Thursday, April 25, 2013

Air pollution linked with thickening of the artieries, cardiovascular problems

Air pollution has been linked to heart attacks, strokes and atherosclerosis ("hardening of the arteries"), thanks to research published on Tuesday in PLOS Medicine. The study found that high concentrations of fine particulate air...
Effects over time at varying levels of average residential PM2.5 concentrations exceeding the city average during the follow-up period.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Global Ponzi Scheme: We're Taking $7.3 Trillion A Year In Natural Capital From Our Children Without Paying For It

Last week, David Roberts over at Grist flagged a report carried out by the environmental consultant group Trucost, at the behest of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity over at the United Nations.

The idea behind the report was simple. Tally up all the world's natural capital - land, water, atmosphere, etc. - that doesn't currently have a dollar value attached to it, and figure out the price. But the next step was where it got interesting. Figure how much of that natural capital is being consumed, depleted or degraded without the responsible party paying the cost for that use. The number the study hit on was a staggering $7.3 trillion in 2009 - about 13 percent of global economic output for that year.

This brings up what economists call "negative externalities." That's a technical term for what happens when one actor in the economy has to pay for another actor's mess. In a theoretically perfect market, the price of consuming, degrading or depleting a resource would be paid by the party responsible.

But getting the theory of markets to map onto the real world is difficult. Dumping trash on a neighbor's lawn is technically free, so a lot of us should be doing it more. But because we've built societies in which our neighbor can sue us, or the cops can fine us, we're forced to internalize that cost. Lots of costs can only be internalized through smart institutional design and government policy, rather than by leaving the markets free to do their market thing.

What Trucost found is that when you scale this problem up globally - all the river, air, and land and air pollution that isn't paid for, all the water and land use that isn't paid for, and especially all the carbon emissions dumped into the atmosphere that aren't paid for - the numbers get very big:

Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions: $2.7 trillion. This was by far the biggest single problem, and East Asia and North America were the two biggest culprits. That lines up with an International Monetary Fund study that determined the United States is the world's biggest subsidizer of fossil fuels - with Asia the runner-up - because it's failed to put a price on carbon emissions through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system. Trucost assumed a social cost to carbon emissions of $106 per metric ton. That's higher than the IMF's assumption of $25 per ton, but well within the overall range of costs studies have found.

Global Water Consumption: $1.9 trillion. Wheat farming was the biggest problem here, followed by rice farming and general water supply, mainly in Asia and North Africa. That's probably largely because developing and poorer countries have fewer institutions or infrastructure for managing water use.

Global Land Use: $1.8 trillion. Cattle ranching in South America came in first here, followed by cattle ranching in South Asia. Besides the usual uses, the effects of logging and fishing were also included. Trucost estimated the value of unused land using metrics laid out in the United Nations' Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

Global Waste And Land, Air, And Water Pollution: $850 billion. Sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, and particulate emissions were the big culprits for air pollution ($500 billion total) mainly in North America, East Asia, and Western Europe. Land and water pollution ($300 billion total) was actually mostly fertilizers, from North America, Asia, and Europe again. Global waste was the remainder, mostly hazardous materials. Trucost figured out these prices mainly through the costs of clean-up and health effects.

On top of that, the study's next conclusion was equally dramatic: whole sectors of power generation, materials production, farming and ranching across the globe would become entirely unprofitable if they had to pay the true cost of their natural capital use. The top five biggest regional industries the study looked at are in the chart below, and even in the best case their natural capital costs effectively wipe out their revenues:

In fact, of the twenty biggest regional industries the researchers examined around the globe, none of them would be profitable. Much of the global economy, in other words, is a giant Ponzi scheme that is (temporarily) viable only because markets fail to account for the value and use of the natural ecology - on which civilization depends for its crops, water, air, its very livelihood.

But that bill will ultimately be paid in full are - by our children and countless future generations.

The Consequences For The Economy

The purpose of the study was actually quite hard-nosed - to give investors some idea of the risks their investments may face. It's great for a business if someone else pays for their use of natural capital. Until that natural capital suddenly goes away, or the related ecological system collapses. Then the costs are "re-internalized" though droughts, extreme weather, rising seas, and all the attendant damage to infrastructure, to food prices, to cities, to human health and to human lives. One of the benefits of price signals - which is lost when these capital costs aren't accounted for - is that they prevent investors and industrial sectors from getting in over their heads in unsustainable practices.

