Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Obama unveils aggressive climate action plan, rallies behind clean technology

President Obama unveiled an aggressive laundry list of actions in a speech on Tuesday that will help to reduce U.S. carbon emissions, boost domestic clean power generation and increase spending on clean energy projects and clean tech innovation. The moves fell short of proposing new laws that would need to get support from Congress, which would have proven extremely difficult, but represented the President's strongest move to fight climate change to date.

As expected, Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency to complete carbon emissions regulation for new and existing power plants. That means that when the EPA finalizes its policies, it could lead to the closure and restriction of older coal plants. Obama also called for another doubling of clean power from electricity (they already doubled it once), a fiscal year 2014 budget with $7.9 billion for clean energy technology across agencies, new efficiency standards for appliances, and a variety of other proposals (see the embed of the proposal below).

windturbineBeyond the details of Obama's climate action plan, the words he used in his speech were strong, demanding America's action on fighting climate change, and pushing back on anyone that didn't believe in the science behind climate change. "We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society," he said. He started his speech by stating simply, "We need to act."

Obama's words will no doubt embolden the cleantech entrepreneurs, investors and innovators building the next generation of clean power technologies. It's no secret that the last couple of years have been very difficult for cleantech startups. "We can use new technology," science and research "to write new rules," said Obama, explaining that its not "either, or," when it comes to the economy and fighting climate change, it's "both, and." Obama gave a shout out to the scientists that would design new fuels, farmers that would grow new fuels, and workers that would operate assembly lines with high tech components for carbon emissions free technologies.

More surprising, Obama hinted at a few even more aggressive stances on the fossil fuel industry. He mentioned the Keystone pipeline and said it would be in the nation's interest only "if it does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

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Actually, even the Flat Earth Society believes in climate change

In his big speech on climate change today, President Obama mocked Republicans who deny the existence of man-made global warming by derisively referring to them as members of "the Flat Earth Society."

"We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society," Obama said. "Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it's not going to protect you from the coming storm."

As it turns out, there is a real Flat Earth Society and its president thinks that anthropogenic climate change is real. In an email to Salon, president Daniel Shenton said that while he "can't speak for the Society as a whole regarding climate change," he personally thinks the evidence suggests fossil fuel usage is contributing to global warming.

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Obama on climate change: "We need to act"

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama declared the debate over climate change and its causes obsolete Tuesday as he announced a wide-ranging plan to tackle pollution and prepare communities for global warming.

In a major speech at Georgetown University, Obama warned Americans of the deep and disastrous effects of climate change, urging them to take action before it's too late.

"As a president, as a father and as an American, I'm here to say we need to act," Obama said.

Obama announced he was directing his administration to launch the first-ever federal regulations on heat-trapping gases emitted by new and existing power plants - "to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution."

Other aspects of the plan will boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.

Even before Obama unveiled his plan Tuesday, Republican critics in Congress were lambasting it as a job-killer that would threaten the economic recovery. Obama dismissed those critics, noting the same arguments have been used in the past when the U.S. has taken other steps to protect the environment.

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Skyonic raises $128M, plans its first commercial CO2-to-baking soda plant this summer

A Texan startup that turns carbon emissions into baking soda (among other things) has raised a huge new round and plans to break ground on its first commercial scale plant this summer. And we thought all those capital intensive cleantech startups were long gone.Austin-based Skyonic announced on Tuesday that it's raised a $128 million Series C round from big name players in the oil and gas industries, which will help fund its inaugural commercial ...


Obama: 'We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society'

There's a contingent of progressive voters who backed President Obama, but have nevertheless been restless when it comes to the White House's climate policy. There's no doubt that the president understands the crisis and supports constructive steps to combat it, but to date, there's been no sweeping, aggressive effort to put global warming at the forefront of the administration's agenda.

For the White House, there's been a fairly straightforward response to the criticisms: the president has made considerable progress through fuel efficiency standards, green-tech investments, appliance standards, etc., but he's also urged Congress to join him for the next steps.

As of today, the president and his team are done waiting, and are moving forward with the legal authority the Supreme Court already gave them. And for those eager to see Obama step up in a big way on the climate crisis, there was a lot to cheer this afternoon: "The president outlined a series of climate proposals he intended to advance through executive action, sidestepping a Congress mired in gridlock in its handling of most matters, let alone politically touchy energy and climate issues."

Some of the most memorable rhetoric included some of the most pointed jabs at climate deniers. "We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society," the president said, adding, "Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it's not going to save you from the coming storm."

As is his wont, Obama also anticipated the inevitable pushback from Republicans, polluters, and industry lobbyists, each of whom have always reflexively opposed environmental protections using talking points that turned out to be wrong. Greg Sargent flagged the president's pushback to the pushback.

"Now, what you'll hear from the special interests and their allies in Congress is that this will kill jobs and crush the economy, and basically end American free enterprise as we know it. And the reason I know you'll hear those things is because that's what they said every time America sets clear rules and better standards for our air and our water and our children's health. And every time, they've been wrong.

"For example, in 1970, when we decided through the Clean Air Act to do something about the smog that was choking our cities -- and, by the way, most young people here aren't old enough to remember what it was like, but when I was going to school in 1979-1980 in Los Angeles, there were days where folks couldn't go outside. And the sunsets were spectacular because of all the pollution in the air. But at the time when we passed the Clean Air Act to try to get rid of some of this smog, some of the same doomsayers were saying new pollution standards will decimate the auto industry. Guess what -- it didn't happen. Our air got cleaner.

"In 1990, when we decided to do something about acid rain, they said our electricity bills would go up, the lights would go off, businesses around the country would suffer -- I quote -- 'a quiet death.' None of it happened, except we cut acid rain dramatically.'

"See, the problem with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity. These critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can't or they won't do it. They'll just kind of give up and quit. But in America, we know that's not true. Look at our history.... The point is, if you look at our history, don't bet against American industry. Don't bet against American workers. Don't tell folks that we have to choose between the health of our children or the health of our economy."

In other words, when the right complains bitterly about Obama's approach, it's worth pausing to appreciate who has credibility on these issues -- and who doesn't.

Of course, this was about more than just rhetoric.

Indeed, the White House has published a fairly detailed climate agenda, and circulated policy minutiae to a degree that no one will accuse administration officials of sticking to broad generalities.

Obama's plan has an attention-getting topline -- "I'm directing the [EPA] to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants" -- but it goes much further. Dylan Matthews noted that the president's approach is so broad, Obama is trying "the kitchen-sink approach to global warming."

I'd also encourage folks to check out Jonathan Cohn's take, who describes the policy as a "B.F.D."

Former Vice President Al Gore, who's repeatedly pushed Obama to tackle the climate crisis with greater urgency, said this afternoon, "This was a terrific and historic speech, by far the best address on climate by any president ever."

And finally, because the White House has not yet published a transcript, and I know a lot of readers can't watch clips from your work computers, I'm posting the full transcript below. It's a little long, but if you can't check out the video, the transcript is worth your time -- it's a substantive, meaningful address on an issue that represents an existential threat to the planet. Take a look.

* * *

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you! Thank you, Georgetown! Thank you so much. Everybody, please be seated. And my first announcement today is that you should all take off your jackets. I'm going to do the same. It's not that sexy, now.

