Posted by: Paul Scott at 2:06PM PST on December 22, 2009
Winter solstice has always been special to me given it's the shortest day of the year. Even with the short hours, our 3 kW PV system will generate many clean kilowatt hours today, and every day from now till June's summer solstice, we'll generate more as the sun reaches higher in the sky and more photons slam into the panels at 300,000 kilometers per second knocking electrons free from the silicon so they can travel through the copper wires and do the work we need done.
But in addition to the extreme astronomical position, winter solstice just happened to be the day that my wife Zan and I took possession of our EV. Our planet has traveled around the sun 7 times since 2002 and we've driven our EV more than 77,000 miles on the solar-generated kilowatt hours made on our roof. There's a bit of a back story here that many of you on my list might find interesting. I asked Zan to help write this post, given her part in making it all happen.
She said: Seven years ago today Paul and I took delivery of our Toyota RAV4 EV and everything changed.
Was Copenhagen a breakdown or a breakthrough? Watch Thomas Friedman on Maddow's show. Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin also has a wrap up:
To a large extent, clear answers will only come in hindsight, largely because much of what is being attempted has never been tried before, at least on the scale of the global energy system and climate.
It took 17 years to move from the 1992 Earth Summit, which produced the first climate treaty and a pledge to avoid dangerous human-driven climate change, to Copenhagen, where countries have essentially defined the word dangerous –- with a pledged temperature ceiling — and laid out a suite of still-incomplete plans for avoiding that threshold.
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:08AM PST on December 22, 2009
Copenhagen is over, but it's still buzzing. The Copenhagen group here on Climate Crossroads -- with nearly 600 members -- will continue to post blog items, news, and video.
The Sierra Club delegation that was there did an excellent job using the group as its central place to keep us all informed. Here's a list of five of the best items that were posted during the historic climate summit:
5. Sierra Club Voices. In addition to Carl Pope's blog posts from Copenhagen, the "Voices" video series was a compelling set of testimonials from the Sierra Student Coalition and Club staff and volunteers. To watch them, click here, here, here, and here. Here's one:
4. Inside the Bella Center. The conference center was the focus of attention throughout the negotiations process. The Sierra Club's Josh Dorner was able to provide video and give us an inside look at activity from within the facility.
3. Young activists. There's no denying that young people had a huge presence at Copenhagen. Besides, they have the biggest stake in all this. Everyone seemed to have opinions on this video of activists taking over a climate-denier's speech. But that didn't overshadow the enthusiasm and passion shown by younger attendees of the summit. The Sierra Student Coalition wrote some memorable blog posts. And this speech did an exceptional job at articulating the youth's voice.
2. Tuvalu! Tuvalu -- a place that most Americans probably have never heard of before -- stole the Copenhagen spotlight and left a huge impression on the world. Members of the Sierra Student Coalition wrote about a Tuvalu rally. And here's a video of the Tuvalu delegation that will give you chills.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:09AM PST on December 22, 2009
Dovekins is a band out of Colorado -- and if you watch some of these videos, you'll notice that it's not your typical group of young musicians. They are a self-described "psychedelic, western swing, bluegrass" band with great harmonics and an array of instruments, like the clarinet, the banjo, the trombone, and the kazoo.
Dovekins has offered its song "Walk So High" here on Climate Crossroads as a free music download. Take a listen! Enjoy!
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:59PM PST on December 21, 2009
The Guardian has a captivating summary of the last-day scramble that saved the Copenhagen summit from the gallows. Here's a snippet:
Amid leaks, suspicion, recriminations and exhaustion, the world's leaders abandoned ordinary negotiating protocol to haggle line-for-line with mid-level officials. An emergency meeting of 30 leaders was called after a royal banquet on Thursday evening because of the huge number of disputes still remaining.
China and India were desperate to avoid this last-minute attempt to strong-arm them into a deal. The Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh's plane mysteriously developed a problem that delayed his arrival. Chinese premier Wen Jiabao simply refused to attend, sending his officials instead. In a collapse of protocol, middle-ranking officials from the two countries negotiated line by line on a text with Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Germany's Angela Merkel and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton. Gordon Brown felt the only way to overcome the logjam was for leaders to descend into the detail and take on officials. Yet there was still no agreement by 7am on Friday.
Posted by: Carl Pope at 2:56PM PST on December 21, 2009
Will Copenhagen's near collapse and half-hearted outcome help or hinder the effort to repair our climate? As a Danish prince once said, that is the question, but we won't know the answer for a while. Was the Copenhagen Accord strong enough to start a virtuous cycle of nations upping their clean-energy commitments? Or, will the profound distrust that brought this conference to the brink of disaster remain the dominant motif of international climate diplomacy? Will the initial pledges of financing for climate solutions in the world's poorest nations translate into ongoing, creative, and reliable financing for climate justice? It will be months, perhaps years, before we find out.
But there are important, if more modest, lessons that we can learn from Copenhagen. Here are my six major takeaways.
U.S. Leadership Is Still Essential
One missing ingredient would have done more than any other to make Copenhagen successful: an ambitious, credible U.S. carbon-reduction target. Yet that's the one tool that obstructionism in the U.S. Senate completely denied to President Obama. As a result, the more ambitious a goal he offered, the less plausible it seemed that he could deliver on it. And although President Obama played this very weak hand with tremendous intensity, he still wasn't able to carry the day in the way that was needed.
The angry and disappointed reaction to President Obama's speech at the conference illustrates both how central and critical U.S. leadership remains and how weak the President's hand still is because Congress and the country have not yet bought in.
We have to accelerate the transformation of the American economy and the politics of energy and climate -- and the Republican Party's obstructionist strategies in the Senate must begin to carry a price.
Distrust Must Be Overcome
The striking and hopeful thing about the speeches given by the leaders of the major carbon-emitting nations was the firmness with which almost all of them reiterated their unilateral commitment to making significant, if inadequate, cuts in emissions. Not only the U.S., Europe, China, and India but also virtually every other nation that is a significant source of emissions promised to act. Equally striking (but depressing) was their unwillingness or inability to transform these individual intentions into a robust collective response.
The most insightful part of President Obama's weak speech was in its second paragraph:
"For while the reality of climate change is not in doubt, I have to be honest, I think our ability to take collective action is in doubt right now and it hangs in the balance."
Every observer commented on this toxic distrust -- and how it made agreement on even the most basic aspects of the negotiations impossible. This distrust is rooted in decades of broken promises by all sides, but eight years of Bush administration unilateralism has raised it to new heights. President Obama's election was not a magic antidote -- and his administration was inadequately prepared for that reality.
Perhaps the most eloquent speaker on this topic was Brazil's President Lula da Silva, who said that Copenhagen frustrated him because it reminded him of his experiences as a labor negotiator. (Lula was the one major leader who broke new ground and made new promises. One reason for the negative reaction to President Obama's speech was that it followed Lula's extraordinarily generous intervention.)
The next round of negotiations must focus like a laser on solving the problem of distrust.
Big Oil Poisoned the Process
The third most significant factor that led to failure -- after the weak U.S. commitment and the accumulated distrust -- was procedural. COP 15 worked (or, more precisely, didn't work) by consensus. That's not the UN norm. Although super-majorities are common in UN processes, even in the Security Council only the major powers have vetoes. The one exception is climate negotiations.
Observers here spent two frustrating days watching inaction while Tuvalu made its (valid) point. At the end of the conference, efforts to make simple changes to strengthen the final accord were blocked by a tiny group of states led by Venezuela and the Sudan.
This is not accidental. At the beginning of the Copenhagen conference, an effort was made, once again, to establish normal procedural rules for the conference, including a three-quarters super-majority requirement. Saudi Arabia blocked it -- as it has from the very beginning.
The Saudis also blocked efforts to establish voting rules because they know that, without them, climate negotiations cannot yield a strong result. Don Pearlman, a former Reagan administration official working at the law firm of Patton Boggs and representing the oil industry-funded Climate Council, appears to have originated this strategy. The poison pill that he and the oil industry planted at the beginning of the UN's climate-negotiation process bore its bitter fruit in the dark winter days of Copenhagen.
Nations Still Think Locally Instead of Globally
There were numerous commentaries on the diplomatic snafus, particularly between the U.S. and China. Clearly there was a power struggle going on -- but there is also plenty of evidence that the Chinese were genuinely offended that, after China had privately offered to commit to a significant reduction in its carbon intensity, the U.S. delegation in Copenhagen continued to message as though China were an adversary. This messaging, of course, was aimed at the U.S. Congress and at Americans worried about China's economic dominance in the manufacturing sector.
Other nations had their own domestic special interests to worry about. India, like the U.S., is almost certainly confident that its emission reductions will be greater than its pledges -- but to say so would reveal that the Manmohan Singh government intends major reforms in India's energy policies, and there are powerful domestic interests that would begin mobilizing against change if Singh were to tip his hand. China had to maintain, above all, the sense that it had not permitted the U.S. to treat it as less than a full partner -- so each U.S. message intended for domestic consumption had to be matched by a Chinese countermove.
We Need to Start the Virtuous Cycles
Still, when the negotiators actually weren't constrained by domestic politics, as in the case of tropical forests, they made real progress. If an overall climate structure had come together, a critical forest-protection plan going by the acronym REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) was negotiated, agreed to, and ready to go. The U.S. even made its first major commitment to fund it, with a billion-dollar offer from Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. But with nothing in Copenhagen that it could be attached to, REDD was shelved.
A source of hope is that once nations start on a low-carbon pathway, it becomes self-reinforcing.It's getting started on the pathway that's hard -- not speeding up once you're on it. So the key is for all the major carbon-emitting nations to begin building their clean-energy sectors as quickly as possible -- the first gigaton of carbon savings is the hardest. If the U.S. had a larger renewable industry and smaller coal and oil industries, the politics of accelerating our transition to clean energy would be very different.
Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit
In conflict diplomacy there's a well-established approach to these kinds of collective-action problems based on distrust: Find some low-risk, win-win steps that will enable all parties to show good faith, and start doing them quickly.Fortunately, climate diplomacy has an extraordinary number of such opportunities. Two have already been agreed to. Ending deforestation by implementing REDD would be an enormous confidence booster. And President Obama's success in getting the G20 to agree to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels was a tremendous second step. But other such opportunities got no serious attention in Copenhagen. A serious effort to curb the short-term climate forcers -- methane, black carbon (soot), and the so-called H gases -- is one. A massive commitment to light the world's off-grid villages with distributed solar power (at less than the cost of the kerosene they currently use) is another. Shifting the world's energy-aid programs from expensive coal plants to cheap energy-performance improvements is a third.
If the Copenhagen Accord is to serve as the basis for something more robust and meaningful -- something that builds on individual national commitments to create a collective, global transformation -- then we need to take these easy steps and demonstrate that we all, truly, are beginning to understand that a low-carbon future is in our own best interest.
Posted by: SSC international at 9:30AM PST on December 20, 2009
Two Thursdays ago, I took a short break from dashing around the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark to watch President Obama give his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. My bleeding one-world heart was all a-flutter to watch it with a truly international audience: delegates, press, NGO observers and security personal representing many of the 193 nations in attendance gathered around a projector screen to watch the President reflect on winning the ultimate peacemaker’s prize mere days after committing yet more soldiers to our eight-year-long war in Afghanistan.
