At some point in the 1980s or 1990s, environmental issues became hopelessly and depressingly politicized. By "politicized," I mean it stopped being acceptable to talk about environmental issues in, for instance, a high-school setting, in the same way that evolution was made into a controversial subject to talk about in many school settings. I'm not sure when I would pinpoint that this politicization really sunk in, but I'd be interested in what those who were around at that point might have to say. By the Republican revolution of 1994 -- around the time I first became aware of something called "politics" -- this seems to have already definitively taken place. But in the past of couple years, while it has remained fairly partisan, climate change has been rapidly depoliticizing as an issue. Even with a former Democratic vice president as its standard-bearer, it's now acceptable for companies, organizations, and institutions that would never consider taking what they see to be a political stance on an environmental issue -- or any other issue not directly concerning their core business -- to take a stance on climate change. In my role as a grassroots organizer with a student environmental organization, it has only recently become possible to approach a wide variety of potential coalition partners for the very first time. My organization could never have approached a typical university president to register the school's public opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- but we can and do approach hundreds to work on climate change. This is phenomenally important in repositioning the environmental movement beyond its role in the '90s as a "special interest." It's an immense boon to anyone trying to figure out how to spark the political moment that could result in good clean-energy legislation getting to the president's desk, and the society-wide coalition that will succeed in getting her or him to sign it. I'd measure the completion of this depoliticization process to be when primary and secondary schools start including climate change -- and then carbon reductions and clean energy -- in their curricula, assemblies, and more. I'm not talking about when high schools stop teaching kids that there's a scientific climate debate -- I mean when they take the only step a responsible educator could take and ask students to consider this: Now that we have a problem, what are the solutions to this problem? Obviously, we're not there yet.
There's a great deal of buzz in D.C. right now over the prospects of the Lieberman-Warner climate bill. A major environmental group (Environmental Defense) is running radio spots urging congressional passage this year, while a key Lieberman aide has been quoted as saying that the already compromised bill is open for further compromise (if that will get more votes). One issue up for discussion is preemption -- that is, taking away the right of states to limit greenhouse gases. With that in mind, it might make sense to consider the views of a genuine eco-battler, my friend Dan Becker, long a Sierra Club activist who waged an often lonely war for years to improve federal fuel economy (CAFE) standards.
A cautionary tale for all those who think nuclear is the answer to climate change. The Washington Post reported yesterday that drought conditions are affecting nuclear production capacity. [Plants] could be forced to throttle back or temporarily shut down later this year because drought is drying up the rivers and lakes that supply power plants with the awesome amounts of cooling water they need to operate. But wait, there's more ...
The American Geophysical Union, a scientific organization with over 50,000 members, mostly earth scientists, just released a position statement on climate change. It is a strong endorsement of the mainstream view of climate science, as articulated by the IPCC reports: the Earth is warming, humans are to blame for most of the recent warming, and future warming may be disastrous. While this is a strong statement by itself, its true strength comes when you consider that this statement is just one of a spate of similar statements by other expert organizations: the American Meteorological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (PDF), as well as several others. Even the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, while not exactly embracing the connection between carbon dioxide and climate, cannot bring themselves to contradict it. Then, of course, we have the "Inhofe 400." Whom should we believe? Jim Inhofe or virtually all of the world's experts? That's a tough one ...
He answers the Davos question: “What one thing do you think that countries, companies or individuals must do to make the world a better place in 2008?”
From Restructuring Today ($ub req'd), reporting on Markey's hearings on allocation vs. auction as a cap & trade methodology: Even conservative Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw believes a free allocation amounts to corporate welfare. Even conservative?
First, the good: here's a feature story in the new Orion magazine about the tactics and successes of the anti-coal activists who've helped halt, count 'em, 59 new plants, according to author Ted Nace. Ted also gives a huge rundown of links and resources for anti-coal activists. And the ugly: thanks to Maria Gunnoe's success organizing against mountaintop removal mining as a staff member of grassroots group Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and now her lead role in stopping a "valley fill" in her home town in West Virginia that cost some local jobs, her family has been the target of harassment and threats of violence, to the level that she's had to hire guards for her home and install security cameras. This doesn't come cheaply, and they're accepting donations to help keep her in that house, in that community, and stopping MTR's utter destruction of Appalachia. More here, plus an address to send donations to. The woman is a hero and deserves better.
The following is a guest essay by Tom Konrad, a financial analyst specializing in renewable energy and energy efficiency companies, a freelance writer, and a contributor to AltEnergyStocks.com. ----- Romm v. Khosla In a persuasive series of articles entitled "Pragmatists vs. Environmentalists" (Parts I, II, and III), Vinod Khosla has provided the reasoning behind his "dissing" of plug-in hybrids, which drew the ire of Joseph Romm. Neither seems to think the argument is settled, and Romm returned fire here. To summarize, Khosla argues that cellulosic ethanol shows more promise for reducing carbon emissions than plug-in hybrids, because the barriers to plug-ins (the need to improve batteries and clean up the grid) are harder to surmount than the barriers to cellulosic ethanol (the improvement of conversion technology). In his words, I consider replacing coal-based electricity plants (50-year typical life) a much longer, tougher slog than replacing oil with biofuels (15-year car life). Romm blasts back, reiterating the multiple problems of corn ethanol in response to the first of Khosla's series, but has not yet responded to his point about cellulosic. I thought I'd tackle the point myself. There isn't enough biomass According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's From Biomass to Biofuels (PDF) study, given all the available biomass in the United States, we will only be able to displace a little less than 2 billion barrels of oil equivalent a year. But we currently use about 7 billion barrels of oil a year, so to displace all our oil usage, we would need nearly a 4x increase in fuel efficiency (not the 1.5x increase in internal combustion engines Khosla talks about).
Another clear statement (PDF) from the nation's top climate scientist on the scientific need for a dramatic change in global coal policy -- this time addressed to the German chancellor, a fellow physicist. He points out that:
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