It is good to be back on campus, and it is a great privilege to speak from the steps of this historic hall that welcomed Presidents going back to George Washington.

I want to thank your president, President DeGioia, who's here today. I want to thank him for hosting us. I want to thank the many members of my Cabinet and my administration. I want to thank Leader Pelosi and the members of Congress who are here. We are very grateful for their support.

And I want to say thank you to the Hoyas in the house for having me back. It was important for me to speak directly to your generation, because the decisions that we make now and in the years ahead will have a profound impact on the world that all of you inherit.

On Christmas Eve, 1968, the astronauts of Apollo 8 did a live broadcast from lunar orbit. So Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, William Anders -- the first humans to orbit the moon -- described what they saw, and they read Scripture from the Book of Genesis to the rest of us back here. And later that night, they took a photo that would change the way we see and think about our world.

It was an image of Earth -- beautiful; breathtaking; a glowing marble of blue oceans, and green forests, and brown mountains brushed with white clouds, rising over the surface of the moon.

And while the sight of our planet from space might seem routine today, imagine what it looked like to those of us seeing our home, our planet, for the first time. Imagine what it looked like to children like me. Even the astronauts were amazed. "It makes you realize," Lovell would say, "just what you have back there on Earth."

And around the same time we began exploring space, scientists were studying changes taking place in the Earth's atmosphere. Now, scientists had known since the 1800s that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide trap heat, and that burning fossil fuels release those gases into the air. That wasn't news. But in the late 1950s, the National Weather Service began measuring the levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, with the worry that rising levels might someday disrupt the fragile balance that makes our planet so hospitable. And what they've found, year after year, is that the levels of carbon pollution in our atmosphere have increased dramatically.

That science, accumulated and reviewed over decades, tells us that our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all of humankind.

The 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years. Last year, temperatures in some areas of the ocean reached record highs, and ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record -- faster than most models had predicted it would. These are facts.

Now, we know that no single weather event is caused solely by climate change. Droughts and fires and floods, they go back to ancient times. But we also know that in a world that's warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet. The fact that sea level in New York, in New York Harbor, are now a foot higher than a century ago -- that didn't cause Hurricane Sandy, but it certainly contributed to the destruction that left large parts of our mightiest city dark and underwater.

The potential impacts go beyond rising sea levels. Here at home, 2012 was the warmest year in our history. Midwest farms were parched by the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, and then drenched by the wettest spring on record. Western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland. Just last week, a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures into the 90s.

And we know that the costs of these events can be measured in lost lives and lost livelihoods, lost homes, lost businesses, hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief. In fact, those who are already feeling the effects of climate change don't have time to deny it -- they're busy dealing with it. Firefighters are braving longer wildfire seasons, and states and federal governments have to figure out how to budget for that. I had to sit on a meeting with the Department of Interior and Agriculture and some of the rest of my team just to figure out how we're going to pay for more and more expensive fire seasons.

Farmers see crops wilted one year, washed away the next; and the higher food prices get passed on to you, the American consumer. Mountain communities worry about what smaller snowpacks will mean for tourism -- and then, families at the bottom of the mountains wonder what it will mean for their drinking water. Americans across the country are already paying the price of inaction in insurance premiums, state and local taxes, and the costs of rebuilding and disaster relief.

So the question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science -- of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements -- has put all that to rest. Ninety-seven percent of scientists, including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data, have now put that to rest. They've acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it.

So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it's too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren.

As a President, as a father, and as an American, I'm here to say we need to act.

I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing. And that's why, today, I'm announcing a new national climate action plan, and I'm here to enlist your generation's help in keeping the United States of America a leader -- a global leader -- in the fight against climate change.

This plan builds on progress that we've already made. Last year, I took office -- the year that I took office, my administration pledged to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent from their 2005 levels by the end of this decade. And we rolled up our sleeves and we got to work. We doubled the electricity we generated from wind and the sun. We doubled the mileage our cars will get on a gallon of gas by the middle of the next decade.

Here at Georgetown, I unveiled my strategy for a secure energy future. And thanks to the ingenuity of our businesses, we're starting to produce much more of our own energy. We're building the first nuclear power plants in more than three decades -- in Georgia and South Carolina. For the first time in 18 years, America is poised to produce more of our own oil than we buy from other nations. And today, we produce more natural gas than anybody else. So we're producing energy. And these advances have grown our economy, they've created new jobs, they can't be shipped overseas -- and, by the way, they've also helped drive our carbon pollution to its lowest levels in nearly 20 years. Since 2006, no country on Earth has reduced its total carbon pollution by as much as the United States of America.

So it's a good start. But the reason we're all here in the heat today is because we know we've got more to do.

In my State of the Union address, I urged Congress to come up with a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one that Republican and Democratic senators worked on together a few years ago. And I still want to see that happen. I'm willing to work with anyone to make that happen.

But this is a challenge that does not pause for partisan gridlock. It demands our attention now. And this is my plan to meet it -- a plan to cut carbon pollution; a plan to protect our country from the impacts of climate change; and a plan to lead the world in a coordinated assault on a changing climate.

This plan begins with cutting carbon pollution by changing the way we use energy -- using less dirty energy, using more clean energy, wasting less energy throughout our economy.

Forty-three years ago, Congress passed a law called the Clean Air Act of 1970. It was a good law. The reasoning behind it was simple: New technology can protect our health by protecting the air we breathe from harmful pollution. And that law passed the Senate unanimously. Think about that -- it passed the Senate unanimously. It passed the House of Representatives 375 to 1. I don't know who the one guy was -- I haven't looked that up. You can barely get that many votes to name a post office these days.

It was signed into law by a Republican President. It was later strengthened by another Republican President. This used to be a bipartisan issue.

Six years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are pollutants covered by that same Clean Air Act. And they required the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, to determine whether they're a threat to our health and welfare. In 2009, the EPA determined that they are a threat to both our health and our welfare in many different ways -- from dirtier air to more common heat waves -- and, therefore, subject to regulation.

Today, about 40 percent of America's carbon pollution comes from our power plants. But here's the thing: Right now, there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air. None. Zero. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free. That's not right, that's not safe, and it needs to stop.

So today, for the sake of our children, and the health and safety of all Americans, I'm directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.

I'm also directing the EPA to develop these standards in an open and transparent way, to provide flexibility to different states with different needs, and build on the leadership that many states, and cities, and companies have already shown. In fact, many power companies have already begun modernizing their plants, and creating new jobs in the process. Others have shifted to burning cleaner natural gas instead of dirtier fuel sources.

Nearly a dozen states have already implemented or are implementing their own market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution. More than 25 have set energy efficiency targets. More than 35 have set renewable energy targets. Over 1,000 mayors have signed agreements to cut carbon pollution. So the idea of setting higher pollution standards for our power plants is not new. It's just time for Washington to catch up with the rest of the country. And that's what we intend to do.

Now, what you'll hear from the special interests and their allies in Congress is that this will kill jobs and crush the economy, and basically end American free enterprise as we know it. And the reason I know you'll hear those things is because that's what they said every time America sets clear rules and better standards for our air and our water and our children's health. And every time, they've been wrong.

For example, in 1970, when we decided through the Clean Air Act to do something about the smog that was choking our cities -- and, by the way, most young people here aren't old enough to remember what it was like, but when I was going to school in 1979-1980 in Los Angeles, there were days where folks couldn't go outside. And the sunsets were spectacular because of all the pollution in the air.

