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Tag: "climate change"

Why Columnists at the Newspaper of Record Matter

[ 52 ] June 2, 2017 |

Good job New York Times. Good job.

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The Paris Withdrawal in Context

[ 88 ] June 2, 2017 |

The liberal gnashing of teeth and rendering of garments over yesterday’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement is certainly justified. We are an international embarrassment as a nation. We should be ashamed of our president and of ourselves.

However, let’s not pretend that the U.S. is ever a leader on issues of climate change or on any international agreement promoting larger justice-related issues. Given that the left has largely ceded foreign policy to interventionists and neoliberals and rarely thinks of these issues in any way except for broad “DON’T INTERVENE” rhetoric, it’s hardly surprising. See one “Sanders, Bernard” for an example of this, but really almost anyone on the left is basically guilty of this. We, and by “we” I am thinking of the left writ large and including left-liberals such as the commenters on this blog, simply don’t take these issues very seriously. I will point to the consistently low levels of comments on my posts on international trade as an example. People don’t much comment, not because they don’t agree, but because they don’t really have that much to say about it. And that’s pretty much standard among liberals and the left. We don’t think very hard about these issues.

Because of this, there is very little pushback against our pro-corporate foreign policy. The Paris agreement was already structured to protect our corporations. Most of our treaties are. Certainly Republicans do this, but so do Democrats. On any international agreement, the United States is the single biggest problem in making it strong and implementing meaningful safeguards. Moreover, let’s not forget Obama’s wretched decision to reclassify Malaysia’s human trafficking record just after mass graves of slaves were found in order to include it in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Those slaves were producing goods that entered into U.S. supply chains. That is abominable.

Because of the need to protect American corporations, the actual commitments in the Paris agreement were very small with basically nonexistent enforcement. The whole framework is voluntary. Nations can make pledge whatever reductions they want and the U.S. commitment on that was already very small. No meaningful money was committed to force rich nations to help poorer nations build a green infrastructure. The reality is that Paris is not going to do much to fight climate change. It’s a good thing and maybe it is a start (although Kyoto was the real start and, well, we see how far we’ve gone since then). It’s great that states are pledging to do it themselves. But then they can do that because there really aren’t meaningful commitments in the thing.

So yes, pulling out of the Paris deal is terrible and embarrassing. But so is the rest of U.S. policy when it comes to these sorts of the treaties. And until we start paying as much attention to the details of foreign policy and articulating exactly what we want a left foreign policy to look like as it deals with the real world as we do to relitigating the 2016 Democratic primary for the 208th time, we cede the field to very weak agreements like this that protect our corporations over the world’s people and climate and don’t really do very much to fight climate change. Be embarrassed. But look at yourself as part of the reason for that.

Reasonable Moderate Sam Alito!

[ 64 ] February 15, 2017 |

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In addition to Trump embracing Steinesque anti-vaccination silliness that Scott mentions below (and that was in the original draft of this post), we have Reasonable Moderate Sam Alito understanding basic science.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito delivered a fascinating keynote speech at the Claremont Institute’s 2017 annual dinner on Saturday night. Alito, who received a Statesmanship Award from the conservative think tank, devoted much of his address to criticizing his bêtes noires, including environmental regulation, affirmative action, the “media elite,” the European Union, and emergency contraceptives.

But then Alito went off the rails. He declared that he would provide two examples of this alleged regulatory overreach. The first was a fair illustration of his point, involving water regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency. The second was Massachusetts v. EPA. In that case, the Supreme Court found that carbon dioxide is a “pollutant” within the scope of the Clean Air Act, allowing the EPA to regulate it. Alito dissented from the 5–4 decision. And in his speech on Saturday, he summarized his frustration with the majority opinion:

Now, what is a pollutant? A pollutant is a subject that is harmful to human beings or to animals or to plants. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Carbon dioxide is not harmful to ordinary things, to human beings, or to animals, or to plants. It’s actually needed for plant growth. All of us are exhaling carbon dioxide right now. So, if it’s a pollutant, we’re all polluting. When Congress authorized the regulation of pollutants, what it had in mind were substances like sulfur dioxide, or particulate matter—basically, soot or smoke in the air. Congress was not thinking about carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases.

