Time's a wastin'

Wind farms or poor farms?

The torpor with which we here in the U.S. are responding to strong, clear, and persistent signals that the old era -- of abundant cheap energy in a stable climate -- is ending is nothing short of astonishing. The fact that supposedly serious people could have a debate about tourism vs. offshore wind turbines is astounding. Implicit in such a discussion is the premise that tourism is going to continue even if we don't build a lot of ways to attain a lot of non-fossil energy. Perhaps the best best way to understand stories like that is to consult a book outside the "environmental" section -- an oldie about what happens when people in power ignore strong, clear, and persistent signals that what they're doing isn't making it: The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman.

Carbon tax news

Could the unthinkable become thinked?

Over on MyDD, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) discusses the carbon tax bill he recently introduced. My legislation, the Save Our Climate Act (H.R. 2069), would tax coal, petroleum and natural gas at a rate of $10 per ton of carbon content. Applied when these fossil fuels are initially removed from the ground, the tax would increase by $10 each year, freezing when a mandated report by the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Energy determines that carbon dioxide emissions have decreased by 80 percent from 1990 levels. As far as I know, this is the first real carbon tax …

MTR at the UN this week

Press conference on Tuesday in NYC

A delegation of grassroots groups from around Appalachia will be at the UN's Commission on Sustainable Development meetings this week to discourage further MTR abuse and advocate for alternatives (More on them here: www.stopmtr.org). New Yorkers, turn up for this if you can:

Tester kills liquid coal amendment

We knew we liked that guy

Huge Gristmill big-ups to Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who late last week cast a crucial vote in the Senate EPW committee to scuttle a coal-to-liquid amendment. The committee’s been trying to craft an energy package; they had agreed to table contentious issues like CTL for open debate on the floor, but Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo) put forth his measure anyway. It would have created a substantial mandate for liquid coal fuels — 21 billion gallons annually by 2022 — and could have killed the bill entirely. Tester isn’t against coal. He supports it; he’s from a coal state. But as …

Highlights of the IPCC's mitigation report

It ain’t pretty

I want to highlight a few points from the IPCC's Mitigation Report (PDF). First, even the most stringent global greenhouse gas targets can be met at a cost of a mere 0.1% of GDP per year! While the report is not explicit about when action should be taken, it does say that: In order to stabilize the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere, emissions would need to peak and decline thereafter. The lower the stabilization level, the more quickly this peak and decline would need to occur. The Center for American Progress and I have encouraged stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentration at 450 ppm and/or a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial era. That said, according to one of the report's charts (see page 22), reductions aimed to cut emissions 85% by 2050 must be initiated before 2015. And maybe sooner. According to the IPCC: Decision-making about the appropriate level of global mitigation over time involves an iterative risk management process that includes mitigation and adaptation, taking into account actual and avoided climate change damages, co-benefits, sustainability, equity, and attitudes to risk. ... if the damage cost curve increases steeply, or contains non-linearities (e.g. vulnerability thresholds or even small probabilities of catastrophic events), earlier and more stringent mitigation is economically justified. Tucked into footnote 37 of the report, there's a brief discussion of feedbacks that could certainly, and dangerously, be categorized as a non-linear, vulnerable threshold to which we are blind. The message of the report is clear. Countries must act, and soon. We can choose to stabilize the climate and still maintain prosperous economies. But we must make a financial commitment that just hasn't materialized. We've been going backwards. The IPCC reports: Government funding in real absolute terms for most energy research programmes has been flat or declining for nearly two decades (even after the UNFCCC came into force) and is now about half of the 1980 level. At this point, that is unacceptable. The policies the IPCC has recommended have great potential and low cost. The world needs make the political and economic commitments to curb emissions. The time to act is now. This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

IPCC out of date, again

More current science paints an even grimmer picture

Already, there are serious reservations about the final IPCC summary for policymakers, which was released today. The BBC leads the charge, noting that the economic models used to recommend mitigation policies aim to hold the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration at 550 parts per million (ppm). However, more recent scientific evidence suggests, and I agree, that our policies need to keep concentrations much closer to 450 ppm.

An encouraging farm bill proposal

Reps. DeLauro and Gilchrest want to invest in local infrastructure.

Update [2007-5-4 15:15:3 by Tom Philpott]:Oops. I misinterpreted this bill. It’s what’s known as a “marker bill,” not intended to be voted on, just to express the opinions of the legislators. Thus its lack of a “commodity title” doesn’t mean its sponsors intend to eliminate commodity payments, as I assumed. Nevertheless, the bill contains good ideas, and remains worthy of debate. It’s just not “epochal,” as I hastily — and wishfully — wrote below. When Bush’s USDA chief Mike Johanns came out with the administration’s farm bill proposal a few months ago, many progressive observers (including Oxfam) cheered, because the …

Check please

Superfund broke thanks to bankrupt polluters

The Center for Public Integrity continues with their massive report on the state of Superfund with a new story today on the $700 million tab that bankrupt polluters have skipped out on.

Two kinds of environmentalism

Technoscientific and … not

I’ve been musing a bit on two different sorts of environmentalism, and I’ve recently come across two good exemplars. First, in Orion, Curtis White argues that environmentalists are involved in a futile enterprise as long as they fight from within the system — as long as they use technoscientific, rationalist, bureaucratic language to fight problems that technoscientific, rationalist bureaucracies have wrought. We shouldn’t blame big bad corporations. We are the problem. Nothing will change until we change our fundamental worldview. Next, over on Old Man in a Cave (an interesting new blog you should check out), Fergus Brown makes a …