But at the time when we passed the Clean Air Act to try to get rid of some of this smog, some of the same doomsayers were saying new pollution standards will decimate the auto industry. Guess what -- it didn't happen. Our air got cleaner.

In 1990, when we decided to do something about acid rain, they said our electricity bills would go up, the lights would go off, businesses around the country would suffer -- I quote -- "a quiet death." None of it happened, except we cut acid rain dramatically.

See, the problem with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity. These critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can't or they won't do it. They'll just kind of give up and quit. But in America, we know that's not true. Look at our history.

When we restricted cancer-causing chemicals in plastics and leaded fuel in our cars, it didn't end the plastics industry or the oil industry. American chemists came up with better substitutes. When we phased out CFCs -- the gases that were depleting the ozone layer -- it didn't kill off refrigerators or air-conditioners or deodorant. American workers and businesses figured out how to do it better without harming the environment as much.

The fuel standards that we put in place just a few years ago didn't cripple automakers. The American auto industry retooled, and today, our automakers are selling the best cars in the world at a faster rate than they have in five years -- with more hybrid, more plug-in, more fuel-efficient cars for everybody to choose from.

So the point is, if you look at our history, don't bet against American industry. Don't bet against American workers. Don't tell folks that we have to choose between the health of our children or the health of our economy.

The old rules may say we can't protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we've always used new technologies -- we've used science; we've used research and development and discovery to make the old rules obsolete.

Today, we use more clean energy -- more renewables and natural gas -- which is supporting hundreds of thousands of good jobs. We waste less energy, which saves you money at the pump and in your pocketbooks. And guess what -- our economy is 60 percent bigger than it was 20 years ago, while our carbon emissions are roughly back to where they were 20 years ago.

So, obviously, we can figure this out. It's not an either/or; it's a both/and. We've got to look after our children; we have to look after our future; and we have to grow the economy and create jobs. We can do all of that as long as we don't fear the future; instead we seize it.

And, by the way, don't take my word for it -- recently, more than 500 businesses, including giants like GM and Nike, issued a Climate Declaration, calling action on climate change "one of the great economic opportunities of the 21st century." Walmart is working to cut its carbon pollution by 20 percent and transition completely to renewable energy. Walmart deserves a cheer for that. But think about it. Would the biggest company, the biggest retailer in America -- would they really do that if it weren't good for business, if it weren't good for their shareholders?

A low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come. And I want America to build that engine. I want America to build that future -- right here in the United States of America. That's our task.

Now, one thing I want to make sure everybody understands -- this does not mean that we're going to suddenly stop producing fossil fuels. Our economy wouldn't run very well if it did. And transitioning to a clean energy economy takes time. But when the doomsayers trot out the old warnings that these ambitions will somehow hurt our energy supply, just remind them that America produced more oil than we have in 15 years. What is true is that we can't just drill our way out of the energy and climate challenge that we face. That's not possible.

I put forward in the past an all-of-the-above energy strategy, but our energy strategy must be about more than just producing more oil. And, by the way, it's certainly got to be about more than just building one pipeline.

Now, I know there's been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. And the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That's how it's always been done. But I do want to be clear: Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation's interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It's relevant.

Now, even as we're producing more domestic oil, we're also producing more cleaner-burning natural gas than any other country on Earth. And, again, sometimes there are disputes about natural gas, but let me say this: We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.

Federally supported technology has helped our businesses drill more effectively and extract more gas. And now, we'll keep working with the industry to make drilling safer and cleaner, to make sure that we're not seeing methane emissions, and to put people to work modernizing our natural gas infrastructure so that we can power more homes and businesses with cleaner energy.

The bottom line is natural gas is creating jobs. It's lowering many families' heat and power bills. And it's the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the technology required for the even cleaner energy economy of the future.

And that brings me to the second way that we're going to reduce carbon pollution -- by using more clean energy. Over the past four years, we've doubled the electricity that we generate from zero-carbon wind and solar power. And that means jobs -- jobs manufacturing the wind turbines that now generate enough electricity to power nearly 15 million homes; jobs installing the solar panels that now generate more than four times the power at less cost than just a few years ago.

I know some Republicans in Washington dismiss these jobs, but those who do need to call home -- because 75 percent of all wind energy in this country is generated in Republican districts. And that may explain why last year, Republican governors in Kansas and Oklahoma and Iowa -- Iowa, by the way, a state that harnesses almost 25 percent of its electricity from the wind -- helped us in the fight to extend tax credits for wind energy manufacturers and producers. Tens of thousands good jobs were on the line, and those jobs were worth the fight.

And countries like China and Germany are going all in in the race for clean energy. I believe Americans build things better than anybody else. I want America to win that race, but we can't win it if we're not in it.

So the plan I'm announcing today will help us double again our energy from wind and sun. Today, I'm directing the Interior Department to green light enough private, renewable energy capacity on public lands to power more than 6 million homes by 2020.

The Department of Defense -- the biggest energy consumer in America -- will install 3 gigawatts of renewable power on its bases, generating about the same amount of electricity each year as you'd get from burning 3 million tons of coal.

And because billions of your tax dollars continue to still subsidize some of the most profitable corporations in the history of the world, my budget once again calls for Congress to end the tax breaks for big oil companies, and invest in the clean-energy companies that will fuel our future.

Now, the third way to reduce carbon pollution is to waste less energy -- in our cars, our homes, our businesses. The fuel standards we set over the past few years mean that by the middle of the next decade, the cars and trucks we buy will go twice as far on a gallon of gas. That means you'll have to fill up half as often; we'll all reduce carbon pollution. And we built on that success by setting the first-ever standards for heavy-duty trucks and buses and vans. And in the coming months, we'll partner with truck makers to do it again for the next generation of vehicles.

Meanwhile, the energy we use in our homes and our businesses and our factories, our schools, our hospitals -- that's responsible for about one-third of our greenhouse gases. The good news is simple upgrades don't just cut that pollution; they put people to work -- manufacturing and installing smarter lights and windows and sensors and appliances. And the savings show up in our electricity bills every month -- forever. That's why we've set new energy standards for appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers. And today, our businesses are building better ones that will also cut carbon pollution and cut consumers' electricity bills by hundreds of billions of dollars.

That means, by the way, that our federal government also has to lead by example. I'm proud that federal agencies have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15 percent since I took office. But we can do even better than that. So today, I'm setting a new goal: Your federal government will consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources within the next seven years. We are going to set that goal.

We'll also encourage private capital to get off the sidelines and get into these energy-saving investments. And by the end of the next decade, these combined efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings will reduce carbon pollution by at least three billion tons. That's an amount equal to what our entire energy sector emits in nearly half a year.

So I know these standards don't sound all that sexy, but think of it this way: That's the equivalent of planting 7.6 billion trees and letting them grow for 10 years -- all while doing the dishes. It is a great deal and we need to be doing it.

So using less dirty energy, transitioning to cleaner sources of energy, wasting less energy through our economy is where we need to go. And this plan will get us there faster. But I want to be honest -- this will not get us there overnight. The hard truth is carbon pollution has built up in our atmosphere for decades now. And even if we Americans do our part, the planet will slowly keep warming for some time to come. The seas will slowly keep rising and storms will get more severe, based on the science. It's like tapping the brakes of a car before you come to a complete stop and then can shift into reverse. It's going to take time for carbon emissions to stabilize.

