The prospects for broad-based Congressional action putting a price on carbon emissions are nil. The House is run by people who care little for environmental issues generally, and Senate Republicans who once favored a pricing strategy, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have long since slunk away. Meanwhile, Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee have spent the last two weeks trying to derail Mr. Obama’s nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency — a moderate named Gina McCarthy. Ms. McCarthy has served two Republican governors (Mitt Romney was one) but is considered suspect by the right wing because she wants to control carbon pollution, which is driving global temperatures upward.
A riverside refinery that has operated in Detroit since the 1930s began refining a new type of oil in November: tar-sands oil from Canada.
In the few short months since it began handling the Canadian oil, the refinery has already spewed out a three-story mountain of black waste covering an area the size a city block. That mountain is still growing, and it is not covered with anything to prevent tiny carbon particles from blowing over the city.
The waste can't be legally used as fuel in the U.S., so the Koch brothers have bought up the pile and plan to sell it to be burned in poorer countries that enjoy freedom from all of America's bothersome environmental regulations.
One California food company has a novel plan for dealing with food waste and cutting down the power bill: Feed it to bacteria. The Kroger Co. plans to chuck all food gone past its sell-by date into an industrial silo, where microbes will break it down to release methane. That methane will in turn be burned to generate electricity.
Kroger's new food-to-energy plant is designed to make the most of the vast amount of food that spoils before it can be sold to customers, while reducing the company's electricity bills. Sludge left over from the new energy plant will be used as agricultural compost. The L.A. Times describes the operation, which was built in a Compton, Calif., distribution center that serves hundreds of Ralphs and Food 4 Less stores:
Several chest-high trash bins containing a feast of limp waffles, wilting flowers, bruised mangoes and plastic-wrapped steak sat in an airy space laced with piping. Stores send food unable to be donated or sold to the facility, where it is dumped into a massive grinder -- cardboard and plastic packaging included.
Scientists used satellite images and gravity measurements to peer more closely than ever before at the torturous drip-drip-drip from the world's glaciers. What they discovered is not really much of a surprise: Ice Age glaciers have been methodically chiseled away by the warming effects of fossil fuel burning.
Global warming and black carbon are working fast: Glaciers outside of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are collectively losing an estimated 571 trillion pounds worth of ice annually, the researchers reported in a paper published Thursday in the journal Science.
Glaciers? Icesheets? Potatoes, potatoes, you say. Here's the difference: The world's ice sheets cover vast swaths in Greenland and Antarctica. Meanwhile, glaciers are rivers and lakes of slow-moving ice. You can find them at high altitudes in alpine regions around the world, and you'll find them in lower elevations (including on and around ice sheets) as you approach the poles.
Although these glaciers contain just 1 percent of land ice reserves, they contribute about as much to the rising seas as the melting ice sheets. The individual contributions of glaciers to the rising seas may be relatively small, but the cumulative impacts of their melts are substantial.
The researchers concluded that melting glaciers are causing the oceans to surge by 0.03 inches yearly, which works out to 30 percent of the total annual rise in recorded sea levels.
For everyone who was hoping the Obama administration's proposed new rules for natural gas drilling on public lands would make a difference, the just-released new draft amounts to a big "frack you."
Federal rules governing fracking on public lands are being updated, ostensibly to help manage the boom that's polluting America's groundwater and shaking free vast volumes of cheap natural gas. Environmentalists were disappointed a year ago when the Department of Interior released a fracker-friendly draft of the new rules. But they submitted reams of comments and had hoped that the proposed regulations would be tightened up in this draft.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) stopped throwing a temper tantrum and took a deep breath for long enough Thursday to allow the Senate to unanimously confirm Ernest Moniz as secretary of energy.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics professor and fossil fuel-industry fan was confirmed with a 97-0 vote. The vote had been delayed more than three weeks by Graham in protest over $200 million of planned nuclear energy budget cuts in his state.
Moniz served as an energy undersecretary in the Clinton administration and he is replacing Steven Chu, also a physicist, who is stepping down from the department's top job.
It appears ag-gag bills can't even hoof it in farm country: Tennessee joins a roster of states who are strangling ag-gag bills before they can reach the killing floor.
Tennessee lawmakers had narrowly approved a bill that would have required anybody who filmed animal abuses to turn over the footage to law enforcement within 48 hours or risk being fined. That would have prevented undercover animal activists from documenting systematic animal abuse by agricultural workers, helping factory farms get away with cruelty.
