Climate Proposal Puts Practicality Ahead of Sacrifice
By JOHN TIERNEY
The current issue of the journal Science contains a proposal to slow global warming that is
extraordinary for a couple of reasons:
1. In theory, it would help people living in poor countries now, instead of mainly benefiting their descendants.
2. In practice, it might actually work.
This proposal comes from an international team of researchers — in climate modeling,
atmospheric chemistry, economics, agriculture and public health — who started off with a
question that borders on heresy in some green circles: Could something be done about global warming besides forcing everyone around the world to use less fossil fuel?
Ever since the Kyoto Protocol imposed restrictions in industrial countries, the first priority of environmentalists has been to further limit the emission of carbon dioxide. Burning fewer fossil fuels is the most obvious way to counteract the greenhouse effect, and the notion has always had a wonderfully virtuous political appeal — as long as it’s being done by someone else.
But as soon as people are asked to do it themselves, they follow a principle identified by Roger Pielke Jr. in his book “The Climate Fix.” Dr. Pielke, a political scientist at the University of
Colorado, calls it iron law of climate policy: When there’s a conflict between policies promoting economic growth and policies restricting carbon dioxide, economic growth wins every time. The law holds even in the most ecologically correct countries of Europe, as Dr. Pielke found by looking at carbon reductions from 1990 until 2010.
The Kyoto Protocol was supposed to put Europe on a new energy path, but it contained so many loopholes that the rate of “decarbonization” in Europe did not improve in the years after 1998,
when the protocol was signed, or after 2002, when it was ratified. In fact, Europe’s economy became more carbon-intensive in 2010, he says — a trend that seems likely to continue as
nuclear power plants are shut down in Germany and replaced by coal-burning ones. “People will make trade-offs, but the one thing that won’t be traded off is keeping the lights on at reasonable cost,” he says. Given the reluctance of affluent Europeans to make sacrifices, what are the odds of persuading billions of people in poorer countries to pay more for energy today in return for a cooler climate at the end of the century?
But suppose they were offered a deal with immediate benefits, like the one proposed in Science by researchers in the United States, Britain, Italy, Austria, Thailand and Kenya. The team looked
at ways to slow global warming while also reducing the soot and smog that are damaging agriculture and health.
Black carbon, the technical term for the soot spewed from diesel engines and traditional cookstoves and kilns, has been blamed for a significant portion of the recent warming in the Arctic and for shrinking glaciers in the Himalayas. Snow ordinarily reflects the sun’s rays, but when the white landscape is covered with soot, the darker surface absorbs heat instead. Methane, which is released from farms, landfills, coal mines and petroleum operations, contributes to ground-level ozone associated with smog and poorer yields from crops. It’s also a greenhouse gas that, pound for pound, is far more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping the sun’s heat.
After looking at hundreds of ways to control these pollutants, the researchers determined the 14 most effective measures for reducing climate change, like encouraging a switch to cleaner diesel engines and cookstoves, building more efficient kilns and coke ovens, capturing methane at landfills and oil wells, and reducing methane emissions from rice paddies by draining them more often.
If these strategies became widespread, the researchers calculate, the amount of global warming in 2050 would be reduced by about one degree Fahrenheit, roughly a third of the warming projected if nothing is done. This impact on temperatures in 2050 would be significantly larger than the projected impact of the commonly proposed measures for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Not incidentally, the researchers calculate, these reductions in low-level ozone and black carbon would yield lots of benefits long before 2050. Because people would be breathing cleaner air, 700,000 to 4.7 million premature deaths would be avoided each year. Thanks to improved crop yields, farmers would produce at least 30 million more metric tons of food annually. ARTICLE CITATION for above story:
(Science 13 January 2012:
Vol. 335 no. 6065 pp. 183-189
Simultaneously Mitigating Near-Term Climate Change and Improving Human Health and Food Security
Commentary: Fracking gives me gas
By Dr. Daniel A. Kinderlehrer
Posted: 01/15/2012 01:00:00 AM MST
Have you heard of the Halliburton Loophole? In 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney crafted an energy bill that explicitly exempted fracking from federal review under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, drilling companies are not legally obligated to disclose what chemicals they use in the process of hydraulic fracturing.
For the 1 percent who are not acquainted with this process, drillers use a mixture of water, sand and chemicals to open up fissures in stone to release the gas embedded in the shale. We have known for a long time that there are huge deposits of shale gas scattered throughout the U.S., particularly the Marcellus Shale that underlies much of Pennsylvania and western New York. What has changed is the technology. The cost of extraction has dropped to the point that drilling has become highly profitable.
How profitable? According to a recent study, the industry has generated over $11 billion in Pennsylvania alone. Landowners in shale-rich areas receive thousands of dollars an acre up-front for the right to drill, and thousands more a month in royalties. That's hard to turn down.