According to a recent report from the Carbon Tracker Initiative and the London School of Economists, if the world successfully enacts policies to hold global warming under two degrees Celsius, then 60 to 80 percent of coal, oil and gas reserves could be rendered unusable. That would mean a loss of about $6 trillion in investments, which suggests how poorly the global economy is currently accounting for its use of the Earth's natural resources.

The Consequences For The Planet (And For Us)

The other benefit price signals ostensibly provide is that they prevent overconsumption of resources by keeping demand tethered to supply. By not pricing natural capital, we're losing out on that, too.

For a while now, the Global Footprint Network has been working on tallying up the planet's biocapacity, which is the ability of any unit of land - usually measured in global hectares - to produce useful biological materials like crops or drinking water, and to absorb wastes. What they've determined is that global biocapacity per capita is going down, since there's only a limited amount of Earth and the human population is rising. But also, humanity's ecological footprint per capita is going up, due to the all the ways we over-consume or poorly consume our natural capital. And ever since the early 1970s, we've been overshooting:

This isn't just a question of biocapacity's ability to supply human civilization with the resources it needs to function - it's a question of biocapacity's ability to regenerate that capital after it's consumed. The overshoot means that, at this point, it takes 1.5 years for the planet to regenerate the resources we consume in one year. In effect, we're taking money out of the bank faster than the interest payments can restore it. Eventually, we're going to spend biocapacity down past the point of sustainability. Eventually, something's going to give.

What We Can Do About It

In 2011, the public policy shop Demos put out a report exploring how gross domestic product has become a sort of catch-all measure of human welfare, and how inadequate it currently is to that conceptual task. One of the main reasons for that inadequacy was, not surprisingly, the fact that we don't price so many of the benefits human beings derive from natural ecosystems.

Demos suggested several ongoing projects as models for correcting that failure: There's the aforementioned Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which attempts to put a quantifiable economic value on the ability of ecosystems to provide food, crops, fresh water, raw materials, air quality, protection against erosion, protection against storms, climate maintenance, and cultural benefits. Based off the Assessment's work, China instituted a system of ecosystem payments to make sure incentives to conserve natural resources compete equally with incentives to consume them. The World Bank has also set up a project of six to ten countries that's building ecosystem benefits into national accounting practices.

The United States has actually been working on Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting (IEEA), which was proposed by the United Nations in 1999. It constructs assessments of ecosystem values that's directly compatible with methods already in place for national accounting. The hope is the IEEA will result in environmental policies that better weigh the value of ecosystems versus the traditional economy, and will help federal agencies better manage resources. Several governments - including Switzerland, Wales, and the United Arab Emirates - are also using the ecological footprint measure as a guide in their own management practices.

Finally, the report from the Carbon Tracker Initiative and the London School of Economists suggests that capital markets start accounting for climate change, and that regulators require companies to report the carbon emissions built into their current fossil fuel reserves - precisely the sort of price signaling that isn't currently being done.

In short, the problem is real, and enormous. America is deeply implicated, but there are already concrete models out there to start accounting for our use of the natural world on the level of both policy and economics. Can we get to work already?

Related Post:

Friday, April 19, 2013

Carbon Bubble Will Plunge the World Into Another Financial Crisis - Report

Trillions of dollars at risk as stock markets inflate value of fossil fuels that may have to remain buried forever, experts warn.


The world could be heading for a major economic crisis as stock markets inflate an investment bubble in fossil fuels to the tune of trillions of dollars, according to leading economists.

"The financial crisis has shown what happens when risks accumulate unnoticed," said Lord (Nicholas) Stern, a professor at the London School of Economics. He said the risk was "very big indeed" and that almost all investors and regulators were failing to address it.

The so-called "carbon bubble" is the result of an over-valuation of oil, coal and gas reserves held by fossil fuel companies. According to a report published on Friday, at least two-thirds of these reserves will have to remain underground if the world is to meet existing internationally agreed targets to avoid the threshold for "dangerous" climate change. If the agreements hold, these reserves will be in effect unburnable and so worthless - leading to massive market losses. But the stock markets are betting on countries' inaction on climate change.

