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Posts Tagged ‘international policy’

Snowden is missing.  The IRS scandal is ongoing. SCOTUS struck down DOMA and punted on affirmative action. A Texas filibuster over a proposed abortion bill was picked up by a historic crowd at the state capitol who effectively blocked the legislation through sheer willpower. A red panda went missing from the National Zoo. DC United won a game. It’s been a hell of a week, and it’s only Wednesday.

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I feel ya, buddy.

In the middle of it all, President Obama delivered the policy speech that environmentalists have been waiting for since the day he took office: the one on climate change. The President’s agenda outlined broad goals for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy, respond to the ongoing impacts of climate change, and finally, lead the international community in all of those areas, too. The official White House fact sheet is available here. But what about the details?

Coal, more than any other industry, took it on the chin in this one – not surprising given just how much pollution is generated by coal-fired power plants.  The plan directs EPA to move forward with regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by June 2014.  The plan also included expanded effort to fund renewable energy and use public lands for renewable energy sources, efficiency initiatives, and reforestation measures.

The plan was met with mixed reactions.  Commentators were quick to judge the measures as a scaled-back version of the lofty goals that Obama set at the outset of his Presidency, and not surprisingly, many Republicans continued the drumbeat of erroneously pitting environmental initiatives against economic goals. (Side note: when will they give up, and realize the renewable energy can also create jobs? Sigh.)  Coal stocks responded by plummeting.  Many environmental groups, including Sierra Club and 350.org applauded the measures as the long-awaited concrete action to back up the President’s constant promises to tackle climate change.  Former Vice President and environmental advocate Al Gore called the speech “terrific and historic,” responding optimistically to the steps proposed in the President’s plan as well as his willingness to finally move forward on a longstanding issue.  The mention of the infamous Keystone XL pipeline caught many by surprise, as did the President’s comments that the pipeline will not go forward if it is found to increase GHG emissions.  That of course, is a finding that in reality is stupid – of course expanded tar sands development, and continuing to enable fossil fuel exports, will increase emissions and accelerate climate change.  But, the “official” outcome could go either way depending on how groups calculate the emissions and how directly they tie the impacts to the pipeline itself.  You know the saying- lies, damned lies, and impact assessments.  Another surprising feature was the mention of fossil fuel subsidies, which was included in the President’s international goals, but not within his steps to curb emissions in the US.  (Honestly, I don’t know why nobody listens to me on this one.  Cut fossil fuel subsidies, cut federal spending, and cut emissions by forcing people to think about how much and how often they drive and make better choices. Oh well.)

Overall, while the actions were not as bold as some groups hoped, the result of the speech was a net positive – an acknowledgement that climate change is real, here, and happening, and a specific plan for moving forward.  Let’s hope that the follow-through is real.

A summary of the main points of the plan is available through Grist.org right here. A full transcript of the President’s speech is available here. As for Team Spinach, a detailed analysis of the plan by our resident climate expert, El Nino, will follow soon.

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Hi all!

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I think everyone was busy last week worrying the NSA is judging them for not calling their grandmother more often.  I know I was.  Which is why it took me a bit to get this post up, and also why so many fascinating things happened in the energy and climate world that I had to talk about them all in one post.

First of all, our least favorite pipeline that doesn’t even exist yet is back in the news.  The Sierra Club has quietly taken the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline over to the judicial branch.  The litigious environmental nonprofit (for those of you who don’t know, Sierra Club has acted as plaintiff for some of the nation’s most pivotal and groundbreaking environmental lawsuits – it’s one of their specialties as an organization) filed suit against the State Department last week regarding the sketchy-as-all-hell (from what I’ve read) environmental impact statement that the agency issued about the pipeline.  The impact statement – which suggests the pipeline will have no negative impacts – was prepared by a third-party contractor that has an active membership in the American Petroleum Institute, which Sierra Club and other environmental groups widely regard as evidence of a conflict of interest.  Perhaps more critically, the State Department did not respond to requests to produce documentation proving that the department screened for such a conflict of interest.  The lawsuit is seeking access to those documents and extension of the public comment period for the agency to finalize the determination so that the documents can be considered.  In the continued debate, Al Gore weighted in on the pipeline in a recent interview, stating that the project was ‘an atrocity.’  