So in the meantime, we're going to need to get prepared. And that's why this plan will also protect critical sectors of our economy and prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change that we cannot avoid. States and cities across the country are already taking it upon themselves to get ready. Miami Beach is hardening its water supply against seeping saltwater. We're partnering with the state of Florida to restore Florida's natural clean water delivery system -- the Everglades.
The overwhelmingly Republican legislature in Texas voted to spend money on a new water development bank as a long-running drought cost jobs and forced a town to truck in water from the outside.

New York City is fortifying its 520 miles of coastline as an insurance policy against more frequent and costly storms. And what we've learned from Hurricane Sandy and other disasters is that we've got to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure that can protect our homes and businesses, and withstand more powerful storms. That means stronger seawalls, natural barriers, hardened power grids, hardened water systems, hardened fuel supplies.

So the budget I sent Congress includes funding to support communities that build these projects, and this plan directs federal agencies to make sure that any new project funded with taxpayer dollars is built to withstand increased flood risks.

And we'll partner with communities seeking help to prepare for droughts and floods, reduce the risk of wildfires, protect the dunes and wetlands that pull double duty as green space and as natural storm barriers. And we'll also open our climate data and NASA climate imagery to the public, to make sure that cities and states assess risk under different climate scenarios, so that we don't waste money building structures that don't withstand the next storm.

So that's what my administration will do to support the work already underway across America, not only to cut carbon pollution, but also to protect ourselves from climate change. But as I think everybody here understands, no nation can solve this challenge alone -- not even one as powerful as ours. And that's why the final part of our plan calls on America to lead -- lead international efforts to combat a changing climate.

And make no mistake -- the world still looks to America to lead. When I spoke to young people in Turkey a few years ago, the first question I got wasn't about the challenges that part of the world faces. It was about the climate challenge that we all face, and America's role in addressing it. And it was a fair question, because as the world's largest economy and second-largest carbon emitter, as a country with unsurpassed ability to drive innovation and scientific breakthroughs, as the country that people around the world continue to look to in times of crisis, we've got a vital role to play. We can't stand on the sidelines. We've got a unique responsibility. And the steps that I've outlined today prove that we're willing to meet that responsibility.

Though all America's carbon pollution fell last year, global carbon pollution rose to a record high. That's a problem. Developing countries are using more and more energy, and tens of millions of people entering a global middle class naturally want to buy cars and air-conditioners of their own, just like us. Can't blame them for that. And when you have conversations with poor countries, they'll say, well, you went through these stages of development -- why can't we?

But what we also have to recognize is these same countries are also more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than we are. They don't just have as much to lose, they probably have more to lose.

Developing nations with some of the fastest-rising levels of carbon pollution are going to have to take action to meet this challenge alongside us. They're watching what we do, but we've got to make sure that they're stepping up to the plate as well. We compete for business with them, but we also share a planet. And we have to all shoulder the responsibility for keeping the planet habitable, or we're going to suffer the consequences -- together.

So to help more countries transitioning to cleaner sources of energy and to help them do it faster, we're going to partner with our private sector to apply private sector technological know-how in countries that transition to natural gas. We've mobilized billions of dollars in private capital for clean energy projects around the world.

Today, I'm calling for an end of public financing for new coal plants overseas -- (applause) -- unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there's no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity. And I urge other countries to join this effort.

And I'm directing my administration to launch negotiations toward global free trade in environmental goods and services, including clean energy technology, to help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a global low-carbon economy. They don't have to repeat all the same mistakes that we made.

We've also intensified our climate cooperation with major emerging economies like India and Brazil, and China -- the world's largest emitter. So, for example, earlier this month, President Xi of China and I reached an important agreement to jointly phase down our production and consumption of dangerous hydrofluorocarbons, and we intend to take more steps together in the months to come. It will make a difference. It's a significant step in the reduction of carbon emissions.

And finally, my administration will redouble our efforts to engage our international partners in reaching a new global agreement to reduce carbon pollution through concrete action.

Four years ago, in Copenhagen, every major country agreed, for the first time, to limit carbon pollution by 2020. Two years ago, we decided to forge a new agreement beyond 2020 that would apply to all countries, not just developed countries.

What we need is an agreement that's ambitious -- because that's what the scale of the challenge demands. We need an inclusive agreement -- because every country has to play its part. And we need an agreement that's flexible -- because different nations have different needs. And if we can come together and get this right, we can define a sustainable future for your generation.

So that's my plan. The actions I've announced today should send a strong signal to the world that America intends to take bold action to reduce carbon pollution. We will continue to lead by the power of our example, because that's what the United States of America has always done.

I am convinced this is the fight America can, and will, lead in the 21st century. And I'm convinced this is a fight that America must lead. But it will require all of us to do our part. We'll need scientists to design new fuels, and we'll need farmers to grow new fuels. We'll need engineers to devise new technologies, and we'll need businesses to make and sell those technologies. We'll need workers to operate assembly lines that hum with high-tech, zero-carbon components, but we'll also need builders to hammer into place the foundations for a new clean energy era.

We're going to need to give special care to people and communities that are unsettled by this transition -- not just here in the United States but around the world. And those of us in positions of responsibility, we'll need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors, and more concerned with the judgment of posterity. Because you and your children, and your children's children, will have to live with the consequences of our decisions.

As I said before, climate change has become a partisan issue, but it hasn't always been. It wasn't that long ago that Republicans led the way on new and innovative policies to tackle these issues. Richard Nixon opened the EPA. George H.W. Bush declared -- first U.S. President to declare -- "human activities are changing the atmosphere in unexpected and unprecedented ways." Someone who never shies away from a challenge, John McCain, introduced a market-based cap-and-trade bill to slow carbon pollution.

The woman that I've chosen to head up the EPA, Gina McCarthy, she's worked -- (applause) -- she's terrific. Gina has worked for the EPA in my administration, but she's also worked for five Republican governors. She's got a long track record of working with industry and business leaders to forge common-sense solutions. Unfortunately, she's being held up in the Senate. She's been held up for months, forced to jump through hoops no Cabinet nominee should ever have to -- not because she lacks qualifications, but because there are too many in the Republican Party right now who think that the Environmental Protection Agency has no business protecting our environment from carbon pollution. The Senate should confirm her without any further obstruction or delay.

But more broadly, we've got to move beyond partisan politics on this issue. I want to be clear -- I am willing to work with anybody -- Republicans, Democrats, independents, libertarians, greens -- anybody -- to combat this threat on behalf of our kids. I am open to all sorts of new ideas, maybe better ideas, to make sure that we deal with climate change in a way that promotes jobs and growth.

Nobody has a monopoly on what is a very hard problem, but I don't have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it's not going to protect you from the coming storm. And ultimately, we will be judged as a people, and as a society, and as a country on where we go from here.

Our founders believed that those of us in positions of power are elected not just to serve as custodians of the present, but as caretakers of the future. And they charged us to make decisions with an eye on a longer horizon than the arc of our own political careers. That's what the American people expect. That's what they deserve.

