Thursday, November 30, 2006

A side conversation, and a High Court conversation

At a wrapping party at work today (wrapping boxes for people to put donations in for charity), someone mentioned global warming in context with the severe weather we've had up here this November (the wettest month, ever, on record in Washington State). One of the women helping said something like, "Global warming. It's too overwhelming. I can hardly even think about it."

The Supreme Court is considering a case that is very tightly linked to global warming. This will be an interesting look at how the new Court acts on a critical environmental issue, and it is expected that the vote will be close. The basic story is that this is an attempt to force the federal government to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. I'm hoping that the Court finds that this is a good thing. Effective regulation might go a long way to helping reduce some of our major sources of global warming gas emissions.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Kudos for Public Transit

We're iced in up here in the Pacific Northwest. That, and Christmas shopping traffic over the holiday weekend got me taking the bus.

I'm not usually a bus person - I believe in them, but my schedule always seems to make it a tough idea. I suspect I'm not the only one out there thinking this is a good idea, but hard to implement. Partly because I'm doing this (there are a lot of reasons to do this blog, and one of them is to remind myself about habit changes I can make), I decided I should try it out the day after Thanksgiving when I needed to go to downtown Seattle on Black Friday. I have a flex-pass provided by my work as part of the commuter program. I hadn't used it in over a year. So I looked up the bus routes and discovered that if I drove a mile to the park and ride, I could get an express bus to one block from my destination. It worked perfectly.

I'm a horrible snow and ice driver. So I tried again when I needed to get to work yesterday. There's a bus stop across the street from the entrance to my neighborhood. I used it. It takes the same route I would have taken driving, and about two minutes longer than driving on a clear-road day. That's faster than me driving on ice. The bus, and my return bus, were both on-time, safe, warm, and the bus driver was friendly so I got a greeting and a "Have a nice day" out of it.
I'm going to take the bus again today. Better, even though my schedule really does stop me some days when I have mid-day meetings all over town, I suspect I'll start sorting for days that I can take the bus instead of making it so hard in my head.

Let's hear it for the bus-drivers and this excellent use of our taxes. The only sad part was that the busses weren't very full.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

More Species Change

According to a CNN article, Global warming already killing species, we've already lost about 70 frog species. Frogs seem to be the canaries of our world. Remember a few years ago there were so many deformed frogs? The most interesting number I saw was that emperor penguins in the western Antarctic peninsula have gone from 200 breeding pairs to 9. It's a good, if disturbing article.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sprinkler Controllers

A small tip. We had our sprinklers winterized today, and the sprinkler company that did it asked if we'd like our old controller replaced next spring with a brand new one with a rain sensor. According to the company, the city will pay us back for the cost except labor.

I told them we'd take the deal. We've been doing all the sprinkling manualy (either literally with a hose or by turning on one bit and then another) so we could only water when its dry. Logical, if you live in the Pacific Northwest. I'll report how it goes next spring.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Global Warming and Water

Right now, we're about drowning in the Pacific Northwest. We already have the wettest November on record, and may have the wettest month ever on record.

There was an interesting Seattle Times article today on the Yellow River in China, which is shrinking. Part over-enthusiastic industrialization, part over-grazing at headwaters, and part global climate change. At least that's what the article said. Think about the problems that could be caused with a water shortage in busy, growing China. Or anywhere else for that matter. Climate change means change in water supply. Maybe not less water, but water in different places, and no water in some that are used to it.

Think migration, and change. Think a lot of moving water from place to place. It's heavy, and sometimes recalcitrant. Strong.

This could be hard.

Note - I also though it worthwhile to provide a link to a post from joec, who commented on another entry and nicely left his url.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Carbon Dioxide Surge and Ambitious Science

From this weeks Earthweek, there are icebergs floating off of New Zealand. I also saw a post about this from a member of a list I'm on who lives there and was somewhat dismayed. They pointed the bergs out as a direct result of global warming. Also, at least in the newspaper version, a comment that the "rate at which carbon dioxide is entering the atmosphere is increasing four times faster than it was in the 1990's."

