Archive for climate change

Nobel Economists Supports Children’s Climate Suit

Joseph Stiglitz writes in a court brief that fossil fuel-based economies impose ‘incalculable’ costs on society and shifting to clean energy will pay off.

One of the world’s top economists has written an expert court report that forcefully supports a group of children and young adults who have sued the federal government for failing to act on climate change.

See Our Children’s Trust to learn about this important effort.

Joseph Stiglitz, who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize for economics in 2001 and has written extensively about environmental economics and climate change, makes an economic case that the costs of maintaining a fossil fuel-based economy are “incalculable,” while transitioning to a lower-carbon system will cost far less.

The government, he writes, should move “with all deliberate speed” toward alternative energy sources.

Stiglitz has submitted briefs for Supreme Court cases—and normally charges $2,000 an hour for legal advice, the report says—but he wrote this 50-page report pro bono at the request of the attorneys representing the children. It was filed in federal district court in Oregon on June 28.

He is one of 18 expert witnesses planning to testify in the case, scheduled for trial later this year, the children’s lawyers said.

Read more…

Industrial Agriculture and the Environment

What comes to mind when you think about farming? Amber waves of grain? Rolling hills and people seated on tractors? The smell of manure? What about pollution?

to pollution, most people don’t think of agriculture. In fact, in order for agriculture to continue, farmers must take good care of the environments of their land and animals.

However, there is a difference between farming and industrial agriculture. While family farms are often maintained over several generations, industrial agriculture is an entirely different thing, and it can contribute to pollution in some significant ways.

We’re going to give you the what, why, and how of industrial agriculture pollution.

What is Agricultural Pollution?

Farmed areas – both on land and in the water – provide vital habitats for thousands of wild animals and plant species. Farming operations that are managed with good sustainability practices help restore and preserve critical habitats, protect watersheds, and improve soil strength and water quality.

However, when practiced carelessly, farming is a great threat to species and ecosystems. Negative environmental impacts from unsustainable farming practices include land conversion, habitat loss, wasteful water consumption, soil erosion and degradation, pollution, climate change, and genetic erosion.

Perhaps even worse is the practice of factory farming. Scientific research has found that factory farming methods – such as confining and overcrowding animals in warehouse-like conditions before slaughter and meat production – create unacceptable levels of risk to public health and irreparable damage to the surrounding environment.

Although factory farms produce an enormous amount of waste and pollution, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, they are largely exempt from standard air and water pollution regulations. This means that factory farms – which produce more annual waste than the entire population of the United States – can dump their waste as they see fit.

Additionally, as factory farms tasked with raising thousands of animals to meet consumer demand continue to produce tons of waste, our water supply is at risk of contamination. As waterways become polluted with agricultural waste, they lose their ability to sustain marine ecosystems. Populations of marine life are adversely affected, and the food supply becomes contaminated.

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“Drawdown” – Global Warming’s New Math

by Joel Makower at GreenBiz Group

An ambitious new book was recently published with the audacious goal of showing how to reverse the warming of the planet through a myriad of innovations, many of them led by business for profit.

“Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” (Penguin Books), was edited by the author and entrepreneur Paul Hawken along with a self-described “coalition” of research fellows, writers and advisors. (Full disclosure: I played a very small unpaid role in reviewing parts of the manuscript, and am included among the 120 or so advisors listed in the book.)

The book contains 80 solutions — “techniques and practices” — that are ready today, and 20 additional “coming attractions” — innovations just over the horizon — that collectively can draw down atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in order to solve, not just slow, climate change by avoiding emissions or sequestering carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.

Hawken is quick to point out that the book’s seemingly brash subtitle is a bit tongue in cheek: this is the only “comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming,” he said. But the larger point is not lost. The book, along with an accompanying website, may be the first to provide the insight and inspiration, backed by empirical research and data, that could enable companies, governments and citizens to attack the climate problem in a holistic and aggressive way. Moreover, many, if not most, of the solutions can be undertaken with little or no new laws or policy, and can be financed profitably by companies and capital markets.

At minimum, “Drawdown” is likely the most hopeful thing you’ll ever read about our ability to take on global warming.

Read more…

The Twisted Economics of the Dakota Assess Pipeline

Given the bizarre and possibly corrupt decisions being made in the White House these days, I thought this excellent article was worth posting.

As the weather gets colder, the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline is heating up, in rather ugly ways. Just days before Thanksgiving, law enforcement officers tried to blast the protesters away with water cannons in 25-degree weather and employed other “less than lethal,” though still harmful, dispersal methods. One protester may lose her arm as a result of injuries suffered during the violence. And to top it off, the Army Corps of Engineers plans to close one of the camps of “water protectors” next week, which may embolden law enforcement to take a more forceful approach.

