January 2013

Carbon Taxes Succeed January 2, 2013 : 7:58 PM

Ireland demonstrates the success of a carbon tax:

“Over the last three years, with its economy in tatters, Ireland embraced a novel strategy to help reduce its staggering deficit: charging households and businesses for the environmental damage they cause.”

“The government imposed taxes on most of the fossil fuels used by homes, offices, vehicles and farms, based on each fuel’s carbon dioxide emissions, a move that immediately drove up prices for oil, natural gas and kerosene. Household trash is weighed at the curb, and residents are billed for anything that is not being recycled.”

“The Irish now pay purchase taxes on new cars and yearly registration fees that rise steeply in proportion to the vehicle’s emissions.”

“Environmentally and economically, the new taxes have delivered results. Long one of Europe’s highest per-capita producers of greenhouse gases, with levels nearing those of the United States, Ireland has seen its emissions drop more than 15 percent since 2008.”

Source: The New York Times


Time to Confront Climate Change January 4, 2013 : 5:10 PM

A great New York Times editorial:

“Four years ago, in sharp contrast to the torpor and denial of the George W. Bush years, President Obama described climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing challenges and pledged an all-out effort to pass a cap-and-trade bill limiting greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Then came one roadblock after another. Congress did not pass a climate bill, cap-and-trade became a dirty word, and, with the 2012 elections approaching, climate change disappeared from the president’s vocabulary. He spoke about green jobs and clean energy but not about why these were necessary. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, he spoke only obliquely about the threat of rising seas and extreme weather events, both of which scientists have linked to a warming climate.”

“Since his re-election, Mr. Obama has agreed to foster a “conversation” on climate change and an “education process” about long-term steps to address it. He needs to do a good deal more than that. Intellectually, Mr. Obama grasps the problem as well as anyone. The question is whether he will bring the powers of the presidency to bear on the problem.”


"Outlaws Against the Laws of Physics" January 5, 2013 : 5:19 PM

The Wall Street Journal allows Bill McKibben to respond to a poorly reported story:

"Robert Bryce's Dec. 17 op-ed ("Harvard Needs Remedial Energy Math") attacking campus efforts to have universities divest themselves of holdings in fossil-fuel companies is interesting for what it omits: even the slightest attempt to rebut the mathematical logic that shows fossil-fuel companies have become outlaws against the laws of physics. Here are the numbers: In order to prevent the two-degree Celsius rise in temperature that even the most conservative governments on earth have committed to avoiding, scientists tell us we can burn enough coal and oil and gas to produce 565 gigatons of CO2. Unfortunately, the planet's fossil-fuel companies, and the countries that operate like fossil-fuel companies (think Venezuela and Kuwait), have five times that much in their reserves. It's what their share prices are based on; they obviously plan to burn it; indeed, they spend hundreds of millions of dollars daily looking for more. If their business plan is carried out, the planet tanks."


More Green Jobs January 7, 2013 : 1:42 PM

In 2012 jobs in the solar industry grew at a record pace:

“On November 14th, 2012, The Solar Foundation released its third annual National Solar Jobs Census report, which found that the U.S. solar industry currently employs 119,016 Americans. This figure represents the addition of 13,872 new solar workers and a 13.2 percent employment growth rate over the past 12 months. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the overall economy grew at a rate of 2.3 percent during the same period, signifying that 1 in 230 jobs created nationally over the last year were created in the solar industry.”

Source: The Solar Foundation


The Coming Storm January 8, 2013 : 10:47 AM

2012 was another damaging year for extreme weather: Superstorm Sandy, all-time high temperature records, and a stifling drought that encompassed more than 60% of our country. Disturbingly, records and storms like these are becoming much more common and much more severe. As global temperatures increase, storms are intensifying, bringing with them fierce winds and heavy downpours resulting in floods. Scientists now tell us that the storms will become even stronger and even more frequent in coming decades, overwhelming our infrastructure and threatening population centers.