And someday, our children, and our children's children, will look at us in the eye and they'll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did. Don't you want that?

Americans are not a people who look backwards; we're a people who look forward. We're not a people who fear what the future holds; we shape it. What we need in this fight are citizens who will stand up, and speak up, and compel us to do what this moment demands.

Understand this is not just a job for politicians. So I'm going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends. Tell them what's at stake. Speak up at town halls, church groups, PTA meetings. Push back on misinformation. Speak up for the facts. Broaden the circle of those who are willing to stand up for our future.

Convince those in power to reduce our carbon pollution. Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there's no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth. And remind everyone who represents you at every level of government that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote. Make yourself heard on this issue.

I understand the politics will be tough. The challenge we must accept will not reward us with a clear moment of victory. There's no gathering army to defeat. There's no peace treaty to sign. When President Kennedy said we'd go to the moon within the decade, we knew we'd build a spaceship and we'd meet the goal. Our progress here will be measured differently -- in crises averted, in a planet preserved. But can we imagine a more worthy goal? For while we may not live to see the full realization of our ambition, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that the world we leave to our children will be better off for what we did.

"It makes you realize," that astronaut said all those years ago, "just what you have back there on Earth." And that image in the photograph, that bright blue ball rising over the moon's surface, containing everything we hold dear -- the laughter of children, a quiet sunset, all the hopes and dreams of posterity -- that's what's at stake. That's what we're fighting for. And if we remember that, I'm absolutely sure we'll succeed.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America.


Before you get excited about Obama's climate speech...

Later today, President Obama will give what's being billed as a major new speech on climate change, where he's expected to announce a series of new measures the administration will take that don't need congressional approval to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

It's a welcome and overdue move, but those who believe in science should probably keep their optimism guarded and praise conditional for the moment, considering Obama's habit of promising big and delivering smaller when it comes to climate.

"This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal," he famously (or infamously) said when accepting the Democratic nomination five years ago.

Continue Reading...


Turns Out Electric Vehicles Can Actually Reduce Urban Pollution

Earth Techling opens a recent article with this statement: "One thing we've come to expect with the rise of electric vehicles is that pollution levels in areas where these are driven will drop, even if just slightly. Given the newness of mass adoption though, there's only so much data out there to collaborate our assumption. [...]


Friday, June 21, 2013

As Secretary Kerry Heads To India, Deadly Floods Demonstrate The Urgency Of Climate Change

A monsoon triggers flooding in India. (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

While the monsoon season brought relief to drought-stricken farmers across India this week, extreme flooding killed nearly 150 people and displaced thousands in Northern India. At the same time, a new World Bank report released yesterday finds that the drought and flooding whipsawing that India experiences will become more frequent and extreme with climate change - causing more displacement, loss of life, and potentially trapping millions into poverty in the coming decades.

Secretary of State John Kerry's upcoming trip to India next week provides an opportunity to strengthen cooperation between our two countries in response to these dramatic and devastating changes.

The monsoon season is a long-awaited and celebrated time in India, determining the crop output and economic stability of the 70 percent of Indians who either directly or indirectly depend on farming for their livelihoods. Farming makes up nearly 15 percent of the country's $1.83 trillion GDP, making drought a huge threat to the overall economy. The Indian Space Research Organization found that 68 percent of India is prone to droughts, with a third categorized as "chronically drought prone."

Last August, India was in the midst of its second drought in four years, with rainfall 20 percent below average nationwide and 70 percent below average in other states like Punjab. Many experts believe the drought was a factor in the July 2012 blackout that left over 600 million Indians without power. Low rainfall led farmers to irrigate crops with water pumps, drawing more electricity from the grid than usual.

Considering these factors, this year's monsoon coming one month ahead of schedule was welcome news in parched areas across India. But the extreme flooding in the Northern states demonstrated why India is considered one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. The flooding left over 71,000 pilgrims stranded in the state of Uttarakhand and thousands of others displaced and missing across the region. Dozens of buildings and bridges collapsed under water pressure and landslides stranded hundreds. An Indian Army team of over 5,500 is leading rescue operations and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a $170 million aid package for the state of Uttarakhand on Wednesday.

Droughts, floods, more intense heatwaves, sea-level rise, stronger cyclones and storm surges - this is the new climate reality for India's 1.2 billion people. Climate change will undoubtedly impact the economy with shifting drought and monsoon patterns and create complex environmental, humanitarian, and security challenges in India.

In a recent report, the Center for American Progress examines the nexus of climate change, migration, and security in South Asia. The video below from this report explains how climate change will impact existing tensions with migration in Northeast India.

While India is starting to prepare, the daunting breadth of climate impacts the country faces will require forward-thinking, innovative adaptation and resiliency measures.

Next week, Secretary of State John Kerry heads to India, already promising to put climate change at the top of his agenda. The U.S. should take this opportunity to strengthen our existing bilateral relationship through enhanced cooperation on climate change resilience.

A good model for Kerry would be to take the template of our existing bilateral agreement on clean energy with India, which has proved to be the strongest point of climate related cooperation between our two countries. The U.S.-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE) has put $125 million toward a U.S.-India Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center, $20 million toward collaboration on deployment, and mobilized more than $1.7 billion in public and private resources for clean energy projects in India. Cleaner energy sources will help prevent 100,000 deaths in India from coal-fired power plant pollution each year.

A similarly structured venue for cooperation on climate change resilience, focused on strengthening response and recovery to events such as this week's deadly floods, would be ideal. The U.S. and India are already working together through the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to enhance monsoon forecasting. As with the PACE programs, the focus could be on building joint capacity from Indian and U.S. public and private institutions for research that would benefit both countries. While the disruption of the Indian monsoon cycle amply demonstrates the need for better forecasting and response capacity in India, the same need exists in the United States.

There are strong indications that such a move would be welcome In India. A recent Yale-Shakti Foundation poll found that only 7 percent of Indian respondents knew "a lot" about global warming - but when it was explained to them, 72 percent believed global warming was happening and 56 percent believed it was caused by human activity. What the Indian public is apparently responding to is changes in weather events and the new unpredictability of monsoons.

Source: Yale-Shakti Foundation poll

Source: Yale-Shakti Foundation poll

Yesterday, President Obama described our future if the world failed to address climate change:

The grim alternative affects all nations - more severe storms, more famine and floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise. This is the future we must avert. This is the global threat of our time.

India and other regions of the world are already acutely experiencing this climate reality. The time to act is now.


June 21 News: NOAA Says This Was The Third-Warmest May On Record

Credit: David Goldman / AP

Global average temperatures this past May were the third warmest for any May since record-keeping began in 1880, coming in just behind May 2005 and May 1998. [The Hill]

The combined average surface temperature over land and the ocean was 59.79 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 1.19 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)....

"It... marked the 37th consecutive May and 339th consecutive month [more than 28 years] with a global temperature above the 20th-century average. The last below-average May global temperature was May 1976, and the last below-average global temperature for any month was February 1985," the agency said in its monthly report.

