is supporting the states and environmental groups.

That might add new burdens on automakers, including Detroit- based General Motors Corp. and Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford Motor Co., and may also lead to tougher rules for coal-fired power plants.

Shortly after Bush took office in 2001, he rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases on the grounds that the agreement would cost jobs and hurt the U.S. economy. In 2003, the EPA declined to regulate carbon emissions, citing "substantial scientific uncertainty'' about the effects of climate change and the most efficient means to deal with it.

George Monbiot: Drastic Action on Climate Change is Needed Now - and Here's the Plan:

The government must go further, and much faster, in its response to the moral question of the 21st century

It is a testament to the power of money that Nicholas Stern's report should have swung the argument for drastic action, even before anyone has finished reading it. He appears to have demonstrated what many of us suspected: that it would cost much less to prevent runaway climate change than to seek to live with it. Useful as this finding is, I hope it doesn't mean that the debate will now concentrate on money. The principal costs of climate change will be measured in lives, not pounds. As Stern reminded us yesterday, there would be a moral imperative to seek to prevent mass death even if the economic case did not stack up.

But at least almost everyone now agrees that we must act, if not at the necessary speed. If we're to have a high chance of preventing global temperatures from rising by 2C (3.6F) above preindustrial levels, we need, in the rich nations, a 90% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. The greater part of the cut has to be made at the beginning of this period. To see why, picture two graphs with time on the horizontal axis and the rate of emissions plotted vertically. On one graph the line falls like a ski jump: a steep drop followed by a shallow tail. On the other it falls like the trajectory of a bullet. The area under each line represents the total volume of greenhouse gases produced in that period. They fall to the same point by the same date, but far more gases have been produced in the second case, making runaway climate change more likely.

So how do we do it without bringing civilisation crashing down? Here is a plan for drastic but affordable action that the government could take. It goes much further than the proposals discussed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown yesterday, for the reason that this is what the science demands.

1. Set a target for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions based on the latest science. The government is using outdated figures, aiming for a 60% reduction by 2050. Even the annual 3% cut proposed in the early day motion calling for a new climate change bill does not go far enough. Timescale: immediately.

2. Use that target to set an annual carbon cap, which falls on the ski-jump trajectory. Then use the cap to set a personal carbon ration. Every citizen is given a free annual quota of carbon dioxide. He or she spends it by buying gas and electricity, petrol and train and plane tickets. If they run out, they must buy the rest from someone who has used less than his or her quota. This accounts for about 40% of the carbon dioxide we produce. The remainder is auctioned off to companies. It's a simpler and fairer approach than either green taxation or the EU's emissions trading scheme, and it also provides people with a powerful incentive to demand low-carbon technologies. Timescale: a full scheme in place by January 2009.

3. Introduce a new set of building regulations, with three objectives. A. Imposing strict energy-efficiency requirements on all major refurbishments (costing £3,000 or more). Timescale: in force by June 2007. B. Obliging landlords to bring their houses up to high energy-efficiency standards before they can rent them out. Timescale: to cover all new rentals from January 2008. C. Ensuring that all new homes in the UK are built to the German Passivhaus standard (which requires no heating system). Timescale: in force by 2012.

4. Ban the sale of incandescent lightbulbs, patio heaters, garden floodlights and other wasteful and unnecessary technologies. Introduce a stiff "feebate" system for all electronic goods sold in the UK, with the least efficient taxed heavily and the most efficient receiving tax discounts. Every year the standards in each category rise. Timescale: fully implemented by November 2007.

5. Redeploy money now earmarked for new nuclear missiles towards a massive investment in energy generation and distribution. Two schemes in particular require government support to make them commercially viable: very large wind farms, many miles offshore, connected to the grid with high-voltage direct-current cables; and a hydrogen pipeline network to take over from the natural gas grid as the primary means of delivering fuel for home heating. Timescale: both programmes commence at the end of 2007 and are completed by 2018.

6. Promote the development of a new national coach network. City-centre coach stations are shut down and moved to motorway junctions. Urban public transport networks are extended to meet them. The coaches travel on dedicated lanes and never leave the motorways. Journeys by public transport then become as fast as journeys by car, while saving 90% of emissions. It is self-financing, through the sale of the land now used for coach stations. Timescale: commences in 2008; completed by 2020.

