Josh Fox, the filmmaker behind Gaslandand Gasland II is the guest on Andrew Sullivan’s Ask Me Anything series this week. Yesterday, he discussed how he got involved in this fight. Today, he has a great answer to the question of whether natural gas is a necessary evil.
President Obama is expected to launch a serious second-term push on climate change with his State of the Union address.
With climate legislation dead in Congress, green groups are hopeful that Obama will follow the “we must act” mantra of his inaugural address and put the full weight of his executive powers behind their agenda.
“The problem is very pressing, and so the sooner we have policy proposals in front of us, the better.”
Obama has already signaled his willingness to use his executive powers forcefully, laying out a series of executive orders on gun control in addition to calling for legislation.
On climate, the White House took some steps with executive powers in the first term, and that’s expected to be the primary second-term focus.
“If he were to just repeat what he said in the [second] inaugural address, that would be considered a missed opportunity, but I don’t believe he will. I believe he will be more specific about what he is going to do,” said one climate advocate.
Liberals in Congress have urged the president to go big on climate as well.
“From a planetary point of view there is no issue more important than climate change, and the president has to be as bold and specific as he possibly can,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters on the eve of Obama’s address.
At the very top of advocates’ wish list is a commitment to setting carbon emissions standards for existing coal-fired power plants. A move in that direction would begin an all-out war with coal-based power companies and some other industry sectors that say there would be huge economic costs from increased regulation.
Obama, without Congress, can also expand on his first-term actions to boost Defense Department green energy programs and development alternative energy on public lands, among other steps.
No matter what steps Obama takes, environmentalists say the president needs to use the bully pulpit to rally public support.
Surprisingly bold call for adapting to climate change by Chiemi Hayashi of the WEF. She calls for heavy investments in climate adaptation now while leaders figure out how to tackle the current economic crisis.
She doesn’t quiet say it, but Hayashi implies that efforts to reduce carbon emissions have failed. And since those efforts have failed, we have to deal with two crises that are sneaking up on us right now: an economic crisis and a disaster management crisis.
Climate change threats are being neglected to tackle short term economic stresses but it would be wise to invest in climate change adaptation now.
The world is facing an unprecedented dual crisis. But with economic and environmental stresses playing out over different timeframes, deep-rooted biases in the way we judge risks may mean we are too preoccupied with firefighting short-term economic problems to tackle longer-term climate threats.
That is one of the key messages to emerge from the Global Risks 2013 report, published by the World Economic Forum. The report is based on an annual survey in which experts share their perceptions of how global risks may unfold over a 10-year time horizon.
Highlighted concerns left no doubt that the continuing fallout from the financial crisis of five years ago is likely to dominate leaders’ attention over the coming decade. Growth prospects remain relatively weak, and intense pressure on public finances is set to continue.
Meanwhile, experts rated the systemically most important environmental risk to be failure to adapt to climate change – in contrast to last year, when rising greenhouse gas emissions topped the results. This reflects a wider shift in recent conversation on climate change, from the question of whether our climate is changing to “by how much” and “how quickly”.
The transition can be seen in a spate of recent reports on climate adaptation efforts. Examples of adaptation initiatives include flood defences for coastal cities, strengthening the capacity of critical infrastructure to survive freak weather events, and researching crop varieties which are more able to withstand swings between extremes of drought and flood.
While the numbers involved vary widely according to different climate change scenarios, it is clear that the costs of investing in adaptation measures and curtailing greenhouse gas emissions are greatly outweighed by the likely future costs of failing to do so. One recent report by Mercer estimates the economic costs of climate change as likely to fall between $2tn and $4tn and (£1.25tn and £2.5tn) by 2030. In addition, we are observing nascent trends of climate change-related litigations, which could compound the cost of climate change significantly.
Logic dictates that it would be wise to bear the costs of investing in climate change adaptation now, rather than shouldering the greater future costs of climate-related disasters. However, humans suffer from several well-established cognitive biases which may hold us back from doing so.
The term “hyperbolic discounting” refers to the tendency to give immediate costs and benefits disproportionately more weight than delayed ones. Researchers have also found that we place too much emphasis on recent personal experience when estimating the future likelihood of a given risk occurring – for instance, taking out flood insurance immediately after a flood, and letting it lapse after a few years without a flood.
The cumulative effect of such cognitive biases is that we tend to find reasons to persuade ourselves that it is not necessary to focus on risks which are perceived to be long term, creeping and relatively uncertain. And while some degree of climate change is now inevitable, there remains great uncertainty about its likely extent and local manifestations.
The latter is especially significant, as climate adaptation is inherently local.
