August 2010

Hidden Disaster August 1, 2010 : 4:16 PM

An incredible story that hasn't gotten as much attention as it should:

"Three blistering fires are blazing through Wyoming's scenic Powder River Basin, but firefighters aren't paying any attention. Other than a faint hint of acrid odors and a single ribbon of smoke rising from a tiny crack beyond the nearby Tongue River, a long look across the region's serene grassland shows no sign of trouble."

"That's what makes the three infernos, and the toxins they spew, so sinister. Their flames are concealed deep underground, in coal seams and oxygen-rich fissures, which makes containment near impossible. Shielded from fire hoses and aerial assaults, the flames are chewing through coal seams 20 feet thick, spanning 22 acres. They're also belching greenhouse gases and contaminants, contributing to an out-of-sight, out-of-mind environmental hazard that extends far beyond Wyoming's borders. "Every coal basin in the world has fires sending up organic compounds that are not good for you," says Mark Engle, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey who studies the Powder River Basin, "but unless you live close to them you probably never see them.""


Malaysia's Opposition on Trial August 4, 2010 : 11:15 AM

Today, Paul Wolfowitz and I have an op ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled Malaysia’s Opposition on Trial. I urge you to read the entire article here:

We come from opposite sides of the political spectrum and disagree about a great many things. However, one issue that brings us together is the case of Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia who is now leader of the political opposition in that country.

Mr. Anwar has been charged under very dubious circumstances with sodomy, a criminal offense under Malaysian law. If convicted, he faces a possible 20-year sentence—effectively life in prison for a man of 63. His trial, scheduled to resume next week, threatens not just Mr. Anwar but all those in Malaysia who have struggled for a freer and more democratic nation. It is also important for the rest of the world, because it casts a troubling shadow over the future of a nation that should be a model for other Muslim countries.

Our views of Anwar Ibrahim have been formed completely independently of each other. We do not always agree with his views on foreign policy, but we do agree that as a political leader, statesman and intellectual, Mr. Anwar possesses qualities that encourage hope for the future. These qualities include lucidity and openness to debate and engagement; commitment to principles of accountability and good governance; and a serious concern for the future of his country and the world—not to mention his extraordinary courage in standing up for what he believes. We are convinced that he is committed to the values of pluralism, tolerance and freedom that are needed for Malaysia to flourish.

In the end, what matters is not our opinion of Mr. Anwar's character, but the opinion of his fellow countrymen. Malaysians should decide for themselves, through an open electoral process, who they wish to lead them. They should not be deprived of that opportunity by an abuse of judicial power.

This is the second time that Mr. Anwar has been subjected to a politically‑motivated trial on similar charges. The first time was in 1998, when as deputy prime minister and finance minister he dared to mount a challenge to then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed. Mr. Anwar was jailed, beaten severely, and condemned to years of solitary confinement after a trial that was a travesty of justice. That is not just our conclusion. It is the conclusion of the International Commission of Jurists, the International Bar Association, and a number of international human-rights organizations. It was also the conclusion of Malaysia's highest court, which overturned the sodomy conviction in 2004, after Mr. Mahathir was no longer prime minister.

Mr. Anwar now leads the coalition of Malaysia's three opposition parties, which won more than a third of the seats in the parliamentary elections of March 2008. This was the best showing that the opposition had ever managed against the governing coalition led by the United Malays National Organization, the party that has ruled the country for the past 53 years.

Three months after the election, Mr. Anwar threatened to call for a vote of no confidence in Parliament and take over the government. He was then arrested and charged again with sodomy. Like the charges 10 years earlier, the timing of these new charges carries the strong odor of political manipulation. And, if anything, the case against Mr. Anwar this time is even less credible and the violations of due process are even more egregious.