To keep reading, click here.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

President Obama's Budget Request for International Climate Action Strong But Short of the Need

Jake Schmidt, International Climate Policy Director, Washington, DC

Under the Obama Administration, the United States has invested internationally in addressing climate change. These investments have helped developing countries speed up the deployment of clean energy reduce the loss of forests around the world, and assist the most vulnerable in adapting to the impacts of climate change. They are smart investments that benefit American citizens in many ways. President Obama's budget request for this upcoming year continues to support these international climate investments, but unfortunately his request is short of what is needed.

In the last fiscal year, Congress dedicated $858 million towards international climate action. Unfortunately, the President's request comes in 2.5 percent below that amount (at $837 million). In an era of growing clean energy deployment opportunities, extreme weather events leaving devastation around the world, and significant progress on deforestation reductions, now is not the time to scale-back our efforts.

Now is the time to strengthen our investments and help secure a livable planet for our children and grandchildren. Secretary Kerry understands the need for climate action as he has repeatedly stressed that:

"If we waste this opportunity, it may be the only thing our generation - generations - are remembered for. We need to find the courage to leave a far different legacy."

Here are details on the President's budget request for international climate action.* [Thanks to Michael Wolosin of Climate Advisors for this detailed breakout.]

US Intl climate funding FY14.png

It is critical that we continue to significantly invest in these actions as 60 leading environmental, conservation, development, and faith-based organizations urged Secretary Kerry to invest in international climate action. Financing for international climate action serves vital U.S. interests by promoting global stability and human security, creating economic opportunities for U.S. businesses and workers, helping to alleviate global poverty, protecting past U.S. development investments, complementing global health and food security efforts, protecting critical forest areas and biodiversity, and ensuring significant cost-savings through disaster preparedness measures.

U.S. investments in international global clean energy deployment help spur demand for renewable energy around the world. These investments benefit American workers and companies who are already tapping into the global clean energy market. As John Doerr, partner in the venture capital firm Kleiner

Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Jeff Immelt, chairman and chief executive of General Electric, pointed out:

"America confronts three interrelated crises: an economic crisis, a climate crisis and an energy security crisis. We believe there's a fourth: a competitiveness crisis. This crisis is particularly evident in America's worldwide standing in the next great global industry, green technology...The question is whether the United States will lead or lag in tomorrow's global energy markets. And the difference between these two futures is dramatic."

Targeted and well-planned U.S. climate change investments in climate resilience and adaptation are helping communities in developing countries build capacity to adapt to and prepare for impacts from climate change. The consequences of a changing climate are already fast pushing communities, particularly the poorest and most marginalized around the world, beyond their capacity to respond. Data on efforts to reduce disaster risk show that investments in pre-disaster risk management in developing countries result in a savings of $7 for every $1 spent. As Admiral Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated:

"...climate change's potential impacts are sobering and far-reaching. Glaciers are melting at a faster rate, causing water supplies to diminish in Asia. Rising sea levels could lead to a mass migration and displacement similar to what we saw in Pakistan's floods last year. And other shifts could reduce the arable land needed to feed a growing population in Africa, for example. Scarcity of water, food and space could create not only a humanitarian crisis, but create conditions that could lead to failed states, instability and, potentially, radicalization."

Halting forest loss is a vital part of the fight against climate change. Sustainably managing forests to support local communities has been a key component of international development for decades. As Lynn Scarlett, former Deputy Secretary of the Interior under George W. Bush stated:

"Seeing firsthand the devastating effects of tropical deforestation is humbling. Many local communities, through conservation partnerships, are conserving tropical forests, but only U.S. policy leadership can galvanize global action with the speed, scope, and scale necessary to prevent catastrophic forest losses."

Now is the time to ensure robust investments in international climate action. The President's budget request for this upcoming year continues to support these international climate investments, but unfortunately his request is short of what is needed. We strongly urge that Congress continue to significantly investing in international climate action.


* Note that these amounts are the core budget as appropriated by Congress. The U.S. also makes investments in international climate action through programs that don't require annual appropriations from Congress, such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation which has significantly invested in clean energy deployment support.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dept. of Energy looking to facilitate tar sands development in Alaska

The U.S. Dept. of Energy (DoE) and Alaska's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have signed an agreement, announced on Tuesday, to begin the process of expanding exploitation of Alaska's "vast unconventional energy reserves.&...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Floridians asked to urge legislators to maintain biofuels support

A law currently being considered by the Florida Legislature, HB4001, would repeal Florida's Renewable Fuels Standard, which had been enacted in 2008. This move would end the state mandate for biofuels adoption, according to a press release...