This is a great article. Honest and clear-eyed. I highly recommend my followers to take some time to read it. Via The Guardian
“It’s a lake, yes. But it’s also a bomb. Those pale blue blobs, stacked like floating pancakes down at the bottom of this photograph? They’re astonishingly beautiful, yes, but they can be dangerous.
They are gas bubbles, little hiccups of methane that look magical when they’re trapped in winter ice, but come the spring, those bubbles will loosen, get free, and like an armada of deep-water flying saucers, they will make their way to the surface. When the ice breaks they will pop and fizz into the air — and disappear.
Except they don’t really disappear. Once they hit air, methane bubbles make trouble. How much trouble depends on how many bubbles get released all over the planet. In this one lake, there are thousands, tens of thousands of them, as you can see. But in the oceans, they are bigger — much bigger.”
In Austerity Crisis, Greeks Turn to Wood-Burning, Illegal Logging
“A steep increase in heating costs has led many Greeks to switch from heating oil to wood-burning. But the price of using cheaper fuel is growing.
Illegal loggers are slashing through forests already devastated by years of summer wildfires. Air pollution from wood smoke is choking the country’s main cities. And there has been an increase in blazes caused by carelessly attended woodstoves.
Three children died in a northern village last month when a fire gutted the home of their grandparents, who had recently changed from oil-fueled central heating to a wooden stove to save money.
In Athens, the capital, officials have warned of severe health risks from the low-lying smog that smothers the city at night, when fireplaces and woodstoves burn at full blast in poorly insulated homes. Greece’s leading medical association is demanding urgent action to clean the air. But those warnings have largely been ignored for a simple reason: Burning wood provides the same warmth as heating oil, for roughly half the cost.
For the past three years, the country has been wracked by its worst financial crisis since the end of World War II. Living standards have plummeted, pensions have been slashed and a quarter of the workforce is unemployed, following deeply resented cutbacks demanded in return for international bailouts shielding Greece from total ruin.
The heating crisis was triggered by taxation changes, and made desperate by financial woes. For years, fuel for vehicles was taxed more heavily than heating oil. That encouraged crooked traders to sell heating fuel for use in vehicles and pocket the difference.
Hoping to boost faltering revenues and foil tax fraud, the government this year harmonized taxes on vehicle fuel and heating oil, which now costs about 40 percent more than last winter, although lower-income residents of colder areas get a rebate. Critics say the move backfired due to a drastic decline in sales.”
Part of this complicated issue is that Greeks aren’t used to paying market rates for basic services. Nor is the government itself used to the process of collecting taxes (sounds weird, but true). After recent austerity cuts, taxes and public services adjusted to (or attempt to) reflect a more market-oriented structure to help create a less corrupt, tax-dodging culture. The measures, as the above shows, may have been too strong and too fast, causing more damage to the country than taking a slower approach.
I just signed this WH petition. The White House will have to respond to it if it reaches the 25,000 mark.
Fracking, or drilling for natural gas, is as of 2005 exempt from a major environmental regulation called the Clean Water Act. Drillers pump a water/chemical mixture into the ground under pressure, which fractures certain rocks that hold natural gas. The gas is piped out and the water and chemicals remain in the ground. Here’s an excellent video explainer. And here are some background on how fracking became exempt from pollution controls. Basically, drillers got the exemption by claiming that the chemical mixture they use are proprietary information - an industry secret.
Now, there are about 500,000 fracking wells in the U.S.Tens of thousands are being opened right now. The petition asks that frackers show how their chemicals affect water in rivers, lakes, streams, wells, and aquifers.
I don’t think it’s controversial for the public, farmers, cities, beer and softdrink manufacturers, or anyone to know which chemicals are in their water. I know petitions are a pain. Please give this one your two minutes. Here’s the link:
Kyoto Protocol aimed for 5% cut in carbon emissions — instead, we got a 58% increase
The controversial and ineffective Kyoto Protocol’s first stage comes to an end today, leaving the world with 58 per cent more greenhouse gases than in 1990, as opposed to the five per cent reduction its signatories sought.
From the beginning, the treaty that was adopted in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, was problematic. Opponents denied the science of climate change and claimed the treaty was a socialist plot. Environmentalists decried the lack of ambition in Kyoto and warned of dire consequences for future generations.
But the goal of the treaty was simple.
“We hoped that we would be able to reduce greenhouse gases substantially, but that it was a first step,” explained Christine Stewart, the Liberal environment minister who negotiated in Kyoto on Canada’s behalf.
The Kyoto Protocol was an initiative that came out of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. It recognized that climate change was a result of greenhouse gases created by human industrial activity. The idea was that rich nations, which had already benefited from industrialization, would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the first part of the treaty and developing nations would join in later.
