In another response on Grist to Break Through, the latest manifesto from Shellenberger and Nordhaus, (the opinion researchers who penned the famous Death of Environmentalism essay), NRDC's Dave Hawkens calls the duo "passionate but confused." That sounds harsh, but having read the book, I can vouch for the assessment.
At their best the authors have many smart and impassioned things to say; just as often they are vague, overreaching and self-contradictory. They argue, for example, that government has no motivation to raise energy prices, yet they blithely envision a government motivated to make massive investments in clean energy. They argue against a regulations-centric approach to combating climate change before acknowledging, as Hawkens highlights, that regulations are a requirement:
...the effort to reduce and stabilize global greenhouse gas emissions will require a major regulatory effort to make sure that everyone is playing by the same rules, provide a stable investment environment for nations and businesses, and increase the cost of fossil fuels relative to cleaner energy sources.
They argue against complaint-based politics and in favor of visionary leadership (as if anyone could be against visionary leadership), then write a book that amounts to one long-winded complaint. As you might guess from the title of their book, Shellenberger and Nordhaus, argue we need a breakthrough -- nothing less than a paradigm shift -- if we are to overcome our predicament. But that's a hope, not a prescription.
Whatever. The real existential question doesn't concern green groups. The stakes are way higher than that. The real existential question is the one confronting civilization, and so far, I'm afraid, no one can lay claim to having the answers.
This cover caught my eye at the bookstore the other day. Surely, that couldn't be the Wallace Stegner writing a seemingly heroic account of the discovery and exploration of the Arab oil fields. Ah, but it is. Seems Stegner, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and renowned environmentalist who served on the Sierra Club Board of Directors from 1964 to 1966, contracted with Aramco, the Arabian American Oil Company, in 1955, to do a book-length story on Saudi Arabia's oil boom. The handsomely paid work-for-hire project was first serialized in Aramco World, the company's magazine, and has now been published between hardcovers.
In taking the assignment, Stegner was clear about establishing his journalistic boundaries: "I have no liking either for muckraking or for whitewashing jobs; I should very much like to make this book straightforward and honest history... . To do that properly I shall need my elbows free," he wrote. But this piece in Stanford magazine, (Stegner founded the school's esteemed creative writing program), takes a rather harsh view of the end product, finding it romanticized and boosterish.
No doubt, the mere revelation of Stegner's oil book will disillusion some of the author's fans (of which I am one), but I would argue that that's not such a bad thing. After all, who needs illusions?
Everybody's trying to make sense of Congressman John Dingell's carbon/gas tax proposal. A political darling of Detroit, Dingell never met a fuel economy regulation that he didn't hate, but now here he is trying to push something as unpopular as a carbon tax? Some (including Mr. Dingell himself) have suggested that this is precisely the point; he knows the bill is going down in flames, he's just putting it out there to take attention away from CAFE regulations and, at the same time, call the green lobby's bluff. Carl Pope has some pretty savvy things to say about all this in his latest blog entry. To push the poker metaphor, he sees Dingell's bet, then shows a slightly different hand: The Sierra Club Executive Director says he wants to see both a "cap-and-auction limit on carbon" and stricter CAFE regulations.
For his part, Charles Kamanoff of the Carbon Tax Center gives, as you might expect, given the affiliation, a pretty strenuous defense of the proposed legislation at Grist. In fact, he wants the tax to be much higher -- that is, provided it's also revenue-neutral. (According to the Carbon Tax Center, this means that "little if any of the tax revenues raised by taxing carbon emissions would be retained by government. The vast majority of the revenues would be returned to the American people, with some small amount utilized to mitigate the otherwise negative impacts of carbon taxes on low-income energy users." Sounds good. Hell, it sounds great! But I suspect pandemonium hides in the details of actual implementation.) Most of the follow-up comments are positive.
For his part, Dingell says he plans to make his tax as revenue-neutral as possible, but he's not much of a salesman. What he stresses instead is pain and sacrifice:
A carbon tax is going to carry with it a lot of pain. Something's got to be done, and the only way it can be done is by conservation, forcing a change in people's attitudes and a change in the way the business of the nation is done. ... Changing the economic and personal incentives are the way you do that.
Says Grist's Dave Roberts, "I don't know what his intent is with this carbon tax bill, but I will say that the tenor of his message on global warming is politically disastrous."