While Anwar Ibrahim is on trial before the state, the state is on trial before its people and the world. If he were to be convicted, the whole of Malaysia's political life and its standing in the world would be damaged. And for what gain? The timing of the trial has led many observers to the conclusion that the objective is to stem the ruling party's loss of popular support. Public opinion polls indicate that the great majority of Malaysians see the charges against Mr. Anwar as politically motivated. In any event, as Mr. Anwar himself would be the first to say, his imprisonment would not extinguish his cause. On the contrary, the movement he began a decade ago will continue to spread.

This is a pivotal moment in Malaysia's history with consequences that are also meaningful on a global scale. With a population of nearly 30 million, Malaysia is not a small country. But it is also significant as an example of a Muslim-majority country making its way in the world. It has been able, over the first half-century of its independence, to demonstrate that it is possible to achieve economic growth while sustaining a degree of harmony among its religiously and ethnically diverse population.

In recent years, however, the country has been sliding backwards, with increasing exploitation of religious and ethnic differences for political purposes. The trial and conviction of Mr. Anwar would intensify these problems by destroying the confidence of millions of Malaysians in the possibility of justice under the law.

We urge our own government to make clear the importance the U.S. attaches to the role of the law in sustaining a political process in which justice and freedom are natural allies. We know from experience that sensitive issues of this kind are often best pursued quietly, government to government. But time is running out. A moment of truth is approaching.

Two days ago, a judge postponed Mr. Anwar's trial in order to deal with charges of an improper relationship between a female prosecutor and Mr. Anwar's accuser. This is an opportunity. Malaysia's system of governance has the capacity to do the right thing—not only for Anwar Ibrahim, but for the millions of Malaysian citizens who look to him as a spokesman for their aspirations. We urge those in the Malaysian government who will decide this matter to act with wisdom.


Warming is Real. Now What? August 5, 2010 : 5:20 PM

An excellent article in the New York Times:

“Even as Democrats abandoned efforts late last month to advance a major climate change bill through the Senate, books about global warming continue to pour forth. Two of the more interesting ones do not waste time rearguing debates over the science (in 2007 a United Nations panel, synthesizing the work of hundreds of climatologists from around the world, called evidence for global warming “unequivocal”), but instead take as a starting point the clear and present dangers posed by the greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels.”

““The Climate War,” by Eric Pooley — deputy editor of Bloomberg BusinessWeek and former managing editor of Fortune — looks at the hotly contested politics of global warming, especially as it’s been played out in Washington over the last three years. “The Weather of the Future,” by Heidi Cullen — a senior research scientist with Climate Central, a nonprofit research organization — offers a scorching vision of what life might be like in the warmer world that is already on its way.”


Spill In China August 7, 2010 : 5:45 PM

Oil spills and the devastation they bring are the inevitable consequence of our reliance on carbon-based energy. While the spill in the Gulf is still dominating headlines, another environmental catastrophe has taken place in China:

“Five days ago, in the northeastern port city of Dalian, China, two oil pipelines exploded, sending flames hundreds of feet into the air and burning for over 15 hours, destroying several structures - the cause of the explosion is under investigation. The damaged pipes released thousands of gallons of oil, which flowed into the nearby harbor and the Yellow Sea. The total amount of oil spilled is still not clear, though China Central Television earlier reported an estimate of 1,500 tons (400,000 gallons), as compared to the estimated 94 - 184 million gallons in the BP oil spill off the Louisiana coast. The oil slick has now grown to at least 430 square kilometers (165 sq mi), forcing beaches and port facilities to close while government workers and local fishermen work to contain and clean up the spill.”

The Boston Globe has posted some incredible pictures of the spill.


US: Wrong Way on Renewables August 9, 2010 : 4:28 PM

As Reuters reported today, China is unveiling a $739 billion “new energy plan” which includes wind, solar and biomass as well as smart grid and distributed energy.