Although the protocol was adopted in 1997, it didn’t to come into force until 2005. In the intervening eight years, countries set reduction targets for themselves and ratified the agreement.
“At the time we didn’t realize how complicated it would be to get the Kyoto Protocol ratified and for it to enter into force internationally,” said Steven Guilbeault, co-founder of Equiterre, a Montreal-based environmental charity.
Problems from the beginning
Right off the bat, there were problems. The U.S., the world’s biggest emitter at the time, signed up but never ratified…
Climate Change 101: Fundamentals of Climate Change
The recent climate conference in Doha has sparked much interest with the adoption of the second Kyoto protocol. Larger nations may now be taxed for their environmental actions in order to compensate the smaller nations who maintain a more active role in their local environmental conservative activities.
A new video on Vimeo (courtesy: Dark Igloo) is going viral and is looking to explain climate change on a more fundamental level.
Really good climate explainer. Long time followers know I’m skeptical about the solutions Bill Nye discusses at the end of this video. Carbon emissions are simply not decreasing, not even a little. In fact, we’re burning much more than thought possible. And we have to stop fooling ourselves in thinking that it’s going to stop. China and India are getting richer and Africa and the Middle East are experiencing populations booms. They want cars, computers, houses, and gadgets, all of which means higher demand for energy. We need to be honest and clear headed about this reality.
In any case, this is a good video and well worth watching.
Decent (not great) primer on geoengineering. Worth a skim since my next post is on that batshiat crazy guy who dumped 100 tons of rusty iron dust into the ocean last week - just to see what would happen.
I know, it’s a carbon story - not my style. What’s most interesting to me, though, is the legal questions behind geoengineering.
For example, let’s say that geoengineering is a good option, one that could counter global warming and cool the earth just enough to make things safer. There are dozens of ways to do this, as the article points out. Like, the dudes (and they are mostly dudes) from DARPA send a big mirror into orbit to reflect the sun’s rays. Or someone figures out a way to create more clouds in the sky, which would then reflect the sun’s energy back into spaceblivion. Aaannd a presto! No more climate change.
Great news, right?But, and this is the legal bit, which country should be in control of such projects? Who decides how much geoengineering is just right?
What happens if a rogue nation decides to mess with the earth’s atmosphere for geo-political-advantage-of-doomy-doom??! How (and whom) would legally enforce this system, especially if someone screwed up? Should China or, say, Afghanistan hold the keys to geoengineering technology? Conversely, one can easily imagine a coalition of states - China, USA, the EU, maybe Brazil etc. - getting together to run this system. Which court system would hold this coalition responsible for our doomed existence? And other rhetorical, legal mind-fucks.
What Is Geoengineering and Why Is It Considered a Climate Change Solution?
Geoengineering is a word that means many different things to many different people. Typically what people call geoengineering is divided into two major classes. There are approaches which attempt to reduce the amount of climate change produced by an increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and there are approaches that try to remove greenhouse gases that have already been released to the atmosphere.
The Earth is warmed by sunlight and the heat that is absorbed by the Earth is later re-radiated back to space. Greenhouse gases make it more difficult for the Earth to radiate energy to space. So the two main ways you can cause Earth to cool are either to create conditions such that Earth absorbs less sunlight or make it easier for the Earth to radiate heat energy back to space.
The first category of approaches typically includes things like: putting giant satellites in space to deflect sunlight away from Earth, putting tiny particles in the stratosphere, whitening clouds over the ocean, or perhaps whitening roofs or planting lighter [colored] crops. They are all attempts to deflect sunlight away from Earth.
The second allows more heat energy to escape.
There is one more category that some people propose: that we might take heat that exists near the surface of the Earth and stuff it down deep into the ocean. This hasn’t been looked at very much. But it’s another way of altering Earth’s surface temperatures.
In one of the most radical climate programmes yet by an oil-producing nation, the Norwegian government has proposed increasing its carbon tax on offshore oil companies by £21 to £45 (Nkr410) per tonne of CO2 and a £5.50 (Nkr50) per tonne CO2 tax on its fishing industry.
Norway will also plough an extra £1bn (Nkr10bn) into its funds for climate change mitigation, renewable energy, food security in developing countries and conversion to low-carbon energy sources, Environmental Finance reported.
It will step up spending on new projects to combat deforestation in developing countries to £44m, taking up its spending overall on forestry programmes to £327m. Previous forestry projects have involved Brazil, Indonesia and Ethiopia.
A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature.
I'm a climate change consultant specializing in climate adaptation, environmental law, and urban planning based in the U.S. In addition to traveling and hiking, I research, publish, and lecture on how cities can adapt to climate change.
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