I have to admit, I'm a little surprised that no one took me task for the blatant species-ism on display in my earlier post on tilapia, in which I slandered the noble Nile perch as repugnant, lowly and inferior to salmon. Talk about invidious distinctions! I bring it up again because this Time story makes clear what I only hinted at before; namely that, viewed through the lens of sustainability, tilapia are a very favorable species indeed, as they lend themselves (so to speak) to being intensively farmed.
Aquaculture, as you may be aware, now supplies an incredible 40 percent of the world's seafood, but the practice has gotten a bad rap for several reasons, most of which should not be applied too generally. That's because, while shrimp farming wreaks havoc on mangrove ecosystems, oyster farming is largely benign and, since oysters are filter feeders, can even improve water quality. Similarly, whereas salmon farming and tuna ranching require boatloads of fish meal (ground up fish) and thus represent a net loss in protein, tilapia, being herbivorous, require no such inputs. All of which is to say, if it comes down to a choice between farm-raised salmon and farm-raised tilapia, ... take the tilapia.
As a final selling point, I have it on good authority that tilapia filets are the perfect choice for fish tacos. Andale pues. Vamos a comer!
As you've surely read or heard by now, Arctic sea ice extent reached record lows this month, shattering the previous record set in September 2005. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the five-day mean ice extent for September 16, 2007, was lower by one million square miles (an area roughly equal to the size of Alaska and Texas combined) than the long-term average. The NSIDC is careful to stress that sea ice extent can vary greatly from one year to the next, but also states that the 2007 minimum is "a bold exclamation point on a trend of ice loss that has been ongoing for at least the past fifty years."
The maximum amount of sea ice in the Arctic winter has fallen by six percent over each of the last two winters, as compared to a loss of merely 1.5 percent per decade on average annually since the earliest satellite monitoring in 1979.
The alarming sea ice retreat will not impact sea level (although melting of the Greenland ice sheet certainly will), but it will have many other serious repercussions. Among the most obvious and most frightening is the positive feedback loop that a melting Arctic is expected to create; i.e., as the reflective ice surface is replaced by an energy absorbing ocean surface, melting is liable to beget more melting.
The loss of sea ice is also problematic for many species -- and not just polar bears. As Joey Comiso, a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, explains:
The seasonal ice regions in the Arctic are among the most biologically productive regions in the world. For example, sea ice provides melt-water in spring that floats because of low density. This melt-water layer is considered by biologists as the ideal layer for phytoplankton growth because it does not sink, and there is plenty of sunlight reaching it to enable photosynthesis. Plankton are at the bottom of the food web. If their concentration goes down, animals at all trophic levels would be deprived of a basic source of food.
Experts are perplexed by a string of blue whale deaths off the coast of Southern California. Judging from their injuries, all of the whales appear to have been struck by vessels in the busy shipping lanes of the Santa Barbara Channel. As to what caused the animals' apparent disorientation prior to the collisions, the leading suspect under investigation is domoic acid, which the Los Angeles Times reports is produced by certain marine algae and acts as a neurotoxin. In this picture, a shark can be seen feeding on the carcass of one of the casualties. Blue whales, thought to be the largest animal ever to exist on Earth, are currently listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Joel Bourne has a very accessible, clearly written story in the October National Geographic on biofuels, which seems to be the subject du jour. As expected, he comes down hard on the (pipe) dream of corn ethanol. The real promise of biofuels, he stresses, lies in cellulosic sources -- stalks, leaves, sawdust -- as opposed to foodstuffs like corn, sugar and soy. Cellulosic ethanol remains a big 'if' both technologically and economically (there is currently no large-scale commercial production of the stuff), but if the potential can be unlocked and cars can be made to burn fuel far more efficiently, then biofuels could one day deliver both independence from petroleum and sharply reduced carbon emissions. That's a good dream to have.
When I worked in the fish market in Seattle I used to hate cleaning tilapia. Next to the stately salmon, tilapia were a lowly fish -- ugly, smelly things with tough spines that, if they pricked you, caused a nasty infection. But as repugnant as they may be, Nile tilapia are ascendant, thanks to the fact that they are good to eat and easily farmed, being hearty, highly adaptable, freshwater herbivores. (Fear not, fish lovers, when the last tuna has been caught and consumed, there will still be pen-raised tilapia to make fish and chips out of.) This post from Shifting Baselines looks at tilapia's burgeoning "success" in niches ranging from the fashion industry (behold the 'fishkini') to NASA (think tilapia as fresh protein for astronauts) and wonders at it the weirdness of it all. What does it mean for a species to be successful if that success implies a near-total separation from wild, earthly origins? The tilapia are no doubt untroubled by such questions, but it does pretty well get to the heart of our own predicament, no?