The energy industry sees no problem perpetuating our love affair with burning hydrocarbons. And they reassure us that, putting concerns re global warming aside, fracking is totally safe. "There is not one -- not one -- reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated," according to Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil at congressional hearings last year.
Tell that to the residents of Pavillion, Wyoming. The EPA has found petroleum contaminants in 17 of 19 wells tested, and nearby shallow groundwater had benzene at 50 times the permitted levels, with a pH equivalent to household bleach. The sad prognosis is that the incidence of cancer will rise dramatically over the next generation, but already four out of five residents surveyed have complaints linked to the gas drilling operation. The list of complaints is long, including headaches, respiratory problems, dizziness, hair loss, skin rashes, severe itching, nausea, mood disorders and other neurological symptoms. A group of doctors, nurses and environmentalists in New York have sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo citing growing evidence of health risks associated with gas drilling, and asking for the issue to be properly studied before granting more gas drilling permits. Just as scary is methane leaking into drinking water near fracking sites. This has resulted in some homeowners witnessing their wells exploding, as well as setting their tap water on fire. And don't think you're safe because none of your neighbors have leased their land to the natural gas industry. The process pollutes the air with volatile organic compounds, and the water supply of everyone downstream is in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, injection wells that have been proliferating to dispose of waste water from the fracking process are now linked to seismic activity. That's right. They are causing earthquakes. Ohio has become the latest state to shut down drilling after a series of minor earthquakes near Youngstown.
Here in Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper has signed a bill that requires the industry to disclose the classes of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. This is a good step. But it does not alter the fracking process or take any measures to ensure the public safety. We need laws governing how wells are drilled and encased. We need rules that legislate the handling and disposal of waste, and mandate the collection of critical data such as water quality.
Americans have a high tolerance for slow homicide. If it kills quickly, such as gunshots or reckless driving, we pass laws outlawing it. But if it's a slow process, we somehow condone it: think tobacco; high-sugar, high-fat fast food; BPA laced water bottles. Colorado is second only to Texas in the amount of hydraulic fluid pumped into the ground between 2005 and 2009. If you want to keep this land inhabitable for our children, please contact your local legislators and the governor, and even more importantly lend your support to advocacy groups that are working hard to protect our water supply: The Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter and the Colorado Environmental Coalition. The life you save may be your child's or grandchild's.
Dr. Daniel A. Kinderlehrer lives in Boulder.
Climate change, bark beetles: Billions of dead trees By Reese Halter
Posted: 01/15/2012 01:00:00 AM MST
Recently one of my colleagues sent me a story that sums-up the media's apathetic appetite for covering the environment. It is perplexing and disturbing.
The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, despite the rhetoric from every GOP candidate.
Climate change dropped further from the world headlines in 2011 compared to the previous year even though a one-in-100-year drought in Texas has entered its second year; 70 percent of Mexico is enveloped by its worst drought in 70 years; Australia faced epic flooding costing taxpayers in excess of $5 billion in infrastructure costs; and plants are so confused in their bio-rhythmic cycles that the white petals of snow drops, normally a spring flower, are now unfurling in the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.
Clearly, nature is showing climatologists, ecologists, physiologists and oceanographers that the web of life is being brutally dismantled by rising greenhouse gases. Humans are exceptional problem solvers, so why has the media chosen not to focus on positive solutions?
After all, Americans have the highest concentration of brainpower in our colleges compared to any other nation on the globe.
For those that do not believe that anything is going on -- walk, ride or fly anywhere across western North America and you'll see vast amounts of dead trees. In the past 40 years across the West temperatures have risen, on average in excess of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Although this number appears to be small it has effectively removed nature's ecological cold curtain enabling mountain pine beetles an opportunity to speed up their life cycle, invade and decimate high elevation pine forests across the continent.
Instead of absorbing CO2, billions of beetle-killed trees across the West are decaying and stoking the ever-rising pool of greenhouse gases.
Death rates of whitebark and limber pines across the Western U.S. are as high as 90 percent -- the sentinels of the high country -- have become the tsunami sirens of global warming, showing scientists that a warming world is irrevocably altering the landscape across the entire mountainous region of western North America.
It's not just the forests that are disappearing but rather immense amounts of ice that reflect incoming solar radiation. One hundred billion tons of ice melted from Greenland during the blistering-warm summer of 2010. This year alone 50 percent of Canada's millennia-old Arctic ice shelves along the coast of Elsmere Island vanished.
And far worse, the Southern Ocean which occupies 22 percent of the total ocean on the globe, absorbing 40 percent of Earth's CO2 is acidifying so quickly (as a byproduct of absorbing rising CO2) that by 2030 the sea water will be corrosive to crustaceans, dissolving shells that the animals are making. This amplification will reverberate all the way up the food chain to the whales.