But Gov. Bill Haslam (R) called BS on the bill and said that he plans to veto it. From a statement issued by the governor on Monday:
First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect. Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law [which protects journalism] without saying so. If that is the case, it should say so. Third, there are concerns from some district attorneys that the act actually makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, which would be an unintended consequence.
"Hello, world? Hey, John Kerry here. Just wanted to apologize for all those decades of America's non-leadership on that crazy global warming thing. But now we've decided to start making some nice sounds about the issue. Hope you can hear me making them over the din of the Arctic ice breaking up behind me."
OK, so the Secretary of State didn't actually say that. But the leader of the department that will rule on the climate-changing Keystone XL pipeline proposal has begun apologizing for the nation's lack of progress in tackling climate change.
“I regret that my own country -- and President Obama knows this and is committed to changing it -- needs to do more and we are committed to doing more,” Kerry said Tuesday, referring to climate change, in a press conference with Sweden's prime minister.
Kerry is in Sweden to attend meetings in the country's northernmost city of Kiruna of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for governments that have a stake in the fate of the fast-melting region. As the Arctic melts, new shipping routes and oil fields are opening up, and the international community is going to need to coordinate and temper the scramble to cash in on these new opportunities.
"We come here to Kiruna with a great understanding of the challenge to the Arctic as the ice melts, as the ecosystem is challenged, the fisheries, and the possibilities of increased commercial traffic as a result of the lack of ice raises a whole set of other issues that we need to face up to," Kerry said during the press conference. "So it’s not just an environmental issue and it’s not just an economic issue. It is a security issue, a fundamental security issue that affects life as we know it on the planet itself, and it demands urgent attention from all of us."
The Obama administration on Friday released the National Strategy for the Arctic Region [PDF]. The strategy pledges to "enable our vessels and aircraft to operate ... through, under, and over the airspace and waters of the Arctic, support lawful commerce ... and intelligently evolve our Arctic infrastructure and capabilities." All done sustainably and in harmony with other nations, of course. But the 11-page document is not so much a detailed strategy document as it is a vague wish-list for the future of the region, and no federal funds have been committed to turn the strategy's goals into reality.
That said, the attention that the U.S. is affording the Arctic Council is politically significant. From the BBC:
Mr. Kerry, who held one of the first US Senate hearings on climate change as early as 1988 with then-Senator Al Gore, is hoping to put the spotlight on the issue of climate change again, after efforts to make concrete progress faltered during President Barack Obama's first term.
Despite a multitude of international crises, Mr. Kerry insisted on attending the meeting of the once-obscure council.
Climate change has countries as far away as India also paying attention to the Arctic -- and seeking observer status in the council.
What the Arctic most needs, of course, is a fast and deep cut in the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Actions leading to that -- like, say, rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline -- will carry more weight than press-conference words.
One of the great features of California's cap-and-trade program is that all the money that the state raises by selling carbon allowances to polluters is supposed to be plowed back into initiatives that help cool the climate. So not only does the program limit and reduce carbon emissions; it also forces polluters to pay to undo some of the harm that they cause.
But with such a big stack of green sitting there, staring the notoriously cash-poor state of California in its desperate face, how can a government resist?
And so it's starting to look as though $500 million raised by selling carbon allowances could be funneled away from green programs and loaned instead to the state's general fund. The L.A. Times reports:
Gov. Jerry Brown sparked controversy Tuesday when he proposed to shift $500 million out of the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and loan it to the state general fund as part of the effort to balance the budget. ...
The Earth revolves around the sun. Also, it's overheating because we're burning fossil fuels.
Can you guess which of those two long-established facts just received an additional jolt of publicized near unanimity among scientists?
It was, of course, the latter. (The oil industry has no economic interest in attempting to debunk the former, and you can no longer be persecuted for claiming it.)
An international team of scientists analyzed the abstracts of 11,944 peer-reviewed papers published between 1991 and 2011 dealing with climate change and global warming. That's right -- we're talking about 20 years of papers, many published long before Superstorm Sandy, last year's epic Greenland melt, or Australia's "angry summer."
About two-thirds of the authors of those studies refrained from stating in their abstracts whether human activity was responsible for climate change. But in those papers where a position on the claim was staked out, 97.1 percent endorsed the consensus position that humans are, indeed, cooking the planet.