On Sunday night, CNN aired an important segment on the consequences of the climate crisis called "The Coming Storm." The hour-long special highlighted the increasing costs of these strengthening weather events to our infrastructure. For example, post-Katrina, New Orleans spent $14.5 billion‹mostly in federal funds to build a storm surge "fortress" and other similar adaptation measures around the city. To build a similar "fortress" around New York City would cost an additional $20 billion.

In a time when our government is paralyzed by fiscal shortages, can we afford to continue pursuing a strategy of only rebuilding our cities after each major weather event while ignoring the underlying causes of these worsening events? While we must improve our coastal cities¹ protection and infrastructure, our perilous position demands that we address the root cause of the problem: manmade global warming pollution. If we fail to do so, we would simply force future generations to foot the bill for our irresponsible pollution of Earth's atmosphere, and saddle them with the growing risk that mitigation options available to us now will disappear as the concentrations of global warming pollution continue to build up in the earth's atmosphere.

Simply adapting to our changing climate will not suffice. As we've seen, it is far too expensive and dangerous. The whole of human history has developed within a narrow band of climate conditions; if we do not act to reduce our dependency on dirty fossil fuels, we risk further destabilizing an already volatile climate. I applaud CNN for its special, but I must add that it is more than a little curious that nowhere in the hour was there any mention of what we can do to address the causes of global warming, while we struggle to pay for recovery efforts as the problem grows steadily more dangerous.

Luckily, there are solutions at hand. The last decade has seen tremendous advances in renewable energy systems. Prices are falling rapidly for solar and wind technologies while, all across the globe, investments in sustainable technologies are increasing. In 2010, investments in renewable energy exceeded those of fossil fuels for the first time ever. By 2015, renewables will be the second largest source of power generation worldwide.

We have no excuse for inaction. The longer we remain tethered to dirty fossil fuels, the more expensive they become ­ both in terms of energy cost and subsequent damage brought on by their emissions -- and the more dirty weather is inflicted on us. Conversely, the more renewable energy we invest in, the cheaper it becomes and the less risk we incur.

The choice is simple. We must act now.


Hottest Year on Record January 8, 2013 : 3:42 PM

We've been anticipating the announcement for several months, but today it was confirmed, 2012 was the hottest year on record for the contiguous United States. More from the Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin:

"Last year was the hottest on record for the continental United States, shattering the previous mark set in 1998 by a wide margin, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday."

"The average temperature was 55.3 degrees, 1 degree above the previous record and 3.2 degrees more than the 20th-century average. Temperatures were above normal in every month between June 2011 and September 2012, a 16-month stretch that hasn’t occurred since the government began keeping such records in 1895."

"Federal scientists said that the data were compelling evidence that climate change is affecting weather in the United States and suggest that the nation’s weather is likely to be hotter, drier and potentially more extreme than it would have been without the warmer temperatures."

"Last year’s record temperature is “clearly symptomatic of a changing climate,” said Thomas R. Karl , who directs NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. Americans can now see the sustained warmth over the course of their own lifetimes — “something we haven’t seen before.” He added, “That doesn’t mean every season and every year is going to be breaking all-time records, but you’re going to see this with increasing frequency.”

Source: Washington Post


Australia January 10, 2013 : 2:47 PM

Australia is experiencing such a fierce heatwave that experts had to create a new color code for their forecast maps. If their predictions are correct, some areas of Australia could hit an all-time record high of 125°F sometime in the next week. This unprecedented heat is bringing back frightening memories for Australians who experienced calamitous heat and fires in 2009. Link


Soggy year for the UK January 11, 2013 : 6:57 PM

The climate crisis is changing rainfall patterns around the world, making wet areas wetter, and dry areas drier. The UK felt the consequences of this change in 2012. From The Guardian:

"2012 was the second wettest year on record in the UK and the wettest ever in England, the Met Office announced on Thursday. The downpours that caused more than 8,000 homes and businesses to suffer floodin led to a total of 1,330.7mm of rain for the year, just 6.6mm short of the wettest UK year recorded in 2000 (1337.3mm). Analysis by the Met Office also suggests that the UK may be getting increasingly wetter as climate change causes warmer air to carry more water. Days of extreme rainfall – downpours expected once every 100 days – occurred every 70 days in 2012."