Obama’s speech, in my opinion, was moving and eloquent. After much internal and external debate, I had decided that I did not support sending any additional troops to Afghanistan, and the speech did not change my conclusion. What it did do, however, was give me confidence that while his ultimate decision may have been wrong, Obama’s core principles were worthy of my respect. He acknowledged that violence in all forms is abhorrent, he asserted the need for the oppressed to have justice, and he showed humility in the face of his own limitations. After he finished, as people from every corner of the world applauded around me, I felt a surge of pride in my country and the ideals, so beautifully articulated by it’s leader, for which I believe it stands.
Eight days later, Obama was back in Scandinavia and I again found myself watching him speak. This time, I watched from my apartment as all of civil society had been kicked out of the conference center in direct violation of UN principlesagreed to in, of all places, Denmark. The mood was decidedly darker as, with less than 24 hours remaining in the alloted time, barely any progress had been made towards an agreement to address climate change. Outside the fortress-like Bella Center, police had met peaceful protests with violence. Inside, the smaller, poorer, and most threatened countries had effectively been excluded from the negotiation process. A process on which their survival depended.
As Obama walked toward the podium, I knew that even if he gave a speech that topped his magnificent effort in Oslo, it still wouldn’t mean that the fair, ambitious and binding treaty I hoped for would be signed. In all honesty, most people had known for months that that sort of result was a fantasy. What I didn’t know, what I hadn’t even imagined, was that the speech I was about to hear would not only offer no inspiration, but also arrogantly demand that the world sign on to an agreement of America’s creation, which served America’s interests, and which doomed millions to famine, flood and destruction.
With this speech, Obama allied himself with the idea that the powerful will make decisions, and the powerless will suffer the consequences. He allied himself with the concept that what can be taken, should be taken. He allied himself with the fallacy that we are not responsible for the damage we inflict on others. The equality, the justice and the humility he called for in Oslo were gone.
Obama made a mistake in Copenhagen. He was far from the only one to do so. In his defense, people will say that he was exhausted from the health care debate and the trans-atlantic flight, that the speech was a negotiation tactic, and above all that he was being realistic in the face of a skeptical American public and an enormous, chaotic conference on the verge of collapse. All true. But he would do well to remember his own words, delivered in such stark elegance a scant week before:
“We are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us. But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place.”
Climate change is more than just bigger hurricanes and hotter summers. It is the natural manifestation of humanity’s inability to impose limits on our own consumption, or deal with its consequences. In Oslo, President Obama inspired us to “reach for the world that ought to be.” In Copenhagen, he reminded us how far we still have to go.
Posted by: SSC international at 9:21AM PST on December 20, 2009
Being camped out in the Bella Centre for the past two weeks has really proven how easy it is to forget the outside world and context of climate change. On an average day, we’re in the Centre for 13 hours and we rarely see daylight due to the perpetual grayness of the Danish sky. Throughout these negotiations we’ve discussed issues pertaining to forests, financing, adaptation, and it has all come down to dealing with specific wording of the treaty text. People, myself included, have gotten so caught up on wording and wonky pieces of policy that we forget what we’re even talking about. After almost two weeks of being camped out in the Bella Center, I was in need of a wake up call
Instead of heading into the ruckus that was going down at the Bella Centre, I decided to take a break from the negotiations and visit a Danish private school to teach 50 fourteen year-olds about climate change and COP15. For about an hour I spoke about what climate change is and how COP15 is going to impact all of our futures as youth. Even when my presentation became policy oriented, these kids were actively engaged and genuinely interested in everything I was saying.
Members of civil society that know nothing about climate change must be engaged as it’s their future, as well as our own, that we’re negotiating. The experience of teaching these kids for just an hour was a much needed reminder of the world that exists outside of COP15 that we’re fighting so hard to protect.
Posted by: SSC international at 9:20AM PST on December 20, 2009
Since I’ve arrived at COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, I’ve faced many dual emotions of empowerment and helplessness. I have felt more important and key than ever in the highly accessible Bella Center, where the convention is taking place, where I can run into the President of the Maldives or participate in an action that directly targets key negotiators, but more helpless than ever watching the long and grueling process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the ever-so-stubborn US stance on the issue.
Being a youth here is definitely a unique position, and has had a significant impact on the way I’ve felt throughout this conference. There are over 2,000 international youth here, 500 US, and for the first Conference of the parties, youth are being recognized as an officially constituency called “YOUNGO”. I feel that YOUNGO’s voice is being heard through vast media coverage, actions, and a very unique perspective. But at the same time it is frustrating to see youth being shutout. At Secretary of Energy Steven Chu’s US briefing yesterday only one person was allowed in to ask questions to represent each group, and judging by the fact that most people in the line were youth who had been waiting for the briefing for hours, I couldn’t help but think that it had something to do with the demographic. Also at a briefing last week the “bouncers” of the US center only seemed to be letting in older people.
I feel that I am having am immense impact here in Copenhagen and that US youth and youth as a whole are, and that people are beginning to realize that survival is not negotiable in a treaty, I also am frustrated with the lack of flexibility within each nation’s stance. It almost seems that every country has just stayed within its own expectations, with the small island states and developing countries calling for adaptation funding and a fair, ambitious, and binding treaty, and the developed countries like the United States have compromised but not enough to support the science. Throughout this second week non-government organization delegates (including myself for the Sierra Student Coalition) are being taken out of the process by being restricted from access to the Bella Center. This has given me time to see what is happening around the conference, including an immense amount of side events, exhibits, and action going on around these issues. But we can’t deny that removing legitimate organizers from an important process to make room for the hundreds of staff people that heads of staff may bring is taking the power from the people.
Sometimes it feels that no matter what we do here, no matter what anyone does anywhere, that the people in power will not listen. That no matter the bicycle critical mass happening in the streets of Copenhagen tomorrow, or the 10,000 people that marched to the Bella Center in protest on the International Day of Climate Action on the 12th, that the power will never truly be transferred. But this is our only chance.
A friend of mine here from Oregon told me that she was talking to an assistant of a negotiator about what makes the negotiators think or change their mind, and if anything we do can have an actual effect. And everytime I have seen people devoting their whole lives to this cause, everytime I have seen the face of another youth who I know if missing their finals or got into countless arguments with their parents about attending this events, I remember what she told me he said. He said that what we do is something that no one appreciates until it is gone. Imagine this movement if there weren’t crazy protests, if there weren’t 2,000 youth walking around the Bella Center asking the aging delegates “How old will you be in 2050?”, if there weren’t people risking their lives for this movement. It would be dead. We are the passion and the heart behind everything that this rush for survival is, and no matter how powerless I may feel at times in the convolusion of negotiations, or how helpless I may feel when no one listens, I know that we are the silent roar that these negotiators have yet to hear. And I know that if they had marched alongside me on the International Day of Climate Action, they would see not only other middle aged men, but rather people of every age, color, and language.
I have never felt more human than I do in this fight against climate change.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:32AM PST on December 18, 2009
A quick review of this past week's happenings in the blog world
Andy Revkin, NYT's Dot Earth blogger, who has the honor of being on Rush Limbaugh death-wish list, is leaving the New York Times. So what's going to happen to Dot Earth -- one of the most widely read environmental blogs? At this point, it looks like that the blog will continue with Revkin at the helm. We'll see.
Because there are so many factors involved, it's complicated to compare online shopping with conventional shopping. For example, shipping individual items bought online requires much more packaging than shipping bulk items for resale in brick-and-mortar stores. And though considerable amounts of energy are consumed delivering packages to individual residences, it also takes a lot to heat and cool stores.
I'm sitting in the lobby of the Little Nell with Auden Schendler. This is a fancy pants, 92-room spa and resort in Aspen that routinely hosts world leaders and celebrities in rooms that cost upwards of $760 a night. The Nell is a major energy spender — in 2008, it used 25,556 MMBTU of natural gas and 3,269,967kWh of electricity, generating 4,245 tons of CO2 emissions (the average house generates about 17,000 lbs).
Posted by: Laura Stec at 1:07PM PST on December 17, 2009
People have a lot of cooking questions around the holidays. Lately, the usual “what’s your favorite way to cook a turkey?” and “how do you peel a chestnut?” inquiries have been replaced with a trickier and modernized holiday conundrum, “Any idea what the carbon footprint (or "foodprint" as we refer to it in my bookCool Cuisine - Taking the Bite Out of Global Warming) of my holiday meal is?”
Yeez! – what kind of question is that? Not only do I have to worry about not burning my chestnuts while they roast on an open fire, I have to worry about how many greenhouse gases they create when I do it? A carbon foodprint is the measure of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) that comes from production and manufacturing of food. The higher the number – the more impact the meal could have on global warming. Food can have a substantial effect on global warming; in fact, what you eat may contribute more greenhouse gases to the environment than what you drive!
Emission totals are hard to determine however because calculations depend on a complexity of factors such as the type of food, how it is grown, transported, cooked and disposed of. The six largest contributors of greenhouse gases occurring from the food system are as follows:
Mayor Bloomberg didn’t mince words in his opening talk during ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability's panel discussion in Copenhagen: Cities need direct funding for climate mitigation. Cities produce approximately 75 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States and worldwide, so you have to send the money to where the problem exists, and where climate impacts will be felt first.
That’s been an oft-repeated headline in the media over the past week, of course. But Mayor Bloomberg drove home the crucial secondary message that isn’t always getting through: Local governments need to be empowered not only because they’re responsible for GHG emissions, but because they’ve proven they know how to implement climate action measures successfully and efficiently.
Climate change is a monolithic problem for governments to tackle. (breaking news, right?) Where do you start? What are the most practical and cost-effective measures to implement? Local governments have already developed a playbook and defined a roadmap for emissions reductions. Mayor Bloomberg highlighted the success of New York’s approach, through its PlaNYC sustainability plan, the new green buildings legislation, and a commitment to accountability.
When you watch the video, also take note of the way Mayor Bloomberg frames the importance of climate action in New York:
We’ve had an environmental agenda that unchokes our economy, cleans up our air, saves us some money, and as a byproduct, helps stop us from destroying the planet. I’ve always thought that if you want to make process, you have to bring [the topic of climate change] back to something that’s near term and personal, otherwise people talk about it but aren’t committed to it, and certainly aren’t willing to spend their money and time to change it.
This post is essentially an open letter to Washington governor, Chris Gregoire, asking her to enact a simple plan that will hasten the adoption of plug-in cars. I want you to forward this to your respective governors since the concept is relevant to all 50 states.
Essentially, Hayes and Marshall propose that Gov. Gregoire enact a moratorium on the purchase of new fleet vehicles. Just keep the three year old cars a bit longer. This would save several million dollars the first year alone. Then, when the Leaf and Volt enter the market, they want the state to buy as many as possible for their fleets with the saved funds, ensuring a strong demand from the start. In other words, "No Plug, No Deal" on a statewide scale!
The Washington State Transportation Commission estimates $16 billion leaves the state each year for foreign oil. Every person who fills a tank with gas or diesel sends over 60% of their money out of the country. Additionally, the Washington taxpayers spend tens of millions of their money to fuel the state fleet.
This is important because, for every EV that replaces a gas burner, the money spent for the energy to move it stays local. $16 billion dollars in the case of Washington. Imagine what it is for California? For the whole country?
With each plug-in car that's sold, the spigot of money that's on full blast right now going to the oil companies, will gradually close, until decades from now, it's shut off entirely. All those billions of dollars that had been lining the pockets and robes of the most evil people on earth - and I don't make that statement lightly - will instead be staying in our own pockets, with a little going to the utilities.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:01AM PST on December 17, 2009
The folks at the Green Investing group here on Climate Crossroads are very active on the site. They have a great blog. Go check it out! Here is a recent bulletin they sent:
Hello everyone, Hope your holiday season is starting well. As the 15th UN Climate Change Conference is taking place in Copenhagen, there have also been new developments in the sustainable investing community. In this week's posts, you will learn about Bloomberg's new move into the sustainable finance space, the IFC and S&P launching a low carbon index for emerging markets, PG&E getting into wind farms, and the Asian Development Bank investing in its member countries to fight climate change.
While negotiators craft an international climate deal in Copenhagen and Congress considers jobs legislation, this home retrofit initiative could move quickly to create jobs while addressing the 20% of U.S. global warming pollution that comes from our homes. It seems like an easy - potentially, sexy?- step to address major economic and environmental challenges.
In summary: "most of this stuff is going to pay for itself."
It's an opportunity for households to immediately capture the benefits of clean energy investments and to create clean energy jobs for struggling communities.
Five participants joined the President at a roundtable discussion before the President's speech, including 23-year-old DC resident Stephon Burgess. Trained by the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Stephon now works full time for Ardently Green, a local home performance contractor focused on making existing homes more energy efficient. WeatherizeDC, a non-profit, has helped raise demand in DC for energy efficiency upgrades despite a lack of incentives for consumers (see Will Byrne's update at Huffington Post).
Investing in energy efficiency is the fastest, easiest, cheapest and safest thing we can do to address global warming pollution and put Americans back to work while saving families money. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act aggressively increased funding for clean energy, with Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants for cities and towns and an expanded Weatherization Assistance Program for low-income households.
The challenge is to demonstrate the immediate benefits of a program like that the President is proposing while securing long-term economic and environmental benefits for our communities.
Posted by: Carl Pope at 2:11PM PST on December 16, 2009
In theory, the Bella Center should seem like the epicenter of history. In reality, it's more like being in a big room full of people playing the game of telephone by circulating bits of information, misinformation, and gossip. There were huge protests outside today, as a result of which access to the building was shut down for an extended period, but I only knew this from emails I got from people out in the streets. The UN revoked the credentials of Friends of the Earth and Avaaz, apparently because some members of those delegations were known to be planning civil disobedience inside the conference once the heads of state arrived.
Some new and intriguing proposals have been put on the table, though. One, from France and Ethiopia, includes some interesting ideas for solving the long-term problem of financing climate-change costs in poor countries. The two countries, an unlikely duo,
believe that various innovative financing mechanisms are key to ensure the predictability and sustainability of international public efforts. They call, in particular, for the creation of a tax on international financial transactions and consider other sources such as taxes on sea freight or air transport. Those mechanisms will mainly be dedicated to actions in poor and vulnerable countries, particularly in Africa, least developed countries, small island states and other developing countries with a low per-capita income ....
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:50AM PST on December 16, 2009
Al Gore is a popular target for climate-change deniers. That's fine.
But his recent speech in Copenhagen was widely dismissed as alarmism and hyperbole, even by the media. What was Gore actually talking about when he said that Arctic ice could disappear in five to seven years? Well, the answer is that his numbers were based on actual science. What a concept! Here's the science (pdf). And here's a nifty illustration:
Perhaps Gore's numbers in his speech were slightly off. His people issued a correction. But his point still rings true: Arctic ice caps are disappearing and slated to vanish in the not-too-far-off future. The alarms from media coverage should revolve around that rather than the idea that Gore is engaged in fear mongering.
For more details on this whole thing, read Joe Romm.
For the latest news, video, and Tweets from Copenhagen, join the Copenhagen group here on Climate Crossroads.
Posted by: Carl Pope at 9:58AM PST on December 16, 2009
My equilibrium's shaky, and it's not from Denmark's most famous rollercoaster. I go from cheerful-looking billboards at the airport (the best are Oceana's on ocean acidification; the least-plausible are Coca-Cola's "Hopenhagen" series) to the reality of a climate summit that's poorly framed, inadequately ambitious, and riven by distrust. Even so, I continue to be reasonably certain that the U.S. and India, among the major players, are going to do far more to save the climate than they are willing to commit to. And over the course of the past several days, it's become evident that China might be in the same camp.
But two enormous issues continue to plague this effort -- and neither has to do with climate. The first is the Third World's demand that the rich nations finally admit that they haven't earned all of their economic advantage -- that part of it is the result of theft from the global commons -- and the stiff-necked unwillingness of the industrial world to make that concession. This is at the heart of the inability of the conference, thus far, to agree on how to monitor and measure commitments made by various nations. The Chinese, and perhaps others, feel that to agree to global monitoring of equal integrity between themselves and, say, the U.S., is to concede moral parity -- and that they will not do.
The second issue is how to finance (at what is actually a very modest sub-AIG level) a clean energy and climate response in the Third World. The finance ministries of the rich nations are having a hard time accepting that they can't have it both ways. If they cannot get their congresses and parliaments to agree to tax their own citizens to compensate for their extravagant use of the common carbon sinks, then some kind of global-finance system to which everyone contributes, but which the rich do not control, is the only alternative. "He who pays the piper calls the tune" has a certain rough realism to it. But "he who used to pay the piper" cannot expect to call the tune for very long.
This all deserves more thought than my somewhat jet-lagged brain can give it. But these two issues -- transparency and finance -- are the biggest whitewater holes on the fast-moving river running out of Copenhagen tonight.
Posted by: Jennifer Schwab at 11:59AM PST on December 15, 2009
So I was wondering, why is it that commercial air travel is considered so non-green? It seems unjust that my efforts to live green all year are negated by a few flights to Sierra Club headquarters and a trip or two to visit my parents.
Most carbon calculators - but notably not ours at Sierra Club Green Home (www.sierraclubgreenhome.com) - penalize even the dark green citizen who is required to fly commercial for work. Let's say you're a sales manager, you diligently recycle, you watch the thermostats, you have low-water landscaping, you eat organic vegetables, you're doing everything right except your job requires you to fly from Denver to Cincinnati twice a month. According to most evaluations, you are a serious carbon emitter. I don't think this is right, it's not fair to call this person a polluter. His or her lifestyle and home are green, and should be respected as such.
Posted by: Janet Gardner at 9:03AM PST on December 15, 2009
Hope I’m not too late on this one. If you’re like me, you still haven’t done much of your holiday shopping. What? There are still two weeks until Christmas, and Hanukkah started only a few days ago.
So, who isn’t tempted around the holidays, with all the great sales and so many people to impress, to buy, buy, buy? I know I’m susceptible. I adore buying gifts for people. It’s one of my favorite feelings to find the perfect gift for someone, something they mentioned off-hand once months ago, and had no idea you remembered.
That being said, I strongly believe there is just way too much stuff in this world. Finding the perfect gift is great, but buying just for the sake of giving something? Not so much. Here are my five best tips for making your holiday gift-giving a little greener, both in terms of the environment, and that extra cash you’ll still have in your wallet.
1. Buy Time
I love to give the gift of time spent together. This is one of my favorite gifts to give children, especially, rather than a plastic toy they’ll just outgrow and cast away. My sister and I like to do this for my little brother, who’s 7 – we’ve taken him on a day-trip to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, and owe him a trip to the Academy of Sciences. He might not like it as much in the moment as another set of Star Wars Legos, but we like to think he’ll remember how his cool older sisters took him places when he was a kid. Beyond kids, this is a great gift for anyone in your life – a concert, a cooking class, even a meal out together at a place they’ve been wanting to try. And it won’t clutter their house or come wrapped in plastic.
Note: If you are forced to gift-give to someone you, ahem, are not the biggest fan of, it is totally acceptable to give them a gift of something to do that you don’t have to participate in!
2. Make – or Buy – Something Homemade
Homemade gifts are all the rage, especially in this economy, and for good reason. I like homemade foodie treats, like hot fudge (this recipe is super delicious), jams and infused alcohols. If I could sew or knit, I’d be all about those kind of hand-crafted gifts, but alas, my high school offered only Foods class, and not Home Ec.
If, like me, you’re not so crafty, turn to Etsy or Foodzie for something adorable or delicious (or both!). Both sites have Buy Local options, which I’ve linked to. Foodie gifts from your local farmers market are another great option. Give jams, olive oils, or whatever your area is known for. If you’re traveling to see your family anyway, bring them a special treat made in your hometown.
3. Buy Used or Secondhand New
Who says a gift has to be brand new? I love scouring Craigslist for gift ideas. Chances are someone has whatever you need, used it once, and decided they didn’t need it. You’ll save money and reduce your impact – what’s not to love about that? Have a friend or family member you just can’t imagine giving a previously-been-owned gift? Craigslist and eBay are full of items I like to call “secondhand new,” those that someone bought, never used, and never got around to returning.
4. Buy One Less
One of my favorite rules for holiday gift giving is to buy “one less.” For example, if you have the idea for 3 perfect gifts for someone, and you’re only able to get 2 of them, they won’t know. All they’ll realize is that they got two fantastic gifts from you, and they’ll never know about that just absolutely perfect gift you had to get them but couldn’t track down in time. This has helped take the pressure off me when I’m looking for “just one more” perfect gift.
5. Ask What They Want
It’s not very romantic or mysterious, but asking what someone wants is a great way to reduce. This is admittedly hard for me, because I do love the surprise-and-delight factor. But so many times what I think is the perfect gift for someone might not be everything they ever dreamed of and more. Asking what someone wants will make the recipient happy, and you won’t have wasted your money on something they’ll never use anyway.
That about wraps it up, and speaking of wrapping? Remember that while colorful holiday wrapping paper may be cute, it’s not so adorable when you think about it being shipped overseas to be recycled or meeting its untimely death in a landfill. Try newspapers, scraps of cloth, and reusing old gift bags this season!
Are you planning to use any of these tips to “green” your holiday season? What are your best green holiday tips?
Posted by: SSC international at 2:58PM PST on December 14, 2009
So, starting tomorrow non-governmental organizations will have restricted access to the Bella Center. This includes all sects of civil society, not just the youth or environmental organizations. For Tuesday and Wednesday only 20% of all NGO delegations will be allowed to enter the Bella Center and further restrictions will be in place as the week goes on. On Thursday only 1000 NGO delegates will be allowed in and by Friday the number will be reduced to 90. That’s a drastic decrease considering that there are 2,000 youth delegates alone.
Now, granted, I’m pretty biased in this opinion, but I feel that these restrictions are taking the democracy out of the negotiations. Without civil society it will just be a bunch of politicians, diplomats and negotiators wandering the halls of the Bella Center theoretically working towards a treaty that will determine the future of my generation. Maybe some random ambassadors and their families. That’s not what I consider to be representative of our world’s population and I think that it’s a little ridiculous that we’re being shut out of the negotiations just as big decisions are being made.
The UNFCCC is giving a false front to democracy in the climate negotiations by accrediting a bunch of NGOs and then later shutting them out of an event that some travel across the globe to be able to attend. So I’m asking the UN to remember that people are at the root of politics and that we should be brought back into the negotiations that will determine the future of our planet. We’re here, we’re engaged, and we’re ready for some serious negotiating to happen. Now let us participate and become the world leaders that we’re capable of being.
Posted by: Guay at 2:42PM PST on December 14, 2009
Of all the confusion surrounding the negotiations regarding where talks stand and what the outcome is likely to be, the biggest gap seems to be the difference between the people on the outside and those on the inside. On Saturday this chasm was revealed tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Copenhagen descending on the Bella center to hear Desmond Tutu speak
Posted by: Carl Pope at 2:33PM PST on December 14, 2009
In a few hours I'll arrive at the UN Conference in Copenhagen -- surely the biggest environmental gathering I've ever attended and, arguably, the most consequential ever to meet. The sheer scale of the threats posed by climate disruption (and of the actions needed to protect us against it) does make global warming seem different from other environmental challenges we've faced. But in a number of important respects, it's not different at all. I think it might even help us understand what we're up against if we look at some of the lessons we've learned from those other challenges.
Lesson 1: Safety First -- It's Cheaper
If you listen to the so-called "climate skeptics," you might start to think that the history of environmental policy is one of expensive false alarms and unnecessary panic. But in reality, it 's almost always turned out that interventions taken to protect people from environmental risks were inadequate and too late -- and that prevention would have been much cheaper than cleaning up the mess. And history also shows that scientists, more often than not, underestimate the risks -- they are not nervous Nellie alarmists.
Take formaldehyde. We've known that for decades that it's toxic. It's also ubiquitous and consumer exposure to it is widespread: permanent press clothing, particle board, and some kinds of plywood. Yet for decades federal regulators failed to establish safety standards for formaldehyde exposure in consumer use and, as a result, manufacturers kept churning out mobile homes that had formaldehyde concentrations higher than those permitted in chemical plants for workers -- much higher. Only when FEMA loaned hundreds of these toxic trailers to Katrina victims -- a population that was concentrated and easily monitored -- did the Sierra Club uncover just how bad the situation was. And even then FEMA stonewalled, resisted, and argued that the trailers were not the problem -- until Congress stepped in and finally forced them to get people out of the trailers. (They also had to force FEMA to abandon plans to simply sell these trailers to other victims.)
The California Air Resources Board, in the wake of the scandal, passed consumer formaldehyde standards. And this month the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works reported out legislation that would make the California standards nationwide -- an important step forward. Will this end the formaldehyde risk? Probably not, although it will reduce it. New scientific studies expected from the EPA next month will show that formaldehyde is toxic at even lower levels of exposure than previously believed -- so the new standards, while an improvement, will still leave millions of Americans still at risk.
The science of climate change is similar. Over the last decade it's become clear that global warming is happening faster than anticipated, that CO2 disrupts the climate at lower-than-expected concentrations, and that the addressing the problem will cost more than we previously thought.
So taking early action to avoid risk is the prudent, cheap, economic course of action. One question I have often wanted to ask the climate skeptics is "What do you think the chances are that you're mistaken and we are disrupting the climate? And at what point are the odds of a global castastrophe high enough that you would favor preventive action? One in four? One in ten? One in a hundred? And do you have fire insurance on your home? What are the odds on its burning down next year?
Chesapeake Bay, the economic linchpin of the economies of Maryland, Delaware, and eastern Virginia, is in serious ecological distress. After more than a decade of federal action, the loss of fisheries and biological productivity hasn't stopped -- largely because agriculture has been permitted to handle its manure improperly, which has led to huge quantities of toxic water pollutants in the streams that drain into the Bay.
Posted by: Heather M at 1:41PM PST on December 14, 2009
Transportation emits one-third of US global warming pollution and is the fastest growing sector. The Sierra Club's Green Transportation Campaign aims to reduce transportation emissions with stringent standards for our cars, clean fuels, and supporting transportation choices that will help us reduce how much we drive. States are moving forward on all fronts, including showing strong support for passenger rail, which can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide convenient transportation choices to more people.
The following is a post from Dave Cullen of the Sierra Club Florida Chapter highlighting a tremendous victory for passenger rail in Florida. In short, Florida has demonstrated a commitment to making rail an option for residents. --Ann Mesnikoff
Passenger Rail Passes! by Dave Cullen
A special session of the Florida State Legislature ended Dec. 8th with the passage of HB 1B, a bill supported by Sierra Club Florida, approving the $432 million purchase of 61.5 miles of railroad track from freight operator CSX. The purchased rail will serve passengers on Sun Rail in Central Florida. The bill also shored up funding for Tri Rail which serves the Miami to Palm Beach corridor.
HB 1B is Florida's down payment on a vision for passenger rail in the state that will link bullet trains from Tampa to Miami and connect local rail systems around the state.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 1:29PM PST on December 14, 2009
This post was co-written by Tim Wagner of Resource Media
Nearly a year after the Bush administration left office, we’re still dealing with one of their fossil fuel legacies: an attempt to burden our economy and our climate with over 150 new dirty coal-fired power plants.
But of those 150 new plants proposed in Bush’s early years, we’ve seen over 100 of them cancelled or shelved indefinitely for a variety of reasons, including increased public opposition to dirty coal and the economic reality of trying to construct an unnecessary multi-billion dollar (yes, I said ‘billion’) power plant that will emit millions of tons of potentially-costly greenhouse gases every single year for a decades-long lifetime.
In other words, new coal plants in the 21st century make no sense. And yet apparently some giant Wall Street equity firms haven’t quite figured that out – including JPMorgan Chase and the Blackstone Group. Both corporations are funding the construction of new coal-fired power plants across the U.S. Let’s focus on Blackstone, the firm with the most proposed plants.
As the majority owner and financier behind Sithe Global Power Company, LLC, a private energy developer with a heavy fossil fuels portfolio, Blackstone is willing to drop billions of investors’ dollars into three large and dirty coal plants: the 300-megawatt River Hill waste coal burner in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania; the 750-megawatt Toquop coal burner located just outside the beautiful deserts of Mesquite, Nevada; and the giant 1500-megawatt Desert Rock coal burner on the Navajo Reservation in northwestern New Mexico.
The largest of these dinosaurs, the Desert Rock plant in New Mexico, has had its air permit completely remanded by the Environmental Protection Agency itself after it was issued by the agency in the waning days of the Bush administration. The reason? A completely inadequate environmental analysis as required by the Clean Air Act.
In addition, the 470-mile Navajo Transmission Project needed to transmit Desert Rock’s power to Las Vegas and other markets has also seen its required environmental study and permit remanded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs due to similar analysis inadequacies.
And just last week, the Department of Energy (DOE) denied a $450 million grant request from Sithe Global to make one of Desert Rock’s generating units into a proposed carbon capture and storage pilot project. The Desert Rock plant simply did not meet the criteria as required by DOE.
What does all this mean for the proposed $4+ billion Desert Rock coal plant, the Blackstone Group and its other coal plants? In today’s economy, where credit has been severely pinched and we have a citizenry that is crying out for more clean renewable energy to help thwart off the worst of climate change and to stimulate our economy, Desert Rock and other new coal plants are a foolish bet.
And while Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman is making these foolish bets, his neighbor down the street Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, is financing destructive mountaintop removal coal mining and other risky new coal plants like Desert Rock.
So to get into the spirit of the season, tomorrow, Santa and the Sierra Club need your help to deliver our holiday greetings, complete with stockings full of coal, to Mr. Schwarzman and Mr. Dimon at their companies’ respective headquarters in New York City. It’s clear they both deserve coal in their stockings.
We’ll be in front of the Blackstone Group headquarters in the morning to ask Mr. Schwarzman to get off our naughty list by ending plans for Blackstone’s three proposed coal plants.
If you can’t attend our rally in New York on December 15th you can visit our websites to take action. Let’s tell these CEOs that our communities don’t want coal for the holidays, and neither should they.
You can also follow along with the day’s events on the @BlackstoneCoal Twitter account or the #nocoal hashtag.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:53AM PST on December 14, 2009
You’ve probably already been bombarded with news about the climate talks in Copenhagen this week and next. The hustle of the news cycle should not diminish the gathering’s importance, though.
This international meeting is an opportunity to take great international strides against global warming. Indeed, we have our own team of people in Copenhagen to support that cause, with our more specific goals being:
Ensuring that developed countries, including the US., increase their commitments for greenhouse gas reductions, and that developing countries put concrete, meaningful actions on the table. This includes, where possible, stronger commitments to reduce CO2 emissions, but also new initiatives to deal with non-CO2 greenhouse pollutants, including methane and black carbon.
Making significant progress toward a final deal on international climate financing that will include substantial commitments from developed countries, and immediately agree to a “prompt start” package for emissions reduction and adaptation to climate impacts in developing countries.
Ensuring that there is real transparency and verification for all developed country commitments and developing country actions.
And adding a great push to our efforts in Copenhagen is the announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier this week: that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases constitute a danger to public health and welfare and are subject to common sense regulation under the Clean Air Act.
This is a historic and significant announcement that will bring much needed regulation to the major carbon-intensive industries such as coal.
This endangerment decision, ordered by the Supreme Court in April 2007 and based upon years of scientific research and analysis, will speed the shift toward the clean energy economy.
And do not listen to the naysayers of the Clean Air Act, claiming that this ruling means small businesses, churches, schools and hospitals are subject to regulation from the proposed Big Polluters rule now. EPA has addressed that already – only those who emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon annually are subject to that proposed rule.
My focus is on the huge coal industry in the U.S., they need to clean up their dated power plants and stop blocking progress. And in looking at Copenhagen, the need to move beyond coal stretches well beyond our borders. Numerous countries rely on coal power and we must all take steps away from this dirty energy source if we are to be serious about fighting global warming.
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:08AM PST on December 14, 2009
The Matrix team is in Copenhagen to demand climate action. Whoa! Take the red pill and join the Copenhagen group here on Climate Crossroads to get the latest news and see pictures from the COP 15 talks. Or take the blue pill and go on your merry way.
Posted by: SSC international at 8:47AM PST on December 14, 2009
The footage below is from two days ago but it accurately captures the immediacy of the situation in small island nations like Tuvalu. Ian Fry is the head Tuvalu delegate to the United Nations Climate Change Conference. His impassioned plea for a legally binding agreement here in Copenhagen gave me chills.
In these drawn out negotiations it's quite easy to forget that survival is even in question. But it is, and it's something that the negotiators of Annex I and fast-developing nations need to start realizing.
Heres' the transcript:
The entire population of Tuvalu lives below two meters above sea level. The highest point above sea level in the entire nation of Tuvalu is only four meters.
Madam President, we are not naive to the circumstances and the political considerations that are before us. It appears that we are waiting for some senators in the US Congress to conclude before we can consider this issue properly. It is an irony of the modern world that the fate of the world is being determined by some senators in the U.S. Congress.
We note that President Obama recently went to Norway to pick up a Nobel Prize, rightly or wrongly. But we can suggest that for him to honor this Nobel Prize, he should address the greatest threat to humanity that we have before us, climate change, and the greatest threat to security, climate change. So I make a strong plea that we give proper consideration to a conclusion at this meeting that leads to two legally binding agreements.
Madame President, this is not just an issue of Tuvalu. Pacific island countries — Kiribas, Marshall Islands, Maldives, Haiti, Bahamas, Grenada — Sao Tome in West Africa and all the LDCs: Bhutan, Laos, Mali, Senegal, Timor-Leste — and millions of other people around this world are affected enormously by climate change.
This is not just Tuvalu.
Over the last few days I’ve received calls from all over the world, offering faith and hope that we can come to a meaningful conclusion on this issue. Madame President, this is not a ego trip for me. I have refused to undertake media interviews, because I don’t think this is just an issue of an ego trip for me. I am just merely a humble and insignificant employee of the environment department of the government of Tuvalu. As a humble servant of the government of Tuvalu, I have to make a strong plea to you that we consider this matter properly. I don’t want to cause embarrassment to you or the government. But I want to have this issue to be considered properly.