Alito’s comments here are straight out of the climate change denialist playbook—and were rejected in Massachusetts v. EPA, for good reason. The Clean Air Act defines “air pollutant” as “any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical [or] chemical … substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air” and “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” In its decision, the Supreme Court correctly recognized that carbon is a “chemical substance or matter” that is “emitted into” the air and “endanger[s] public health” by contributing to rising global temperatures. There is no textual support for Alito’s assertion that the law was meant to be limited to “soot or smoke.”

But what’s really odd about Alito’s comments on Saturday is that he seems to have forgotten key details of the case. Massachusetts v. EPA was not, contra Alito’s intimation, an example of “a massive shift of lawmaking from the elected representatives of the people to unelected bureaucrats.” To the contrary: The case marked a departure from the usual deference that courts afford administrative agencies. Instead, it constituted a triumph of an independent judiciary. What Alito forgot to mention in his speech was that, at the time, the EPA refused to regulate carbon. Massachusetts, already suffering from the effects of climate change, sued the EPA, demanding that it enforce the Clean Air Act. Those “unelected bureaucrats” at the EPA were refusing to enforce a law passed by the people’s “elected representatives.” And the judiciary stepped in to ensure that the bureaucrats followed the law.

It’s a real wonder the Republican Party hasn’t repudiated Trump….

Our President is a 6 Year Old Who Throws Tantrums

[ 98 ] January 29, 2017 |

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For the love of all things holy. Can we impeach Trump already?

The new president is reluctant to meet the prince when he comes to Britain in June because of their violently divergent views on global warming.

Members of Trump’s inner circle have warned officials and ministers that it would be counterproductive for Charles to “lecture” Trump on green issues and that he will “erupt” if pushed. They want the younger princes, William and Harry, to greet the president instead. Royal aides insist that he should meet Trump.

Senior government officials now believe Charles is one of the most serious “risk factors” for the visit.

Trump’s team is also concerned that he will face a wave of protests, with thousands of people taking to the streets to denounce him.

Meanwhile, in Louisiana:

Bren Haase, chief of planning for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), was presenting his team’s updated Coastal Master Plan. Five years in the making and comprising 6,000 pages of text and appendices, the document details $50 billion in investments over five decades in ridges, barrier islands, and marsh creation. Tucked into the plan was a number whose significance surpasses all others: 14 feet, the height beyond which Haase’s agency has concluded homes couldn’t feasibly be elevated.

In areas where a so-called 100-year flood is expected to produce between 3 feet and 14 feet of water, the plan recommends paying for homes to be raised and communities preserved. In places where flood depths are expected to exceed that height, residents would be offered money to leave. “We’re trying to make the best decisions for the most people,” said Haase, adding that Louisiana’s strategy could become a model for other states. “The plan is really a framework to make those tough decisions.”

As Trump’s administration prepares to unravel federal policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions, state and local governments are trying increasingly aggressive steps to cope with the consequences of those emissions. In New Jersey, a state program offers residents in flood zones the pre-Hurricane Sandy value of their homes, turning the land into a buffer against the next storm. In Alaska, entire coastal towns are petitioning the federal government for money to move inland.

But nowhere is the rush to adapt to climate change more urgent than in Louisiana. Levees built in the aftermath of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 reduced inundations but also the deposit of sediment that had offset the gradual sinking of the marshlands—a process that accelerated with the expansion of the area’s oil and gas industry. Meanwhile, canals built to service the oil and gas wells let salt water penetrate deeper into the marshes, killing vegetation and speeding erosion. Since 1932, the state has lost 1,800 square miles of land, roughly equivalent to 80 Manhattans. On top of all that, Louisiana must contend with sea-level rise. If it does nothing, the state is expected to lose as much as 4,000 additional square miles of land in the next half-century. Its residents have no choice but to retreat from the coast; the question officials are trying to answer is where that retreat can be postponed and for how long.

The Trump administration is going to do a great job at dealing with the real world. Of course, given the voting patterns of the state of Louisiana, probably not worse than the people actually being flooded out of their homes.

Obama’s Climate Legacy

[ 30 ] January 14, 2017 |

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Given the constraints of an extremist opposition, there’s probably not much more Obama could have done on climate change. He sums up his achievements and the need to move forward in an article in Science, written by him, although almost certainly not actually written by him. This is the first time a sitting president has ever published in the prestigious journal.

Of course one can argue that Obama’s biggest weakness is thinking that anyone cares what is published in a journal like Science instead of playing the dirty politics that actually leads to power in this country. It would be nice if this country could have nice things, but what a pipe dream.

Can the Koch Brothers Purchase Americans Changing Their Minds About Environmental Protections?

[ 24 ] January 6, 2017 |

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Don’t know, but we are about to find out.

The Kochs, whose use of their fortune to promote climate-change denial research has angered environmentalists, are quietly courting new allies in their quest for a fossil fuel resurgence: minorities.

Since its start in the spring of 2016, Fueling U.S. Forward has sent delegates to, or hosted, at least three events aimed at black voters, arguing that they benefit most from cheap and abundant fossil fuels and have the most to lose if energy costs rise.

Fueling U.S. Forward is “dedicated to educating the public about the value and potential of American energy, the vast majority of which comes from fossil fuels,” the group says on its website. “We’ll talk to people of diverse backgrounds — industry employees, small-business owners, community leaders and low-income families — and share their stories.”

The group has seen early results from its outreach.

“Policies that subsidize electric vehicles and solar panels for the wealthy raise energy prices and harm the black community,” read recommendations adopted by delegates at the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind., in August. The event brought together African-American political groups and counted Fueling U.S. Forward among its sponsors.

“We’re standing up for poor, underserved communities,” said Linda Haithcox, executive director of the National Policy Alliance, which organized the convention. She said her group’s funding from Fueling U.S. Forward and other energy groups had not affected its position on energy.

In a statement, Charles Drevna, president and chief executive of Fueling U.S. Forward and a former vice president at Sunoco, the company behind the Dakota Access oil pipeline, confirmed that the group was supported by Koch Industries, among other backers. “I am proud to help Fueling U.S. Forward promote the importance of domestic oil and natural gas to making people’s lives better,” he said.

You’d like to think these groups won’t take Koch money, but LOL at that.

Fueling U.S. Forward is a more emotional campaign. “How do we start winning hearts and minds?” Alex Fitzsimmons, the Fueling U.S. Forward spokesman, wondered in a Facebook Live broadcast he hosted with Mr. Drevna in August at the RedState Gathering in Denver.

Eddie Bautista, executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, a nonprofit that works with low-income and minority neighborhoods on environmental issues, called the campaign “an exploitative, sad and borderline racist strategy.” He pointed to the falling costs associated with renewable energy, which he said made shifting away from reliance on fossil fuels a winning proposition for everyone.

In seeking to change hearts and minds, Fueling U.S. Forward addresses a greater conundrum for the Kochs, their private empire — which generates an estimated $100 billion in sales a year — and the wider fossil fuel industry.

I don’t know whether it will as successful as the hearts and minds campaign of the U.S. toward South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, but the catastrophe of climate change will certainly be comparable or worse to the death toll of that war. But hey, there was so much corporate profit to be made in both!

Zinke

[ 20 ] December 16, 2016 |

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Adam Markham has an excellent rundown of Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, who I am sad to say is also a former offensive linemen for the University of Oregon. Other than getting the job because of swapping hunting stories and making manly bonds with Uday and Qusay, Ryan Zinke is likely to be a complete disaster for the department, including how it needs to act on climate change.

In his first term as a Congressman he has voted to:

Weaken controls on air and water pollution in national parks
Lift the federal ban on crude oil exports
Undermine protections for endangered species
De-fund efforts to clean up Chesapeake Bay
Weaken the Antiquities Act by limiting the president’s ability to designate new national monuments

Well, that’s promising…

Zinke will be administering our more treasured places through the National Park Service. There’s a lot of front line research on climate change in the NPS.

