Earl Killian sends me this WSJ op-ed: "Thinking Big on Global Warming" (subs. req'd.). He sees some good news in it -- the WSJ "published a non-denier [opinion] piece." Yes, but geo-engineering is one of the delayers' sexiest strategies -- holding out the promise of a pure techno-fix that doesn't require all those annoying regulations needed to completely change our energy system. The conservative (duh!) authors of the WSJ piece embrace trying to "develop capabilities for increasing the fraction of sunlight that is reflected outward by the upper atmosphere back into space." They claim: "We know it would work because it happens naturally all the time." Yes, volcanoes spew out aerosols that cool the Earth, but I have previously debunked aerosol geo-engineering. The authors seem unaware of a major study that finds "doing so would cause problems of its own, including potentially catastrophic drought." And, of course, this strategy allows unfettered ocean acidification, and as noted recently, "when CO2 levels in the atmosphere reach about 500 parts per million, you put calcification out of business in the oceans." So we might temporarily stave off superheating the planet, but still bring ruinous climate change and destroyed the ocean ecosystem! The authors claim: Do not try to sell climate geo-engineering to committed enemies of fossil fuels. Although several geo-engineering options appear to be highly cost-effective, ideological opposition to them is often fierce. Fashionable blogs are replete with conspiracy theories and misinformed attacks. Who are these enemies of fossil fuels? I don't know such people. I know enemies of greenhouse gases. I am one of those. But we tend to like natural gas, and many of us would be okay with coal if you added permanent carbon capture and storage. Greenhouse-gas mitigation avoids catastrophic global warming with high confidence and few negative side effects (and, indeed, many positive side effects). No one has proposed a geoengineering plan that meets either of those two tests.
For years, I have been looking for a good, readable book on the oil problem and its solution -- just as I'd been looking for a good book on clean technology. Well, I found the Clean Tech book in August, and now I've found the oil book. It is Freedom from Oil, by Brookings scholar and White House veteran David Sandalow. It is an unqualified success -- cleverly told as a series of policy memos from the cabinet of a near-future President, who begins the book by telling his staff: I plan to deliver an address from the Oval Office one month from today. The topic will be oil dependence. In the breathless narrative that follows, you learn the stripped-down facts about oil dependency, plus the growing strategic and environmental danger posed by oil dependency -- and key solutions like plug-in hybrids and revised CAFE standards (as well as stories of fascinating figures in the oil game). You get a "unique window into the White House at work" from a former assistant secretary of state and senior director on the National Security Council staff. Sandalow's President ultimately offers an aggressive plan to free the country from oil dependence, which includes:
... go here and sign the petition. As we've seen, the bill is hanging by thread with a threatened presidential veto and partisan squabbling in the Senate. Still, if Bush is going to threaten a veto, best to actually make him do so, and force the key issues, fuel economy standards and a renewable portfolio standard, into the public eye and hopefully the presidential campaign. This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Many GOP contenders acknowledge that humans probably play some role in recent climate change -- but that's as far as the agreement goes, as the NY Times explained today: Senator John McCain of Arizona is calling for capping gas emissions linked to warming and higher fuel economy standards. Others, including Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mitt Romney, are refraining from advocating such limits and are instead emphasizing a push toward clean coal and other alternative energy sources. All agree that nuclear power should be greatly expanded. McCain recently said, "I have had enough experience and enough knowledge to believe that unless we reverse what is happening on this planet, my dear friends, we are going to hand our children a planet that is badly damaged." Mr. Romney and Mr. Giuliani say little about the potential dangers of climate change and almost nothing about curbing emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide. They talk almost exclusively about the need for independence from foreign oil as a necessity for national security. Fred D. Thompson, after mocking the threat in April, said more recently that "climate change is real" and suggested a measured approach until more was known about it. You can read about all the candidates' views (from both parties) at the NY Times election guide on climate change (or better yet, at Grist's special series on the candidates). Hillary will be announcing her energy plan next week, and we've already seen Obama's terrific plan. Since Rudy appears more and more likely to be the Republican nominee, let's look a bit more at where he stands (and at why even the NYT coverage of the subject remains as frustrating as ever):