I clearly want to have the leaders put before them an option for considering a legally binding treaty to sign on at this meeting. I make this a strong and impassioned plea. We’ve had our proposal on the table for six months. Six months, it’s not the last two days of this meeting. I woke this morning, and I was crying, and that’s not easy for a grown man to admit. The fate of my country rests in your hands.
Posted by: SSC international at 6:47AM PST on December 14, 2009
Perhaps the most salient reason for disputes at the COP15 negotiations is that nations truly do not understand each other. Negotiators advocate on behalf of their own nations' interests without much consideration for the the needs of other nations.
This past Thursday, Chinese and American youth gathered at the University of Copenhagen for a dinner meeting to talk about the COP15 negotiations and their implications for us as young people. Over Chinese food, we discussed why we are in Copenhagen as well as how Chinese and American youth are quite different in their approach to environmental activism.
The event was extremely fascinating for me as I have never interacted in such an environment with Chinese youth. Our two countries have a long history of contention on issues of trade and national identity, but in our discussions, it became quite apparent that we have more in common than we could ever imagine. And the things that do set us apart can be used to learn from each other.
A relationship between Chinese and American youth is crucial to the development of a clean and green future as we will be negotiating on behalf of our own countries in the near future. The more we know about each other, the more successful future negotiations will be. Climate change is a burden that we all share, and in collaborating, we have the opportunity to completely challenge our ideological differences and solve the climate crisis that we have been presented with.
In just spending two hours with our Chinese counterparts, immeasurable progress was made. Perhaps it would do the negotiators at COP15 some good to sit down together to share food and stories of their paths to COP15. Actually, I think I'm going to recommend this to Yvo, I think he'd go for it.
Posted by: SSC international at 11:23AM PST on December 12, 2009
As the first week of COP15 comes to a close it is time to review why we as Americans need to fight climate change and revaluate how we as a nation address this pressing issue. So in review:
The greatest threat facing the globe during this century, the one that will destroy the most lives, displace the most people, and demand the greatest sacrifices, is the issue that politicians and the public at large are least prepared to handle: anthropogenic climate change. Climate change is caused by the increasing levels of greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide) being emitted since the Industrial Revolution. Climate change poses a threat on a variety of levels. First, climate change will upset the planet’s ecological balance. Thousands of plant and animal species will become extinct, and thousands more will migrate to new habitats, bringing with them diseases such as malaria and yellow fever and an increased risk of disease mutation. Second, melting ice, both in the polar regions and in mountain glaciers, will result mass migrations of climate refugees, first from drought-ravaged regions once fed by mountain streams and then from low-lying coastal areas threatened by rising sea levels. Finally, a lack of resources created by climate change will threaten national security as countries go to war to control the remaining resources, and trans-state groups look to place blame on the United States as the leading producer of greenhouse gasses and thus the leading cause of this global disaster.
There is no magic bullet to solve climate change, but here is a suggestion on how national policy can change. The first step is to act locally, and on the global scale that means acting at the national level. America, as the leading producer of carbon emissions, needs to adopt a comprehensive strategy to lower emissions by discarding fossil fuels and shifting to renewable energy sources. To accomplish this, renewable energy sources, like solar and wind, must become compatible in price to oil and coal. The current strategy of tax credits for renewable energy is slow and ineffective, and unfortunately we do not have the time to take such a leisurely approach to solving the climate change problem. Instead, what is required is an artificial rise in fossil fuel prices brought about by increased taxes on the petroleum and coal industries; at the same time, the government most provide subsidies for the renewable energy industry, the same way it did for manufacturing during World War II, in order to drive down the price of solar and wind power.
The next time you get on an airplane, make sure you have a window seat, and spend your time looking down at the ground as you fly. Notice the thousands of houses that you pass. Now imagine if every one of those houses had solar panels attached to the roof. To solve the climate change dilemma, we need to stop thinking as consumers and start thinking as producers. No, every household would not be able to produce 100% of its electricity 100% of the time, but if every building produced a portion of its own electricity then the number of wind farms, dams, and solar fields that are required to power the country would be greatly reduced. Once we embrace a strategy such as this, one that will enable us to break the strangle-hold that fossil fuels have over our country’s economy, we can emerge as a leader in a worldwide fight to combat climate change. Until then, we are merely hypocrites, harming ourselves as we harm the rest of the world.
Posted by: SSC international at 10:24AM PST on December 12, 2009
It is Friday afternoon and -- although there is a scheduled Saturday plenary -- we are coming to the end of the first week of COP15. It is also, for all intents and purposes, the mid-point of this conference. With this in mind, I have decided to consult my committee of one and dole out a few awards for performance (or lack thereof) during the past five days.
And the COPy goes to–Holland Climate House! As good as the Asian cuisine at the US-China Youth Session was, the Holland Climate House takes this one for its consistency. Day in and day out, the generous Dutch have provided free lunch featuring dishes ranging from taco salad to salmon to some-sort-of-salisbury-steak-thing. Best of all, there appears to be little to no requirement that you attend their presentation afterward.
And the COPy goes to–the Americans For Prosperity Smackdown! As far as I know, no other US Youth action has gotten so much press–and was so fun to participate (as private citizens) in. Any acceptance speech must include thanks to Lord Monckton for his ridiculous and insensitive “Hitler Youth” comments that proved, as if there was any doubt, that climate deniers are whackos.
And the COPy goes to–those brave souls that stripped down to their underwear for the “Out in the Cold” action! Sometimes its not what you wear but what you don’t. This was a tough category, as both these ladies
and these guys
Best Place to Nap
And the COPy goes to–this couch! It’s location will remain a closely guarded secret of the author.
Least Valuable Player
And the COPy goes to–Saudi Arabia! There have been a lot disappointing performances thus far, and Annex I countries in general deserve dishonorable mention for not stepping up with ambitious targets, but the Saudis have managed to distinguish themselves. After arguing during the run-up to the conference that they should be compensated for lost oil revenues if GHG emissions are reduced, they kicked off the proceedings by attempting to torpedo the entire process with a call for further “independent” review of the science, and then kept up their skullduggery by blocking (with some help) an effort to begin discussion of a new Copenhagen agreement. One can hardly call this behavior surprising, but that’s no excuse for letting the Kingdom off the hook.
Most Valuable Player
And the COPy goes to–Tuvalu! This Pacific nation is the fourth smallest on the planet, but has offered by far the biggest–and most courageous–effort at COP15 to date. On Wednesday, Tuvalu called for the formation of a contact group to discuss, basically, a fair, ambitious, and binding agreement on climate change. After this was blocked by such titans as China, Brazil and India, Tuvalu refused to back down and has effectively halted proceedings until the big dogs get serious about a deal. In essence, Tuvalu has gone for broke–which is absolutely the right call considering their entire nation will be underwater if nothing is done to stop emissions.
That’s all for this edition of the COPies, but check back next week to see who takes home the hardware when all is said and done. Here’s hoping it’s Mother Earth that comes out on top.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:33AM PST on December 11, 2009
The Copenhagen group here on Climate Crossroads is 500+ strong. There's an excellent photo gallery. There's a Twitter feed. And there's a blog with up-to-the-moment reports. The latest comes from protests in the streets. Read it here.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:24AM PST on December 11, 2009
A quick review of this past week's happenings in the blog world
The best blog on Copenhagen is right here on Climate Crossroads. About 50 Sierra Club staff and volunteers are at the climate summit, blogging, tweeting, picture-taking, and posting video. It's great stuff!
-- It's been a cold week across the country. The Manic Gardener is coping with tempuratures 18 below zero.
-- And last but not least, Sarah Palin had a pretty stupid op-ed about climate change in the Washington Post this week. Read more about that here. And Mudflats is an Alaskan blog that has everything you need to know about Palin's relationship with climate change.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 12:11PM PST on December 10, 2009
How many people have to be sickened or killed before we get strong coal ash regulations in the U.S.? I ask this during a week very full of news on coal ash – the by-product of burning coal for power.
Our latest and biggest news is our notice today putting New Mexico’s San Juan Coal Company on notice for failing to properly dispose of millions of tons of toxic coal ash and scrubber sludge each year.
“For years the San Juan Coal Company and others have dumped toxic waste into this mine without regard to what it was doing to those living downstream,” said R.G. “Squeek” Hunt, a sheep farmer near the mine in Farmington, N.M. Mr. Hunt’s water has been polluted by the dumping, causing illnesses in his family and killing hundreds of his sheep.
The San Juan Coal Company has dumped more than 40 million tons of coal combustion waste containing pollutants like arsenic, lead and mercury into massive unlined pits at the San Juan Mine, about 10 miles west of Farmington. As a result of the lack of safety precautions, toxins from the coal ash have leaked into nearby waterways and wells, endangering local residents, livestock, and wildlife – like the Hunt family has had to cope with.
We know that coal ash is becoming increasingly toxic, with harmful levels of arsenic, selenium and other pollutants; we know that those living near coal ash sites face an increased risk of cancer, damage the nervous and reproductive systems, and other serious illnesses.
At the San Juan site, testing has shown that the levels of arsenic, lead, selenium, uranium and many other toxins exceed safe levels in ground and surface water near the coal ash dump site.
And this isn’t the first time for San Juan - previous unsafe dumping of coal combustion waste near the San Juan coal plant caused significant damage, forcing the owners of the plant to pay over a million dollars in damages for livestock killed and families made sick by drinking contaminated water.
Over the past years coal companies have been increasingly dumping burned coal waste in open coal mines, like the San Juan mine, as a way to avoid the costs of landfill disposal, liners, covers and monitoring to make sure toxins don’t leak out. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency has found that water supplies in 24 states have been contaminated from coal combustion waste that was disposed of without proper safeguards.This is why coal ash must be classified and regulated as hazardous waste.
But in case you needed another reason – we’re just about to the one year anniversary of the devastating coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston plant. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee even held a hearing on it yesterday, as the cleanup continues but the news media has mostly moved on.
And today the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on coal combustion waste disposal and its relation to drinking water and public health.
Also, the Mirant coal plant, just outside of DC, was put on notice for contamination at their Brandywine coal ash landfill (The landfill contains seven million cubic yards of coal combustion waste in multiple, unlined disposal cells – and it’s leaking into a nearby wildlife sanctuary stream). Even Pennsylvania is in the midst of revising its own coal ash rules.
Yet the coal industry continues fighting for special treatment to keep them from cleaning up their dirty business. Coal use from cradle to the grave is dirty, dangerous, and damaging, and yet the coal industry is spending millions on lobbying to retain and create more loopholes for themselves.
We’re grateful for some movement on the issue – such as today’s House committee hearing, but we need strong, federal standards on coal ash. Coal ash should be classified as hazardous waste.
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:24AM PST on December 10, 2009
(Get all the latest coverage and perspective from Copenhagen at the Copenhagen group here on Climate Crossroads! Twitter, photos, blogs, commentary -- it's all there!)
Watch as a speech being given by a climate-change denier in the heart of Copenhagen goes awry:
Fifty young Americans took over a climate denier conference hosted by a prominent conservative organization this evening in Copenhagen, rushing the stage and telling the live TV audience that a clean energy future is the real road to prosperity in America. The young people, merely a fraction of the more than 350 US youth in Denmark for the UN climate negotiations, entered a session of the Americans for Prosperity "Hot Air Tour" speakers series and were able to drop two banners and gain access to the conference's stage. The live event was webcast to over forty climate denier rallies in cities across the United States.