It has been 15 years since the historic Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, a meeting that laid the groundwork for the Kyoto Protocols and subsequent international climate talks. Unfortunately, the anniversary didn't offer much to celebrate. The goal of the Kyoto Accord was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the so-called "industrialized countries" by 5.2 percent from 1990 levels. Emissions in most countries, however, have continued trending upward. U.S. emissions, for example, increased by roughly 16 percent between 1990 and 2004. In Canada, emissions ramped up even more sharply; our northern neighbors saw an increase in GHG emissions of nearly 27 percent between 1990 and 2004. And, in China and India, both of which are exempt from Kyoto, emissions increased by roughly 50 percent in the same time frame. You probably already know all this but it bares repeating. If you weren't aware, well, ... sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but facts are facts. The question for the world going forward is how, having failed to realize even the very modest goals of Kyoto, we can hope to achieve the radical emissions reductions required to avoid the worst cosequences of warming.
Okay, so no one took my Bully for Woollies/Sam the Sham post seriously, but I'm telling you, this shit (and I mean that literally -- millennia-old mammoth dung) is not going away. Rather, it's thawing, with the potential of loosing a huge amount of stored carbon and methane into an already overloaded atmosphere.
It also reminds me of a discussion I had with a friend the other night about the nature of global warming and the challenge it poses to humanity. This friend, it's worth noting up front, is no dope. He's on the masthead at Scientific American and has testified before Congress on radical energy technologies that might eventually come to our rescue. So, while h's a firm believer in the reality of anthropogenic warming, he also believes that calling global warming a 'crisis' is a mistake. It's not a crisis, he insists; rather, it's a "chronic, multi-generational challenge" that is unlike anything we've faced.
Calling it a crisis, he says, is problematic because societies can only stay in 'crisis mode' for a few years at a time, whereas warming is going to require an ongoing, unflagging commitment of many, many decades. This seems right to me. On the other hand, in what it portends for civilization, global warming certainly has all signs of being a crisis and an existential one at that -- or as Gore calls it, "a global emergency."
As Joseph Romm notes in this thoughtful post, the most common analogy used by Gore and others who are sounding the alarm on warming is WWII. But the comparison seems wrong on a few counts: First, there has been no, nor is there likely to be, any equivalent to Pearl Harbor in this struggle; second, there is no enemy to give it the same Us v. Them dynamic that all wars have (it's more like Us v. Us); and, third, unlike an enemy force, warming will not respond to even our most concerted efforts in the short-term for the simple reason that the carbon we are emitting today will remain in the atmosphere for a century or so.
Sierra: In your movie, you cite U.S. determination in World War II as an example of the kind of resolve we need to confront global warming. But it took the attack on Pearl Harbor to galvanize the country. Are we going to have a similar moment in this crisis?
Gore: Obviously, we all hope it doesn't come to that, but for hundreds of thousands of people in New Orleans, that moment has already been reached. And for millions of people in Africa's Sahel, that moment has already been reached with the disappearance of Lake Chad. For an untold number of species, it has been reached. The challenge for the rest of us is to connect the dots and see the picture clearly. H. G. Wells wrote that "history is a race between education and catastrophe." And this is potentially the worst catastrophe in the history of civilization. The challenge now is to seize our potential for solving this crisis without going through a cataclysmic tragedy that would be the climate equivalent of wartime attack. And it's particularly important because, by the nature of this crisis, when the worst consequences begin to manifest themselves, it will already be too late.
It's never too late to gloat. Kos points out that the anti-environmental members of congress branded by the League of Conservation Voters as their "Dirty Dozen" fared very poorly. Here's how he laid it out:
Sen. George Allen (R, VA) -- lost to Jim Webb
Sen. Conrad Burns (R, MT) -- lost to Jon Tester
Sen. Rick Santorum (R, PA) -- lost to Bob Casey
Sen. Jim Talent (R, MO) -- lost to Claire McCaskill
Rep. Dan Boren (D, OK-02) -- still around
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D, TX-28) -- ugh, fake "Democrat" still around
Rep. Katherine Harris (R, FL) -- got crushed by Bill Nelson
Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R, AZ-05) -- lost to Harry Mitchell
Rep. Richard Pombo (R, CA-11) -- lost to Jerry McNerney
Rep. Deborah Pryce (R, OH-15) -- won by a sliver, is quitting after this term
Rep. Charles Taylor (R, NC-11) -- lost to Heath Schuler
Rep. Heather Wilson (R, NM-01) -- survived by a sliver, one of only two R's on this list to do so, and the only one left running again in 2008
If I were Heather Wilson, I'd be thinking that 2008 might be a good opportunity to spend more time with my family.
