26 January 2007

Global Climate Change: State of the Union Unwound

Okay, if you're a liberal and you're reading this close your eyes; you may not like what you see. If you're a conservative and you think you're going to trash the green bastard writing this because you don't want anyone to admit there's consensus on climate change; you better hit the BACK button on your browser.

About the President's speech the other night: I liked it. Actually, I thought it was one of his best. Kudos to the speech writer -- despite the trashing he got by an old Bush speech writer -- and to the man delivering it. He didn't stumble, didn't waiver, even seemed to enjoy being up there. (And he hasn't always seemed that way.) If you weren't distracted by Madame Speaker's constant eye-blinking, you couldn't take your eyes off the guy. He was dynamic, bold, and...well, conciliatory.

And did he actually utter the words, "help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change"? (When my ten-year-old son heard that, he started elbowing me, "Did you hear that, he said climate change!")

Oh there have been critics and rebuttals -- from both the left and the right, from environmentalists and conservative pundits. There are others who question his convictions or his proposals on alternative energy and reducing our dependence of foreign oil. Bullocks. Bush basically told his old cronies that change is coming and that they better get on board. Surprised he didn't utter the words new world economy!

As for his plan, well there's stuff to like and stuff to critique: he didn't go far enough on caps; he's going to line the pockets of ethanol producers with subsidies; his fuel efficiency standards don't go far enough; opening NPR won't help much or fast enough; we don't really need energy independence, but an interdependent balance so that rifts don't increase in this volatile arena. Pish. I wonder if he was as surprised reading the speech as we were hearing it that he went as far as he did.

SO, let's watch carefully to see what Bush does with this plan. Will the Dems and greenies recognize the bone he's throwing them and take it up in support? Will he be chastised by his long-time supporters and back down on certain aspects of the proposal? Will he loosen the reigns and level the playing field enough so that others -- the many others -- it will take to transform this country and address global climate change can get in the game?

Only time will tell. For now, thank you Mr. President, for making me glad I kept my son up past his bed time on Tuesday night.

23 January 2007

Bush on Energy and Alternative Fuels

The following is an excerpt from President Bush's State of the Nation address. Specifically, this is Bush on energy and alternative fuels:

Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America's economy running and America's environment clean. For too long our nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists -- who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments, raise the price of oil and do great harm to our economy. (Watch Bush call for reducing gasoline usage )

It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply -- and the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power -- by even greater use of clean coal technology ... solar and wind energy ... and clean, safe nuclear power. We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol -- using everything from wood chips, to grasses, to agricultural wastes.

We have made a lot of progress, thanks to good policies in Washington and the strong response of the market. Now even more dramatic advances are within reach. Tonight, I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we have done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next ten years -- thereby cutting our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017 -- this is nearly five times the current target. At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks -- and conserve up to eight and a half billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017.

Achieving these ambitious goals will dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but will not eliminate it. So as we continue to diversify our fuel supply, we must also step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways. And to further protect America against severe disruptions to our oil supply, I ask Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. These technologies will help us become better stewards of the environment -- and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.

I'll plan to comment on this tomorrow.

19 January 2007

Climate Change: Industry Wants Action of Emissions Control

The New York Times and other publications reporte today that 10 "major companies with operations across the economy — utilities, manufacturing, petroleum, chemicals and financial services — have banded together with leading environmental groups to call for a firm nationwide limit on carbon dioxide emissions that would lead to reductions of 10 to 30 percent over the next 15 years."

Introduction of this group, which includes industry giants like General Electric, DuPont and Alcoa, is aimed at adding to the recent impetus for Congressional action on emissions controls and the creation of a market in which allowances to emit carbon dioxide could be traded in a way that achieves the greatest reduction at the lowest cost.

The diversity of the coalition — some members had already come out for other forms of emissions control, like a carbon tax or voluntary controls, but others had been silent on climate-change issues until now — could send a strong signal that businesses want to get ahead of the increasing political momentum for federal emissions controls, in part to ensure that their long-term interests are protected.

Many energy producers and manufacturers have expressed concern that various state efforts, if not coordinated, could lead to a scattershot system of regulation. Others worry that harsher measures, like a stiff tax on fossil fuels, the biggest contributor to global-warming gases, could be imposed if they do not reach a consensus on a legislative approach.

The group’s formal announcement is scheduled for Monday, the day before President Bush is to deliver his State of the Union address and offer the administration’s newest basket of proposals to promote energy security and combat global warming.

Aside from General Electric and Alcoa, Caterpillar is the leading manufacturing company among the group, which also includes four utilities — Duke Energy, based in North Carolina; PG&E of California; the FPL Group of Florida; and PNM
of New Mexico. The group counts the multinational oil company BP and Lehman Brothers as members as well.