Playing with Fire January 12, 2013 : 9:42 AM

Shell maintains that its Arctic drilling operation is safe. What do you think? AP reports:

"There's no indication of a fuel leak from a petroleum drilling ship that ran aground on a remote Alaska island, the Coast Guard says of a maritime accident that has refueled debate over oil exploration in the U.S. Arctic Ocean."

"The Royal Dutch Shell PLC ship was being towed to a Pacific Northwest shipyard for maintenance when it went aground during a vicious storm New Year's Eve."

"Environmentalists for years have said conditions are too harsh and the stakes too high to allow industrial development in the Arctic, where drilling sites are 1,000 miles or more from the closest Coast Guard base."

"For oil giant Shell, which leads the way in drilling in the frontier waters of the U.S Arctic, a spokesman said the grounding will be a learning experience in the company's yearslong effort to draw oil from beneath the ocean floor, which it maintains it can do safely. Though no wells exist there yet, Shell says it has invested billions of dollars gearing up for drilling in the Beaufort and the Chukchi seas, off Alaska's north and northwest coast."


2012: A Year For the Record Books January 12, 2013 : 7:33 PM

As most of you probably know, 2012 has been the warmest calendar year on record for the continental U.S. according to NCDC data going back to 1895. The final actual average temperature for the year has yet to be tallied but as of Dec. 1st stood at 57.06°F (13.92°C), well above the previous record for the same time period (first 11 months of the year) of 56.05°F (13.36°C) set in 1934. What was truly astonishing, however, was the ratio of heat records versus cold records that was established over the course of the year: 362 all-time record high temps, zero record lows. Read more at Weather Underground.


Investigate Coal January 13, 2013 : 9:05 PM

A bipartisan call to investigate the coal industry:

"Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have called on Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to investigate if U.S. taxpayers are getting shortchanged by companies mining coal from public lands and exporting the resource to other countries.
That’s according to a report from Reuters today."

"Senator Wyden is Chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Senator Murkowski is the ranking member."

"Wyden and Murkowski said they were concerned that coal companies are not paying high enough royalties on coal mined on public lands. According to another Reuters article in December, companies are valuing coal at lower domestic prices rather than higher international prices so they “can dodge the larger royalty payout when mining federal land."

Source: Climate Progress


Shirking Responsibility January 14, 2013 : 5:41 PM

In a recent interview, Chevron's CEO claims that the climate crisis is not the company's responsibility. From the AP:

"AP: Do fossil fuel producers bear the responsibility for curbing greenhouse gas emissions?"

"WATSON: We have the responsibility to deliver our energy in an environmentally sound fashion. The greatest advancements in living standards in recorded history have taken place in the modern hydrocarbon era. I don't think that's coincidental. Our leaders have to make a decision. Do they want that to continue or do they have a better solution for us? So it's not my call."

Source: AP


The Greenest Office in the World January 15, 2013 : 8:59 PM

While the inaction of our government continues, the design industry continues to push the boundaries of clean technology. Now, what is being described as “the greenest office ever” is opening in Seattle:

"The most unique feature of the Bullitt Center is that it’s trying to do everything simultaneously," says Bullitt Foundation President Denis Hayes. "Everything" includes 100% onsite energy use from solar panels, all water provided by harvested rainwater, natural lighting, indoor composting toilets, a system of geothermal wells for heating, and a wood-framed structure (made out of FSC-certified wood). These are all positive things for the Bullitt Center and its future inhabitants--they may even meet the goals of the ultra-tough Living Building Challenge--but they could also change the way buildings are designed elsewhere.”