Some of the most convincing evidence of climate impacts of climate change and of the work of National Park Service scientists can be found right in Congressman Zinke’s backyard—Yellowstone National Park. Average annual temperatures have risen 0.17˚C per decade since 1948 and spring and summer temperatures are predicted to rise by 4.0-5.6˚C by the end of the century, making hot dry summers the norm and transforming the ecosystems this iconic landscape.

Across the American west, climate change is driving a trend toward larger, more damaging wildfires, and fire season has lengthened by an extraordinary 78 days since 1970.

Yellowstone winters are already shorter, with less snowfall and many more days when temperatures rise above freezing than there were in the 1980s. Earlier snow melt and warmer summer temperatures are dramatically changing stream flow, river temperatures, and the condition of seasonal wetlands in the park, putting populations of native cutthroat trout, chorus frogs, and trumpeter swans at risk for the future.

Damaging climate impacts to wildlife and ecosystems have been recorded in Saguaro, Rocky Mountain, Glacier Bay, Biscayne, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks as well as Yosemite, the Everglades, and many others.

Cultural resources are no less at risk. As UCS’s 2016 joint report with UNESCO and UNEP, World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate documented, The Statue of Liberty was closed for nine months after Hurricane Sandy and $77 million has had to be spent to restore services and access on Liberty and Ellis Islands.

Extreme rainfall has damaged the Spanish mission church at Tumacácori in Arizona; sea level rise threatens black history at Fort Monroe in Virginia and the Harriett Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland; colonial heritage is at immediate risk from rising water levels at Jamestown, Virginia; American Indian heritage has been damaged by floods and fires at Mesa Verde and Bandelier; and Native Alaskan archaeology thousands of years old is being lost forever as a result of coastal erosion at Cape Krusenstern and elsewhere in Alaska.

Unlike natural ecosystems which have the capacity to change or move, cultural heritage such as buildings, artifacts or archaeology can be permanently damaged or instantly destroyed by a fire, flood, or storm.

In a 2014 policy memorandum to all NPS staff, Jon Jarvis noted that “Climate change poses an especially acute problem for managing cultural resources because they are unique and irreplaceable — once lost, they are lost forever. If moved or altered, they lose aspects of their significance and meaning.” Aside from thousands of historic structures and sites, there are approximately 2 million archaeological sites within the National Park System alone, many of which are vulnerable to climate change.

I await the Zinke/Tillerson/Perry/Trump solution of privatizing the national parks. I’m sure Yellowstone brought to you by Exxon/Mobil will really take this problem seriously! But, once again, this is just a bog standard Republican pick by Donald Trump, mainstream Republican.

Doomed

[ 142 ] December 1, 2016 |

The House Science Committee, ladies and gentlemen.

Today in the Coming Apocalypse

[ 23 ] November 15, 2016 |

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In case you aren’t depressed enough.

And So It Begins

[ 66 ] November 9, 2016 |

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We may never fully recover from what is about to hit us.

Donald Trump has selected one of the best-known climate skeptics to lead his U.S. EPA transition team, according to two sources close to the campaign.

Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, is spearheading Trump’s transition plans for EPA, the sources said.

The Trump team has also lined up leaders for its Energy Department and Interior Department teams. Republican energy lobbyist Mike McKenna is heading the DOE team; former Interior Department solicitor David Bernhardt is leading the effort for that agency, according to sources close to the campaign.

Ebell is a well-known and polarizing figure in the energy and environment realm. His participation in the EPA transition signals that the Trump team is looking to drastically reshape the climate policies the agency has pursued under the Obama administration. Ebell’s role is likely to infuriate environmentalists and Democrats but buoy critics of Obama’s climate rules.

Ebell, who was dubbed an “elegant nerd” and a “policy wonk” by Vanity Fair, is known for his prolific writings that question what he calls climate change “alarmism.” He appears frequently in the media and before Congress. He’s also chairman of the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of nonprofits that “question global warming alarmism and oppose energy-rationing policies.”

Goodbye American nature. Goodbye pollution controls. Goodbye livable climate.