Read the complete story: Times

17 January 2007

Climate Change: Scientists & Evangelicals Join Forces

Reuters/Planet Ark reports that "US scientists and evangelical Christian leaders joined forces on Wednesday to protect the environment from the ravages of global warming, calling on President George W. Bush and others in power to help."

"We believe that the protection of life on Earth is a profound moral imperative," the new coalition said in a statement sent to Bush, the leaders of the House and Senate, and potential presidential candidates including Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois and Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican.

"We agree not only that reckless human activity has imperiled the Earth -- especially the unsustainable and short-sighted lifestyles and public policies or our own nation -- but also that we share a profound moral obligation to work together to call our nation, and other nations, to the kind of dramatic change urgently required in our day," the group said.

The group was organized by the National Association of Evangelicals, which has led an environmental Christian movement in the United States, and the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.

Bush is expected to offer a policy change on global warming in next Tuesday's State of the Union address, but the White House has discounted reports of a major shift. Sources familiar with Bush's plans have said he is likely to call for a big increase in US ethanol use and tweak policy on climate change.

Read the full story: Scientists & Evangelicals Join Forces

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06 January 2007

Climate Change: How Does Your Garden Grow?

The past few weeks have been unseasonably warm here in the Philadelphia area. As I write this, it is 68 degrees F. And this is, what, 6 January?! People are walking around in shirtsleeves, t-shirts, even shorts -- in January. And almost everyone you pass is compelled to make a comment. "What would Al Gore say about this?" a neighbor said to me today. And just the other day, as I stepped up onto my front porch, what did I see buzzing around before me? A mosquito!

Around the neighborhood daffodils and even some crocuses are starting to poke up through the ground. This on a day when seed catalogs have started to arrive in the mail. Then this morning's Weekend Journal showed up with an article by Bart Ziegler titled, "Climate-Change Gardening."

Ziegler notes that the National Arbor Day Foundation recently published a new hardiness map, which indicates that the traditional zones outlined by the USDA have shifted north. The hardiness zones denote areas where certain plants can survive winter environments.

According the Arbor Day web site, the Plant Hardiness Zones divide the United States and Canada "into 11 areas based on a 10 degree Fahrenheit difference in the average annual minimum temperature. (The United States falls within Zones 2 through 10). For example, the lowest average temperature in Zone 2 is -50 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, while the minimum average temperature in zone 10 is +30 to +40 degrees Fahrenheit."

Philadelphia, where I live, has long been one of the southernmost extensions of Zone 6, is now completely in Zone 7. One horticultural dealer told Ziegler that "some gardeners in the Philadelphia area have been growing camellias, a flowering bush formerly confined to the South." Camellias? What's next? My son asked if we could grow bananas.

Not yet, but we may be looking at the seed catalogs in a whole new light this winter. That is, if winter ever comes.

Find your hardiness zone here: Zonefinder

See an animation of how the changes affect your area: Arbor Day Map Changes

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04 January 2007

Climate Change: Ice Rinks & Ice Shelves Up North, Time for Change, eh?

I played hockey pretty much year-round through the second decade of my life, and nothing was more irksome than sloppy ice. I remember some warm winters (not as many as in recent years)when the surface ice melted and we'd practically be playing pond hockey. Or summer hockey where, during a break in the game, each team would pile onto the ice and skate around to get the fog to lift. In a word, it sucked.

Well, perhaps Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is tired of his home ice slopping around for, in a move that comes fast on news confirming the breaking off of the Ayles ice shelf -- one of Canada's great northern natural features -- Harper has announced his government will "do more to combat climate change after he moved his environment minister out of her portfolio amid growing concern about global warming," according to AP.
"We've clearly determined that we need to do more on the environment," Harper said after removing Rona Ambrose as environment minister. "We recognize that, particularly when it comes to clean air and climate change, that Canadians expect a lot more."

Harper's Conservative government -- which draws most of its support from oil-rich Alberta and other western provinces -- has been criticized for effectively pulling out of the Kyoto protocol, which requires 35 industrialized countries to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and five other gases that act like a greenhouse trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Under the Kyoto accord, Canada pledged to cut its emissions by 6 percent from 1990 levels by 2012. But the country's emissions are now more than 30 percent above 1990 levels.

The Conservative government unveiled its own plan to combat climate change last year, but it was criticized because it had greenhouse-gas reduction targets as far ahead in the future as 2050.

According to the AP story, Treasury Board President John Baird was sworn in Thursday as the new Environment Minister. Ambrose is now Intergovernmental Affairs Minister. Harper also made other changes to his cabinet as he looked ahead to the likely election.

Last September, Mr. Baird spoke about the environment, curiously in Ambrose's stead, following the release of a report by the commissioner of the environment, Johanne Galinas.