Makes it tough to believe that simple things we can do are enough. Mind you, we should still do them.
It may take some ambitious global engineering to help.
I read an article last week about a proposal to put a giant shield over the Earth. In fact, one blog entry on it from the journal Nature mentioned a story Larry Niven and I wrote called "Ice and Mirrors" which suggested a planet was thrown into a deep freeze through a vaguely similar technique. Today, I read an article that talked about putting extra pollution into the atmosphere to shield us from the sun. I don't much like either of these choices - the shield idea is incredibly expensive and the pollution idea just seems wrong (likely some unanticipated consequences there, or just bad trade-offs). But I like it that people are thinking this way. Anything about us doing this kind of grand engineering is scary given the chaotic nature of the climate and the large gaps we still have in our knowledge of it, but we may be doing enough damage that the only solutions are grand.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Moving things closer

I gave a talk at the Pacific Northwest Entrepreneurs Network about demographics last night, and two of the statistics I used were:

  1. According to CNN, the purchase of “green” building products and energy has almost doubled in the last two years.
  2. The organic food industry grew by 16+ % in 2005, and is now near 14 billion dollars.

One of the things I like to do when I give a speech is to make a conversation. Its good for an audience to be involved, and I can then learn from them. In this case, I probably asked my first question too early, or asked the wrong question since the audience returned silence. But when I asked a question later about "What have you/are you doing about global warming" there were more people willing to talk, and happy to talk. I could hear a hint of pride in their voices. A really simple and great response was from one audience member who mentioned moving all of thier services (think dentist, doctor, dry cleaner, etc.) closer to home. What a nice, easy thing to do. An adjustment that doesn't take a lot of work, saves you time, and reduces driving.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Carbon Offsets and Our Report Card

The Seattle Times ran an article today about carbon offset programs, such as TerraPass, that I've blogged about. The gist of the article was that this is a fledgling industry with companies that are doing well and others that may not be figuring out how to get the money into real carbon offset. Some, including TerraPass, are willing to be audited and are doing a good job of trying to make a real difference. For others, success is not so clear. So I guess the bottom line to that is to be careful about where you invest your money. That's about the same as any charitable organization...its always a bit useful to do some homework. I like the idea. Philosophically, carbon offsets (buying an investment in clean energy to make up for your carbon emissions) make sense. They are no excuse for not changing our own carbon emissions profile. The current bottom line to mitigation in the climate change game is reducing carbon, so offsets are not bright when your plan is to just keep on consuming at our regular rates and offsetting for guilt reduction. But they make good sense as a way to help mitigate those things we can't help or change.

Top of the AOL news today, Countries Ranked on Climate Change Efforts
. We're way down at the bottom of the list. We should be leading, and we're lagging. Shame on us.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Thoughts for the Next Congress

Well, it's amazing how much better I feel since the election. On a lot of fronts, but there should be a good chance for progress on global warming. So here are some thoughts for the next two years:

On Oil:

  1. Let the prices rise. It makes other technologies more cost-effective in comparison, and prices on new energy sources will fall after initial development and with consumer support.
  2. Stay out of ANWR. We're tired of having pretty and wild places cluttered with the machinery of oil. Stay out of other pristine places, too. We might need to stay where we are, and develop shale oil techniques etc. as a bridge. I mean, we get it that this change won't happen overnight. But let's get the train rolling.
  3. Figure out how to live without so much dependence on Middle Eastern oil, so we can get gracefully out of Iraq. This one will be the hardest.

On carbon emissions in general:

  1. Either sign Kyoto and get on with it, or commit to something even more aggressive
  2. Fund research into alternative energy. Both new companies and the existing energy giants. Help turn the oil companies into something else.
  3. Encourage consumer adoption of hybrids and good gas mileage.
  4. Regulate the auto industry on MPG. They can do it.
  5. Use the UN (without John Bolton), and every other international leverage you can get to encourage others as soon as we start setting a good example. Maybe we should partner with Britain to model how to build strong economies in first world countries while shifting away from oil and other egregious fuels. It's possible to get an economic boost out of this, no matter what the oil companies say.


  1. Let's add a national discussion on this topic. Get people involved. Hire Al Gore, too, if we need to. Or more. Hire people who care, and fund them. See below.
  2. Cut the amount of money we're throwing at Homeland Security in half, and spend the other half on climate change. Spend at least 90% of that half on action. We know some of what we need to do. Take the half you leave in Homeland Security and focus it more on "all hazards" training than on terrorism. Significant weather events are going to get worse. Help us out.
  3. Find ways to encourage local governments to do more. They are already doing more than you all are.
  4. Build an Americore model, or shift the current one, to help with this. Get the young people and the retired people involved. You won't have to pay them a lot, but you'll get energy and know-how. I bet you get enthusiasm, too.

I know there's more. But that's a start.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Two Waves Hit the Northwest

The Pacific Northwest was swamped by two waves this week. One the nation is familiar with, the Blue Wave of the Democrats as they take over the Congress. We hope this means greater attention to global warming and energy policy, among all the other priorities they will have.

The second wave you may have missed, unless you live here. In my book I tell the story of spending a day with insurance company executives two years ago, during a torrential downpour, and trying to get them to comment on how normal these kinds of heavy rain storms were becoming. They were not interested, then.

A key expectation of global warming scientists is that the weather will get more wild. We see that here in the Northwest. This week alone we saw:

Rainfall records across Western Washington. Some measurements from the National Weather Service:
-- 8.22 inches at Stampede Pass, breaking an all-time rain record of 7.29 inches set on November 19th, 1962.
-- 3.29 inches at Sea-Tac Airport, breaking the record of .99 set in 1980
-- 4.31 inches at Olympia Airport, breaking the record of 1.74, also set in 1980

And, in Oregon similar records were set.

People shrug this off of course. It is the Northwest. It rains. What else is new?

But now when I see entire valleys flooded, rather than being amazed at a once-in-a-lifetime event, I wonder whether this will become normal.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Probable Good Election for Global Warming

The democrats are generally friendlier to the Earth. And they're winning. This is a very good thing. It's an uplifting moment on the uphill (but winnable) battle to change our behavior to something easier on our environment.

The energy bill here in Washington State in less clear - we may not win that one. It will be too bad if we don't - imperfect initiative or not, a demand from the electorate for alternative energy sources would be a good thing.

Let's hope we wake up in the morning and discover that the election results stayed good for the Earth. Which is good for us.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Concert Reaction

I went to an Indigo Girls concert last night. At one point, the lead singer from the opening act, B*tch and the Exciting Conclusion, stepped up to the mike during a rap and said something like "We're using all this oil for driving, and we don't need it any more," and a ripple of enthusiastic applause went through the audience even though she was mid-song.

I would be willing to bet almost all of us at the show still need oil because we don't have the infrastructure to do anything different reliably yet. I would also be willing to bet that as soon as there is a reliable alternative, people will be willing to move fast, and a wave of early adopters will change the economics. There is a growing swell of pent-up demand for a different solution.

It was nice to see the heartfelt and instant reaction to the singer's statement. Art connects with people.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Climate change has a history

I'm working on a book set partially near the collapse of the Mayan civilizations on the Yucatan peninsula. In my research, I've come across numerous references to climate change as a probable cause for the quick decline of rich, vibrant civilizations. Yes, there are others, including a significant asteroid strike (which could have also contributed to climate change).
Like we are now, that civilization was one of the historically ascendant and stable populations of its time, with a rich economy and ready access to resources.

The climate change in that time (a shift to a dryer climate) appears to have been largely local. The one we are in the midst of now is not. It is global. We should take the history lesson to heart.

I'd also like to link to Glen Hiemstra's excellent blog post about the meaning of the Gore appointment to help England deal with it's global warming actions.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Young People

I had a very pleasant lunch yesterday with a gentleman who's son, a college student, wants to devote his life to solving/mitigating global warming. I recently read an article about top majors for college students, and one of the top ten majors for Washington students is organic agriculture.

It feels as if at least a large number of the young people coming up now want to do something good for the world. They are rejecting our choices (which is their job), but unlike the 60's and 70's generation, this group truly wants to act from within the system to change it, a more effective tool than protesting against it.
The Seattle Times ran an article entitled "Hot majors: Sift through the popular to find your passion," by Carol Tice, that said, "One growing area of student interest isn't reflected in a single major category. But students' urge to do social good is showing up in courses in many majors..."

We, of course, can't wait for them to fix the ills we caused. But perhaps they will help us figure out how to rectify our mistakes.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Losing the cold

Its cold and crisp this morning, the colors out my window a pale blue sky with the dark reds and brownish-yellows of a northwest fall lit with sunshine.

The Seattle Times front page article this morning is on our glaciers, or rather on our smaller and smaller glaciers. It made me think about Alaska, and how I want to do the inside passage some day (the only way I can think of to willingly join a cruise). It would be nice to see glaciers in all their sharp diamond beauty before we melt them all.

Think I'm over-reacting?

Google "Glacier global warming" or some similar term set. It's scary. I'm not reproducing a list of url's with this post because there's too many, and the simple experience of seeing that, and reading a host of articles on the topic is visceral. This isn't controversial science. It's not theories and computer models and tracking animal migrations - not, in other words, the minutia of science. It's empirically measurable by normal people. We can see it with our eyes. Many of the articles you'll find on your Google search have a series of picture - glaciers 50 yeasr ago, glaciers 30 years ago, glaciers 10 years ago...glaciers now...(or not).

I'm going to try and enjoy the cold today. It feels good.