Posted by: Guay at 10:04AM PST on December 10, 2009
Getting into the Copenhagen conference center is like wandering the halls of the worst drug induced nightmares of a Hunter S. Thompson novel. Throngs of protesters chanting slogans and pushing pamphlets, brochures and other paraphenelia follow every step. Attempting to navigate a dizzying maze of NGO booths, meeting rooms, and side events that could produce a stand alone conference is daunting.
All of this occurs outside the halls that hear the impassioned speeches of history's future victims. The sideshow is such a distraction that it is not a stretch to say that the majority of conference goers have little understanding of what is really going on. This is perhaps best illustrated by the "non-story" of the leaked Danish text.
Behind the smoke, mirrors, and misunderstanding a storm is brewing. An old fashioned David vs. Goliath battle is underway lead by the tiny pacific island nation of Tuvalu. The countries negotiator is proposing an agreement that ensures all countries, developed and developing alike, uphold the spirit of the conference and address the greatest challenge of our time.
Yesterday, the nation forced a temporary suspension of the negotiations to loud applause. The primary purpose was to put a substantial, legally binding agreement that forces advanced developing countries like China and India, as well as the United States to finally address their rapidly growing emissions.
Whether this proposal has any chance of becoming a political "reality" is a separate and largely irrelevant issue. Tuvalu is simply asking for a procedural measure, a symbolic victory at best, to further negotiate their proposal. They are looking for a recognition that the international community at least follows rules and procedures when it comes to addressing humanities survival. Most importantly they are providing this conference with what it desperately lacks - a dose of reality and a glimpse of what firm leadership looks like.
In spite of the vehement objections of many parties Tuvalu has held strong, twice forcing the suspension of proceedings. This despite the fact that many nations are desperate to push their own agendas and seal a deal that simply will not stand up to the test of climate science.
It's easy to scapegoat China and India - who have lead the obstruction, but the real issue is United States. Why should countries that have over half of their massive (over 1 billion) people still living in extreme poverty be forced to act when the United States, the richest country on earth, has been an abject failure on this issue? Why should they take on legally binding targets when obstructionists in the U.S. Senate now wanderthe circus tents here in CPH. How can they be assured we will act?
The answer is they can't. Until we put our actions where our rhetorical moths are it is simply wrong to blame any other country than the one who bears the bulk of historical responsibility.
In the midst of this dark storm, tiny Tuvalu has shown a ray of light. It has shown world leaders who will be arriving next week what leadership looks like - its contours, its feel, its impact. If Tuvalu, a dot on the map facing extinction, can stand up to the circus, the sideshow, and the Goliath that is this conference, surely our president can.
“This is exactly the kind of clean tech investment that Portland, and Oregon, have fought for, “said Mayor Sam Adams. “I have committed to making Portland a national leader in the EV industry, and with Nissan and eTec, we’re able to move our agenda forward.”
“Electric vehicles have the possibility to transform our economy, revive our car industry, and improve our environment. To make sure electric vehicles succeed this time around we need to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in battery technology and [charging] infrastructure.”
In Seattle, Mayor Greg Nickels, who is arguably the best of the lot when it comes to the environment said,
"I extend an invitation to my fellow mayors to join us. I congratulate Portland and San Francisco for taking major steps to green up their grid while preparing for the electric car revolution. This is an exciting time, and the coming clean energy economy will open up plenty of opportunities for all of our cities to win jobs and investment."
And Mr. "better late than never" Los Angeles Mayor, Villaraigosa, finally joined the group last week at a Bloomberg conference near UCLA saying LA would install 500 charging stations. While this is a good start, it is coming a bit late to the game. Since much of the modern EV movement was birthed from LA companies like AC Propulsion and Aerovironment. you'd think our Mayor would be more engaged. They need to put a team of people together and get busy. There's a lot of work to do.
Which brings me to BYD, the Chinese battery company-turned-EV company. You may recall that Warren Buffett bought 10% of BYD about a year ago. He wants to make Los Angeles the U.S. headquarters for the fast growing EV/PHEV maker. He also sees our city as the most logical starting point to sell his cars.
"BYD Co., the Chinese auto maker part-owned by one of Warren Buffett's companies, is likely to choose the Los Angeles area as the lead market for the electric car it plans to start selling in the U.S. late next year, a senior executive said. BYD is also leaning toward choosing the West Coast metropolis as home to its U.S. headquarters for the auto business, Henry Li, a BYD senior director in charge of its auto business outside China, said in an interview Wednesday."
Posted by: SSC international at 9:42AM PST on December 9, 2009
At 6:30 PM this past evening, the US State Department held a closed policy briefing with all US Environmental NGOs- including the US Youth Delegation. Heading the proceedings was the Chief Administrator of the EPA (and youth climate movement supporter!) Lisa Jackson along with the US Deputy Special Envoy on Climate Change Jonathan Pershing. In light of the US’s transformed role as a constructive actor in the international negotiating process as well as the recent EPA announcement regarding the Obama Administration’s mandate to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act, this briefing presented an extroardinary opportunity for civil society delegates to hear from the head honchos about the emerging political dynamics of COP15 and how the US plans to assert its position. About an hour prior to the briefing, I huddled up with other members of the US Youth Delegation Policy Working Group and helped hash out tough questions about US roles and policy positions in context to COP15. Our plan was simple: strategically prioritize a few questions for both Administrator Jackson and Negotiator Pershing and distribute them to all US Youth in attendance to ensure that the most critical issues were addressed. Depending on the number of youth in the room, we figured we’d at best get one or two questions answered.
How wrong we were. As participants filed into their seats and the proceedings began, I quickly realized that youth constituted an overwhelming majority (the-numbers-that-let-you-block-filibusters-in-the-Senate-kind-of-majority) of NGO members present! As EPA Chief Jackson took her seat at the panel, a standing ovation marked the beginning of an amazing evening. Although I cannot disseminate exact details of the briefing, the atmosphere was positive and buzzing with energy. After an interesting brief on the US policy position by Pershing and a brief speech by Jackson, the floor was opened for questions. In the row in front of me, a US Youth Delegate donning a PowerShift t-shirt was called on. As she began her question, she announced that she was in attendance along with over 500 American Youth. She turned around, and about 80% of the room waved to our negotiators. Now that is an illustration of power. From there, 6 of the 9 questions during the session were posed by youth leaders. Although there are undoubtedly critical issues to be addressed by the US negotiating team and much work to be done by our movement to ensure that our leaders are behind a fair, ambitious, and binding climate treaty, the momentum is moving in a positive direction. At the end of the session, the moderator of the briefing- an administrator under Secretary of Energy Steven Chu- gave a wholesome shout out to the youth delegates in attendance. This is what we need- US Youth at COP15 will continue to show our leaders that we are paying attention- and that our future is in their hands.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:12AM PST on December 9, 2009
"Robust" is the word used today to describe Copenhagen's climate summit. That's the angle from Reuters:
President Barack Obama's top aides promised on Wednesday "robust" negotiations toward a global climate change deal this month, but firmly stated the United States does not owe the world "reparations" for centuries of carbon pollution.
They also warned that China, with its booming economy, would not be a recipient of any U.S. aid, even though the Asian heavyweight is considered a developing country under U.N. rules.
Three of Obama's Cabinet secretaries and his lead climate negotiator arrived in Copenhagen for the talks that began on Monday and are scheduled to continue through December 18.
"We are seeking robust engagement with all of our partners around the world," U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said at a press conference.
Jackson is set to tout the EPA's Monday announcement that it was formally declaring greenhouse gases, which scientists blame for climate change, a danger to public health and thus subject to federal regulation under the Clean Air Act.
Even before Jackson takes the spotlight, her announcement already appears to have bought the Obama administration some goodwill from delegates assembled here (along with barbs from congressional Republicans and critics who say a recent British e-mail scandal undermines the scientific evidence of global warming).
Most tangibly, sources report that Jackson received a standing ovation last night at a closed-door administration briefing for environmentalists and other nonprofit groups on the status of the climate talks so far.
The NYT reports that negotiations have "accelerated." For the latest news, photos, and video from Copenhagen, join our Copenhagen group here on Climate Crossroads.
Posted by: SSC international at 8:56AM PST on December 9, 2009
With more than 20,000 people in the Bella Centre for COP15, access to meetings is not always guaranteed. Yesterday, after we were shut out of the opening plenary session, we relocated to another plenary room where we could observe the proceedings on a live feed. We decided to take our seats at the front of the plenary room, as many delegations’ chairs were empty. Moments later, two Malaysian delegates kindly asked us if we could get out of their seats. After a bit of confusion and flustered apologies we transitioned to seats designated for Malawi.
We began to chat about the conference – as members of the G77/China negotiating bloc, these delegates were most concerned by issues of deforestation in the developing world. Thus far, the United States government has not expressed interest in leading the world on the issue of climate change, so we were quick to tell our new Malaysian friends that as United States youth, we are doing all that we can to push our government to take ambitious action. They told us that we should not underestimate our power – that we have tools at our disposal that generations before us never even dreamed of.
During our conversation the following picture came to mind. On one side of the world, two Malaysian professionals are working for biodiversity and forestry conservation, while on the other side, we, two young Americans, are fighting for reduced greenhouse gas emissions and intergenerational equality. This brief interaction was only one of thousands of similar interactions that are commonplace during COP15. We are coming from places as far apart as one can imagine, both geographically and culturally, yet we are all here in Copenhagen to develop solutions to this issue. It cannot be overstated that climate change knows no borders, and COP15 will be the ultimate test of our ability to work together to confront our common challenges.
Our interaction with the delegation of Malaysia was a potent reminder of what can happen when divergent powers engage in dialogue. As Americans, we enjoy the benefits of interactions with the developing world in various projects, including agriculture and industry. Yet, we rarely see the negative implications of these interactions. Similarly, communities in developing nations witness the depletion of precious natural resources without ever getting a chance to meet those who their sacrifices serve. COP15 has brought together the producers and the consumers, the mainstream and the subaltern, and the oppressors and the oppressed. When it comes to climate change, we have no choice but to work together to secure our common future. It should come as no surprise that when we do work t0gether we can develop solutions that never before seemed possible.
Posted by: Paul Scott at 10:10AM PST on December 8, 2009
As we slide into Nordic overdrive in Copenhagen, my mind bounces like a ping pong ball between cautious optimism and deep despair.
On the one hand, the solutions for reducing CO2 are going to be reasonably easy to do. In the U.S., the waste alone will pay for most of the CO2 reduction. Conservative estimates are that 30% of energy used in the U.S. is wasted. It's probably closer to 50%. From homes and buildings built in the era of cheap energy that bleed heat and cooling, to cars, trucks and SUVs designed to be big and powerful without any regard to aerodynamics, mass or the gross inefficiencies of internal combustion.
It's very easy to downsize vehicles while keeping them safe. And as the bloated ICE age vehicles are gradually replaced by the smaller, nimble electrics, our personal contribution to climate change will diminish to a small fraction of today.
Add to that the enormous gains to be had retrofitting buildings. The millions of retrofitting jobs will be funded, for the most part, by the savings in energy.
The best approach seems to be the one described by James Hansen in an op-ed in Sunday's NY Times.