High Country News has reported what’s at stake for the Standing Rock Sioux tribal members and their allies trying to stop or re-route the project: Tribal sovereignty, water, environmental justice, holy lands, treaty-rights and antiquities. Add to that the prospect of more carbon spewing into the atmosphere, and one can see why activists are risking so much to stand in the pipeline’s way.

Less clear is what the $3.78 billion, 1,172-mile-long crude oil pipeline offers in return if and when construction is completed and it goes into operation. Energy Transfer Partners, the project’s main proponent, says that the pipeline will offer jobs, economic relief to a struggling region and, by spurring production of North Dakota Crude, it will take the U.S. closer to the lofty ideal of energy independence.

Construction on the pipeline is about 85 percent complete and it has, indeed, put people to work. Yet it is not clear how many new jobs have been created since the jobs are spread out over 1,000 miles. Rural towns along the pipeline’s corridor have reported a boost in hotel and campground occupancy rates as the contractors move through. That, in turn, generates sales and lodging tax revenues for the local governments. The boost, however, won’t last. In a few months, when (and if) construction is complete, the workers and their spending money will depart. The finished pipeline will require just 40 permanent maintenance and operational jobs along its entire stretch.

Once oil is flowing, property tax revenues — an estimated total of $55 million annually — will kick in. While it’s a big chunk of change, the impacts will be diffused, shared by four states. North and South Dakota are expected to receive about $13 million each, divided between several counties, a drop in the budget bucket (Colorado generates nearly $20 million per month from taxes and fees on marijuana). That said, it might be enough to buy the county sheriffs some more military gear from the Pentagon in order to squelch the next pipeline protest. It will not, however, cover the costs of such squelching: The current law enforcement effort has reportedly cost $15 million so far.

The fact is, pipelines, like transmission lines, don’t have a major economic impact except when they’re built. They otherwise go mostly unnoticed until they spill, burst or explode.

Read more by Jonathan Thompson at High Country News

How the World Passed a Carbon Threshold…Eek!

Last year will go down in history as the year when the planet’s atmosphere broke a startling record: 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide. The last time the planet’s air was so rich in CO2 was millions of years ago, back before early predecessors to humans were likely wielding stone tools; the world was a few degrees hotter back then, and melted ice put sea levels tens of meters higher.

“We’re in a new era,” says Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s CO2 Program in San Diego. “And it’s going fast. We’re going to touch up against 410 pretty soon.”

There’s nothing particularly magic about the number 400. But for environmental scientists and advocates grappling with the invisible, intangible threat of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, this symbolic target has served as a clear red line into a danger zone of climate change.

When scientists (specifically, Ralph Keeling’s father) first started measuring atmospheric CO2 consistently in 1958, at the pristine Mauna Loa mountaintop observatory in Hawaii, the CO2 level stood at 316 parts per million (ppm), just a little higher than the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm. 400 was simply the next big, round number looming in our future.

But as humans kept digging up carbon out of the ground and burning it for fuel, CO2 levels sped faster and faster toward that target. In May 2013, at the time of the usual annual maximum of CO2, the air briefly tipped over the 400 ppm mark for the first time in several million years. In 2014, it stayed above 400 ppm for the whole month of April. By 2015, the annual average was above 400 ppm. And in September 2016, the usual annual low skimmed above 400 ppm for the first time, keeping air concentrations above that symbolic red line all year.

Read more here…

Victory for America’s Youth

Lawsuits on Climate ChangeThe Constitutional Climate Lawsuit against U.S. to Proceed
Eugene, OR – The federal court in Eugene, Oregon decided in favor of 21 youth plaintiffs in their “groundbreaking” constitutional climate lawsuit against President Obama, numerous federal agencies, and the fossil fuel industry. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken completely rejected all arguments to dismiss raised by the federal government and fossil fuel industry, determining that the young plaintiffs’ constitutional and public trust claims could proceed. Now, the 21 plaintiffs, who range in age from 9-20, are preparing for trial in what is believed to be a turning point in United States constitutional history.

In determining the complaint to be valid, Judge Aiken’s ruling contained these passages:
“Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it.”

“Although the United States has made international commitments regarding climate change, granting the relief requested here would be fully consistent with those commitments. There is no contradiction between
promising other nations the United States will reduce C02 emissions and a judicial order directing the United States to go beyond its international commitments to more aggressively reduce C02 emissions.”

“[The defendants and intervenors] are correct that plaintiffs likely could not obtain the relief they seek through citizen suits brought under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, or other environmental laws. But that argument misses the point. This action is of a different order than the typical environmental case. It alleges that defendants’ actions and inactions – whether or not they violate any specific statutory duty – have so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten plaintiffs’ fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty.”