Source: FastCoExist.com


Worrisome Change to the New York Times' Ability to Cover Climate January 16, 2013 : 8:18 PM

This past week, the New York Times announced the closure of their environmental desk. Along with many, I am sorry to see this team disbanded; over the last several years they have consistently provided high-quality reporting on critical environmental issues, especially the climate crisis. Newspapers generally are under economic stress, and unfortunately, the Times is also profoundly affected by the tectonic shifts in the media landscape. Its role in informing U.S. policy debates, however, is unique.

While I am sad to see this dedicated desk come to an end, I hope that its tremendous reporters can, as the newspaper’s leadership promised, continue their crucial work and can help influence the general newsroom by incorporating important environmental perspectives throughout the paper.


36 Years January 17, 2013 : 9:06 PM

NOAA's National Climatic Data Center just released their State of the Climate Report for 2012. The results are troubling. According to their data, our planet hasn't experienced a year with below average temperatures since 1976—the year I was first elected to Congress and Jimmy Carter won the Presidential election. Thirty-six years.


Top Global Risks January 18, 2013 : 6:29 PM

Deniers continue to be isolated – now 1,000 of the world’s leading experts believe the climate crisis is among the top global risks. The question is: when will this translate into the political will needed for action?

“Climate change ranked among the top global risks in the annual World Economic Forum survey of more than 1,000 experts released Tuesday.”

“The group, most associated with its yearly conference in Davos, Switzerland, said leaving environmental issues unaddressed compounded with global economic stress could handcuff policymakers.”

“A sudden and massive collapse on one front is certain to doom the other’s chance of developing an effective, long-term solution,” the report said of the interplay between the global environment and economy."

Source: The Hill


Investors Speak With Their Wallets January 19, 2013 : 6:01 PM

Over the past two weeks, both Google and one of Warren Buffet's companies have made major forays into renewable investments.

Warren Buffet (from the LA Times):

“Solar stocks were burning up Thursday, led by a 41% share price boom for SunPower, which this week said it sold a pair of massive Southern California solar power plants to a Warren Buffett company.”

“San Jose-based SunPower said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it sold two Antelope Valley photovoltaic projects to MidAmerican Solar, a subsidiary of MidAmerican Energy Holdings, itself owned by Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway. The 579-megawatt pair is still under development.”

“The projects, located in Kern and Los Angeles counties, will together form the largest permitted solar photovoltaic power development in the world, according to SunPower.”

Google (from the San Francisco Chronicle):

“Google has gone far afield again to invest in a renewable energy project, this time putting $200 million into a Texas Panhandle wind farm, the Internet search giant said Wednesday.”

“The Spinning Spur Wind Project, about 35 miles from Amarillo, has 70 Siemens wind turbines, each with a 2.3 megawatt capacity.”

“The 161 megawatt farm, built by EDF Renewable Energy, began operating in December.”

"We look for projects like Spinning Spur because, in addition to creating more renewable energy and strengthening the local economy, they also make for smart investments: They offer attractive returns relative to the risks and allow us to invest in a broad range of assets," Google said on its blog."


Extreme Weather Around the World January 20, 2013 : 7:20 PM

Extreme weather is the new norm:

“Around the world, extreme has become the new commonplace.

Especially lately. China is enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful heat spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing — minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and counting — that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of Yakutsk.”

“Bush fires are raging across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding in September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the Middle East. And in the United States, scientists confirmed this week what people could have figured out simply by going outside: last year was the hottest since records began.”

“Each year we have extreme weather, but it’s unusual to have so many extreme events around the world at once," said Omar Baddour, chief of the data management applications division at the World Meteorological Organization, in Geneva."

Source: The New York Times


Inaugural address January 21, 2013 : 2:32 PM

In his second Inaugural address today, President Obama spoke powerfully and eloquently about the critical importance of solving the climate crisis. His forceful commitment to take action will rekindle the hopes of so many that we are at long last approaching the political tipping point, beyond which we will finally start transforming our economy to sharply reduce global warming pollution and safeguard the future.