"Under this approach, a gradually rising carbon fee would be collected at the mine or port of entry for each fossil fuel (coal, oil and gas). The fee would be uniform, a certain number of dollars per ton of carbon dioxide in the fuel. The public would not directly pay any fee, but the price of goods would rise in proportion to how much carbon-emitting fuel is used in their production."
And the coolest part of the idea:
"All of the collected fees would then be distributed to the public. Prudent people would use their dividend wisely, adjusting their lifestyle, choice of vehicle and so on. Those who do better than average in choosing less-polluting goods would receive more in the dividend than they pay in added costs."
This is perfect! You add costs to the dirty fuels that have brought us wars and global pollution, sick and dying people, and despotic regimes run by the most evil people on Earth. You then distribute that money to everyone equally. That way, if you are efficient and use cleaner energy, you will make money. If you are wasteful and use dirty energy, you'll pay money to those treehuggers you hate so much.
I LOVE THIS IDEA!
It'll work great, too, "if" we get it passed.
I praise James Hansen for writing "Cap and Fade", especially in light of Paul Krugman's column, "An Affordable Truth". Friedman makes the inevitable "practical" case for cap and trade. If all we can get is a watered down C&T, I'll take it, but we'd be once again accepting less from our leaders than we as a society need to progress.
Which bounces me back to deep despair.
Our population is growing fast. When I was a kid in elementary school, we had about 3 billion people on the planet. By the time I graduated high school, it was 4 billion. Well, time stands still for no one and we now find ourselves pushing 7 billion people! And it's growing faster than ever, mostly in countries that cannot begin to care for the millions who will soon die from war, lack of food, or just global indifference.
There's so little time and all our Congress can do is dither.
Posted by: Don Knapp, ICLEI USA at 9:36AM PST on December 8, 2009
(by Annie Strickler, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA)
Our friends at Grist are facilitating an expert panel leading up to the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, and ICLEI USA’s own Mayor Patrick Hays of North Little Rock, Arkansas (our Board President and one of our on-the-ground representatives at COP15) is one of those experts.
When President Obama announced last week that he would change his schedule to attend the Copenhagen talks on December 18 to help seal a deal, Grist asked the experts the meaning of this announcement.
From Mayor Hays:
There are many ways to analyze President Obama’s Copenhagen schedule change. But, for mayors and local government elected officials like me who have been on the frontlines of the United States’ response to climate change for years, the symbolism and promise alone make it worth the long wait we’ve endured. I feel a sense of relief, hope, pride and anticipation.
There has already been significant leadership in the United States on climate and energy issues – it has just been in city halls, state houses and board rooms. Together with governors, CEOs, college students, church leaders and many others local governments have helped sustain the momentum for international climate action that has brought us to this point. And we did that, until now, in spite of Washington, D.C.
The United States has long been criticized for lack of action at the national level, but President Obama’s actions over the past year culminating in this historic decision have changed the game dramatically. The game – effectively combating global warming – has always been winnable, we just didn’t have the all the right players on the field. We now have a star quarterback in the lineup, and the odds for victory – for a healthy planet and new clean energy economy – are stronger than ever.
Posted by: Brian F. at 4:21PM PST on December 7, 2009
One obvious thing that separates the Copenhagen climate summit from the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 is the multimedia factor. With YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, we get the benefit of clickable video and citizen journalism. For Kyoto coverage, we mainly relied on newspapers.
Visit our Copenhagen group to get a taste of what I mean. There's a photo gallery. There are videos on the blog. There's a Twitter feed. And there's a comments section. Thanks to the endless wonders of the Internet, people in the States have a direct avenue to the happenings in Denmark.
And visit YouTube's COP15 channel. Here are some samples from the far-off reaches of the globe:
Posted by: Carl Pope at 4:00PM PST on December 7, 2009
Last week I took a look at China's offer for Copenhagen -- and a few days later India laid down its own proposal. How bold is the Manmohan Singh government being?
India's basic offer is to reduce the energy intensity of its economy by 20 to 25 percent by 2020. If you compare this with China's offer, during the same time frame, to reduce intensity by 40 to 45 percent, then India looks very timid. But as I said last week, these comparisons are more complicated than looking at one number.
First, some good news: Historically, India has insisted that because rich countries in the West created the climate problem, and it was up to them to solve it. And India has strongly emphasized not only the current overloading of the atmosphere by Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Japan but also the historical carbon debt that has resulted from decades of fossil-fuel burning by the industrial world. India's math is impeccable -- but historical carbon debt is an unhelpful line of argument, because a) the people who emitted that carbon are dead and b) they didn't, until say 1980, have a clue what they were doing.
It's understandable that India might be attracted to this carbon-debt idea -- much of the fossil fuels used by the British empire from 1800 to 1947 were burned to occupy, impoverish, and colonize India. But if we focus on the past, we'll never get the future right. And the good news is that India's primary focus in the lead-up to Copenhagen has been on future carbon emissions rather than on carbon debt.
And India's offer for Copenhagen -- the numbers it has put on the table -- comes with a broader package. As I discussed last summer, India's new Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, had already pulled together a new formulation.
India, has accepted the global goal of keeping climate change below 2 degrees centigrade. India, Ramesh has asserted, will keep its per capita emissions below those of the industrial nations -- so the faster we reduce our emissions, the faster India's per capita emissions will peak. India insists in return that new clean energy technology be shared. And if the world wants India to reduce its emission still further -- committing to remaining well below the industrial world average per capita -- then India expects the rich nations to help finance India's extra commitment to low-carbon development.
Now Ramesh has put a number down -- at least a 20 percent reduction in carbon intensity. How does this stack up?
Remember, there are three numbers to track: total carbon emissions, per capita carbon emissions, and carbon intensity.
In terms of total carbon, India is small potatoes compared to the U.S. and China, but it's still the world's sixth or seventh largest emitter. So India is certainly consequential by that measure. And If India's economy were to grow for the next decade at 7 percent, and if its carbon intensity were reduced each year by 2.5 percent, then India's total emissions over that decade would grow by 50 percent, or 700 million tons.
Even without factoring in India's population growth, by 2020 the country would be emitting only 2.25 tons/capita, which is only slightly higher than the assumed global goal of 2 tons/capita. So India would not, in 2020, still really be part of the problem. It would be using about as much of the world's carbon sinks as it is entitled to.
On an energy-intensity basis, India would have reduced its intensity to about 1.45 tons/$1,000 GDP. China would be emitting three times as much CO2 for every unit of economic output as India, but India would still be using carbon only half as efficiently as today's global average.
Now India is, in the eyes of many economists, about to shift from being a service and agricultural economy to a more industrial and infrastructure one -- which unavoidably drives up carbon intensity, since industrialization and infrastructure takes lots of steel and cement, the world's big carbon hogs. (Both use fossil fuels as a fuel source, but beyond that, both processes actually emit huge quantities of carbon dioxide from their basic chemistry.) But its also -- leaving former communist economies aside -- one of the least efficient users of carbon in the world.
If you want to see how India, China, Europe and the U.S. currently stack up on these basic measures, here's a chart:
So here's my evaluation of the Indian offer:
It's consistent with India's pledges in the short term -- no way is the industrial world going to get below 2.25 tons CO2/capita by 2020. It still leaves the Indian economy with a lot of room to increase efficiency -- but how much room depends on the shape, as well as the size, of the Indian economy of 2020. It poises India to become a serious problem after 2020 -- because one assumes its economy will continue growing, but it hasn't made enough progress on using its carbon efficiently.
But like almost all of the players, what India is offering is almost certainly less than what it is actually willing to do. In India's case, for example, the government just in September established what should be very effective feed-in tariffs to encourage solar and wind. And India is a major factor in one of the world's short-term global warming crises -- the impact of black carbon (soot) in melting glaciers and ice caps. The Himalayan glaciers are viewed by most scientists (but not the official Government of India surveys) as melting alarmingly rapidly, and this melting is greatly exacerbated by soot emitted from open cooking fires (which also cause major health problems). And because open fires use their fuel -- usually wood, sometimes cow dung -- very inefficiently, they are also waste forests, money and rural women's time.
For decades now the government of India has sought a solution to the problem of finding a cheap stove that will substitute for these open fires -- but it has just launched the most serious effort yet. Although carefully downplaying any connection to the problem of climate, Farooq Abdullah, the Minister of Renewable Energy, has declared that this latest effort will try to reach beyond India's 135 million biomass-cooking households, and that India will try to develop stoves to serve the global market.
India refuses to link action on black carbon to the Copenhagen negotiations presumably because, unlike CO2, black carbon is a greenhouse pollutant that is emitted in large quantities by poor countries. So, once again, we see that the basic frame of these negotiations -- as a win-lose battle among nations -- is hindering collaboration and keeping countries from putting on the table what they're actually willing to do. Yes, India can and should do better on its own -- but the world should help India achieve that goal. The world would benefit if it did so -- but I'm not hopeful that we'll figure that out during this gray, wet Danish winter.
Newspapers in 45 countries will implore Monday world leaders to take decisive action at the Copenhagen climate change talks, warning failure will bring calamity, the London-based Guardian said.
Fifty six newspapers, including Le Monde in France, the Miami Herald in the US and the Gulf Times in Qatar, will publish the same editorial warning climate change will "ravage our planet" unless action is agreed, it said Sunday.
"We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest failure of modern politics," it said.
Many of the newspapers will take the unusual step of publishing the editorial on the front page of their Monday editions, the Guardian said, featuring the piece on its website.
The editorial, to be published in 20 languages including Chinese, Russian and Arabic, has been thrashed out by newspaper editors for more than a month ahead of the UN crunch talks starting Monday, the paper said.
Join our Copenhagen group here on Climate Crossroads to get the latest from Denmark.
At a time when we must get serious about increasing the safety and efficiency of the cars and trucks we drive, President Obama has found the right person for the job. Late last Friday evening, President Obama announced that he would nominate long-time Senate aide David Strickland to head the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).
This nomination comes at a critical time for NHTSA, as it is finalizing new fuel economy rules with the Environmental Protection Agency that will ramp up the efficiency of passenger vehicles to 34.1 miles per gallon in 2016.
As a long-time aide to the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees NHTSA, Strickland has a deep knowledge of automobile safety and fuel economy issues and was instrumental in writing the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, which raised fuel economy standards for the first time in three decades. With years of experience David Strickland will be able to go from zero to sixty in no time in helping Americans drive safer, cleaner cars and trucks.
Posted by: Robert Friedman at 9:50AM PST on December 7, 2009
We've arrived (well, most of us anyway)! Even though it was, for most members of the delegation, our first time meeting one another, it felt like a reunion of sorts. Our collective energy has been building for the past two months, our individual energy for years. We've all taken crooked paths to arrive here, facing roadblocks and detours on the road to Copenhagen. But we're all here. Together.
Today, we tapped into the international youth climate movement by attending YOUNGO's Conference of Youth (COY), along with 400 other students. For many of us, COY made the abstract concept of a global grassroots movement into a tangible reality: a young woman from the Solomon Islands facing the impacts of rising sea levels. A young Canadian man working for renewable energy. A young woman from Ethiopia grappling with the imminent famine caused by climate change. An Appalachian student combating mountaintop coal removal. For the first time, climate change issues had a face and a name and a story we heard firsthand.
