Sunday, January 28, 2007

Two good articles, and President Bush's plan

There is early talk on the AP wire about the report to be issued next week in Paris. In the article, Experts: Latest climate report too rosy, By SETH BORENSTEIN, there is discussion about sea level rises that, at the low end, start at five inches. At the high end, 55 inches. Neither of these numbers in insignificant. And others are claiming we should be thinking in feet.

There was also a great article on global warming in the Seattle Times print edition that I finally found online at the PI. Deniers: Join, and help, the warming world, by Johann Hari is an excellent rebuttal of any leftover arguments about global warming not really happening.

I am no fan of President Bush, who's history on this topic has been reprehensible. And his comments in the state of the union speech don't go far enough. I can, in fact, only imagine the huge amounts of leverage that must have been placed on him to get him to even say the words "climate change." But that aside, his plan wasn't as bad as I feared based on what I heard in the early media reports. Let's get behind him. At least there are steps. Not big enough, not enough, but steps that actually go in the right direction are damned rare from this administration. Lets walk on them.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

OK Time to Act on Global Warming

Early this week I came accross a story in the Contra Costa Times which noted that at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge there is a tidal gage. And that gage shows the ocean level is 7.5 inches higher than in 1900. Sounds like quite a lot to me.

Look, the data are in. Individual actions to combate warming are called for, they are great, and they are small. Only very large actions will have very great effects.

The Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton lays out 12 different things than can and should be done. Here are some of them:
  1. Increase fuel economy of 2 billion cars from 30-mpg to 60-mpg by 2050.
  2. Decrease driving for 2 billion 30-mpg cars in half, through mass transit, urban design for walking and biking, telecommuting, and other measures.
  3. Develop zero-emission vehicles including plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles powered by renewable energy.
  4. Increase efficiency of new appliances and buildings to achieve zero-carbon emissions, resulting in 25% total reduction by 2050.
  5. Ramp up wind power, (cost competitive now) to add 3 million 1-megawatt windmills globally, 75 times current capacity.
  6. Add 3000 gigawatts of peak solar photovoltaic, 1000 times current capacity.
  7. No new net coal power plants – for each new plant built improve efficiency from 32 to 60%, require CO2 sequestration, and take one old plant off-line.
Now we are talking. Will we do it?

Monday, January 22, 2007

On Carbon Caps and Christmas Lights

Well, there is some buzz in today's media that the President will announce some new support for global warming - carbon trading. From what I understand (and there are a few conflicting news items out there), non-polluting industries will get to sell their good behavior to industries that want to keep behaving badly. It's kind of like buying consumer carbon offsets, which is not nearly as good as actually reducing personal carbon footprints. At least in consumer carbon offset purchases (like Terrapass), the money spent for the carbon offset goes directly into green energy (in most cases). They are part of my portfolio of tricks to get my net consumption down. But the way Mr. Bush's program was explained via radio today, it would be like letting someone who litters keep littering as long as they paid off someone who wasn't going to litter anyway.

I hope I just don't get it.

And the Christmas lights? They're like a song in the dark wet cold of the Northwest winter. But I have this sneaky feeling it's going to become very uncool to string thousands of extra lights up for a month every year. I might have to go into mourning.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A bad news, good news day

An AP article on McDonald's opening a drive-in in China is headlined "New Partnership in China link Big Macs and big oil. " Apparently McDonald's has a deal that lets them open restaurants near gas stations. Not exactly forward progress. According to the article, China is now the world's second largest market for cars. That's the bad news. American companies failing to change to their business models to support even their own long-term health. Not new, but a behavior worth changing.

The Seattle Times also reprinted an article from the Wall Street Journal, "World demand for oil drops a bit," by Bhushan Bahree. I can't seem to get a link to it online to give you, but a key quote is "For the first time in years, the developed world is burning less of it (oil)." Nice. Now, global demand still grew, largely because of growth in China and the Middle East. But it's a good indicator. The article cites the following statistics: 2006 global oil demand increase .9 percent. 2005 global oil demand increase 1.5 percent. 2004 global oil demand 3.9 percent.

We used to boycott McDonalds over slash and burn forest destruction. Maybe it's time to boycott them for other ways of not being green enough. They don't seem to be learning their lessons very well.

I've also noticed a lot more advertising and more frequent articles about green building. In new housing, being green seems to be as attractive as almost everything except location. That's another good sign.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The cost of figuring it all out

Our city (Kirkland, WA) signed onto the Mayor's initiative to meet the Kyoto protocol - sort of a "local cities do things in spite of the feds" movement. We did this quite a while ago: Kirkland is basically a very green, conservation-oriented city. There was quite a discussion about it yesterday in Exec staff, bringing everybody up to date on what is being done for global warming, or in some cases, just better living. First, I'm quite proud to be part of a city that's doing as much as we are. There's even a groundswell of staff who aren't directly involved in these efforts wanting to participate.

One interesting part is the cost associated with it. Some things will pay for themselves, at least over time (think hybrid cars we've added to our fleet). Some efforts may have an immediate payoff (less energy use means lower bills). But there's a cost to measuring our carbon footprint so we can tell if we're reducing it enough. It's taking a lot of staff time and effort. Kyoto was so long ago, we actually can't accurately measure our 1990 carbon footprint. Public outreach and education will take staff time and money. We need to figure out how to fund or find a full-time coordinator. And people are really tough to add to cities in this post-Tim Eyeman age when our stable sources of income like property tax increase at less than inflation every year.

It's important to figure out, and since people are excited about helping, there's a lot of energy around figuring it out. But it's not going to be easy to fund in the short term. Of course, ignoring it would be more expensive.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Report on Global Warming costs in the PI

A news story from the Seattle PI on the a report detailing the costs of Global Warming to Washington State. There was also an article in the Seattle Times and it has shown up on other global warming related sites.

I'm glad to see it getting done. It does address some of the difficult challenges like sea-level rise. I hope that we see more and continued studies of this type. It needs to done, even though I'm sure it's not right. We don't know enough to get these things right, yet. After all, we've had the wettest and snowiest winter in the 13 years I've been here so far, which has completely gone against predictions (which were for a dry and warm winter, typical for El Nino conditions for us). Yet my partner's family in Kansas has seen a balmy winter and has tulips coming up already.

It also seems to me that we've had more interesting weather almost everywhere. The repeated snowstorms in Colorado, our wettest month ever on record (November, 2006), the ice storm that's sweeping the Midwest today. If anyone can point me to any statistics on this, I'd be interested. Are there really more rare weather events and record highs and lows this year than usual, or is it a function of the news that we just know about more?

As I write this, a day that was supposed to see "snow flurries" has had steadily falling snow for four hours. It's quite breathtakingly beautiful, and rare for us. And last summer was long, dry and hot. A set of seasons of extremes.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Inconvenient Truth Inconvenient in Federal Way, WA

The school district in Federal Way has banned showing Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth unless an opposing viewpoint is shown at the same time.

A few things come to mind:

My initial reaction is, What? Since when are we the science-poor and uneducated Bible-belt? I can't even believe we would do that. One of the quotes in the article is "Condoms don't belong in school, and neither does Al Gore. He's not a schoolteacher," said Frosty Hardison, a parent of seven who doesn't want the film shown at all.
"The information that's being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is," Hardison told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD."
Yow! Under that logic, does science belong in school? An Inconvenient Truth quotes real research rather well.

My second reaction was - What? Do our students believe everything they hear? (Another point the AP article makes is that parent's claimed their kids were taking the movie as truth). Didn't anyone bother to teach them critical thinking. Can't kids see the film and decide for themselves?

The third thought was And maybe it is true. Then what? Pretty inconvenient for your kids to believe something you don't. They might turn the lights out from time to time or suggest that you walk somewhere. Where is the danger in acting to reduce greenhouse gasses? What horrid thing happens?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Global Warming in the Snow

It's cold here in the Northwest. We've had a day of snow and snarly commutes. So far, this winter has been colder and snowier than any I remember in the thirteen years I've been here. But global warming still came up a lot.
I had an early morning business meeting, and an effort the City of Kirkland is one community player in (among many) came up - Sustainable September. We're going to work on having events and public information and business-directed talks, etc. in September on sustainability. I kind of hope we try for carbon neutrality as well (note that I just bought plane tickets and we bought the $5.99 Terrapass carbon offset for each of us). Maybe the whole city could be encouraged to be carbon neutral for the month. Yeah, a lot would have to be through things like Terrapass that don't quite get us to use less, but some wouldn't be. As a community, we could contribute by both reducing energy consumption and by investing in green energy through offset programs.
We talked about our sustainability lunches at work.
And of course, the big news in the paper today was that this was the warmest year on record for the United States.
And still the roads were so snowy I took the bus home and we walked out in the snow with the dogs, wearing our ski gear.
It's a strange world.

Friday, January 05, 2007

British Predictions, and a Few Thoughts

Sometimes it feels like I'm parroting whatever is in the news (which, today, is British predictions about global warming that suggest 2007 will be the warmest year on record), but when I flip back, it's gives me a sort of order that news is coming to my attention and what I started out wanting, which was a way to record all the ways climate change is affecting my life.

I'm also beginning to think it's really more about climate change than about global warming. The week's Earthweek highlights some killing cold temperatures. It's been colder than expected here, and warmer than expected in New England. So maybe the overall trend is up, but what happens in a particular area is not so clear. Note a ton of earthquake activity, too. I wonder is earthquake activity is changed by temperature? I would think it has to be, but how?

I have a blog entry posted at futurist.com about the need for businesses to plan for global warming. One thing I caution people about is infrastructure planning - and I suggest people don't build expensive things which they hope will have a long life near sea-level near coasts. One comment on that article included the following sentence "I’m wondering if we should sell our home + move to higher ground, but when big companies are building all around me, I’m wondering if that means their engineers have figured out a solution like dikes or something?"

Well, first, ask. Maybe people are being forward-thinking. But I'd bet that's a no. In fact, I bet you'd still get laughed at. We're so used to the idea that seafront property is valuable and good that the idea of a radical shift in that is just hard to take. Humans change slowly.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Some News and Some New Year Wishes

Bits in news lately are that the East Coast has had a very warm winter while we've had a stormy (although not particularly cold) one. Retail was affected by the weather - fewer people bought cold-weather clothes, for example. In some areas of the country, it didn't feel like Christmas. This is not as superficial as it may sound - we need a strong economy to fuel the changes we need to make.

I guess I have three New Year's wishes worth mentioning (but if you are reading this, feel free to post some more).

1) More of us make more small changes. The US is making progress - our energy consumption rise per capita was less than other industrialized nations. That doesn't mean we are going the right direction yet, but if we can all make changes, they'll add up.

2) A serious breakthrough in energy happens. Lots of work going on in this area - I'm starting to research a more in-depth article. This is at least plausible. We need a breakthrough that radically enhances an existing technology or produces a new one that does not need an extensive delivery system and is easily adoptable by consumers. It's probably too much to hope such a thing will be affordable for all as well this year, but many middle-class and up consumers would switch to something greener even if it cost more.

3) We need a space breakthrough. Bezos' recent flight and Space Ship One are baby steps. We are a curious and adventuresome race and we need to be able to get away. Doesn't mean I want us to get away and leave a wrecked hulk of a planet behind, but it's time to quit holding all of our future in a single environment threatened by us, but also by asteroids and other stuff. I know this one is pretty tangential to global warming, but if we don't solve the climate change problem, or the tipping point is past, we know the Earth has frozen completely before. Which doesn't leave much room for the idea that good-sized pockets of civilization will carry the torch until thing stabilize.