As Communities Cheer New National Monuments, House GOP Attempts To Undercut Law Enabling Their Protection

Leaders from areas near new national monuments designated by President Obama visited Washington, D.C. this week to thank the president. So of course Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on eight bills designed to make it harder in the future for the president to protect special places that local communities have requested be conserved.

In giving the bills a hearing, members of the committee have offered a solution in search of a problem. Community members representing the national monuments that President Obama has designated thus far were at the hearing to show support for the process and the monuments created. As Molly Ward, Mayor of Hampton, Virginia (the location of Fort Monroe National Monument) said on the subject:

The bills up for discussion this morning will have but one result: to prevent other communities from enjoying the same kind of success that our nine communities recently enjoyed.... The Antiquities Act should remain unchanged and ready for the current and future presidents to respond quickly when Congress is unable to proceed quickly.

Nearly one month ago, President Obama used his executive authority to create five new national monuments, a move that was widely supported. But rather than celebrating these successes, certain House members are instead attempting to reprise their role in making the last Congress the most "anti-environmental House of Representatives in the history of Congress." These bills fan the anti-government flames that have recently swept western state legislatures, which are attempting to turn over public lands to the states for private profits.

At issue is the 1906 Antiquities Act, which has been used by 16 out of the last 19 presidents to protect objects and places of "historic or scientific interest" on federal lands and waters. Even President George W. Bush used the act to protect millions of acres of marine areas.

Contrary to claims that monuments are a detriment to local communities, the facts show that they actually provide economic benefits. For example, a study of large monuments in the West by economic research firm Headwaters Economics determined that "the local economies surrounding all 17 of the national monuments grew following the creation of new national monuments."

National monuments and other protected areas like national parks and wilderness also create jobs, as noted by economists. In 2011, over 100 economists asked the president to "create jobs and support businesses by investing in our public lands infrastructure and establishing new protected areas such as parks, wilderness, and monuments."

Last Congress, and this Congress thus far, have been paralyzed when it comes to preserving America's special places. As the Washington Post wrote in an editorial yesterday: can hardly blame the president [for designating new monuments]. Despite bipartisan support for various land conservation proposals, the last Congress was the first since 1966 that failed to set aside any land - any at all.

If members of Congress object to the use of the Antiquities Act to protect special places, they should use their legislative authority to introduce and work to pass bills that do so. Otherwise, as the president told Congress in his State of the Union address: "... if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Peru develops early warnings for glaciers- in pictures // Current TV

The snow-topped peaks in northern Peru are retreating so much that many visitors now come to see how much the glaciers have melted. The environmental changes.

Glaciers melting 20 years early - Protecting rainforests with Cool ...

According to a recent study, water supplied by the glaciers of the Cordillera Blanca in northwest Peru is decreasing due to climate change at least 20 years sooner than expected, according to a new study. The snow-topped peaks in northern ...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Friday, April 5, 2013

Rush Limbaugh Touts 13-Year-Old Who 'Proved' Global Warming Is A Hoax

On his radio show this week, Rush Limbaugh was excited to find a 13-year-old caller who discovered "lots of evidence" that global warming is a hoax. 13-year-old Alex from Wilmington, Indiana said evidence he discovered at his local library made it "really easy" to disprove the science.

Limbaugh was so impressed - and genuinely shocked - that climate denier books exist at the library, he offered the kid an iPad. Here is an excerpt of the exchange:

RUSH: You mean...? Hold it just second. Alex, you're at the health food store, and it's cold out there. It's March. You're there in March, it's cold, and two people in there are surprised that it's cold because it's global warming outside?

CALLER: Exactly.

RUSH: And they still concluded, "Well, we're still in global warming"?


RUSH: But they were shocked. This is hilarious. You know, Alex, there are none so blind as those who will not see, and that's what you're running up against. Where did you find this evidence? How hard was it for you to research?

CALLER: It wasn't that hard to learn it. There is pretty much a lot of evidence that you can find. I personally just went to the local library and looked up books. That's what I did.

RUSH: You went to the library?


RUSH: You didn't use a computer?