Our international youth climate movement is powered by building these personal connections. As we bring our movement to COP15 this week, we need to emphasize our common humanity above all else. We can channel the energy of Severn Cullis-Suzuki (aka "the girl who silenced the world for five minutes"), a twelve-year-old Canadian woman who spoke at the U.N. Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992. Seventeen years later and Severn's message still resonates deeply with youth in the climate movement, and could easily bring a parent to tears. Now more than ever, we know what's at stake.
We youth have a common purpose: we're fighting for our future.And we will be heard. COP15, here we come.
Continue to follow the SSC´s journey to COP15 at www.sscinternational.org
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:08AM PST on December 7, 2009
Put this on your things-to-do-list:
There is a Copenhagen group here on Climate Crossroads that you should join. The group is spearheaded by dozens of Sierra Club staff and volunteers who are there for the momentous event. Check out the twitter feed and the blog. There is also a separate discussion forum here. Get involved!
Posted by: Heather M at 7:08AM PST on December 7, 2009
As the Copenhagen climate talks are now underway on their first day (we've got some great posts coming shortly from our folks over there - they'll be posted on this blog and over in our Sierra Club Copenhagen Group), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to formally announce that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are a danger to human health.
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:17AM PST on December 4, 2009
A quick review of this past week's happenings in the blog world
Here's a light-hearted article from Discover magazine's Intersection blog about Obama and Spock. Are they of the same ilk? I know -- it doesn't have anything to do with climate change. But it provides a nifty look at Obama's affinity for science. The article even gets Leonard Nimoy's take on the question. And let's say Obama is Spock. Then who's Captain Kirk?
Q: [White House climate czar] Carol Browner did some interviews last week, or some panel discussions, and she said she thought the John Kerry-Lindsey Graham-Joe Lieberman process was a significant development. I wanted to get your view on that given the discussions of large new subsidies for nuclear plants as well as wider OCS production.
Carl Pope: It changes the landscape and it changes the landscape in a very positive way. It has been clear for quite a while that any bill that got 60 votes was going to have some things in it that I didn’t think were good public policy, and that those things were certainly going to relate to nuclear.
There are some things, like building a reprocessing plant or totally ruining the safety process for public protection, that we couldn’t live with. That doesn’t seem to be where people are headed. People seem to be headed to a level of financial support for the next generation of nuclear plants that I think is a waste of public money. But on the other hand there are other things in the bill that are going to save a huge amount of money. So I probably would accept the whole package.
Hey, Carl Pope's writings appear on the Climate Crossroads blog, right here. It's true! Read his latest about China's role in Copenhagen.
Other happenings in bloggy-land:
-- If you're sick and tired of climate-change denialism, you'll like this blog.
-- Ethnographic maps using cutting-edge technology may help Amazon tribes win forest carbon payments. Whow! Mongabay has the details.
There has been a phenomenal increase in the number of cars on Indian roads leading to a huge rise in vehicular pollution. Photograph: Gurinder Osan/AP
India became the last of the "big four" polluters to reveal its opening hand in the negotiations today, ahead of the crucial climate change talks in Copenhagen next week.
Government sources revealed the country could curb the carbon emitted relative to the growth of its economy – its carbon intensity – by 24% by 2020.
The target would mean emissions would continue to rise as the government aims to lift millions out of poverty, but by less than currently predicted.
The leaked figure days after the announcement last week that China would cut its carbon intensity by more than 40% by 2020. The EU has already pledged a 20% cut in carbon emissions by 2020 – set to rise to 30% if other developed countries match the European target – while the US last month proposed cuts of 17%. These four are expected to emit almost two-thirds of the carbon between now and 2050.
Comparing the targets is complicated. India and China's target are for carbon intensity, but they at least use the same base year, 2005. The EU uses 1990 as a base year, while the US uses 2005. But observers see all the targets as below what scientists say are needed to give an even chance of keeping temperature rise below the dangerous limit of 2C.
"If India offers an emissions target, even if it's relative to their economic growth, it's a very welcome step," said Bryony Worthington, founder of campaign group Sandbag. "It's yet another sign that rapidly developing countries see the potential for green growth. Europe now needs to up its game and commit to targets which really get to grips with our apparently unshakeable addiction to carbon."
Sources told the Indian media that the reduction in carbon intensity could go up to 37% by 2030, compared with 2005. India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, is expected to make a statement in parliament tomorrow to announce the targets. To reduce emissions, India's national action plan on climate change sees increasing solar power generation and improving energy efficiency as a route to "greener growth". In August, India laid out an ambitious plan to generate 20GW of solar power by 2020, which could equate to 75% of the world's solar energy.
The country, which is the fourth-highest emitter of greenhouse gases, has been under pressure from developed nations to announce its plan to control emissions.
The "voluntary reductions" were first floated by Ramesh last week during talks with the Chinese prime minister. He told journalists then that India could not afford to be seen as lagging behind in other nations in offering to act.
A senior government official, who declined to be named, told Reuters that India's final targets, likely to be presented in Copenhagen, could reflect a broad range rather than a specific figure.
The momentum generated by the succession of announcements on targets may throw attention on to the issue of funding for climate adaptation in poorer nations.
Delhi has been a hardliner in the negotiations saying it won't accept legally binding emission caps and offered only to keep per-capita output of carbon lower than that of richer nations. The average Indian's carbon footprint is eight times smaller than the average person in Britain.
Posted by: Paul Scott at 2:26PM PST on December 3, 2009
One of my heroes is climate scientist, James Hansen. He's been the most effective activist advocating for reduced emissions of CO2 in the world.
I'm not going to give you my take on this other than to say -- read it.
"This is analagous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill," he said. "On those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can't say let's reduce slavery, let's find a compromise and reduce it 50% or reduce it 40%."
Now, I suppose I’m generally viewed among greens as a defender of cap-and-trade—or, in the less charitable version, a defender of the “party line,” a shill for the administration, a sell-out “insider,” whatever. A “pro” in the “pro vs. anti cap-and-trade” argument. But that’s not how I see it. It’s more that I think it’s the wrong argument. Activists like Leonard are just mis-identifying the barriers to effective climate action. I’ll have lots more to say on that subject soon, but for now, let’s focus on the video.
The AMP plant was originally proposed in 2006 as a $1.5 billion project that would have provided electricity to municipal utilities across Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia. By late 2009, costs had already increased to approximately $3.9 billion, including financing, while energy demand and market prices had fallen dramatically and efficiency and other alternatives became increasingly available.
Posted by: Brian F. at 3:20PM PST on December 2, 2009
We wrote about the so-called "Climate-gate" saga here on the blog a long time ago. But the (non-)story seems to have legs. As long as climate-change deniers keep yelling loud enough, media folks will keep giving them the spotlight. These deniers don't have evidence, but they do have megaphones. Just look at Lou Dobbs.
For scientists however, it's just another distraction that's hardly worth dignifying. But don't take my word for it. Read Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy (p.s. -- He's a real scientist!): "Bottom line? Yawn. Get back to me when you have equally overwhelming evidence that global warming is not happening, or if it is it’s not anthropogenic. Then we can talk." Want to read more reaction from actual scientists? Try this, this, or this.
Meanwhile, climate-change deniers are using the hype to fuel its never ending misinformation campaign. Who saw that coming? It goes to the point made in this "Daily Show" clip.
Posted by: Guay at 12:52PM PST on December 1, 2009
While many in the press had written Copenhagen off after the Danish government announced its proposal for a politically binding outcome, events over the past week clearly show that there is as much uncertainty as ever as to what will come out of the talks.
A last minute diplomatic offensive by the Obama administration helped to secure commitments from both China and India on a host of climate related issues including the all important measuring, reporting, and verifying (MRV) of emissions reductions. Despite this positive momentum, a small group of key countries lead by China - BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) – is pushing back on expectations of developing country commitments and international MRV. Their concerns are centered on the Danish proposal, the fate of the Kyoto protocol, and the legal structure of a future agreement.
Most threatening are reports from the Indian press that the BASIC countries are now prepared for a coordinated walk out of the talks if their “red lines” for the negotiations are crossed. These lines include: internationally legally binding emissions cuts for developing countries, international measurement, reporting and verification of financially unsupported mitigation actions and the use of climate change as a trade barrier. Ultimately, after a promising set of talks between the U.S, China and India that specifically dealt with MRV – albeit in vague language – this vital issue along with legal structure is still very much up in the air.
The good news is that this was not the only last minute diplomatic maneuvering taking place. A steady stream of emissions reduction and financing pledges continue to be announced including a possible 45% carbon intensity target from China, a 17% U.S. emissions target, $800 million in fast start financing pledges from the U.K., and the possibility of both Australia and New Zealand having cap and trade systems passed prior to Copenhagen (including a bitter political fight that may produce a 15% target for Australia). Most pointedly of all, the Canadian parliament reprimanded what is fast becoming the new “Bush Regime” on climate by demanding the Canadian government take a 25% target to Copenhagen.
Against this backdrop of international political drama comes reports from the world meteorological organization that CO2 is rapidly rising as well as a climate science report the “Copenhagen diagnosis” written by a subset of IPCC scientists that we are on pace for the worst of the IPCC scenarios.
So the stage is now set, a steady stream of new emissions reductions targets and financial pledges, push back from key developing countries over the fate of the Kyoto Protocol and by extension their liabilities to a global climate pact, and most importantly the attendance of more than 60 heads of state including Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and President Obama. Let the fireworks begin!
Posted by: Carl Pope at 12:28PM PST on December 1, 2009
The Chinese government has laid down its initial marker for Copenhagen: China would commit to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy (tons of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of economic activity) 40 to 45 percent by 2020. That's progress at a rate of 4 percent a year, which sounds impressive -- but how much of a problem is the fact that it's carbon intensity that the Chinese are committing to reduce?
Measuring the national commitments in Copenhagen is not simple. Most of the parties involved are busy spinning to make themselves look better. There are actually four important facets each nation's commitment:
1) Total tons of carbon emitted. Globally, this is what matters to the climate. Scientists agree that the current world-emissions level -- 28 billion tons -- needs to peak by 2020 and then decline rapidly.
Posted by: SSC international at 3:44AM PST on December 1, 2009
Thanks to the Energy Action Coalition (which the Sierra Student Coalition is a part of) and its "It's Game Time, Obama" campaign, it has scored our generation a sit-down meeting with President Obama's Cabinet this Wednesday. Leaders from the youth climate movement will participate in the White House's first-ever Youth Clean Energy Forum to discuss moving forward to a bold, clean and just energy future. According to Jessy Tolkan, Executive Director of the Energy Action Coalition, "We asked Obama to meet with us, give a national address outlining his strategy, and attend Copenhagen in person. Not only did the President announce this morning that he'll be attending Copenhagen, the Youth Clean Energy Forum will give us a direct opportunity to inform his agenda there and tell his team what kind of leadership we need on climate and energy."
The Youth Clean Energy Forum will be webcase live via the link below. Here's the press advisory directly from the White House:
On Wednesday, December 2, four members of President Obama’s Cabinet will host a Clean Energy Economy Forum with youth leaders from around the country at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar , Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, and other Administration officials will reiterate the need for a comprehensive energy plan that puts America back in control of its energy future. Transitioning to clean energy will create jobs, enhance national security and help protect our environment for generations to come. They will also participate in a dialogue with attendees on the benefits of the clean energy economy for younger generations and the role young Americans have in creating and sharing those opportunities.
The forum will be webcast live here and will be open to the public through Facebook, where an innovative White House application will allow the public to watch and discuss the event live. The White House will be keeping up with the chat, taking questions, and incorporating feedback from chat participants during the event.