At the same time, Politico’s Morning Energy reported, the House of Representatives is returning this week to pass a bill that will slash $1.5 billion in renewable energy loan guarantees to help fund FMAP, a bill that will avert teacher layoffs and pay for Medicaid. Although this is an important measure, this $1.5 billion dollar cut is on top of the $2 billion dollars taken out of the renewables fund to pay for an extension to the Cash for Clunkers program. Taken together this is more than one-half of the $6 billion dollars allocated to the Energy Department for the Renewables/Transmission Loan Guarantee Program under the Recovery Act.

These rescissions put into jeopardy the green jobs that the administration have touted as part of our clean energy future and put us further behind the rest of the world.


Inspiring Call with Activists August 11, 2010 : 12:16 PM

Last night, I spoke with 10,000 activists around the country who are part of the Alliance for Climate Protection’s Repower America campaign. We had a chance to talk about the prospects for legislation this year and the challenges we have ahead. It has been a summer of unprecedented events: the terrible fires in Russia, the calving of ice off of Greenland several times the size of Manhattan, flooding and extreme downpours in many locations around the world--from my hometown, Nashville, to faraway places like Pakistan. Unprecedented temperatures have brought new all-time record highs to 17 countries during the first 7 months of 2010. Scientists have noted that these events are consistent with what we can expect from a warmer world.

We have so many allies, from state and local governments that have already begun to cut emissions of global warming pollution to companies that are developing the technologies that will solve the climate crisis. Together, we can Repower America.


Update from Speaker Pelosi on Renewable Energy Funding August 11, 2010 : 4:45 PM

Earlier this week, I spoke out about the $3.5 billion that has been taken away from the renewable energy and transmission loan-guarantee program. Speaker Pelosi, who is a true leader on these issues, put out a statement yesterday through her spokesperson which said, “The Speaker has been assured by the Obama Administration that it will work to restore these funds so that loans planned for later this year can move forward.”


100 Square Miles August 13, 2010 : 7:11 PM

A giant iceberg has broken off from Greenland:

“A giant ice island has broken off the Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland.”

“A University of Delaware researcher says the floating ice sheet covers 100 square miles – more than four times the size of New York's Manhattan Island.”

“Andreas Muenchow, who is studying the Nares Strait between Greenland and Canada, said the ice sheet broke off early Thursday. He says the new ice island was discovered by Trudy Wohlleben of the Canadian Ice Service.”

“Not since 1962 has such a large chunk of ice calved in the Arctic, but researchers have noticed cracks in recent months in the floating tongue of the glacier.”

As politicians in Washington continue to delay action, more and more events like this will occur with catastrophic consequences for our planet.


Clean vs. Dirty Energy Subsidies August 14, 2010 : 5:41 PM

The problem with our energy policy summed up very succinctly:

“The financial consultancy, based in London, estimated that around $45 billion or so was doled out in subsidies for renewable energy sources like wind and solar power in 2009, noting how this compares to the most recent International Energy Agency estimate of global subsidies propping up fossil fuels. For 2008, the agency reported last month, such supports totaled around $557 billion — which was a big jump from the $342 billion in 2007. The I.E.A. concluded that “phasing out such subsidies would send a price signal to create incentive for more efficient use.””

It is insane that we're subsidizing fuels that pollute our air, harm our planet and destabilize our security.


The Movement We Need August 17, 2010 : 3:54 PM

Around the world, when politicians fail to act to solve the climate crisis, people are taking action:

“Tens of thousands of protesters - and a few skeptics - have taken to the streets across Australia to urge the major political parties to take action on climate change.”

“Both Labor and the coalition have failed to take decisive action to cut Australia's pollution levels in the run-up to the federal election, Walk Against Warming rallies in Australia's capital cities heard on Sunday.”

It is my hope we see activism like this here in the United States. A special thanks goes out to those I trained in Australia to give my slide show. They played a major role in the events:

“In Sydney, Al Gore's Climate Project presenter, Nell Schofield, attracted huge cheers when she said Australia's lack of political action on climate change was "not only embarrassing, it is morally reprehensible".