The biggest single donor to the Competitive Enterprise Institute's annual fundraising dinner was Google, with Facebook not far behind. [WaPo]

The L.A. Times editorial board says the rise of extreme weather makes it clear the time to act on climate change is now. [LATimes]

The National Research Council has endorsed a carbon tax as a effective way of combating climate change. [Politico]

Agricultural output is not rising fast enough to meet the food needs of a rapidly growing population, according to a new study. [Guardian]

Poor land management and rising levels of CO2 are causing woody, thorny plants to crowd out African grasslands - spelling trouble for cheetahs. [Guardian]

The EPA is abandoning a draft 2011 study that linked fracking to Wyoming water pollution. [The Hill]

Tens of thousands of people in India are trapped and almost 120 have been killed after heavy flooding and landslides devastated the country this week. [Fox News]

More than half of Americans consider the environment when choosing what to buy, according to a new survey. [L.A. Times]

Heavy flooding in western Calgary, Canada could force 100,000 from their homes, and heavy rain and mudslides have washed out roads and closed highways. [NBC News]

Intense air pollution in Beijing is causing many expatriates to leave the city and country for good. [L.A. Times]


Thursday, June 20, 2013

All Recent Findings Lead to a Clear 'NO' to Keystone XL and All Tar Sands Extraction

Upon further study of the U.S. State Department's Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for the Keystone XL Project, it's very clear that the extraction of the Canadian tar sands is highly dependent on the approval of Keystone XL. This may seem far-reaching, but based on recent events, it has been demonstrated beyond argument.

On April 22, 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published comments on the DSEIS. In this response, the EPA aired many concerns, including the following:

  • The need for a broader consideration of the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) intensive nature of oil sands crude compared to other crudes, including their potential to have larger climate impacts.
  • The flawed assessment by State that transporting oil sands crude by rail presents a viable option, which failed to assess its potential for much "higher per barrel rail shipment costs than presented in the DSEIS."
  • The inadequate consideration of the risks posed by tar sands pipeline spills.

Many of the EPA's concerns have been affirmed by recent events. In June, Goldman Sachs released a financial report on the economic viability of Canadian tar sands oil extraction without the Keystone pipeline. The report concluded that without the Keystone XL pipeline, many tar sands developments would be put on hold due to the high costs of alternate tar sands transportation.

As stated in my previous blog post on this issue, the Goldman Sachs report shot down the financial feasibility of the alternative rail transport of tar sands oil, due to the high cost of specially-made rail cars, increased time needed to unload heavy crude oil, and a diminished ability to transport the same number of barrels at one time.

Also this month, the British Columbian government made a decision to reject the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline proposal, undermining the State Department's assumption that other pipelines will be built in Keystone XL's pace. This recent rejection shows that other pipelines face significant opposition and may not be constructed for alternative transport possibilities. The provincial Environment Minister Terry Lake stated that:

British Columbia thoroughly reviewed all of the evidence and submissions made to the panel and asked substantive questions about the project including its route, spill response capacity, and financial structure to handle any incidents...Our questions were not satisfactorily answered during these hearings.

And finally, even the White House's acknowledged the increasing cost of carbon to our public health and environment with their recent announcement of the new social cost of carbon (SCC). The White House has increased the SCC, or the cost that agencies should consider resulting from each ton of carbon, from $22 per ton to $36 per ton, a more than 150 percent increase. This will increase the economic argument against the GHG intensive extraction of Canadian tar sands.

The EPA has aired many concerns, and the rest of the world has answered strongly against the pipeline. It is hard to see how the biased reasoning of TransCanada can hold up against these unbiased reports and current events, especially with the history of the 2010 Enbridge oil spill in Michigan, where a smaller pipeline than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, carrying Canada's tar sands oil, spilled into the Kalamazoo River and remains a problem three years later.

With all of these new developments in the overall tar sands story, it is increasingly clear that the Keystone XL pipeline is crucial to the expansion of the polluting tar sands industry -- making it even more imperative that Obama reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Let's make it clear to the Obama Administration that they cannot hide behind the argument that the tar sands will be developed regardless of their decision on Keystone. Keystone is the key to tar sands development, and we need to make sure that the Obama Administration does not just hand over the key to this Pandora's Box.

-- Bo Ra Kim, Sierra Student Coalition Executive Committee Member


Al Gore says Obama Must Veto 'Atrocity' of Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

Former vice-president says oil pipeline is 'really a losing proposition' and demands climate plan promised at inauguration.keystone-walking-protest-670

Al Gore has called on Barack Obama to veto the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, describing it as "an atrocity".

The former vice-president said in an interview on Friday that he hoped Obama would follow the example of British Columbia, which last week rejected a similar pipeline project, and shut down the Keystone XL.

"I certainly hope that he will veto that now that the Canadians have publicly concluded that it is not safe to take a pipeline across British Columbia to ports on the Pacific," he told the Guardian. "I really can't imagine that our country would say: 'Oh well. Take it right over parts of the Ogallala aquifer', our largest and most important source of ground water in the US. It's really a losing proposition."

To keep reading, click here.


145 Former Obama Campaign Staffers Urge Him To Reject Keystone XL

(Credit: AP)

More than 100 former Obama campaign workers are urging the president to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, in a move that comes just days after 22 former Obama campaigners were arrested while peacefully protesting the pipeline in Chicago.

In a letter released Thursday, 145 members of Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns called on the president to "make the right decision" on the pipeline:

Mr. President, we are just a few of the millions of young people across the country who are frightened at the prospect of runaway climate change. One of the reasons we came to work for you in the first place is because we trust you understand how big this challenge is.

You already know all the reasons we can't afford this pipeline - that it will lock in gigatons of carbon pollution over the next four decades and that it could spill into our nation's most valuable water sources - we're just asking you to think of us when you make up your mind. Dozens of supporters across the country told us they were casting their ballot for someone they could count on to make the tough calls when it came to our security and our health care and our climate. They voted for you, Mr. President, because we told them you'd be on the right side of history when you had to make these calls. Because we knew you'd do the right thing and stop this pipeline.

Public pushback against Keystone XL - which Obama is expected to decide on by this winter - has picked up over the past few months, following the State Department's release of the project's environmental impact statement. On Thursday, the 145 signatories joined billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer as he unveiled a social media campaign against Keystone XL that aims to garner support from Obama's supporters. (Full disclosure: Steyer is a member of the Board of Directors at the Center for American Progress.) Also on Thursday, a group of nurses and environmental activists marched across the Golden Gate Bridge in hopes of highlighting the health impacts of the pipeline, which run from air pollution, to the risk of contaminated water and illness from spills, to the increased risk of disease spread in a warming world.

The renewed push against Keystone XL comes as recent reports and events shed light on the pipeline's disputed safety and the environmental impacts of tar sands mining. If Keystone XL is built, TransCanada won't be using the latest technology in spill detection for the pipeline; it would have to be spilling oil at a rate of 12,000 barrels a day before its spill detectors would sound an alarm. A report from Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board found TransCanada failed to clean up the "vast and expanding" toxic waste ponds leftover from tar sands mining, which kill about 7,000 ducks and geese every year. And a massive toxic waste spill from an oil and gas mining site in Alberta covered more than 1,000 acres in early June, causing "every plant and tree" to die.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Climate disruption: the 10 percent doctrine?

Laurie Johnson, Chief Economist, Climate Center, Washington, DC

What do the odds of a catastrophe have to be for insurance to be a wise investment? Apparently extremely low for a father or mother buying life insurance. For example, the probability of dying at age 35 is 0.1 percent. The odds of both parents dying are exponentially smaller. Yet, against these probabilities, parents routinely spend thousands of dollars on this insurance.

Why, then, haven't we made aggressive investments in climate protection, when the odds of a catastrophe and the number of lives at stake appear to be far larger? One prominent climate economics model (more below) estimates a 10 percent chance of catastrophe if global temperatures increase more than 2°C above preindustrial levels, yet the world's lack of serious mitigation efforts is putting the world on track for 3.6°C to 5.3°C (p. 9).

In a recent PBS column, reporter Paul Solman asked one very prominent economist to speculate on this dilemma. Martin Weitzman, economics professor at Harvard (and formerly Yale and MIT), presented the economics of uncertainty in no uncertain terms:

  • [W]e are undertaking a colossal planet-wide experiment of injecting CO2 into the atmosphere that goes extraordinarily further and faster than anything within the range of natural CO2 fluctuations for tens of millions of years...[I]n this kind of situation, for an economist, abating CO2 emissions is like buying insurance against a catastrophe...The bottom line is that if we continue on a business-as-usual trajectory, then there is some non-trivial probability of a catastrophic climate outcome materializing at some future time.... If we don't start buying into this insurance policy soon, the human race could end up being very sorry should a future climate catastrophe rear its ugly head.

These are strong words for an economist: the famous joke about economists is that you will never find a one-handed one (on the one hand...).

The model I referred to above is one of the most popular ones used in the economics literature and by policy makers: PAGE (Policy Analysis of the Greenhouse Effect, developed by Chris Hope at the University of Cambridge and used by, among others, the UK and the US to estimate the benefits of emissions reduction policies).

PAGE's assumptions are based upon the overwhelming scientific consensus that an increase above 2°C puts the climate at risk of reaching a "tipping point," where irreversible catastrophic damages could unfold. Corresponding to the 2°C mark is an atmospheric CO2 concentration level of 450 ppm. PAGE assumes an increasingly higher chance of a catastrophic event the larger the temperature increase and, associated with these rises, increasingly higher economic damages.

Of course, passing 450 ppm doesn't mean there will be a catastrophe. We can only know that the risk increases the more CO2 exceeds that level. But the business-as-usual scenario is of no comfort. In 2001, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change presented a range of approximately 550 to 1000 ppm by 2100; by 2010, CO2 emissions reached levels consistent with the higher end projections. To put this in context, consider the projections relative to historical fluctuations:

Thumbnail image for 2001 IPCC--ppm history and future.png

FIGURE DESCRIPTION: The horizontal axis goes back in time starting at 0 at the right end, which is the present, going back 600,000 years, from two different ice core records (EPICA and Vostok). The small red bar at the side on the right vertical axis indicates the increase in CO2 concentrations between 1958 and 2007. On this time scale, the 50 years of measurements span less than the thickness of the line, so it appears vertical, as do projections to 2100 (the six arrows above the 2007 mark).

Any rational person should find this graph alarming: pre-industrial levels were around 300 ppm or less, and the natural range between ice ages and warm periods like ours is about 100 ppm. This year, we blew past a milestone of 400 ppm and, if we do nothing, risk reaching 1,000 ppm. For Weitzman, the huge uncertainties associated with this experiment don't preclude a certain policy choice:

  • Admittedly, almost all of the relevant probabilities in this kind of rough analysis are uncomfortably indeterminate. But that is the nature of the beast here and shouldn't be an excuse for inaction...Prudence would seem to dictate taking action to cut back greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

Weitzman's reasoning is not unlike the famous wager proposed by the 16th century Catholic French philosopher Blaise Pascal, which goes something like this: "Given the possibility that God actually does exist, and the infinite loss associated with non-belief (eternal damnation), a rational person should live as though God exists. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.). An infinite cost times even a tiny probability is still ... an infinite cost."[1]

Replace "God" with "catastrophic climate risk" in the previous paragraph.

Another analogy is the famous "One Percent Doctrine," coined from Dick Cheney's assessment of the risks of terrorism:

"If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response."

One might dismiss Cheney's assessment on grounds that they disagree with his anti-terrorism policies, but his statement reflects the nation's longstanding approach to national security-we spend a huge amount of resources against unknown risks. Every year, the US military budget is well over $600 billion dollars.

One percent is a small number, but if that is the risk of a catastrophe it makes sense to invest a great deal to prevent it. A ten percent risk of catastrophe is unacceptable. Yet, by one estimate, the Federal government spent only $25 billion on low-emission technologies in 2010 (excluding short-term stimulus).

Instead, we should be taking aggressive actions, like those outlined by the International Energy Agency, to prevent CO2 from exceeding 450 ppm. Time is running out fast: anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, producing a "lock-in" effect that will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change. If we don't stop locking in high carbon emissions within the next five years the results are likely to be disastrous.

[1] This paraphrase is adapted from Solman's piece and Wikipedia's description.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New York lays out $20 billion plan to adapt to climate change

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday announced a $20 billion plan to prepare for rising sea levels and hotter summers expected as a result of climate change in the coming decades.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

What Happens in the Arctic Unfortunately Is Not Staying in the Arctic

Chuck Clusen, Director, National Parks and Alaska Projects, Washington, DC

What Happens in the Arctic Unfortunately Is Not Staying in the Arctic:

The Arctic Ice Pack May Be as Important to Us People as to the Polar Bears. Its Melting Must Be Brought Under Control. Oil and Gas Activities Contribute to Arctic Amplification by Spewing Black Carbon (soot) and Releasing Methane As Well Add to the Oil We Burn.


Polar bears swim for long distances between melting blocks of park ice.

It is widely known the Arctic is warming more rapidly than any other place on Earth-more than twice as fast. This is occurring due in significant part to what is called "Arctic amplification." This is when solar radiation is absorbed to a greater degree by melted open water, or land that has prematurely lost its seasonal snow cover, than the solar absorption rate of ice and snow. As the Arctic warms, the temperature differential between the Arctic climate zone and the temperate climate zone decreases. This effect has a tendency to push the jet stream north. Yet, Arctic warming is not uniform geographically or temporally, resulting in Arctic cold fronts moving south. These cold fronts can push the jet stream back south, but not necessarily uniformly, creating a north-south wave in the jet stream.

As reported in the March 2013 edition of Oceanography: The Offical Magazine of the Oceanography Society, in an article written by Professor Jennifer A. Frances of Rutgers University; Charles H. Greene, a program director at Cornell University; and Bruce C. Monger, a senior research associate at Cornell University, the warming of the Arctic may have had a lot to do with the trajectory of Superstorm Sandy.

While Sandy started out as a relatively normal late-season hurricane, it markedly changed as it moved north. An extra-tropical cyclone merged with Sandy due to a cold front from the Arctic moving down the Mississippi Valley, pushing a southerly wave in the jet stream. Simultaneously, the ocean waters under Sandy stayed unusually warm for that time of year and, most importantly, a strong high-pressure blocking pattern over Greenland tucked into the jet stream loop going back north. This high-pressure system prevented Sandy from steering northeast and out to sea as October hurricanes normally track. With no way for Sandy to go north or east, it made a very sharp turn west, hitting the densest populated portion of the eastern seacoast.