The United States is an awfully wealthy nation, as is the United Kingdom. It shows in our lifestyles and it shows in our carbon dioxide emissions -- we are energy rich, not necessarily in production but in consumption. The BBC recently ran an article (opening paragraphs below) highlighting some research from a development organization, and the numbers tell a stunning yet very real story:
The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) just issued its September report -- and the West and Southeast continue to scorch: About 43 percent of the contiguous U.S. fell in the moderate to extreme drought categories (based on the Palmer Drought Index) at the end of September. Here is the U.S. Drought Monitor (darker = drier): Here are some of the drought records being set around the country:
This post is by ClimateProgress guest blogger Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project. It has been a good month so far for climate science, and a bad month for climate cynics. It has been an especially bad month for those on the Irrational Right who, for whatever reason, cannot stand the thought that Al Gore has emerged so gloriously from the grave in which they thought they had buried him forever. "So now 'Algore' will join Yasir Arafat among the list of noble Nobel peace laureates," Rush Limbaugh lamented. By awarding Gore the prize, Limbaugh said, the Nobel committee has "rendered themselves a pure, 100 percent joke." A week earlier, Hillary Clinton issued her "Agenda to Reclaim Scientific Innovation." As president, Sen. Clinton says, she would ban political appointees from "unduly interfering with scientific conclusions and publications," tell agency heads to resist political pressure that threatens scientific integrity, and protect whistleblowers who tattle on ideologues who mess with science. Thus, the Bush Administration suffered two loud and public slaps in the face for its suppression of science at a time when the world needs it like never before.
So we've seen much of the so-called intelligentsia ignore the global warming issue when asked by the Atlantic Monthly to consider the greatest challenges to the American idea. But not all of those asked were so short-sighted. You would expect the one environmentalist they asked, Edward O. Wilson (essay below) to get it right. But what about a Harvard constitutional law professor and his policy analyst/linguist wife? Lawrence H. Tribe and Carolyn K. Tribe: "Our greatest national challenge is to reverse the profoundly misguided course the last two presidential elections have set, while doing three things ... Third, cooperating with the international community before it is too late to restore the degraded health of our fragile planet and to protect the well-being of all its inhabitants." Who else got it right, or partially right? John Updike, Anna Deavere Smith, and even Stephen Breyer: John Updike: "The American idea, as I understand it, is to trust people to know their own minds and to act in their own enlightened self-interest, with a necessary respect for others ... The challenges ahead? A fury against liberal civilization by the world's poor, who have nothing to lose; a ruinous further depletion of the world's natural assets; a global warming that will change world climate and with it world geopolitics. The American idea, promulgated in a land of plenty, must prepare to sustain itself in a world of scarcity." My point exactly!
Why does the public largely lack a sense of urgency on climate? Maybe because most opinion leaders also lack that sense of urgency. To mark its 150th Anniversary, the Atlantic Monthly (subs. reqd) ... ... invited an eclectic group of thinkers who have had cause to consider the American idea to describe its future and the greatest challenges to it. Now this one is real easy -- you don't have to be scientifically literate or read the work of James Hansen, you just have to have seen Al Gore's movie or maybe read Time magazine (reading the Atlantic itself is, however, no help, as previously noted). By far the greatest challenge to the American idea (i.e., unlimited abundance, supreme optimism about the future, global moral leadership, and our special place in the world -- OK, that one's a bit tarnished already -- is global warming. In fact, if we don't adopt something close to Barack Obama's extraordinary climate plan within the next few years -- and I suspect conservatives will block such an ambitious, albeit necessary, approach as too "big-government" -- then global warming will destroy the American idea, perhaps for a millennium or more. Global warming means we move from great abundance to oppressive scarcity, from optimism to pessimism (especially if we cross carbon-cycle tipping points that cause an accelerating greenhouse effect in the second half of this century), and finally, as I wrote in my book: For decades, the United States has been the moral, economic, and military leader of the free world. What will happen when we end up in Planetary Purgatory, facing 20 or more feet of sea level rise, and the rest of the world blames our inaction and obstructionism, blames the wealthiest nation on Earth for refusing to embrace even cost-effective solutions that could spare the planet from millennia of misery? The indispensable nation will become a global pariah. The Atlantic assembled a who's who of the intelligentsia -- who in the main, though very thoughtful, just don't get it: