The following is a draft letter to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on the subject of proposed new coal-fired power plants. (A similar letter is in the works to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.) The author would appreciate feedback. ----- Dear Prime Minister Brown, Your leadership is needed on a matter concerning coal-fired power plants in your country, a matter with global ramifications, as I will clarify. For the sake of identification, I am a United States citizen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute. I write, however, as a private citizen, a resident of Kintnersville, Pennsylvania, on behalf of the planet and life on Earth, including all species. I recognize that you strongly support policies aimed at reducing the danger of global warming. Also Great Britain has been a leader in pressing for appropriate international actions. Yet there are plans for construction of new coal-fired power plants in Great Britain. Consummation of those plans would contribute to foreseeable adverse consequences of global warming. Conversely, a choice not to build could be a tipping point that seeds a transition that is needed to solve the global warming problem. Basic Fossil Fuel Facts The role of coal in global warming is clarified by a small number of well-documented facts. Figure 1 shows the fraction of fossil fuel carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that remains in the air over time. One-third of the CO2 is still in the air after 100 years, and one-fifth is still in the air after 1000 years.
In a revealing interview on Meet the Press today, GOP Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said he does not support the mandated increase to 35-mpg that both the House and Senate -- and I believe even the president -- support. To quote Rudy: "That isn't the way I think it should be done." What is his alternative strategy? Politically, as readers know, only one other alternative strategy exists: "technology, technology, technology, blah, blah, blah." Yes, Rudy wants to subsidize hybrids and biofuels -- a voluntary strategy that has failed to stop the steady decline in average fuel economy, and the steady increase in gasoline consumption, in this country since the mid-1980s.
When a few members of U.S. Congress come to Bali next week to meet with delegations from all round the world, they'll have something in hand: a first step in the direction of climate change legislation from the U.S. 35mpg fuel economy standards and 15% renewable energy requirements from utilities may not seem like all that much, but for the rest of the world's leaders, who have been holding their collective breath, it's a twitch of life from a government long considered dead on the issue of global warming. The halls of the Bali Convention Center are abuzz with talk of a number of bills going through the U.S. Congress -- delegates and NGO folk alike know the importance of including the United States in the post-Kyoto process.
The work of recent Nobel Peace Prize winners Al Gore and the IPCC, along with a veritable mountain of other evidence, clearly lays out the reality and potential costs of human-induced climate change. Most analyses have concluded that we can and must keep our economies growing while addressing the climate challenge; we need only reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases we produce. We can do this, they say, by using more efficient light bulbs, driving more fuel-efficient cars, better insulating our homes, buying windmills and solar panels, etc. While we agree that these things need to happen (and the sooner the better), it is clear that they will not be enough to solve the big problems the world faces. The inconvenient truth is that to ensure quality of life for future generations, the world's wealthiest societies cannot continue our current lifestyles and patterns of economic growth. Further, the large proportion of humanity living in poverty must be able to satisfy basic human needs without aspiring to an overly materialistic lifestyle. Does this inconvenient truth mean doom and despair? Absolutely not. Indeed, we think this seemingly inconvenient truth is actually a blessing in disguise, for our high-consuming lifestyles and western patterns of economic growth are not actually improving our well-being: they are not only unsustainable, they are undesirable. Scientists are discovering a convenient truth: our happiness does not depend on the consumption of conventional economic goods and services, but instead is enhanced when we have more time and space for socializing, for nature, for learning, and for really living instead of just consuming.
Can anyone out there help me out? Doing some fact-checking for a book, I ran across a question I didn't know the answer to: How much power is consumed by lighting in the U.S.? I spent a bit of time Googling for an answer, but at risk of looking like a dim bulb, I have to confess -- I just couldn't figure it out!
The difficulty with assessing candidates by how they address climate change is that policy statements and tailored speeches give little insight into the relative importance each candidate places on global warming as compared to other issues. It is particularly difficult to distinguish between Democratic candidates, who employ an almost identical language of urgency when addressing environmentalists. Tom Harkin, senior Senator from Iowa, hosts an annual barbecue. The September 16 event drew six major Democratic candidates -- Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Bill Richardson -- who spoke between 8-15 minutes each to an attentive crowd of 12,000. Each candidate's speech is displayed in the accompanying chart (below the fold) in the form of a bar, with red indicators of when and for how long climate change was addressed (CNN feed available at YouTube). It should be noted that when the issue was raised, the Harkin Steak Fry crowd responded enthusiastically, so there is little reason to think that candidates trimmed their climate sails for this particular venue.
A friend of mine is in Bali with the youth activist group SustainUS, and sent this video update: (Thanks, Lauren.) Check out the body language on the guy who I presume is the U.S. delegate to the talks, as the SustainUS group asks him to take a leading role in the talks to ensure a better future for the planet. Unfortunately, he pretty well embodies the word "obstructionist."
You might want to sit down for this: A new report from a German environmental group says that Sweden does the most to address climate change, while the U.S. and Saudi Arabia do the least. …
The Washington Post had an article yesterday on the House fuel economy deal that is quite good in doling out cheers and jeers -- good except for two sentences. Let's start with the cheers. The article quotes NRDC rightly praising Pelosi for being steadfast with the Senate's 35 mpg target and Dingell, too, for: ... telling the automakers a year ago that they were going to have to accept a mileage improvement. He bargained hard for trying to make it less, but he deserves credit for coming around and agreeing. The article also has fascinating back story on how Japanese car manufacturer Nissan "struck out on its own to lobby Capitol Hill for fuel standards that were in some ways stricter than what other automakers wanted." A Nissan Sr. VP "said the company decided early to advocate tough fuel-economy standards as part of a company-wide effort to become more eco-friendly." Ungreen GM and Ford worked hard to kill a 35-mpg deal, and so did supposedly green Toyota. Google "Toyota greenwash" to see how people feel about this. [Note to Toyota: Why not have lobbying consistent with your eco-branding?] So what are the two sentences that get the Post a thumbs down?
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