7. Oblige all chains of filling stations to supply leasable electric car batteries. This provides electric cars with unlimited mileage: as the battery runs down, you pull into a forecourt; a crane lifts it out and drops in a fresh one. The batteries are charged overnight with surplus electricity from offshore wind farms. Timescale: fully operational by 2011.

8. Abandon the road-building and road-widening programme, and spend the money on tackling climate change. The government has earmarked £11.4bn for road expansion. It claims to be allocating just £545m a year to "spending policies that tackle climate change". Timescale: immediately.

9. Freeze and then reduce UK airport capacity. While capacity remains high there will be constant upward pressure on any scheme the government introduces to limit flights. We need a freeze on all new airport construction and the introduction of a national quota for landing slots, to be reduced by 90% by 2030. Timescale: immediately.

10. Legislate for the closure of all out-of-town superstores, and their replacement with a warehouse and delivery system. Shops use a staggering amount of energy (six times as much electricity per square metre as factories, for example), and major reductions are hard to achieve: Tesco's "state of the art" energy-saving store at Diss in Norfolk has managed to cut its energy use by only 20%. Warehouses containing the same quantity of goods use roughly 5% of the energy. Out-of-town shops are also hardwired to the car - delivery vehicles use 70% less fuel. Timescale: fully implemented by 2012.

These timescales might seem extraordinarily ambitious. They are, by contrast to the current glacial pace of change. But when the US entered the second world war it turned the economy around on a sixpence. Carmakers began producing aircraft and missiles within a year, and amphibious vehicles in 90 days, from a standing start. And that was 65 years ago. If we want this to happen, we can make it happen. It will require more economic intervention than we are used to, and some pretty brutal emergency planning policies (with little time or scope for objections). But if you believe that these are worse than mass death then there is something wrong with your value system.

Climate change is not just a moral question: it is the moral question of the 21st century. There is one position even more morally culpable than denial. That is to accept that it's happening and that its results will be catastrophic, but to fail to take the measures needed to prevent it.

Regarding the recent climate talks, we have a long way to go and... it does not look good. Slow Talks Could Leave Climate Deal in 'Tatters'
A new global agreement to tackle climate change may be scuppered by cumbersome international bodies and a lack of political will, David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, fears.

He warned that politics was now lagging dangerously behind the science on global warming and feared that negotiations on a new deal might drag on so long that there would be a "gap" in 2012 when the Kyoto protocol's first stage runs out.

To ensure deeper cuts in carbon emissions from then, he said, agreement in principle would be needed by the end of next year. "If we have a gap in 2012, we would have a very serious problem. The whole system would be in tatters," he said.

Mr Miliband was speaking yesterday after returning from a United Nations conference in Kenya involving 189 countries, which ended without a major breakthrough but agreed to keep talking about a "son of Kyoto" treaty.

In an interview with The Independent, he said: "The political institutions and their speed are out of sync with the scientific needs of the issue. There was real progress on important issues in Nairobi but the gap between the science and the politics remains large, with industrialised and developing countries divided by priorities and divided among themselves."

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Peak Oil and Climate Change Round-up

From the NewScientist we read the news that Carbon emissions rising faster than ever:
Far from slowing down, global carbon dioxide emissions are rising faster than before, said a gathering of scientists in Beijing on Friday.

Between 2000 and 2005, emissions grew four times faster than in the preceding 10 years, according to researchers at the Global Carbon Project, a consortium of international researchers. Global growth rates were 0.8% from 1990 to 1999. From 2000 to 2005, they reached 3.2%.

What can be said? I'll try to be positive. Each and every day presents opportunities in the form of choices that we can make to reduce the amount of carbon we contribute. There is no doubt that time is running out or already has. The time to act is NOW.

Jim Kunstler over at Clusterfuck Nation has a great post on the scope and meaning of real Energy Independence.

There's also this story out of London regarding Labour Party leader Michael Mearcher who suggests that England needs to be on war footing against global warming:
This is the one overriding overall political issue which challenges the future of the human species on this planet.

I could not agree more. I tend to not think about organizing our human activities on a "war" footing but I understand the meaning. This needs to be the TOP priority in all our human endeavors. Each and every one of us should wake up everyday thinking about what we can do to stop global warming. The human race must by unified in it's pursuit of this one primary goal.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Time travel and climate change

In reply to my last post Kyle asked:

Denny, you and I and many others know that there is nothing natural about the rate and the way in which the Earth is warming.... especially when the catastrophic affects are so scary. I was wondering how you go about convincing others who believe the warming of the Earth is a natural part of the Earth's "cycles." I only say this because there is a NASA quote in your piece that reads, "Earth's temperature could be reaching it's highest level in a million years"....therefore, it would be easy for someone to the Earth got just as hot (or hotter) a million years ago. I'm just curious because whenever I get into this with someone, it always comes up....and I don't have an answer.

My reply to this specifically is that yes there natural cycles but a) the current warming is not one of them and b) just because there are natural warming and cooling cycles over the course of millions of years it's not likely that such cycles would be easy to survive, even for humans. People want to discount human caused climate change because people, especially those in western, "civilized", nations don't want to face the change it might require to their lifestyle. At least, that's my take and I think there's a good bit of truth to it. Does it really matter if the earth has been this hot before? No. What matters, at least from a very selfish human perspective, is will humans survive? We seem to think that we are special because of our ability to create technology but it is a mistake to assume that technology will save us.

The fact that the earth was warmer a million years ago should offer no comfort at all. With the exception of a small handful of scientists the vast majority of us have no clue at what this really means in terms of a livable planet. Not a damn clue. As an example, how does a warmer earth effect insect populations which in turn effect agricultural systems? That's just one small consideration and it's not small at all... the implications on human food supply are quite large. Add to that the effects of other variables that are likely to be changing such as weather patterns and it's not hard to see that we will likely be facing a food crisis never seen before. The effects of a significantly warmer earth are mind boggling.

Some still seem to think we are capable of rational thought though I'm starting to question that... we're certainly capable of rationalizing. The question regarding a warmer climate is what does it mean for our survival? That really is the question. Really. Will we survive. We're not talking about the far distant future. We are talking about 30 - 100 years. Our lifetimes, our children's lifetimes. Strange and sad that such an important question is so quickly glossed over by most people. It's easier to lie to ourselves and our children than face the inconvenient truth. Al Gore could not have picked a better title for his movie. Actually, the truth will prove to be far, far worse than inconvenient.

Something I've found at least somewhat effective in communicating the importance and the immediacy of climate change is time travel. Yes, time travel. You didn't know you could did you. No, I'm not crazy. I'm talking about our ability to think, to envision. Try this easy exercise with yourself, friend, family member or co-worker. Just sit for a minute and really allow yourself to think about today and the effects we've seen from climate change already. Retreating glaciers, melting ice caps... the list is long and is being reported in new studies every month. Now, we're ready for the time travel. Ask yourself, what will it look like in 10 years? 20 years? 30 years? Ponder that future and how the climate of that time may be affecting the planet. Now imagine yourself, in that future looking back to 2006. What would that future self ask? I think the people of the future will look back and wonder why? Why did people not act? They will wonder why we ignored the evidence, the symptoms. They will condemn not our ignorance (because we are not ignorant) but our stupidity.

We cannot time travel to the future but we can attempt to wonder what it will look like and we can create a vision that is at least somewhat likely. We cannot know exactly how the climate will look in 2036 but it seems worth the effort to ponder it. Is it the world we want for today's children? I find that folks that will take a few minutes to really ponder the future might be more inclined to deal with their own contributions to climate change today.

I've heard more than a few people say... "If only I had know I would have done something." Well, we do know. We know right now at this moment. We are not ignorant and there is no excuse. We can face the future we are creating today and we can have power over it.

One last thing. If we want to change our future we have to do it now with direct action. Individually and collectively we must take responsibility. This is not about waiting for the government to fix things. We do not need the government to force us to do what we need to do. To say that unless the government makes laws to enforce broad behavior change is lazy and it is shirking OUR responsibility. Governments have failed on this and in particular, the U.S. government, bought and paid for by the energy industry has failed. No, we cannot wait for the government. We can do this ourselves. We must lead in the way we live our lives every day. As individuals and in our communities we can create the change that needs to happen.

Turn off the devices that you don't need. Ride a bike. Carpool. Grow your own food. If you absolutely must drive accelerate slowly, coast to stops, keep it at 60 mph on the highway. Conserve in every way possible in every aspect of your life. Do it yourself and do it with others in your community. Share. Cooperate. We can do this.

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