Read More→

Energy-Water Nexus

By Steven Nadel , Executive Director

ACEEE and many others have noted the importance of the nexus between energy and water issues. Energy is used to move, treat, and heat water. Water is vital for producing energy, such as for cooling electric generating plants. Insufficient water availability can increase energy use for pumping and decrease energy production. Flooding can damage both energy and water systems. And there are many opportunities to promote both energy and water efficiency at the same time. Next month we will release a fact sheet on our work on the energy-water nexus and how both energy and water efficiency play critical roles. But first, I want to explore how the relationship between energy and water may evolve in future years, particularly in response to climate change.

Impacts on water supply and demand from Climate change

Parts of the US—primarily in the triangle from Montana to southern California to western Texas—are already experiencing water stress, meaning that water is being withdrawn from water sources at a rate that might not be sustainable (see map on page 272 here).

According to the US Global Change Research Program, as the climate changes, some regions, such as south of the Great Lakes, will get more precipitation and other regions, like the southwest, will get less. A stylized map of expected precipitation changes from their 2008 report is below.

Water flow change in 2040-2060 relative to 1901-1970. Source: US Climate Change Science Program, p. 138. (following this report the program was renamed the US Global Change Research Program). Read more here…

Clean Power Plan

The Supreme Court recently took the unprecedented move to stall the implementation of the Clean Power Plan. Given the players involved (big fossil fuel and utility companies plus some right wing states – including Arizona) and given the leanings of the 5 justices who voted for the stay, it’s not difficult to deduce why the Court took the step it did. It has nothing to do with Constitutional issues or American values or the needs of the people. Here is an article by John Farrell, the energy guru at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the go-to place for learning how to live well by living locally.
 
Several months ago, the Obama administration released the Clean Power Plan, requiring substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions from the electricity sector. The Plan sets targets from the top down, but largely leaves the details to states, providing a significant opportunity to craft rules that encourage energy development and ownership from the bottom up.

These 50 state plans have huge stakes.

Collectively, U.S. electric customers spend over $360 billion each year. Most of that is generated from fossil fuels, frequently extracted outside their own state. In other words, most of that money leaves their community to pay for dirty energy. But the electricity system is in the midst of an enormous transformation from the bottom up just as the federal plan pushes utilities to cleaner energy from the top down.

Driven by improvements in energy efficiency, electricity consumption peaked in 2007 and has been stagnant ever since. Distributed solar, like that found on home rooftops, has provided more than 5% of newly added power plant capacity from 2011 through 2015. In 2013, nearly one-third of all new power plant capacity was from solar energy. The profusion of smartphones is giving customers innovative ways to control energy use, from web-connected thermostats to light bulbs. Consulting firm Accenture estimates that these “disruptive” and economical technologies could save electric customers up to $48 billion over the next 10 years.

Read More→

Climate CoLab

MIT has a project to focus collaboration on addressing climate change. Check out the website. There are a bunch of proposals and conversations that are very interesting.

Objective

The goal of the Climate CoLab is to harness the collective intelligence of thousands of people from all around the world to address global climate change.

Inspired by systems like Wikipedia and Linux, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Collective Intelligence has developed this crowdsourcing platform where citizens work with experts and each other to create, analyze, and select detailed proposals for what to do about climate change. 

Approach

Anyone can join the Climate CoLab community and participate. Community members are invited to submit and comment on proposals outlining ideas for what they think should be done about climate change. In some contests, members create proposals for specific kinds of actions such as generating electric power with fewer emissions or changing social attitudes about climate change.  In other contests, members combine ideas from many other proposals to create integrated climate action plans for a country, a group of countries, or the whole world. Experts evaluate the entries and pick finalists, and then both experts and community members select the most promising proposals. For more, see Contest phases. Read More→

Companies Join Climate Pledge

Sixty-eight of the largest and most iconic U.S. corporations from steelmakers to retailers to technology giants joined a White House-initiated pledge Monday to reduce carbon emissions and support a strong United Nations climate deal on global warming.

American Express, Alcoa, Facebook, Siemens, Best Buy, the Walt Disney Co., Kellogg and Xerox are just some of the companies that signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge Monday, joining an original group of 13 U.S. multinationals that pledged in July to mitigate global warming and back a U.N. pact. The original group included Apple, Goldman Sachs and Google.

In announcing big carbon reduction pledges and supporting  U.N. climate negotiations, the companies seemed to have intercepted the political football that climate change has become in Washington and carried it firmly into the economic zone.

“At Mars, we believe that our growth is not only linked to, but dependent on, the protection of the world that we all call home,” said Mars Inc. Chief Sustainability Officer Barry Parkin.

 “It is simply not an option to stand back and do nothing,” he said. The candy maker, which sources ingredients from all over the world, committed to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from across its global operations by 2040 and by this year send no more waste to landfills. Read more…