With every passing day, Congress outdoes its own abysmal environmental record.
Even as federal policymakers consider a transportation bill that would open up sensitive areas for offshore drilling, encourage use of dirty oil shale, force a decision on the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline, and derail public investments in public transportation, they couldn’t even compromise on a simple short-term tax credit for wind energy.
Wind businesses were calling an extension of the credit an “emergency” due to looming mass layoffs in the industry. But as history has proven time and time again, if it’s clean and renewable, it doesn’t force any urgency in Congress.
As long as the U.S. federal government remains a basket case on climate change, most progress is going to take place at the sub-national level, in states and cities. It's difficult to find a state or metro area of any size that does not have plans (or at least aspirations) to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. That's true in "red" parts of the country as well as "blue."
What has become clear over the last few years, however, is that cities, in particular, do not necessarily have the tools they need to do the job. In part that's because they're subject to forces governed at the state or federal level. But it's also because the task is new enough that many tools just haven't yet been invented.
One of the biggest gaps is also one of the simplest: measurement. It turns out there's no comprehensive, standardized way for cities to track their carbon pollution. This lack of shared metrics is an invitation to empty rhetoric and symbolic gestures. What gets measured gets solved, etc. etc.
Geoengineering -- the notion that we might blunt some of the effects of climate change by, for example, creating an artificial volcano to shade earth's surface and cool the planet -- is picking up steam among rich people. And not just Montgomery Burns! Philanthropists too!
The latest to join the fray are Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and "tar-sands magnate Murray Edwards," reports the Guardian. Just goes to show you what strange bedfellows geoengineering makes.
This essay was originally published on TomDispatch and is republished here with Tom’s kind permission.
If we could see the world with a particularly illuminating set of spectacles, one of its most prominent features at the moment would be a giant carbon bubble, whose bursting someday will make the housing bubble of 2007 look like a lark. As yet -- as we shall see -- it’s unfortunately largely invisible to us.
In compensation, though, we have some truly beautiful images made possible by new technology. Last month, for instance, NASA updated the most iconic photograph in our civilization’s gallery: “Blue Marble,” originally taken from Apollo 17 in 1972. The spectacular new high-def image (shown at right) shows a picture of the Americas on Jan. 4, a good day for snapping photos because there weren’t many clouds.
It was also a good day because of the striking way it could demonstrate to us just how much the planet has changed in 40 years.
You'd think that the main criterion for being named the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's chief scientist would be that you are a scientist. (Lesser criteria: being plausibly chiefly; studying some field related to oceanic and/or atmospheric science.) Turns out, though, that being a scientist can be a real liability for the chief scientist job, at least if Sen. David Vitter is on the case. Vitter successfully blocked the Obama administration's appointment, geochemist Scott Doney, because basically he's just not sure scientists can be trusted with this whole "science" thing.
After every State of the Union speech, pundits rush to lament that the speech contained lofty rhetoric unmatched by substantial policy proposals. All the concrete ideas are "small bore," a "laundry list." And indeed, that's a fair way to characterize last night's speech.
But that criticism misses the point. The president does not control domestic policy. There are some things he can do from the executive branch, but for anything big, he has to ask the legislature. Given that this Congress has shown little appetite for doing, um, anything, it's highly unlikely that Obama's proposals will become law. If he proposes a "big idea," it's just a big idea that won't become law, something to hang around his neck.
(It's worth noting that a couple of the small-bore proposals were quite significant. Obama thinks "every multinational company should have to pay a basic minimum tax" -- that would be a pretty big deal. It would also be a big deal if he required all companies drilling for natural gas to disclose what chemicals they use, something I believe the EPA is mulling. More detail on his proposals in this document.)
To me, what's notable about the SOTU is what it reveals about the political thinking of the administration. As much as we might wish otherwise, the White House is a pretty reliable barometer for the safe center of public opinion. Especially in an election year, the SOTU shows which fights the administration feels comfortable fighting and thinks it can win.
Adding tiny, sunlight-blocking particles to the upper atmosphere -- a.k.a. the “artificial volcano” approach to geoengineering -- could help crops avoid the effects of global warming, lowering temperatures so that they're more to plants' liking, says a new study appearing in Nature Climate Change. (Here's the press release.)
While the topic of climate change in this country often feels like the truth that dare not speak its name, there is no escaping what Grist's own David Roberts refers to as its "brutal logic." The planet will warm no matter how international climate negotiations -- the latest round having just occurred in Durban, South Africa -- play out.
It's because of that inevitable warming that Britain's chief scientist, John Beddington, along with an international group of scientists, have taken to the pages of Science magazine this month to ask climate negotiators to stop ignoring agriculture.
Agriculture has been hovering just on the margins of climate change policy. Of course, that's no coincidence. Precise measurement of the climate impact of many industrial farming practices remains difficult and controversial, and the U.S. in particular has resisted any attempts to formalize the agricultural sector's obligation to climate mitigation.
Clean energy rocks. Nice, deserving people get jobs at wind-turbine plants. Solyndra-style investments are critical. Oil-industry subsidies suck. Energy efficiency is an economic engine. We need to drill, baby, drill. And we need to frack, baby, frack.
Those weren't the words, but those were the sentiments in the energy portion of President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday night. He dedicated a significant chunk of the speech to energy issues, making an unexpectedly vigorous appeal for renewable power, cleantech investment, and efficiency -- as well as for natural-gas fracking and oil drilling.