In recorded weather history there is no prior record of such storm behavior. As Sandy moved west it combined with the other extra-tropical cyclone which had turned into an early winter nor'easter. The new combined storm became huge and ferocious. The storm exhibited record-low atmospheric pressure and the unusual strong high-pressure block to the north created a huge area of violent east winds that pushed water up onto the eastern coastline, from New Jersey to Nova Scotia. We all know the devestation Superstorm Sandy left in its wake.

Superstorm Sandy damage.jpg

Storm damage from Superstorm Sandy.

Scientists believe that the movement of the jet stream north, the larger amplitude meanders of the jet stream, the more frequent Arctic cold mass invasions into the middle latitudes, and the more frequent blocking events that forced Sandy west rather than follow the traditional storm tracks northeast, are all new phenomenon. If these events become common, anyone who lives in the temperate zone may have to contend with more devastating storms like Sandy..

Oceanography March 2013 image.bmp

Much of the material for this blog was taken from an article published in Oceanography: Green, C.H., J.A. Francis, B.C. Monger. 2013 Superstorm Sandy: A series of unfortunate events? Oceanography 26(1):8-9, http:dx.doi.orgt/10.5670/oceanog.2013.11. Also, an analysis by Jennifer Francis, "Linking Weird Weather to Rapid Warming of the Arctic", posted on 05 March 2012 in Business & Innovation Climate Science & Technology Sustainability Water Antarctica and the Arctic Asia North America was used.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Al Gore: The information explosion is a tool to help solve the climate crisis

The digital revolution and the explosion of data are powerful tools that can help solve the climate crisis, said Vice President Al Gore at Google's 'How Green is the Internet?' on Thursday. In Gore's talk he applauded the leadership roles that tech companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft have been taking around energy, clean power, and sustainability.

The event is Google's third that focuses on the energy of Internet, and Google told me it's assembled the small group to discuss the environmental effects and benefits of the Internet. It's a complex question. For example, while data centers consume a lot of power to run the Internet, e-commerce on average uses less energy than brick-and-mortar retail shopping because of the reduction of the driving of the shopper.

There's a lot more questions than there are answers, pointed out Google's Senior VP, Technical Infrastructure, Urs Hoelzle in his introduction for Gore. If we can focus on asking the right questions, we can empower significant research in this area, said Hoelzle. For more information on the current research available, check out the papers that Google amassed for the event.

Green data center expert Jonathan Koomey, who spoke right after Gore, also emphasized the need for more data around energy and the Internet. We need data on electricity use and potential savings, we need network devices that automatically do this type of reporting and we need more case studies, said Koomey. But overall, said Koomey, the focus on the electricity use of the Internet is misplaced; the energy savings benefits of things like smart systems, dematerialization (replacing atoms with bits) and IT-related efficiency could potentially be much more powerful than the direct energy used by the Internet.

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Here's Why The U.S. Is Morally Obligated To Act On Climate Change

Credit: Citizens Campaign for the Environment

Internationally, the big hurdle to fighting climate change and global warming is figuring out a fair way to divvy up responsibility. Serious efforts to curb carbon emissions will require considerable upfront investment, so who should make those investments and how much? That impasse then influences domestic political reluctance in the United States. If the rest of the world isn't moving, why should we?

Earlier this week, Bloomberg flagged work by the Stockholm Environment Institute and others to nail down answers to those questions with hard numbers. Their conclusion?

As of now, the United States bears fully one third of the burden to reduce global carbon emissions, with much of Europe shouldering nearly another third. It's a bracing conclusion. The latest analysis suggests the per-unit social and economic damage from carbon emissions due to global warming is as much as twice what we thought. Several countries with much more modest obligations than America's have already moved to price carbon, leaving the U.S. sticking out like a sore thumb. Even China is tip-toeing up to it.

Much of the researchers' work comes from the Greenhouse Development Rights Framework. First, they set a global threshold for living standards, below which people are considered free from the responsibility to sacrifice in the fight against climate change. They came up with $7,500 a year in dollars (adjusted for purchasing power parity) - it's the living standard at which malnutrition, infant mortality, low education, and other problems of poverty begin to fade, plus a bit of breathing room. Even then, about 70 percent of the globe lives at or below this level, and taken all together is responsible for only 15 percent of the cumulative global emissions.

Capacity to invest in climate mitigation and adaptation was then defined as all income per person falling above that threshold. As you can see below, the United States' capacity swamps that of both India and China, despite the much larger populations of the latter two countries:

Source: The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework

The researchers then tried to quantify responsibility for climate change by accounting for cumulative emissions since 1990, and all projected emissions going forward, while excluding all emissions associated with income below the threshold. Putting it all together, they calculated the "responsibility and capacity indicator" (RCI) for each country. In other words: everyone's fair share of the responsibility to reduce carbon emissions enough to keep the planet's climate under two degrees Celsius of warming.

The result? The United States has 33.1 percent of the global RCI in 2010, dropping to 25.5 percent in 2030. The European Union has 25.7 percent in 2010 and 19.6 percent in 2030. Thanks to its economic growth, China does jump from 5.5 percent in 2010 to 15.2 percent in 2030. But no other country even cracks 8 percent, or changes much over that period.

Source: The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework

This shouldn't be surprising. Other data suggests the U.S. can claim a third of the world's carbon dioxide emissions since the mid-1800s, and our per capita emissions top nearly every other nation. We're also the most economically developed nation without a price on carbon, meaning we implicitly subsidize fossil fuel use far more than anyone else.

In fact, the paper notes that even if the advanced countries get their carbon emissions down to practically zero by 2050, the two degree target doesn't give the poor and developing countries much room to work with. That matters, because reducing poverty requires reducing energy poverty, and reducing energy poverty usually means increased carbon emissions. It's possibly the key paradox of human advancement - the world is creeping up on an astonishing reduction in global poverty, even as our greenhouse gas emissions keep driving us towards likely climate and ecological catastrophe. It's what led the International Energy Agency and the World Bank to note that tackling energy poverty and climate change at the same time is going to have a hefty global price tag.

Here in America and the developed west, meanwhile, we've basically got the problem of deep poverty licked. Given the position of extraordinary economic privilege we enjoy in the global order, it's right that the lion's share of the climate change burden falls to us. To that end, the paper suggests establishing an international fund to invest in global climate change mitigation and adaptation, with countries contributing in accordance with their RCI share. Or just use the RCI proportions to calculate direct emission reduction targets for each country.

But it's not grim self-sacrifice. The insurance bill the U.S. is paying for extreme weather disasters - increasing thanks to climate change - far outpaces that of any other country, meaning reducing global warming is in our quantifiable financial self-interest. We also need jobs, and specifically jobs that pay well but are accessible to less educated Americans, in order to avoid falling into an economy with just an upper and lower class, but no middle class. Research suggests renewable energy produces more jobs per unit of energy generated than the fossil fuel industries, green jobs are both more accessible to less educated Americans than all jobs as a whole, and their more likely to involve manufacturing. Finally, if we 're exporting renewable technology to China and the world, rather than importing it when they develop it first, we'll help close our trade deficit and improve the government's finances.

But self-interest aside, at the end of the day there's no escaping the simple morality of the matter. As President Obama pointed out at a prayer breakfast in 2012, quoting Luke 12:48, "for unto whom much is given, much shall be required." He was talking about justly distributing the burden of deficit reduction, but the point applies to carbon reduction just as much.