The Result of Inaction August 18, 2010 : 2:37 PM

The failure of Congress to act is already costing our nation billions of dollars:

“Alternative energy investment prospects have shriveled in the United States after the U.S. Senate was unable to break a deadlock over tackling global warming, a Deutsche Bank official said.”

"You just throw your hands up and say ... we're going to take our money elsewhere," said Kevin Parker in an interview with Reuters.”

“Parker, who is global head of the Frankfurt-based bank's Deutsche Asset Management Division, oversees nearly $700 billion in funds that devote $6 billion to $7 billion to climate change products.”


Prop 23: Killing California Job Growth August 19, 2010 : 6:27 PM

From Grist:

"Proposition 23 will kill markets and the single largest source of job growth in California in the last two years," declared Vinod Khosla, a leading green tech investor, referring to the clean energy economy. "Not only that, it'll kill investment in the long term for creating the next 10 Googles."

“Chipped in Weihl: "For California, we can either lead in this and invest in it and participate in this huge growth sector or cede that to China, India, and other places. It would be crazy for us to sit back and let others take that opportunity."

“Underwritten by Texas oil companies Tesoro and Valero and other out-of-state fossil fuel corporations, Prop 23 would suspend California's global warming law -- popularly known as AB 32, as in Assembly Bill 32 -- until the unemployment rate drops to 5.5 percent for four consecutive quarters. (In other words, never.) AB 32 requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, which most likely would be accomplished through a cap-and-trade market.”


David and Charles Koch August 24, 2010 : 4:03 PM

Today in The New Yorker Jane Mayer has a profile of the Koch brothers who have given more than $100 million dollars to right wing causes, including those that seek to mislead the public about the scientific consensus about global warming. As Mayer reports, “Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests…”

I would encourage you to read the entire article.


Race Around the World August 25, 2010 : 5:04 PM

A fascinating race began yesterday in Geneva:

“Drivers in Geneva on Monday set off for a round-the-world rally in solar-powered vehicles to showcase the potential of electric vehicles.”

“The challenge is see whether the four teams can complete the 80-day trip emissions-free, according to Zero Race organizer Louis Palmer, who drove his own "solar taxi" through 38 countries over 18 months.”

“The typical look of a solar car is more like that of a spaceship than of a sedan, being only a few feet off the ground, oval-shaped, and covered with solar cells. The two-passenger vehicles in the Zero Race are more familiar, because they are electric vehicles powered by solar and wind power, according to the race organizers.”


Another Climate Denial Myth Answered August 26, 2010 : 5:57 PM

Climate deniers often cite the expanding sea ice in the Southern Ocean as evidence that the climate crisis is not occurring. It turns out the opposite is true:

“Unlike the Arctic, where much of the sea ice is — at least for now — year-round, the Southern Ocean’s sea ice is thin and seasonal. And during the latter half of the 20th century, its winter surface area has increased. Climatologists say the expansion doesn’t change long-term projections of Antarctic melt, but skeptics have used it to attack their forecasts.”

“Ice is expanding in much of Antarctica, contrary to the widespread public belief that global warming is melting the continental ice cap,” read one Fox News story on the expansion.”

“Indeed, global warming appears to have been protective. By combining temperature and precipitation records with simulations of Southern Ocean climate, Curry and Liu linked the 20th-century warming of .36 degrees Fahrenheit in the Southern Ocean’s upper waters to increased regional snowfall. The finding makes intuitive sense: Rising temperatures increase the amount of moisture in the air, which eventually becomes snow. And for the last few decades, that snow kept surface waters from warming even more, added bulk to sea ice, and reflected sunlight.”

“But as the Antarctic continues to warm, Curry and Liu’s models show snow becoming rain (see image below), even as total precipitation rises (see image above). By the century’s end, they predict snowfall retreating to the Antarctic continent’s edge. The Southern Ocean at large will be rainy. Sea ice will contract. Continental ice will continue to melt.”