Here is the key section of an inspiring speech:

"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.

"The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries ­ we must claim its promise.

"That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure ­ our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks."


Drilling in the Arctic is a Mistake January 24, 2013 : 1:00 PM

Two of President Obama’s former top aides have come out against drilling for oil in the Arctic. Previously, John Podesta and Carol Browner had supported exploratory drilling in the region, but now, “it seems this optimism was misplaced.” More from their op-ed, published in Bloomberg:

“We were open to offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic provided oil companies and the government could impose adequate safeguards, ensure sufficient response capacity and develop a deeper understanding of how oil behaves in ice and freezing water. Now, following a series of mishaps and errors, as well as overwhelming weather conditions, it has become clear that there is no safe and responsible way to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean… The Obama administration should hit the pause button on Arctic offshore drilling with relatively little damage done.”


The Future January 25, 2013 : 1:21 PM

Almost a decade ago, someone asked me a question, “what are the drivers of global change?” I’ve spent a lot of time over the last eight years thinking about it, and have dedicated much of the last two years to researching, writing and refining my conclusions. The result is my new book, “The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change.” The book will be released on January 29th.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be introducing some of the ideas from my book on my Twitter feed. I hope you find them as interesting and informative as I do. These tweets will serve as a primer for some of the major concepts presented in the book. If you’re interested in learning more, you can find details on this webpage: http://bit.ly/XFlG04

We find ourselves in a period of rapid, simultaneous and exponential change, unlike anything the world has ever seen before. Trying to make sense of our new reality is a daunting challenge. The future holds both great opportunities to be taken advantage of and profound challenges to address. More so than ever before, humanity needs to unite around the principles of sustainability and democracy. We all have an important role to play in reclaiming control of our destiny.

While mapping the future is a risky undertaking, perhaps the only thing riskier is doing nothing.


No More Denying January 26, 2013 : 12:58 PM

In April, Berkley scientist and former climate denier Richard Muller wrote in The New York Times: (From Climate Progress)

“Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.”

His study, which in part was funded by the Koch Brothers, has finally been published and Muller now suggests:

“Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases. These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming.”

This of course will not quiet most deniers, whose work is primarily funded by the fossil fuel industry.


It Gets Worse January 27, 2013 : 3:15 PM

The food crisis, caused in part by the climate crisis will have devastating consequences:

“The world's food crisis, where 1 billion people are already going hungry and a further 2 billion people will be affected by 2050, is set to worsen as increasing heatwaves reverse the rising crop yields seen over the last 50 years, according to new research.”

“Severe heatwaves, such as those currently seen in Australia, are expected to become many times more likely in coming decades due to climate change. Extreme heat led to 2012 becoming the hottest year in the US on record and the worst corn crop in two decades.”

“New research, which used corn growing in France as an example, predicts losses of up to 12% for maize yields in the next 20 years. A second, longer-term study published on Sunday indicates that, without action against climate change, wheat and soybean harvests will fall by up to 30% by 2050 as the world warms.”

Source: The Guardian


More Secret Koch Anti-climate Funding January 29, 2013 : 9:05 PM

No surprise here. The Koch brothers are once again revealed as the funding source behind a secret anti-climate group:

"A secretive funding organization in the United States that guarantees anonymity for its billionaire donors has emerged as a major operator in the climate "counter movement" to undermine the science of global warming, The Independent has learnt."

"The Donors Trust, along with its sister group Donors Capital Fund, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is funnelling millions of dollars into the effort to cast doubt on climate change without revealing the identities of its wealthy backers or that they have links to the fossil fuel industry."

"However, an audit trail reveals that Donors is being indirectly supported by the American billionaire Charles Koch who, with his brother David, jointly owns a majority stake in Koch Industries, a large oil, gas and chemicals conglomerate based in Kansas."

Source: The Independent