The Climate Post: Oil Spills, Caucus Thrills
First Things First: The BP oil spill today became the biggest such disaster ever in the Gulf, eclipsing the Ixtoc I spill off Mexico in 1979-1980, according to high-end government estimates. A federal judge last week struck down the Obama administration’s six-month moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman instantly became an overnight “folk hero” to some in the Gulf. The Interior Department is developing a new moratorium, but has yet to share details. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has assumed the public mantle of leadership in the crisis, implicating the federal government response as a failure. This transparency only goes so far, though. Jindal last week vetoed a state bill that would have opened to the public all documents about the spill from his office.
“Destruction could be there”: Senate Democrats streamed out of a lively caucus meeting last week described alternately as “thrilling” and “inspirational.” Palpable skepticism of Democratic glee in a Hill story was reinforced several days later when 23 senators and President Barack Obama failed to replicate the same tone in a “much-hyped” meeting about possible climate-and-energy legislation. The bipartisan group cleared no smooth path forward. In the absence of a 60-vote majority on key climate policy points, the Democratic senate leadership could try and graft climate provisions into energy and oil-spill legislation. The Hill attributes to that all-seeing, all-knowing Washington force, “speculation,” predictions that the base bill will look a lot like the energy bill approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the key Republican who dropped his support for a climate bill, skipped the White House meeting but shows up in this weekend’s New York Times magazine, profiled as “This Year’s Maverick.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid characterized the problem this way: “The Democratic caucus realizes that we have a problem[.] We have a phenomenon here that if we don’t do something about, our planet’s destruction could be there. The security of our nation depends on a good energy policy.” Reid is facing re-election in November, against Republican and Tea Party challenger, Sharron Angle. Nevada’s unique role in the nation’s struggle over nuclear power reemerged this week when judges at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission prohibited the White House from rescinding an application to develop a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Reid had strongly supported the president’s move, which fulfilled a campaign promise.
Robert Stavins of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs writes of climate legislation, “Meaningful action of some kind is still possible, or at least conceivable.” He offers a quick reminder and explainer of the main policy instruments here.
Mannhunt ends: An investigative committee at Pennsylvania State University has dismissed misconduct charges leveled against meteorology professor Michael Mann. Mann was one of the climate researchers whose e-mail inbox was exposed last November when servers at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit were hacked. People inside and outside climate science community have chewed over Mann’s work for a long time now, and this was not his first turn under bright lights. “Climategate” was a scale above previous discussions, as those inclined to see scientific conspiracy discovered a cache of material to quote out-of-context.
Accusations made of scientists during climategate are under scrutiny elsewhere. The Sunday Times of Londonretracted a Jan. 31, 2010 story that slammed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for allegedly basing projections about Amazon rainforests’ vulnerability to climate change on environmentalists’ advocacy materials. In fact, the research was conducted by established scientists and peer-reviewed. Elsewhere, the University of Virginia isfighting a request by the commonwealth’s attorney general for Michael Mann’s research material when he worked for UVA.
Heat stress in the Capital: Five senior citizens have died in the record-smashing hottest June in Washington, DC history. Four people passed away in homes without air conditioning; the fifth collapsed outside. The region’s temperatures averaged 80.6 degrees. On 18 days the mercury soared above 90, including an 11-day stretch in the last two weeks. The Washington Post runs a story about the heat deaths on the front of its Metro section, which seems like a reasonable place for it. It’s the kind of notice that newspapers have run for decades when heat or extreme we
ather reach tragic levels. But these days such notices are incomplete without discussing extreme local weather events in the context of our best understanding of climate change. March, April, May, and June 2010 have each broken global temperature records (2010 also claims the sixth warmest February, and the fourth hottest January). The more scientists focus their models into regions, or back in time, the less certain such models become. Under current projections, the number of days with a peak temperature above 90 degrees F “is expected to risesignificantly, especially under a higher emissions scenario”—the scenario we are currently pursuing, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s 2009 report.
Trial by Tabloid: Police in Portland, Ore., have reopened an investigation into allegations that Al Gore “made unwanted sexual advances” toward a masseuse in October 2006. The National Enquirer broke the story. Gore has categorically denied any wrongdoing. One of two things will happen to this story: It will disappear or it will continue. Either way, as I’ve pointed out repeatedly over the last few years, climate change is not a phenomenon that has anything to do with the former vice president. This fact is intuitively understood abroad, particularly in the parts of the world where people don’t know Al Gore or they don’t know that he divides Americans into at least three groups: pro, contra, and “over the whole thing.” Some of the more piquant political commentators in the U.S. conflate the man with the cause, and the practice is unlikely to disappear soon.
“If you’re explaining, you’re losing”:
Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist. Chapter about Ginkgo biloba and climate change available at Conservation.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.