Sierra's own take on last year's bad guys,"Two Time Losers," had a pretty good batting average too. The ten legislators up for election singled out in that list were challenged both environmentally and ethically. Here's what became of them:
Rep.Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) -- stepped down prior to election
Rep.Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.)-- ditto
Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio)-- ditto
Rep. J. D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.)-- lost to Harry Mitchell
Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) -- lost to Jerry McNerney
Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kans.) -- lost to Nancy Boyda
Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.) -- lost to Heath Schuler
Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) -- lost to Jon Tester
That leaves California representatives John Doolittle (R) and Jerry Lewis (R), both still under a cloud of corruption. Perhaps more family time coming up for them too?
"I think there is widespread agreement on certain basics, and one of the most important is that we are producing far more CO2 from fossil fuels than we ought to be. And it's going to lead to trouble unless we can begin to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we are burning and using in our economies.... The CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere, and there's no end point, it just gets hotter and hotter, and so at some point it becomes unlivable."
That statement -- by far the strongest in support of the consensus view on warming yet issued from the Administration -- has the Christian Science Monitor asking whether Bush is finally coming around on mandatory carbon cuts, or whether he is simply running out the clock on his presidency.
Well bend me o'er the grog barrel, mateys, and fill me britches with bilgewater, if I din't forget another Talk Like a Pirate Day! Yarrr, I may be a dog watch late and a dubloon short, but here's a good pirate story for ye's. Eco-piracy, that is. Toothfish! Arrrr!
Interesting to note that 2007 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of both Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and Jack Kerouac's On the Road. After Granville Hicks savaged Rand's celebration of raw capitalist ambition in the New York Times, Alan Greenspan -- yes, that Alan Greenspan, who apparently was part of Rands' inner circle -- wrote to the Times to protest that:
‘Atlas Shrugged’ is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.
I imagine Mr. Greenspan had the likes of such parasites as Mr. Kerouac in mind when he wrote that hateful little response.
Suddenly curious about what kind of year 1957 was, I scanned the rest of the bestseller list, wondering whether there might be any titles of obvious environmental interest. Indeed, there was one -- a great one at that (at least, it made a great impression on me, reading it as a kid in the midst of the Cold War): Nevil Shute's On the Beach, which imagined a world all but completely done in by nuclear war, landed at number 8 that year, two spots ahead of Atlas Shrugged. On the Road didn't crack the Top Ten, but of course Kerouac has sold more than his share of books in the intervening decades, not to mention jeans, cigarettes, cars, and flannel shirts. It would be interesting, in fact, to know who has sold more copies, all told: Kerouac or Rand?
For the moment, however, it's Mr. Greenspan who has seized the brass ring. His memoir, The Age of Turbulence, which has just been published, currently tops Amazon's list of top sellers.
Just in case you were thinking Al Gore was a shoo-in for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, Reuters points to some other climate campaigners who are likely to be in the running. They include: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Of course, that's assuming the prize will go to a climate campaigner at all.
Hurricane Humberto barely made the news when it made landfall near the Texas-Louisiana state line last week, but it did set a record. According to the National Hurricane Center, no storm has ever reached hurricane strength so rapidly so close to land. Humberto morphed from a tropical depression to a full-blown hurricane in less than 14 hours. By the time the eye of the storm had formed, Humberto was practically ashore.
The melting Arctic may bode ill for humanity, but it's a boon to bone collectors as the skeletons of woolly rhinos and mammoths come poking through the permafrost. As the prophet Sam the Sham said, "Watch it now, watch it, here it comes."
For the benefit of the rare few who didn’t stay up late last night under their CFLs reading the latest from environmental bad boys Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger in the New Republic (see Pat’s post below), here’s a short version:
Doom-and-gloom environmentalists are blowing it again. Global warming can never be stopped by trying to regulate CO2. Our only hope is to make massive investments in clean-energy technology, in hopes of finding something that will completely replace dirty energy from coal and oil.