Meanwhile, climate change is happening, you guys.  A five year study by FEMA that was just released has predicted a 45% increase in flooding in the United States during the coming decades – as a result of climate change.  (Except in North Carolina, of course, where flooding and climate change is illegal.  I suppose all the hurricanes will have to stick to Florida and South Carolina this year?) FEMA, which manages disaster relief, is expecting to have to insure 80% more properties, with a 90% increase in the average cost of a claim when filed.  But, this is all totally worth it, because it was definitely too expensive for us to regulate carbon through a cap-and-trade or tax system, and it was also definitely too expensive to make some of those fossil fuel companies maybe pay a little instead of collecting government subsidies.  What? Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit?

Fine. I’ll end on a good note.  Behold, Robert Redford for NRDC:

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Still better looking than you.

Redford, an environmental activist and partner to National Resources Defense Council, has put together a series of short ads calling for action on climate change and clean energy initiatives.  You should watch them.  Because it’s Robert Redford.  And, he’s got something really important to say.  And then you should send them to everyone you know.

That’s all for now folks.  I’ll be back next week, and maybe I’ll be less cranky.

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Well, here’s something new for ya: after watching weirder and weirder weather unfold for the past few years, a poll released today (reported by the New York Times) shows that the majority of Americans believe these events are the result of – wait for it – climate change.

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Like I said: weird weather.

It’s certainly true that the past years have been an adventure.  Between the infamous east coast Snowmageddon (which I missed, because I was totally in Abu Dhabi, no joke), record flooding of the Mississippi River in 2011,  last year’s summer heat wave, the 2011 droughts in Texas and Oklahoma,  increasing tornadoes across the midwest and southern U.S., and 2012 bringing the warmest March on record, there have been no shortage of unusual patterns.  That’s just inside the U.S., too.

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This might be a good time to turn around, eh?

Conducted by Knowledge Networks on behalf of teams at Yale and George Mason University, the study itself is the most comprehensive to date tracking public opinion on climate change. By almost a 2 – to – 1 ratio, Americans believe extreme weather patterns are due to global warming. A higher percentage than ever say that they have personally been impacted by the effects of climate change.  On top of that, after years where economic issues and concerns about international unrest eclipsed the issue of climate, the poll shows climate change is starting to climb the ranks once again.  (As an aside, failure to act on climate and energy could have profound negative impacts for both international politics as well as the economy, so I’ve always seen the issues as linked – but that hasn’t been the case with popular opinion.)

Of course, whether or not these individual events ARE directly caused by climate change is not as clear-cut as we’d like it to be.  Evidence is strongest that increased precipitation as well as heat waves are a result of climate change.  Wind patterns are also shifting, which could be the cause of the recent increase in the number of tornadoes. But, as with most environmental issues, the science isn’t what sways public opinion.  After all, the scientists have been beating the drum for years. We’ve seen the Keeling Curve showing the increase in CO2 detected by Manua Loa observatory in Hawaii.

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(But just in case you haven't, here it is again.)

We’ve all seen photos of flooding in Bangladesh, and sad pictures of polar bears trapped on a single block of ice. But it hasn’t done much.  What sways public opinion, if past is precedent, is when people start to be impacted.  When it’s my town, my home, my family, my friends, my job, or my future that is on the line, people start to sit up and listen.  The issue, at that point, is real.

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So is this polar bear. Hey, I had to include at least one.

And that’s precisely why many advocacy groups are jumping on shifting weather patterns as an opening.  Groups like 350.org, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, and other advocacy organizations see this as a way to grab public attention and increase momentum towards action.  Perhaps for the first time, climate change is no longer a far-off warning that we might not live to see, but something that could actually impact our daily lives.  That’s a new thought for a lot of folks, I think.

While it’s a shame that the past few decades politicized the issue and drowned out the voice of the scientific community, many are wondering if this real shift is what we need.  For years, climate change deniers could point to the fact that there was ‘no concrete evidence’ as a way of poking holes in scientific data.  Now, it seems events might be shifting to fall in favor of the other size of the fence.

Of course, whether or not any action comes of it remains to be seen.  If not, we’ll just be buying those sustainable bikinis in January, right?

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First of all – whoa – hi guys.  It’s Friday.  How did that happen?  Where did the week go? Why do I still have 13 things on my to-do list that I cannot cross off?  Should I just cross them off anyway and pretend?

