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All Aboard the Ostrich Express

Dec 17, 2008
We can breathe easy. Global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Al Gore are all washed up. This thanks to a minority report from the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The ranking minority member of the committee is James M. Inhofe (R-OK), who has allegedly found 650 scientists around the world who are prepared to dispute the existence of global warming or any man-made crisis having to do with the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. He takes the whole silly notion to task in a 231-page report (including a reprint of a previous report), clumsily though comprehensively entitled U.S. Senate Minority Report: More Than 650 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims. Scientists Continue to Debunk “Consensus” in 2008.

Inhofe, who has characterized the Red Cross as a “bleeding heart,” and out-conservatived the Bush Administration, the Pentagon, and the American Petroleum Institute in blocking ratification of the International Convention on the Law of the Sea,1 has put our tax dollars to work in an attempt to head off cap-and-trade legislation which the Obama administration hopes to initiate early on in 2009.

We’ll update this posting with the expected refutations of Inhofe’s report in future days and weeks. In the meanwhile, the pertinent point, and one which does not bode well for the coming administration and the 111th Congress, is the enormous powers which may be wielded by a single senator and, more importantly, by the minority party in the Senate. We have seen thirty years or more of polarized partisan politics in our federal government, which has effectively removed what is intended to be the people’s voice from influence over our economic well-being. We are only beginning to suffer the consequences.

We fear a continuation of the polarization, already seen in the Senate Republicans’ stonewalling of the auto industry bailout. Should Obama, the Great Conciliator, not find a way to move sufficient numbers of Republicans into his camp, we could easily see a continuation of the status quo, which has wiped out trillions in retirement savings, forced millions into foreclosure, swelled enormously the ranks of the unemployed, and brought us to the brink of a global depression.
1 Enemies of Science: Senator James M. Inhofe, from ScienceWeek, undated (accessed December 13, 2008)
tags: Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

Global Swarming

Sep 18, 2008
If you wonder how a Sarah Palin can get away with expressing skepticism regarding humanity’s contribution to global warming, wonder no more. Environmental skepticism is big business, and it is entrenched in conservative “think” tanks (CTTs) across the country.

The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental skepticism, by Peter J. Jaques, Riley Dunlap, and Mark Freeman, published in the June 2008 issue of Environmental Politics,1 lays bare the extent of CTT collusion in attempting to gull the public into disbelieving the mounting scientific evidence. Indeed, as the evidence has mounted, the CTTs have become ever more strident in their attempts to howl it down.

The authors find that over 92 percent of English-language environmentally skeptical books published between 1992 and 2005 are linked to CTTs, and that 90 percent of CTTs involved with environmental issues espouse environmental skepticism. Five such books were published in the US in the 1970s, 13 in the 1980s, 56 in the 1990s, and we are on schedule to see over 70 published in the 2000s.

Some of the better-known CTTs are the Hoover Institution, the Cato Institute, and the Hudson Institute. We particularly enjoy the ones that choose for themselves names which would seem to indicate they are patriotic defenders of truth, and not shameless whores: American Council on Science and Health, National Center for Public Policy Research, and—our favorite—Heartland Institute (what craven curmudgeon would dare to diss the Heartland?).

And what is the antidote to all this very well-funded nonsense? Simple: The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the scrupulous science they have brought to their series of reports over the past 20 years. In one of the most recent,2 they conclude:

  • “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.”3
  • “Global GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004.”4
We shall know the truth and the truth shall set us free. Let’s just hope it arrives before a Sarah Palin presidency.
1 Environmental Politics, published by Routledge
2 Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Summary for Policymakers (.pdf)
3 Op. cit., p. 2
4 Op. cit., p. 5
tags: Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

Water, Water, Anywhere?

Aug 28, 2008
If I were King of the Forest, the first thing I would do is to make sure everyone had a clean drink of water when they wanted one. After water comes enough to eat and after that comes an education sufficient to provide each of us with the tools and the maturity to be all that we want to be.

But first comes water, a top priority for just about all life on the planet. And the fact that 2.5 billion people—almost half the population—do not have access to clean water is a disgrace to our species. Over a sixth of the world’s population still defecate in the open—the riskiest sanitation practice of all.

A million and a half children die every year from diarrhoeal diseases, directly attributable to a lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation.

In this International Year of Sanitation, two reports on the state of the world’s water make stark reading.

Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation: Special Focus on Sanitation (zipped .pdf)
This report, a joint effort of UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO), details global progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for drinking water and sanitation. Only 62 percent of the world’s population have access to a level of sanitation that ensures hygienic separation of human excreta from human contact. It looks now like we will miss the MDG sanitation goal for 2015 by over 700 million people.
Climate Change and Water (.pdf)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which brought us the painstakingly scientific assessment reports on global warming, produced this report on the relationship between climate change and freshwater resources. In brief, as we continue to drag our feet on mitigation of the former, our freshwater resources will continue to deterioriate, often in unpredictable ways. Precipitation is growing in higher latitudes and shrinking in areas surrounding the equator. In the former, heavier rainfalls will increase flooding and, in the latter, droughts will become more common. As the climate warms, glaciers melt, raising sea levels, and there is less seasonal runoff from shrinking snow caps at high elevations, threatening the fresh water supply for the more than one-sixth of the world population who live there. A disrupted global water system will impact many other areas, including energy, health, food security, and nature conservation. Water disputes, internal and international, which are already common, could easily turn into wars.
Water is the “stuff” of life. “River” and “Rivalry” share the same root, and geography teaches us that freedom and its most cherished attributes flourish best where clean water is plentiful.1

Water: First. Water: Clean. Water: Now.
1Water dispute, in Wikipedia (Accessed August 23, 2008)
tags: Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

Read WHO’s Press Release on Its Report

We Who Hesitate

Aug 16, 2008
Forget what it’s going to cost us to put the brakes on global warming. Let’s look at what it’s going to cost us not to. Since October 2007, the Center for Integrative Environmental Research (CIER) at the University of Maryland has been publishing national, regional, and, now, state-level studies that assess “The U.S. Economic Impacts of Climate Change and the Costs of Inaction.” The bottom line: Climate change will affect the entire country, although unevenly among various regions; its negative aspects will outweigh the positive ones; and it’s going to cost us, through increased public budgets, higher prices, reduced income, and job losses.

The past is prologue, and the reports base many of their estimates of coming hardships on the patterns that have already begun to develop, patterns involving demonstrably and alarmingly higher temperatures, increased wildfires, droughts, flooding, and other extreme weather conditions. CIER makes two overarching recommendations: Set a national policy to immediately decrease greenhouse gas emissions coupled with a plan to adapt to unavoidable impacts; and set up regional and sector-specific studies to guide climate policy and investments, then make those investments by setting free “the intellectual power of the nation’s universities and [research] labs.”

Then hope it’s not too late.
tags: Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

Download the Reports

Weather Report

Jul 03, 2008

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is an international organization created by Canada, Mexico and the United States under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC). The CEC was established to address regional environmental concerns, help prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts, and to promote the effective enforcement of environmental law. The Agreement complements the environmental provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
What? There are environmental provisions in NAFTA? All right, strike the cynicism.

CEC has produced a useful and timely (and beautiful) overview of 14 key concerns regarding the North American environment:
  1. Climate Change
  2. Ground-Level Ozone
  3. Particulate Matter
  4. Stratospheric Ozone
  5. Land Use
  6. Oceans and Coasts
  7. Invasive Species
  8. Species of Common Conservation Concern
  9. Acid Deposition
  10. Industrial Pollution and Waste
  11. Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxic Substances
  12. Water Quality
  13. Water Quantity and Use
  14. Shared Water Resources
It's a comprehensive, well-reasoned summary of the challenges which must be faced and conquered—now—if we are not to undergo substantive and significant degradation in our standard of living.
tags: Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

Download the Report

Mind Your Own Business

Jun 25, 2008
Global warming is here. And it's going to affect every aspect of our lives, indeed, it has already begun to do so. Droughts and cataclysmic weather disasters are becoming common occurrences in the news: the 2005 hurricane in New Orleans, the 2004 tsunami in Asia, the 2003 heat wave in France that killed almost 15,000 people.

Businesses, if they are able to acknowledge the potential for disruption created by climate change, face both risks and opportunities. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change has provided a wake-up call to businesses in its 40-page report, "Adapting to Climate Change: A Business Approach":

This paper outlines a sensible business approach to analyzing and adapting to the physical risks of climate change. It focuses on a critical first step in assessing these climate impacts: understanding the potential risks to business and the importance of taking action to mitigate those risks.
If you own your own business, read this report. If you don't, pass it along to the boss. Every business, as every individual, should begin to anticipate the challenges we face—from cataclysmic weather occurrences as well as from gradual and long-term changes in average temperature, water availability, the rising sea level, and fuel and power shortfalls (whether from natural resource exhaustion or increased regulation).

Today, we are on the fringes of real, disruptive hardship, and we aren't doing nearly enough to stop the inexorable march into disaster. Tomorrow, hundreds of millions face displacement, starvation, death by natural disaster, and internal and external violence. Please don't think for a minute that you or I aren't one of them.
tags: Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

Read the Report

Take a Deep Breath

Jun 21, 2008
I am never sure what official pronouncements from the executive branch of our federal government are worth in the best of times. In the worst of times, when that branch has sought to close the Environmental Protection Agency libraries serving EPA researchers and the general public1 and have brought political pressure to bear on scientists, forcing them to subvert their science and misrepresent their findings2, we must be even more skeptical.

Still, for the record, here’s the EPA’s “2008 Report on the Environment (Final Report).” Its main sections are Air, Water, Land, Human Health, and Ecological Condition. The report “compiles, in one place, the most reliable indicators currently available to answer 23 questions the EPA believes are of critical importance to its mission and the nation’s environment.”

The data regarding greenhouse gases only goes through 2005, making one wonder whether the EPA decided to stop collecting it then, what with the news being so bad and all. Neverthless, it reports that total emissions of CO2 increased by 20% from 1990 to 2005, and that total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2005 exceeded 7 billion metric tons (a metric ton is roughly equivalent to 2,200 pounds).
1EPA closure of libraries faulted for curbing access to key data [Source: Washington Post]
2EPA scientists cite political interference [Source: CNN]

tags: Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

Download the Report

Hats Off to Cap-and-Trade

Jun 20, 2008
As everyone knows, the U.S. has never ratified the Kyoto Protocol treaty. Nevertheless, most of the rest of the world takes a less blasé attitude toward the impending doom threatened by global warming. The European Union (EU), in particular, has led the way in taking responsibility for initiating steps to lower its greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU has just completed a three-year “trial” period for an Emissions Trading System (ETS), popularly known as a cap-and-trade system. A report released by The Pew Center on Global Climate Change entitled, “The European Union's Emissions Trading System in Perspective,” written by A. Danny Ellerman and Paul Joskow of MIT, contains the following good news:

Although there have been plenty of rough edges, a transparent and widely accepted price for tradable CO2 emission allowances emerged by January 1, 2005, a functioning market for allowances has developed quickly and effortlessly without any prodding by the Commission or member state governments, the cap-and-trade infrastructure of market institutions, registries, monitoring, reporting and verification is in place, and a significant segment of European industry is incorporating the price of CO2 emissions into their daily production decisions ... The initial challenge is simply to establish a system that will demonstrate the societal decision that GHG emissions shall have a price and to provide the signal of what constitutes appropriate short-term and long-term measures to limit GHG emissions. In this, the EU has done more with the ETS, despite all its faults, than any other nation or set of nations.
The report provides a good understanding of the complexities of a cap-and-trade system, as well as offering a blueprint for the U.S. and other johnny-come-latelies who are going to have to move with some dispatch once they realize the extent of the challenges we are facing.
tags: Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

Read the Report

In the Drink

Jun 03, 2008
In 2004, federal, state, local, tribal, and private interests put their heads together over the potential devastation facing the Great Lakes and, working together despite often conflicting goals, their Great Lakes Coalition devised "a comprehensive strategy for restoring the Great Lakes and ensuring their long-term viability."

Their plan is laid out in a report released in May, entitled "Great Lakes Restoration & The Threat of Global Warming." Fifteen hundred individuals and eight strategy teams developed plans, including cost estimates, that address all aspects of the problem, plans which will now go before Congress. The estimated bottom line? $26 billion, to gain an estimated $80 to $100 billion in long- and short-term economic benefits.

We honor this effort—just the sort of collaborative initiative we are advocating—and will monitor its future progress through Congress.
tags: Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

Go to Report (.pdf)

Heavy Weather

May 28, 2008
The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that “[t]otal emissions of the six main greenhouse gases in 2006 were equivalent to” slightly over 7 billion metric tons(!) of carbon dioxide. (A metric ton is about 2,200 pounds, or 10% heavier than a standard ton.) The good news? Thanks to a warm winter and a cool summer, emissions were down 1.1% from 2005.
tags: Greenhouse Gases and Global Warming

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