CALLER: No, I didn't. Well, yeah, my mom got me one article from the computer. Yeah.

RUSH: Wow. I'm surprised you find evidence of this at the library. That's heartening. Why did you want to do this? What made you doubt the people who believe that there's global warming?

CALLER: Well, over the radio we listen to different things. I've heard lots of evidence that man-made global warming is a hoax. And since I'm doing speeches, I thought it was a very interesting topic. I want to learn more about this. I guess I just always doubted that. There's so much evidence that global warming is not man-made.

It is little surprise that Alex stumbled onto climate denier talking points, since nearly all climate denier books have ties to conservative think tanks. Internal documents obtained by ThinkProgress last year revealed that the right-wing, Koch-funded think tank Heartland Institute developed a curriculum teaching children that climate science is a controversial matter. On the other hand, a mere 24 peer-reviewed articles reject global warming, compared to a staggering 13,926 scientific articles that substantiate it.

If Limbaugh thinks a 13-year-old is where to find the truth about climate science, perhaps he can next invite a 12-year-old to discuss evolution.

Yet many top Republicans in the Senate and House subscribe to the same view. The climate zombie caucus has a wide net of Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), former ranking member of the Senate Environment Committee James Inhofe (R-OK), House Science Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX), and House Science subcommittee chair Chris Stewart (R-UT), and many others.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Climate Change Will Double Area Burned In U.S. Wildfires By 2050, Report Warns

Wildfires in the U.S. will be at least twice as destructive by 2050, burning around 20 million acres nationwide each year, according to a federal report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Scientists from the U.S. Forest Service, who authored the report, found regions such as western Colorado - which already experienced its most destructive wildfire in history last summer - will face an even greater risk fire risk: those regions are expected to face up to a five-fold increase in acres burned by 2050.

The report's findings are in line with previous studies on climate change's relation to fire risk: a 2012 study found that wildfire burn season is two and a half months longer than it was 40 years ago, and that for every one degree Celsius temperature increase the earth experiences, the area burned in the western U.S. could quadruple. The findings are also in line with the observed impacts climate change is having on wildfires. Wildfires in 2012 burned a record 9.2 million acres in the U.S., and record-breaking heat and dry weather in Australia provided ideal conditions for at least 90 fires that raged through the country this January.

The report also outlines the other effects climate change will have on the forests of the U.S. The Rocky Mountain forests are expected to become hotter and drier as the planet warms, conditions that in addition to wildfires will lead to an increase in infestations of insects such as the bark beetle, which has already destroyed tens of millions of acres of U.S. forests. One species, the mountain pine beetle, has already killed 70,000 square miles of trees - area the size of Washington state. As winters become milder, weather becomes drier and higher elevations become warmer, bark beetles are able to thrive and extend their ranges northward. An increase in some species of bark beetle can actually increase the risk of forest fires in areas affected by the beetle - the study notes an outbreak of the mountain pine bark beetle, which attacks and kills live trees, created a "perfect storm" in 2006 in Washington, where affected lodgepole pines burned "with exceptionally high intensity."

David Peterson, a U.S. Forest Service biologist who co-authored the report, told the Denver Post that the destruction the bark beetles have inflicted upon western forests in recent years has been unprecedented:

"We're getting into extreme events that seem to be having more and more effects across broader landscapes."

The report also predicts an increase of invasive plants and animals, as well as flooding and erosion due to increased rainfall, higher rain to snow ratios and more burned areas. It notes that U.S. forests offset 13 percent of the country's carbon emissions, and as trees killed by insects and fire decompose, they'll emit carbon themselves. Because of the sweeping impacts, the report, which is being finalized for the White House and Congress, calls on forest managers to make "climate-smart" practices, such as thinning fire-vulnerable forests, a priority.

Obama's Climate Hypocrisy: We Need People In DC 'Willing To Speak Truth To Power ... To Take Some Risks Politically'

c_07252010.gifSome days the president seems to have no clue about what his own administration has and hasn't done on climate change.

Late Wednesday, President Obama gave a speech to a Democratic fundraiser for the House that tried to rewrite history and shift any blame for climate inaction away from his failed leadership and failed messaging.

Obama actually ended his remarks on what is needed to achieve climate action by saying:

But the most important thing that it's going to take is people in Washington who are willing to speak truth to power, are willing to take some risks politically, are willing to get a little bit out ahead of the curve - not two miles ahead of the curve, but just a little bit ahead of it. And that's why your presence here is so important.