Data from the Global Carbon Project showed the carbon emissions from our planet had increased 5.9 percent between 2009-2010; that's the largest jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution.
The $17 trillion Albertan oil sands must spend carbon energy and precious fresh water to separate the gooey, toxic oil from the sand. Moreover by burning this petroleum humans will knowingly raise atmospheric CO2 levels by an astounding 150 ppm. Earth will be uninhabitable for life as we know it.
If Australia with its $10 trillion coke-coal industry can ratify a carbon tax then surely we in America can set a low-carbon standard that China and India will follow. We are running out of time to combat rising CO2 emissions: Earth's forests are dying. It's time to embrace innovation and the cofounder of the London School of Economics, George Bernard Shaw's dictum: "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."
Dr Reese Halter is a visiting research scientist at the University of Colorado and a conservation biologist from California Lutheran University. His latest book is "The Insatiable Bark Beetle." E-mail: DrReese@DrReese.com.
Guest opinion: Colorado at the center of the energy debate
By Andrew Lillie
Posted: 01/14/2012 01:00:00 AM MST
If you feel conflicted about energy, you're not alone. Although renewable energy will drive the future, Coloradans must accept -- not merely tolerate -- continued responsible use of fossil fuels. At the request of Governor Hickenlooper and other Colorado leaders, in 2012 General Electric will build one of the nation's largest solar-panel manufacturing plants in Aurora. In this sun-drenched state prideful of its "new energy economy," the governor's invitation to GE found widespread public support. Yet some have criticized the governor's parallel embrace of Colorado's rich traditional energy resources -- natural gas and coal -- as an attempt to be everything to everyone. They say fossil fuels have no place in Colorado's energy future. What some see as the governor's equivocation, however, is a reflection of deep, well-founded, and unavoidable ambivalence many people feel about energy. For example, you might be an advocate for renewables, but the sleek computer on which you're reading this likely was produced in Asia from oil-based plastic, along with metals and rare-earth elements extracted with giant machines, then shipped across the ocean on huge freighters -- all thanks to fossil fuels. And don't get me started about all the wonderful outdoor gear on which we Coloradans depend and where it comes from.
Fossil fuels eventually will be depleted or beyond retrieval, of course. And they can create environmental and health problems that market prices often ignore and that some countries barely address at all. Energy, like any consumer product, has associated externalities. But that does not mean we should abandon fossil fuels. It means we should responsibly manage unwanted side effects.
Natural gas, widely viewed as a "bridge fuel" to replace dirtier coal and oil until more renewable energy is available, is abundant in Colorado. The hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking" ) used to remove gas trapped in rock thousands of feet below the surface, however, is controversial. Although regulators including the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission have stated that fracking has been for decades performed safely and responsibly, the public remains unsettled. Perhaps this is because few understand the highly technical aspects of gas production or the emphasis most companies place on health and safety. Perhaps it's because there is no popular consensus on the effects of fracking; the EPA has only begun studying its effects. Only recently has fracking occurred so close to residential areas, and nobody wants to live near industry. But such sentiment is not limited to natural gas. Every energy source can create problems, even renewables. Wind farms can be loud, obstruct views, and kill birds. Solar projects occupy land
that could be used for agriculture or homes, and could affect endangered species. Dams can fundamentally change river ecology. No source is immune from conflict.
This conflict boils down to how to fuel our modern existence while respecting each other and the planet, and is one of the most important challenges we face. We dream about fixes. Think about wafer-thin solar panels sprawled over every rooftop in a brilliant sci-fi scene, off-shore generators transforming tides into electricity, raptor-safe wind farms whose neighbors welcome rotor whines and transmission lines, rivers energizing cities while salmon run free, and beetle-kill trees transformed into watts and volts. We want a pristine world. And most of us (admit it or not) are terrified of climate change: those time-lapse videos of glaciers melting away are horrifying. Still, we love our flat-screen TVs, admire energy-saving tips but forget them, drive like crazy, and generally take energy for granted.
Thank fossil fuels. When you pressed your computer's power button, you expected it to crawl to life, and it did -- because of diesel-powered coal trains. They lumber south down the Front Range every day to supply power plants that use technology reminiscent of the nineteenth century to fuel our laptops. Good or bad? Maybe that's not the issue. Everyone -- regardless of political or environmental stripe -- demands that the lights go on when the switch is flipped. Our hunger for energy is insatiable and growing, and the tension between renewable and conventional energy sources is at a fever pitch. Colorado is in many ways at the heart of this debate, and we need to think carefully about its implications for all of us. Andrew Lillie is an attorney with the Denver office of Hogan Lovells. His practice focuses on environmental and natural resources litigation, regulation, and compliance.