Declining Clean Energy Investments

[ 47 ] October 12, 2016 |

Cattle graze near wind turbines that are part of Babcock & Brown Infrastructure Group's Gulf Wind Project on Kenedy Ranch south of Kingsville, Texas, U.S., on Monday, Feb. 23, 2009. The $787 billion stimulus legislation signed by President Barack Obama includes at least $14 billion in tax breaks for wind and solar electricity and establishes a grant program to help finance projects. When completed, this wind farm will have 118 turbines with a total output of 283 megawatts (MW). Photographer: Eddie Seal/Bloomberg News

Climate change, only the greatest problem facing the world, has received nearly zero attention in the presidential campaign. So it’s easy to forget about it! But the fact that investment in renewables is seriously down worldwide is a very bad thing.

Investment in renewable energy and smart energy technologies totaled $42.2 billion in the third quarter, down 31 percent from the previous quarter and down 43 percent from the third quarter of 2015, a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance said.

Asset finance of utility-scale renewable energy projects fell 49 percent year-on-year to $28.8 billion in the third quarter.

“These numbers are worryingly low even compared to the subdued trend we saw in Q1 and Q2,” Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in a statement.

Chinese investment fell by 51 percent compared with the third quarter last year to $14.4 billion and Japan’s investment was 56 percent lower at $3.5 billion.

In many countries, electricity demand growth is also lower than government forecasts.

“My view is that the Q3 figures are somewhere between a ‘flash crash’ blip and a ‘new normal’,” Liebreich said.

If more transactions emerge, Q3 figures could be revised upwards, but with Q1 and Q2 data down an average 23 percent from the equivalent quarters last year, clean energy investment this year could end up well below last year’s record of $348.5 billion.

Of course, markets change and you can’t take a quarter or two and assume this is a permanent change. But we need not just growing electricity demand to come through renewables, but also the replacement of fossil fuel energy structures with new investments in wind and solar. If that’s not happening and declined investment is something like a new normal as the analyst states, that’s a very bad thing for the planet and all the species who live on it. Including us.

Weather, Politics, Climate Change

[ 78 ] August 30, 2016 |

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It’s easy to talk about corporate narratives undermining the fight to do something about climate change. But there’s a lot of room for deeper research and more nuanced understanding. That’s why this is pretty interesting.

December of 2015 was the warmest ever recorded in New Hampshire, by far. Indeed, in temperature anomaly terms (degrees above or below average) it was the warmest of any month for at least 121 years. January, February and March of 2016 were less extreme but each still ranked among the top 15, making winter 2015–2016 overall the state’s warmest on record — eclipsing previous records set successively in 1998, 2002 and 2012 (Figure 1).

Seeing in this record a research opportunity, colleagues and I added a question to a statewide telephone survey conducted in February 2016, to ask whether respondents thought that temperatures in the recent December had been warmer, cooler, or about average for the state. Two months later (April), we asked a similar question about the past winter as a whole. Physical signs of the warm winter had been unmistakable, including mostly bare ground, little shoveling or plowing needed, poor skiing, spring-like temperatures on Christmas day, and early blooming in a state where winters often are snowy and springs late. Not surprisingly, a majority of respondents correctly recalled the warm season. Their accuracy displayed mild but statistically significant political differences, however. Tea Party supporters, and people who do not think that humans are changing the climate, less often recalled recent warmth (Hamilton & Lemcke-Stampone 2016). Although percentage differences were not large, these patterns echoed greater differences seen in studies that asked about longer-term changes. Our February and April surveys had found counterparts on a much more immediate, tangible scale.

More of this sort of thing would be great. Last winter was ridiculously warm (although the leaves still weren’t on the trees until May so what’s the point) with several weird days in Rhode Island of temps in the upper 60s and thick fog on the ground, as if the Earth was revolting from whatever is happening to it. Of course, I can’t complain about the lack of snow. But that people would identify it differently depending on how they feel about climate change is fascinating and might well mean that they are already see the survey as a political question and are going to deny it regardless of what they actually think about the weather when they are being surveyed on a 60 degree February day in New Hampshire.

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