The donor's presence is important to "support the prospect of Nancy Pelosi being Speaker once again." At a second event, Obama even went so far as to say, "If we're going to deal with climate change in a serious way, then we've got to have folks in Congress - even when it's not politically convenient - to talk about it and advocate for it."

Apparently the President is unaware that it was his own White House that shut down any serious talk of climate change by his Administration, by environmental groups, and even by Congress - see "Team Obama Launched The Inane Strategy Of Downplaying Climate Change Back In March 2009."

And, of course, the Congress did pursue serious climate action when it wasn't "politically convenient" - during the nadir of our recent economic collapse - when the House, under the leadership of then-Speaker Pelosi, passed the Waxman-Markey bill. Then leading Senators spent months trying to put together a deal.

But the President never gave one single speech on the subject, he didn't lead, and he wouldn't twist arms in the Senate on climate the way he did on health care (see "The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 2").

To repeat, it is just bizarre that the president would say the key thing is to elect a Democratic House who can speak truth to power and take risks politically, given that when he had a Democratic House (and as Democratic a Senate as he is ever going to see), he didn't speak truth to power and he wouldn't take risks politically.

And his other remarks on climate in the home of Tom and Kat Steyer in San Francisco are even more head-exploding when examined closely:

And something that I know is near and dear to Tom and Kat's hearts, and to Nancy's - we've got more work to do in terms of dealing with climate change and making sure that we've got an economy that is energy-efficient, that is productive, that is cutting-edge, and thinks about not just the energy sources of the past, but also the energy promise of the future.

And the thing that I'm going to have to try to work to persuade the American people a little more convincingly on is this notion that there's a contradiction between our economy and our environment is just a false choice - that if we invest now, we will create jobs, we will create entire new industries; other countries will be looking to catch up, they will be looking to import what we do. We will set the standard, and everybody else will have to adapt.

But - and I mentioned this to Tom and Kat and a few folks right before I came out here - the politics of this are tough. Because if you haven't seen a raise in a decade; if your house is still $25,000, $30,000 underwater; if you're just happy that you've still got that factor job that is powered by cheap energy; if every time you go to fill up your old car because you can't afford to buy a new one, and you certainly can't afford to buy a Prius, you're spending 40 bucks that you don't have, which means that you may not be able to save for retirement - you may be concerned about the temperature of the planet, but it's probably not rising to your number-one concern. And if people think, well, that's shortsighted, that's what happens when you're struggling to get by. You're thinking about what's right in front of you, which is how do I fill up my gas tank and how do I feed my family.

And so part of what we're going to have to do is to marry a genuine, passionate concern about middle-class families and everybody who is trying to get into the middle class to show them that we're working just as hard for them as we are for our environmental agenda, and that we can bridge these things in a way that advances the causes of both. And that's going to take some work.

"The politics of this are tough," Mr. President? That's the big insight you shared with the mega-donors.

First off, the politics of everything are tough! The politics of the stimulus bill, the politics of the financial oversight bill, and the politics of health care reform. And yet, those three all happened.

Second, and more important, the President is apparently completely unaware that his White House organized the entire climate messaging in his first term around the economic issue, around debunking the false choice - and that public opinion polls make clear that piece of messaging worked.

In "Revealed: the day Obama chose a strategy of silence on climate change," the UK Guardian quoted Betsy Taylor (and others) about the big March 2009 messaging meeting convened by the White House:

"What was communicated in the presentation was: 'This is what you talk about, and don't talk about climate change'." Taylor said. "I took away an absolutely clear understanding that we should focus on clean energy jobs and the potential of a clean energy economy rather than the threat of climate change."

The message stuck. Subsequent campaigns from the Obama administration and some environmental groups relegated climate change to a second-tier concern.

The Guardian story explains, "The White House, after studying polling and focus groups, concluded it was best to frame climate change as an economic opportunity, a chance for job creation and economic growth, rather than an urgent environmental problem."

I and others, such as the WashPost's Ezra Klein, explained at length why this was only half a message (see "Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?").