An article in the CBC suggested that the report was critical of the Canadian Liberal government for "failing to adequately address the issue during their 13 years in power, and called on the current government to adopt aggressive new policies to cope with climate change."

In the press conference Harper strongly suggested the Liberals had wasted Canadians' time on the environment, when he said "the Tories inherited an environmental portfolio left in a 'shocking mess,' which required months of work to clean up."

And, in a brilliant salvo, offered that "The Liberal record is great for events planners and travel agents," he said. "It did nothing to improve the lives of Canadians." Lets see if Harper and Baird can do more than just blow hot air and crack witty quips. Will it be a pad save for the environment?

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Photograph attributed to James Ballantyne/Library and Archives Canada/PA-133406. Copyright - nil

Media: "The Great Wilderness Compromise" on PBS

One of our favorite journalists -- and former "Uneasy Chair" blogger -- Jon Christensen brought the following to my attention this morning:

"The Great Wilderness Compromise"

PBS "NOW" heads out West on Friday, January 5, to examine a controversial effort to find common ground on wilderness protection in the reddest state in America: Idaho.

Correspondent Jon Christensen follows Rep. Mike Simpson,the Republican sponsor of a compromise wilderness bill, from the halls of Congress to the peaks of the White Cloud Mountains. To break through the polarization that has stymied efforts to protect wilderness in Idaho for a generation, Simpson has worked hand-in-hand with environmentalist Rick Johnson of the Idaho Conservation League for six years carefully crafting a local compromise that gives something to everyone, but none of them everything that they want.

"NOW" talked with residents, ranchers, off-road vehicle fans, and wilderness advocates, including singer-songwriter Carole King, an ardent opponent of the compromise, which would give public land to small towns in the region for future growth the most controversial of the bills many trade-offs. Exchanging public land for wilderness is a tug-of-war that has entered into a number of wilderness bills that were seeking passage in the last session of Congress. And the Idaho compromise will be among the first bills put on the congressional agenda in the new year. "NOW" offers a window into the passions that drive the wedges and the ongoing quest for common ground in western wilderness politics.

To find your local show time, check PBS NOW.

You can also see the entire 20-minute report plus additional online features after January 5 at PBS NOW Archive.

For more information about the program, which is part of a longer documentary in progress on wilderness politics in the West, e-mail jonchristensen@stanford.edu.

Jon is a research fellow at the Center for Environmental Science and Policy in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and a Ph.D.candidate in American History and the History of Science, Medicine and Technology in the History Department at Stanford University.

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03 January 2007

Clean Tech: WSJ's Gomes on Silicon Valley's Embrace of Climate Change

Lee Gomes, writing in today's Wall Street Journal reviews the state of clean tech investments in Silicon Valley.

Gomes opens his article with a quote from Intel, which he jokingly attributes to Al Gore: "Climate change is an important environmental issue. The broad consensus of established scientific experts is that warming can be attributed to human activities. Significant steps are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

He suggests that "Tech companies know they have to make more energy-efficient products if they want to keep selling them." And he points to the fact that "green is relative. As a significant user of energy, computer technology is itself one of the causes of climate change that the industry is concerned about."

Gomes also quotes Andrew Fanara, an EPA official working on Energy Star standards for computer servers, "when engineers look at the energy issue, they se it as another problem that can be overcome...They seem to have an ability to engineer their way out of anything."

Read the full article: Gomes/WSJ

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02 January 2007

Climate Change: The Power of Wal-Mart

The New York Times reported today that Wal-Mart is putting its muscle behind compact flourescents and leaning on its suppliers to unscrew their traditional bulbs and replace them with the energy-saving curlicues. According to the Times, the bentonville Barons are "determined to push them into at least 100 million homes.

"And its ambitions extend even further, spurred by a sweeping commitment from its chief executive, H. Lee Scott Jr., to reduce energy use across the country, a move that could also improve Wal-Mart’s appeal to the more affluent consumers the chain must win over to keep growing in the United States.

"'The environment,' Mr. Scott said, 'is begging for the Wal-Mart business model.'"

It remains to be seen if treehuggers will embrace the megachain this time around. Some greenies viewed the discount retailer's earlier announcement with skepticism. But who cares? Wal-Mart rules much of the world and if they can use their influence and impact to reduce the costs of energy-saving, carbon-reducing products and materials, then more power to them.

On a personal note, my household is now almost 100 percent switched over to compact flourescents, with the execption of a few enclosed ceiling fixtures and lamps in which CFs don't fit. And we switched to LED outdoor Christmas lights this year. The bluish light they gave off got a lot of compliments and comments from passersby, neighbors, and friends. I still need to calculate the energy savings associated with all of these changes. Next year, we tackle the tree.

To read the full Times article: Wal-Mart

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