All of these questions have probably crossed your mind, including “where the heck are those spinach kids, anyway?”  Our most sincere apologies for this week.  It appears that we took a petite vacance,as the French would say.  We were actually here:

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South Pacific: Not just a musical about what your grandfather was doing during WWII.

Just kidding.  We were actually just out to lunch.  For three days.

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Om nom nom.

But we’re back! And since we’ve got vacations on the brain, I thought that this would be a good time to talk about my life-long dream #5, which is to take three months off of life at some point and travel around Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the rest of the south Pacific.

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In this canoe.

As it turns out, I might want to bump that dream up a little higher on the list and place it above running the Iditarod and through-hiking the Appalachian Trail.  While it’s not exactly imminent (don’t worry, I’m not going to quit my day job and leave tomorrow), some of those island nations are already preparing themselves for the impacts of climate change.  As reported by the Washington Post, the entire Pacific nation of Kiribati is currently preparing contingency plans for what to do if sea level rise makes their island quite literally disappear below those perfect blue-green waters.

In case you’ve never heard of Kiribati before today, or looked for it on a map, this is where you can find it:

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If you get lost on the way, just keep swimming.

But a side-view topographic map should give us a bit more of an idea why they’re so worried about sea level rise.

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Yup – Kiribati is an archipelago, and many of the atolls and small islands that the people live on there could be very quickly underwater with only very minor sea level rise.  Two islands of Kiribati have already been covered due to the impacts of rising sea level, and their leaders are preparing and planning for what to do with their population of 103,000 if it gets worse.

It’s an interesting thing for us to think about, over here in North America, where we think that the impacts of climate change might just mean a few more hurricanes and some strange days where it decides to be 70 degrees in the middle of February.  Now, truth be told, sea level fluctuation is a natural process.  Across the course of geologic time (i.e., the entire history of the Earth), sea level has changed with glacial and interglacial periods – USGS has a great fact sheet summarizing what the impacts of this could be in the modern era.  So, we always have to remember that the Earth we live on is a dynamic system: the continents are moving, mountains are being formed and eroded, tectonic plates are shifting, and our climate is not stable across millions of years.

The problem?  Climate scientists generally agree that anthropogenic climate destabilization is accelerating this process, causing sea levels to rise more quickly than they naturally would have.  We’re not going to talk about that here (as I always say, leave the science to the scientists).  But, this interactive map gives you an idea how this would impact land availability around the world.  Keep in mind that our population has arrived at the 7 billion mark, meaning that we now have decreasing space for an increasing number of people.

Which brings us to the critical question – one which is policy and not scientifically based: what do we do about this?  How will we as a global community respond to the idea of ecological refugees: people who have been displaced from their homeland because of the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, natural disasters, and shifts in land, energy, and water resources.  Where do these people go?

The island of Kiribati is already chewing on this very question, because they are concerned about the future of their younger generations.  The proposed solution currently making headlines is to quite literally move the entire nation to….Fiji.

Doesn't look so bad in this photo, but somehow I don't think they're moving there because the snorkeling is better.

This in theory seems like an interesting solution, but it raises all kinds of questions.  Would the people of Kiribati remain their own nation, or would they become a part of Fiji?  How would they be moved?  Who would pay for the cost of new land?  How do you even place a value on land when it becomes a declining resource; a thing of scarcity in that particular region of the world?  And what impacts would there be on these people as they adapt and build new lives?

The drama of this is probably fairly far down the road, but the questions are very real.  As Kara has pointed out several times, when it comes to climate change adaptation, isn’t it better to think ahead?  The world has a long history of political and social turmoil over natural resources.  Plenty of wars have started because, on a most basic level, somebody had something that somebody else didn’t have and wanted (food, water, land, dare I say it, oil?)  Plenty of other wars have started because of the social issues that arise when a minority population is displaced or takes up residence in a new county.  While outright conflicts may be a good way off, that doesn’t mean the possibility isn’t there and that we shouldn’t be planning and asking these questions.

 International organizations such as the World Bank have already started considering the impact of climate change on small island nations.  Myriad problems are anticipated, including not only the disappearance of land, but profound impacts on groundwater sources, agricultural land, erosion patterns, flooding, changing tidal patterns, and public health impacts related to contamination of food and water sources and changing disease vectors.

I wish I could come up with a snarky caption, but this kind of just makes me sad.

