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Top 6 U.S. climate-policy happenings of 2011

In 2011, we saw more slow -- but hopefully still steady -- progress toward cleaner air. (Photo by Markus M.) Cross-posted from the World Resources Institute. The post was written by Kevin Kennedy, director of WRI's U.S. climate initiative. As the year winds down, it's a good time to take stock of climate policy in the United States. Here's a quick roundup of what happened -- or didn't happen -- in 2011. The year began with big questions about what the Obama administration and states would do to address climate change and clean energy, absent a comprehensive federal climate policy. …

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Critical List: Judge nixes California’s low-carbon fuel standard; mystery foam attacks England

A federal judge put the kibosh on California's low-carbon fuel standard, which favors fuels that create fewer emissions to make and which, according to the judge, discriminates against out-of-state fuel producers. On carbon credit markets, credits cost way less than they should. China is moving forward on a plan to build a gigantic dam on the Yangtze River. Mystery foam attacks a town in northern England. It's sort of like The Blob, only fluffy. How to take composting to the metaphysical plane.

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Politics blocks scientists from explaining why this year’s weather was record bad

A typical year in the U.S. includes three to four extreme weather events that do more than $1 billion in damage, but 2011 featured 12 of them. Add in the slightly-less-expensive extreme weather we experienced, and the total price tag is north of $50 billion. Scientists say they now have the tools to determine how climate is influencing these extreme weather events, which sounds like a good idea. I mean, if we're tearing the planet apart with our carbon emissions, isn't that something that should be as important to monitor as, say, the activities of Al Qaeda? Except the political …

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Obama’s climate leadership? ‘It doesn’t exist,’ says Tim Wirth

Tim Wirth.Photo: Center for American Progress Action FundCross-posted from Climate Progress. U.N. Foundation President Tim Wirth told Climate Wire this week that President Obama has a "last window of opportunity" to avert catastrophic climate change -- assuming he gets reelected: I don't know who and where the climate leadership in the administration is. It doesn't exist. There is no resolve in the Obama administration to do anything, and I think they look at Congress and say, 'We can't do anything, so why break our pick now?' Hey, if the White House waits long enough, all the ice will melt and …

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Critical List: E.U. court OKs airline carbon emission scheme; climate change kills frankincense

The E.U.'s version of the Supreme Court decided that it's totally cool for the E.U. to require flights originating elsewhere to participate in its carbon-emissions trading plans. Later today, the EPA will announce new regulations for power plants that limit mercury and other emissions. Climate change: also killing Christmas. Okay, just the production of frankincense, and to be fair, we’re not sure what that’s for. But if you need a gift for a magic baby in the future, you might be one-third out of luck. The Interior Department just approved a solar project in Arizona and a wind farm in …

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Markets and climate change: A case of cognitive dissonance

Earlier this month, Nicholas Stern -- respected U.K. economist and author of the famed Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change -- cast a spotlight on what he calls a "profound contradiction at the heart of climate change policy." On one side, the world's governments have pledged to hold temperature rise to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F). To have even a 50/50 shot at meeting that target, humanity has a "carbon budget" of about 1,400 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2050. The more we exceed that budget, the more the 2 degrees target slips out …

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New approach to climate deniers: Launch them into space!

Sir Richard Branson in his WhiteKnightTwo aircraft.Photo: Dave Malkoff This story has been corrected and updated since its original publication. See below for details. Here's a new idea for how to deal with climate deniers: Blast them into space. The proposal came yesterday during a freewheeling panel discussion among California Gov. Jerry Brown, Virgin Group Chair Sir Richard Branson, and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chair Rajendra Pachauri. Kicking off a conference on "Extreme Climate Risks and California's Future" held at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Brown pledged to protect his state from the "huge problems" posed …

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Sucking carbon out of the air: Probably not an option

With all this talk of the impossibility of averting catastrophic levels of future climate change, it's tempting to daydream of using technology to clean up the bed we just shat. Economists, especially, love this kind of thinking -- if we just hoard enough precious gold today, maybe we can transmute it into a livable planet tomorow! Yay for wearing ties! But these fantasies are probably bullshit, says ClimateWire and Scientific American. Especially the one in which we attach a giant vacuum to the atmosphere, SpaceBalls style, and suck all the carbon out. That one’s gone from suck to blow. The …

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Crazy Taiwanese animation explains Canada’s Kyoto withdrawal

Canada's craven withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol just got the Taiwanese animation it deserves. For those of you who aren't up on your international climate treaties, it's hard to put it more succinctly than New Media Animation itself has: Canada is withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, Environment Minister Peter Kent said Monday, abandoning its 1997 commitment to cut emissions 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2102 and cementing the transformation of the country’s image as a global leader in the fight against climate change into what critics are calling a “climate renegade.” By 2009 Canada’s emissions were …

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Why is Canada withdrawing from Kyoto? Two words: Tar sands

Canada is pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol, ostensibly because it's so far from meeting its goals it'll have to pay high penalties. Also it’s all Bill Clinton’s fault. In reality, though, this is all about tar-sands oil. For starters, it’s not exactly true that fines would be inevitable if Canada can’t meet its goals — the country has some options, like filing formal notice and renegotiating its goals, that would allow it to dodge the penalties. But why is the country so far off-target to begin with? Canada blames the United States for keeping out of Kyoto, saying that …