Something must be in the air, because today Tom Friedman makes the same argument in the New York Times. (Farewell steel curtain!) Friedman argues for the inevitability of dramatic, energy-intensive development in the Middle East and China:
I am not blaming them. It is a blessing that their people are growing out of poverty. And, after all, they’re just following the high-energy growth model pioneered by America. We’re still the world’s biggest energy hogs, but we’re now producing carbon copies in places you’ve never heard of.
Such growth is so massive, he asserts, that it will overwhelm all our CFLs, hybrid cars, and other puny green initiatives.
That’s why we’re fooling ourselves. There is no green revolution, or, if there is, the counter-revolution is trumping it at every turn. Without a transformational technological breakthrough in the energy space, all of the incremental gains we’re making will be devoured by the exponential growth of all the new and old “Americans.”
Now I would love to see a transformational breakthrough in the energy space as much as the next person. The Sierra Club has been promoting clean energy for years, as have all the other environmental groups. But it seems like a really bad idea to give up on trying to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere while we’re waiting for scientists to produce a magic energy pony. After all, they don't come along all that often.
Progressive political consultants Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger made a big splash a few years back with their provocatively titled essay, "The Death of Environmentalism." Now, the two opinion researchers are back with a book called Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility. You can find a condensed version of their arguments in the New Republic.
Reviews are, so far, mixed. In an article from an upcoming issue of the New York Review of Books, (reprinted here), author Bill McKibben calls Break Through both "unremittingly interesting" and "flaky," while, over at Grist, Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope (admittedly, not an impartial reviewer) finds the book "important and intriguing" but takes issue with the authors' caricature of the green movement before offering his own, somewhat different "pathway to the future."
Anybody else out there subscribe to the Harper's Weekly Review e-newsletter? In case you were wondering, here's a small sampling of the kind of stuff you can get sent directly to your in-box every Tuesday:
Arctic ice was found to be melting about ten times faster than in previous years, leaving the Northwest Passage conveniently ice-free. Leftists in Mexico sabotaged oil pipelines for the third time in three months, and tech workers in Seattle threw a luau in Gas Works Park, despite toxic blobs oozing out of the ground nearby. "I'm not afraid of it," said Tim Chovanak, who works for Safeco. "Just don't eat the dirt." ... Pine beetles infested Georgia, webworms infested Maine, and crypto parasites infested swimming pools in Idaho. Foot-and-mouth disease resurfaced in Surrey, England, and a major outbreak of ebola killed more than 150 people in Congo. Scientists predicted that ebola would also kill the last remaining western lowland gorillas. Near Grand Forks, North Dakota, at least 1,600 catfish died of unknown causes, ruining the fishing season, and evening traffic slowed in Santa Barbara, California, as commuters watched the carcass of a 70-foot blue whale drift south along the highway.
Writing in the New York Review of Books, Michael Tomasky says:
For a significant number of impatient citizens, there is one more possible candidate who is, they would argue, the most electable of all. First, he's already won a presidential election; he was merely denied his rightful victory by an ethically compromised Supreme Court majority. Second, to the extent that foreign policy and terrorism remain potential Democratic weaknesses, he has extensive experience and expertise in dealing with both. Third, he was right on Iraq. And fourth and most importantly, he has reemerged in the Bush era as a completely different man from the cautious candidate, surrounded by too many consultants, we saw in the 2000 campaign.
Huh, I wonder who that could be? Ah, of course: Citizen Gore.
The most interesting thing to me about that passage is what it omits; namely, any mention of global warming. Perhaps that's because the review is about Gore's Assault on Reason, which was a political critique. Still, hasn't climate action become the man's calling card? Perhaps not in all circles. And that, should he run (which seems highly unlikely), is probably a good thing. Global warming may be (thanks to Gore), an issue with voters, but it's not even close to becoming the issue.
Here's a bee story that is not primarily about Colony Collapse Disorder (which is now thought to be caused in large part by a virus from the Middle East), but rather about what bee hives might tell us about global warming and about the ways in which climate change is affecting plant-pollinator interactions.
We are only getting the first inklings of the massive changes that global warming is bringing our way. Today, for example, Salon's indispensable Andrew Leonard turns to the weird interplay between the U.S. mortgage crisis, rising Canadian currency values, and the horrendous mountain pine beetle infestations in British Columbia brought on by a long string of warmer than average winters:
The devastation wrought is almost unthinkable -- entire forests are turning deadly red in British Columbia, where one estimate says that 80 percent of the "merchantable pine" could be destroyed by 2013. As a stop-gap measure, trees already infested by the beetle are being harvested to salvage their lumber before rot and decay set in. So at the same time that the collapse of the U.S. housing market has sent lumber demand submarining, supply is booming.
Good time to build a deck, Leonard concludes. Act now why supplies last, this offer may not be repeated--because the lodgepole pine forest may not be there anymore.
The threatened Green Elephant may soon be found only in protected reserves in remote areas of the northeastern United States. The 2006 election, of course, saw the loss of Senator Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), a longtime environmental hero. Now today's Hartford Courant says that Representative Chris Shays (R-Conn.) is threatening not to run in 2008--unless House GOP leaders support his bid to be minority chair of the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee.
I'm 61 years old. I've been in Congress 20 years. If I have to fight to become chairman of a committee, given the job I've done, I need to move on.
Shays is among the last Republicans in increasingly Democratic New England, and among the top environmentalists, with a 91 percent lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters. Should he carry through on his threat, the question arises: Is the environment doomed to become a partisan issue?
I dunno, I'm doubtful of that finding, but I still liked Matthew Yglesias's wistful suggestion that, "Maybe presidential candidate and weight-loss guru Mike Huckabee would like to take this insight up as part of a comprehensive anti-obesity, anti-global warming, double-whammy." What would the campaign slogan be, I wonder? How bout: Tax the Gas, Lose the Ass.
What do you think? Do I have a future as a political consultant? ... Or what?
Senator Edwards, you've suggested that Americans should give up their SUVs for the sake of the environment, but a recent UN study found that deforestation for the purpose of creating grazing land for cattle and methane emissions from cattle generated more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars and planes in the world, so it's not just the SUVs, it's the C-O-W-S. Taking a shot at SUVs was gutsy. Do you want to take a shot at meat?
An article in the Wall Street Journal looks at the divide between those who favor a carbon tax and those who favor cap-and-trade as a way to curtail C02 emissions. Reporter Deborah Solomon writes that where most economists and academics come down on the side of a carbon tax, most politicians and environmentalists favor a cap on emissions.
One notable environmentalist who does support a carbon tax is Al Gore. The former vice president has long said he favors a tax on carbon in lieu of a payroll tax. Taking it a step further, he wants to see both a cap and a tax put put in place. Most of the presidential candidates believe such a tax would be political suicide. And not without reason. As the Christian Science Monitor observed back in July, "the last time Congress raised the gasoline tax was in 1993. In the Senate, Gore cast the deciding vote. At the next election in 1994, the GOP won big on Capitol Hill. Politicians took note."
At least five emissions bills will be taken up in Congress this fall, but only one -- Rep. John Dingell's -- will propose a carbon tax. Even he has said that he doubts the bill's ultimate success. In fact, he may bring the bill to the floor just to prove it's a loser. But here's the thing: Either way -- tax or cap -- the cost of electricity will increase, and that increase will be passed along to consumers. So, in the end, it may be a distinction without much difference.
Environmentalists may worry about overpopulation, but in Russia officials are concerned about the opposite trend. Population in the republic has fallen so sharply since the demise of the Soviet Union that the government now pays cash to families to help raise second and third children. The governor of Ulyanovsk has gone so far as to urge couples to take the day off to procreate. In case folks need an incentive, the state offers prizes -- cars, cash, TVs! -- to any couple that manages to deliver exactly nine months from now; that is, on June 12 -- Russia's national day.
"It was as if Ronald Reagan had turned into Al Gore after being elected."
That's New York Times reporter Nick Kulish's assessment of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's political performance, which has lately been focused on efforts to address global warming. The paper notes that the the physicist-turned-head of state enjoys the highest approval ratings of any chancellor since WWII.
This graphic above runs with a story headlined: "Arctic Ice Continues Record Melting: Arctic Ice the Size of Florida Gone in a Week." No, it's not from The Onion. It's from ABC News. And, as hilarious as the image may be, the news is absolutely sobering. Actually, sobering is too tame. I'll let you come up with your own adjective.
Dame Anita Roddick, best-known as the founder of the Body Shop, a global franchise that specializes in "cruelty-free" cosmetics and skin care products, has died at age 64 of a brain hemorrhage. In addition to being a champion of ethical business, and eco-friendly consumer goods, she was also an energetic campaigner for human rights and environmental justice. Dame Roddick, who suffered from the hepatitis C virus, sold the Body Shop to L'Oreal last year but remained active in myriad causes. She told an interviewer shortly before she died that campaigning was "in her DNA."
Retiring isn't even a word I'd understand. Taking what makes you feel alive, and everyone's looking for ways of making them feel alive, in whatever they do - relationships, business or work - and not just being a voice for a money making business. I want to do something where - you've got so many groups that have no voice in this world - the indigenous, the poor. So how can I use the resources that I have and bring them up, highlight them. And it's not that difficult. It's just choosing and concentrating and focusing - 3 things I'm not always good at.
Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope has been blogging from Greenland aboard the MS Fram, host vessel to a floating symposium that joins world leaders from both science and religion to discuss the issue of climate change. The BBC's Doreen Walton was also aboard and she files this diary from the journey.
The word of the day is 'nurdle.' You won't find it in the dictionary yet, but look for it to appear soon, as nurdles are a major presence in the world. By way of offering a definition and to see the word used in context, I give you the following, which is lifted from a New York Times review of Alan Wiesman's bestselling new book, The World Without Us:
A million years from now, a collection of mysterious artifacts would remain to puzzle whatever alien beings might stumble upon them: the flooded tunnel under the English Channel; bank vaults full of mildewed money; obelisks warning of buried atomic waste (as current law requires) in seven long-obsolete human languages, with pictures. The faces on Mount Rushmore might provoke Ozymandian wonder for about 7.2 million more years. (Lincoln would probably fare better on the pre-1982 penny, cast in durable bronze.) But it’s hard to imagine an alien archaeologist finding poetry in the remote Pacific atolls awash in virtually unbiodegradable plastic bottles, bags and Q-tip shafts, or in the quadrillions of nurdles, microscopic plastic bits in the oceans — they currently outweigh all the plankton by a factor of six — that would continue to cycle uncorrupted through the guts of sea creatures until an enterprising microbe evolved to break them down.
From the New Anatolian, an English-language newspaper in Turkey, comes this item:
Turkish Armed Forces warned that global warming is a catastrophe for the whole world which may lead [to] regional threats and wars. Stating that approximately five billion people will face clean water shortage in 2025, the military said Turkey may become a target for Israel, Syria and Iraq as Turkey has the richest clean water sources in the region.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed listing the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in January 2007. A final decision on the listing is due in January 2008.
If ursus maritimus is ultimately listed under the ESA, then profound questions arise about what the federal government is legally bound to do to save the bear. The Christian Science Monitor examined the question in an earlier report which noted that more and more species-recovery plans under the ESA cite global warming as a "damaging factor" to "critical habitat." Does that mean that coal-fired power plants could be denied operating permits on the basis of the harm they cause polar sea ice? It seems unlikely, but a case could be made....
I've been making a mental list of all the things I've seen touted as being the potential "fuel of the future" -- you know, the thing that will finally wean us off our oil addiction. Now seems like a good time to download. So, off the top of my head (and scattered in notes around my desk) here goes: Corn, corn stover, soybeans, oil palm, sugar cane, bagasse, switchgrass, jatropha, goldenrod, karanj (pongam), ragweed, rapeseed (canola), flaxseed, hemp, filbert (hazelnut), poplar, willow, castor bean, miscanthus, milo, mustard seed, poultry fat, beef tallow, wood chips, bamboo, yucca (cassava), fryer grease, saltbrush, cassava, citrus peels, milk plasma (whey), algae.
I'm concerned that we may be headed down the wrong track here in gasifying coal for transportation use. Instead of finding a different way to burn coal out of a different pipe (car exhaust instead of a factory smokestack), there's an opportunity to chart a new path. By encouraging Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology, we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil by utilizing our coal resource. We can address climate concerns by capturing and sequestering nearly all of the carbon emissions. Finally, from that coal, we can produce clean energy -- electricity and hydrogen that can fuel plug-in and hydrogen-powered vehicles.