What’s more than a little, depressing when you stop think about it, is the fact that the best solution some American leaders can come up with is….”Drill, Baby, Drill!”  So to make you all feel better, I’ll leave you with a nice romantic picture of a beach in Kiribati.  Maybe that’s something you can keep in mind next time you’re trying to decide whether you should walk to the grocery store or drive.

Things that are sexy: Kara in a bikini, this beach, reading our blog, and reducing your carbon footprint. Dan in a bikini, not so much.

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And it’s “back to reality, back to life…” .  Actually, before we get back to our environmental reality, whatever that may be, let’s take a detour to the Old Line State where the Maryland House of Delegates approved a same-sex marriage bill!  Wahoo!  Finally, a very blue state is coming around to providing equal status under the law.  Let’s make it happen, Governor O’Malley, let’s make it happen. And, we are back to being better than New Jersey.

All right, I’ll leave it at that.  You didn’t come to here to get some yummy rainbow sherbet, you came for green goodness.  So I am here to provide.

And for those of you who took the time to enter into Paul Kingsnorth’s mind, I am here to give you a little lift.  For those of you who slacked and didn’t take the time, I am here to also give you lift (although you will probably be lifted a bit higher than the Kingsnorth clan because you didn’t damper your spirits by immersing into and reflecting on the sad state of environmental affairs). Because let’s face it, whereever you were at the past couple of hours or days, this news will be good news.  That is, unless, you were caught up making sure that you got to keep an extra twenty dollars in your pocket each month between now and the end of the year.  In that case, enjoy your victory and don’t rub it in our faces.  Because we enviros got a little joy of our own this week.

Between the back and forth headline drama about the payroll tax extension (for those of you who read the normal news) or the underneath the latest anti-environmental scandal (see the Heartland Institute—yeah, and you thought Bill Gates was such a saint after Foxconn showed how black the soul of Steve Jobs actually was…), there was a small, but notable headline about a climate change effort that is slowly gaining some steam. 

This week, the United States, through Hillary Clinton and the Department of State, joined a coalition of five other nations to combat some of the short-lived, but high global warming potential, greenhouses gases.  This coalition, called the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, is run by the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and includes the countries of Canada (shocking, I know), Mexico, Sweden, Bangladesh, and Ghana.  In joining, nations are committing to curbing non-carbon greenhouse gas emission such as methane, soot, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), also known as “short-lived climate enforcers.”  There are no hard line numbers; this is just a voluntary, five-year commitment.  Instead of targets, the coalition plans fund education projects and joint public-private efforts to reduce emissions nations to “reduce diesel exhaust, stem the burning of agricultural waste, and capture methane from landfills, coal mines, and natural gas wells,” among other policy initiatives.

You might be asking yourself what good will this do, and I’m glad you pondered this.  These three pollutants are believed to account for approximately 30 to 40 percent of the nearly one degree Celsius rise in global temperatures since the beginning of the 20th century.  Furthermore, this voluntary effort has the potential to slow rising temperatures by up to .5 degrees Celsius.  If you read the Washington Post version, that halt could come as early as 2030; if you read the Scientific American version, it may take an additional 20 years.  And, in case that is not enough, WaPo points out that even the notorious climate change skeptic Senator James Inhofe (R-Ok) gets behind reducing soot.  Just when you and Paul Kingsnorth thought all was lost…

At this point, you might be thinking, “Get your head out of the clouds, optimist.  I’ve seen this before—Copehagen, Cancun, Durban… we’ve produced non-binding agreements and unless we hold people’s feet to the fire, nothing will happen.”  You, my eternally pessimistic friend (is that you, Peter Thiel?), might be correct that I am the queen of wishful thinking.  However, it’s worth noting that we did throw in $12 million for this effort (and by we, I don’t mean we here at Spinach.  We save our big dollars for the craps tables in Vegas). So we’ve got our feet within the vicinity of the fire on this effort.

It’s a small accomplishment relative to a national cap-and-trade policy or a carbon tax, but it’s an accomplishment nonetheless.  So before we get down and think about going out, let’s remember the little things.  Because just like your mother always told you (I know mine did), “Sometimes, it’s the little things that count.”

(Or, for bloggers, it’s the hyperlinks the hyperlinks that count.  And I just rocked the hyperlinks. So show me some love with a comment.)

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