But the President seems to have no idea that his team got everyone pushing a climate bill to focus on the economic message, on the economic benefits to the middle class of climate action - and that polling makes clear it worked at the time:

As you can see if you click on those links, most of those explicitly polled on the question of whether the public thinks the climate bill would create jobs, foster new industries, and be good for the economy - and key middle class groups - including independents and key swing voters - overwhelmingly said yes.

Obama's remarks last night would seem to confirm that it was David Axelrod who mismanaged the messaging decisions without discussing the matter at length with the President. Even so, the president cannot be unaware of his general silence on the issue and his leadership failure at the key moment. The speech is a disappointment for anyone expecting serious leadership on this issue from Obama in his second term.

NEPA: The Most Important Law You've Never Heard Of

Deron Lovaas, Federal Transportation Policy Director, Washington, D.C.

Within-the-Beltway-bubble debate about the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA is alarmingly over-the-top. Lobbyists and legislators in the Capitol often spout heated rhetoric bashing the law, unhinged from reality on-the-ground where it's mostly applied effectively such that road and transit project designs are improved. Lo and behold, on Monday a practitioner -- a senior official at Georgia's Department of Transportation -- penned an Atlanta Journal Constitution piece about the importance of NEPA. I am in agreement with his column. Environmental reviews are a crucial tool for moving transportation projects AND improving the environment. Here it is, reprinted with the author's permission, in its entirety:

NEPA is the guide star

Posted: 12:12 p.m. Monday, April 1, 2013 on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution web site here

By Glenn Bowman

Shortly after signing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) into law on New Year's Day in 1970, President Richard Nixon discussed it in his State of the Union Address:

"The great question ... is shall we make peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, our land and our water? ... Clean air, clean water, open spaces - these should once again be the birthright of every American. ... The price tag is high. Through our years of past carelessness, we have incurred a debt to nature. Now that debt is being called."

Now, 43 years later, that price tag is even higher. Some old problems remain, and daunting new challenges loom. Still, NEPA's impact is unquestionable; it remains the nation's environmental guide star.

At Georgia's Department of Transportation - the entity responsible for more earth work in this state than any other - NEPA has a huge impact on planning, designing and building transportation infrastructure. Virtually everything we do begins with "complying with the NEPA process."

We must:

• Protect water quality, air quality, endangered plant and animal species and their habitats, migratory birds, wetlands, streams, rivers, harbors, flood plains, farmlands and the soil itself;

• Preserve historic and culturally significant buildings and places;

• Save archaeologically significant resources;

• Guard against noise pollution;

• Make certain native peoples and the disadvantaged are treated equitably;

• Mitigate for unavoidable impacts, and always engage the public in our decision-making process.

This requires a considerable investment in time, staff and money. Making a project NEPA-compliant sometimes requires re-routing; re-locating cemeteries and historic structures; and archaeological "digs" to recover important artifacts. We create or improve wetlands and streams to mitigate for like areas that need to be altered. We work with affected residents to help offset impacts to their neighborhoods and lives.

Recently, the need to study areas of North Georgia for the presence of the endangered Indiana and gray bats has garnered attention. Such examination simply is part of a process we are required by law to undertake for numerous plant and animal species, be they cuddly or creepy.

With as many as 700 projects ongoing at any time, not everyone is always going to be satisfied. But our foremost mission is to help make those 700 projects realities; keep motorists safe and moving, and grow that network as Georgia grows.

Meeting our transportation needs and protecting our environment are not mutually exclusive objectives; doing both does not have to be a contentious, adversarial struggle. Working together - internally, with partner agencies, businesses, local governments and citizens - we can repay our debt to nature, have a world-class transportation system, and preserve the beauty and many wonders of Georgia for generations to come.

Glenn Bowman is administrator of Georgia DOT's Office of Environmental Services.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Thin, low Arctic clouds played an important role in the massive 2012 Greenland ice melt

Clouds over the central Greenland Ice Sheet last July were "just right" for driving surface temperatures there above the melting point, according to a new study by scientists at NOAA and the Universities of Wisconsin, Idaho and Colorado.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Clean Fuels In Beautiful Places: U.S. Parks Service Goes Even Greener

For those readers living in one of America's big cities, concrete jungles strewn across the North American landscape, it's easy to forget that hundreds of thousands of acres are set aside in some states as National Parks. Isolated from the bustle of busy cities they're idyllic spots, precious for their history, beauty--and clean air. The National...