As Romm, a former Energy Department staffer and author of Hell and High Water, says, "Other than the hydrogen part, he is dead on." And, he says, another Republican -- Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland -- was even harder on CTL. Not surprisingly, coal boosters like to tout CTL as a green-sounding "alternative fuel," and frame it in terms of American energy independence, but as my colleague Paul Rauber notes in Sierra, it's just a "brazen attempt to put lipstick on a pig." He writes:
CTL is the dirtiest way to fuel a vehicle, generating twice the greenhouse-gas emissions of gasoline. A Prius run on CTL would produce almost as much carbon dioxide as a gas-fueled Hummer. Even in the best scenario, in which expensive and as-yet unproven technologies are employed to capture and store the resulting CO2 when the coal is liquefied, CTL's greenhouse-gas tally would still be 4 percent higher than gasoline's.
Idaho Senator Larry Craig may have been largely abandoned by his party in the wake of the recent scandal involving alleged lewd conduct by the senior legislator in an airport men's room. One group, however, has rallied to his defense. The American Land Rights Association is threatening to boycott the Minneapolis airport in which Craig was arrested. What's the connection? According to the organization's press release:
By ambushing Senator Larry Craig, the Minneapolis St Paul Airport Police have effectively declared war on the West. They are primarily responsible for greatly weakening private property rights and Federal land use advocates in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and in Congress.
Whatever you may think about the case against Craig (and, really, who cares?), it's hard to imagine that the airport security (in Minneapolis, no less) harbors some secret vendetta against "the West." But then paranoid delusions have never been my strong suit.
Even my three-year-old knew something was unusual about the sky this morning. She pointed to the rising sun and asked me why it looked so strange. Strange indeed, it looked more like a Harvest Moon, so dim you could stare straight at it. The sky was all hazy and the light that filtered through was an eerie, diffuse orange. The sunset the night before had had a similar quality -- spectacular but wierd. I'm embarrassed to admit that I had to think about the answer for a little while. What was wrong with the sky? And then I remembered the fire. Actually two fires are shrouding Bay Area skies: The Moonlight Fire in Plumas County and the Lick Fire in Henry Coe State Park in the South Bay, both approaching 20,000 acres in size. As I made my morning joe, the radio filled us in: Unhealthy air was blanketing much of the Central Valley; firefighters were struggling to contain both fires; it would be another scorcher across most inland areas. Another day in California.
Just eight months ago, Congressman John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat and close friend of Detroit who heads up the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was expressing serious doubts about the consensus view on global warming. Now, he's proposing what is widely considered, (for all its clear advantages in curbing CO2 emissions), to be an instrument of political suicide -- namely, a carbon tax.
As David Leonhardt reports in the New York Times today, "no elected official of any significance," until now, has dared to suggest a carbon tax -- and certainly none of the leading presidential candidates. So what is going on, Leonhardt asks: Is Chairman Dingell proposing a carbon tax only because he knows it will go down in flames? Or is he a real convert who honestly believes, as he opined in the Washington Post recently, that a tax on carbon is the only way "to get the emissions reductions we need"? It's a tough call, but in that same Op-Ed piece, Dingell is careful to declare his independence from both parties on the issue:
I don't expect to overcome ideological Republican opposition to all forms of taxation, but if CEOs, economists, environmentalists and citizens speak out, we could effect real change. I don't pretend to speak for my party on this; I'm trying to speak to common sense and experience.
Leonhardt sounds cautiously optimistic that Dingell means what he says. In either case -- whether Dingell is sincere or engaged in some political ruse -- he notes that the Congressman "has a really good argument."
Felix, the second Category 5 hurricane of August, came in low to the body of Central America's Miskito Coast while, almost simultaneously, Henriette came in high along the Pacific Coast of Mexico to strike a blow to Baja California.
Only two weeks earlier, Hurricane Dean struck Mexico farther up the Caribbean coast. Never before in recorded history have two Category 5 Atlantic hurricanes made landfall in the same year. Only 31 Category 5 storms have been recorded in the Atlantic since record-keeping began in 1886, including 8 in the last five seasons.
According to hurricane center records dating to 1949, the only time two storms in the Atlantic and Pacific basins made landfall within the same 24-hour period was in 1992: Hurricane Lester made landfall in Baja California, Mexico, about 6 a.m. on Aug. 23, and Hurricane Andrew came ashore near Homestead, Florida, about 5 a.m. on Aug. 24.
Cartographers struggle to map the changing landscape. Lake Chad, above, is 95 percent smaller than it was in 1963. Meanwhile, the marshlands of Mesopotamia, drained by Saddam Hussein, are beginning to make a comeback. Maps have always required revision, of course, but according to the editors of The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, natural features are changing at a much faster rate than in the past.
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