California: Clearing the air


Steve Hargreaves |

There was controversy earlier this week when President Obama decided to review California’s request to tighten emissions standards – a move that may force a crippled auto industry to build cars that get better gas mileage.

Confusion, about what exactly Obama and California were doing, was apparent on the day of the announcement.

In fact, it’s still unclear what the intentions of the administration are, and what effect California’s proposed rules would have on the auto industry, the environment and consumers.

Contrary to some reports, California would not set its own fuel-efficiency standards. It, and the 16 other states that would likely follow it, would set new air pollution standards that are stricter than the federal government’s, as they have done for the last several decades.

California needs a special waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency to set higher standards. The state has applied for this waiver dozens of times before, and it’s always been granted.

But its most recent waiver request was denied by the Bush administration on grounds that new national fuel-economy standards made California’s new rules unnecessary. Obama has now directed the EPA to review that decision.

While the waivers were always granted in the past, this most recent request raises new issues. What’s different this time around is that California wants to regulate carbon dioxide, the main gas behind global warming, which is not a simple task.

Carbon dioxide cannot be simply captured from a car’s tailpipe like a lot of other pollutants. The only way carmakers would be able to meet these new standards is by selling vehicles that get better gas mileage in those states. Cars that burn less gas emit less carbon dioxide – effectively raising mileage standards.

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Oregon: National “global warming teach-in” returns

Shelby Wood  | The Oregonian

Eban Goodstein, an economics professor at Lewis & Clark College, is back on YouTube with the “Oregon Climate Dialogue,” another national effort to focus students, Congress and the rest of us on strategies to slow climate change.

The video, which features interviews with Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s sustainability policy advisor, David Van’t Hof, and Angus Duncan, chairman of Oregon’s Global Warming Commission was uploaded last night by the small Portland-based staff of the National Teach-In.

Last year, Goodstein’s first teach-in was called Focus the Nation.This year’s National Teach-In takes place Feb. 5.

The name isn’t all that’s changed.

“Focus the Nation” and Goodstein parted ways after last year’s teach-in, and Goodstein dropped the “FTN” from its name. Goodstein’s had less money and time to organize the 2009 event, so it’s considerably smaller — about 700 colleges, universities, high schools, faith organizations and civic groups.

And, instead of trying to “focus the nation” on the issue of global warming in general, the Feb. 5 effort will press for swift policy change at the national and state level during the first 100 days of the Obama administration.

The heart of the teach-in, as it was last year, is to encourage community debate and discussion around a 45-minute webcast about climate change, available for download.

In addition, Goodstein has invited 150 members of Congress to attend teach-in events on Feb. 5 or speak, via webcam from the U.S. Capitol, with college students in their districts who are concerned about climate change. He expects about two dozen to say yes.

“We want to build on that starting this year,” Goodstein said. “We want that institutionalized, an annual dialogue between campuses and Congress.”

In Oregon, the list of campuses hosting educational events as part of the teach-in range from OHSU to Eastern Oregon University, from Portland’s De La Salle North Catholic High to the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

Go to the national map to see the full list of participating institutions.

Can the Old World Lead on Global Warming?


Spiegel Online | Business Week

Wednesday was a busy day for the global climate. On one side of the Atlantic Ocean, the European Union unveiled its vision for what the next global climate deal should look like—a deal that is set to be hammered out in much anticipated talks in Copenhagen at the end of December.

On the other, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on climate change which could mark the first small step toward steering the US away from the head-in-the-sand policies pursued by the just-ended administration of George W. Bush. Al Gore, America’s global warming Cassandra, was the hearing’s star guest. And in his eagerness to urge the Senate to take action, Gore said that he didn’t think the EU could play a leadership role when it comes to tackling the problem of climate change.

“I do think it’s objectively true that our country is the only country in the world that can really lead the global community,” Gore said, refering to global warming. “Some have speculated that some time in the future if the European Union actually unifies to a much higher degree … they might somehow emerge with potential for global leadership. I’m not going to hold my breath.”

It is a message that isn’t likely to play well in the European Union. Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas on Wednesday announced the EU’s negotiating position for the upcoming talks on the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. The EU would like to see a reduction in global emissions of CO2, one of the primary greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, by 30 percent relative to 1990 levels by 2020. The goal is to limit the average global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius.

As part of its plan, the EU proposes the introduction of a carbon cap and trade system of the kind currently in operation in the European Union. All 30 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development would be required to join the emissions certificate market by 2015 and would be required to cut their emissions. Developing countries would join later and would have to “limit the growth of their emissions to 15 to 30 percent below business as usual.”

Furthermore, the EU—which has already undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout the 27-nation bloc by 20 percent relative to 1990 levels by 2020—held out the carrot that, “in the context of a sufficiently ambitious and comprehensive international agreement,” the EU would be willing to cut emissions by 30 percent.

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U.K. urges Texas to address global warming


They came not with crumpets but with PowerPoints, and they served not bangers and mash, but breakfast tacos. Yet on Thursday an auditorium at the Capitol rang with the unmistakable accents of Brits and at one point was graced with an appearance — albeit videotaped – by His Royal Highness Prince Charles.

The occasion was a conference on business risks and opportunities in a carbon-constrained world hosted by the United Kingdom’s Houston consulate and the Environmental Defense Fund.

The conference, attended by legislative aides, corporate officers, and green energy entrepreneurs, was designed to urge Texas lawmakers to address global warming and brief businesses on how they can exploit caps on carbon dioxide.

“If you do nothing, there’s a very real danger in a few years your companies will be uncompetitive and out of date,” Prince Charles said in a video address, taped Jan. 22 at St. Jame’s Palace in London.

Earnest as the event was, it had the risk of appearing presumptuous in a statehouse whose lawmakers tend to look askance at stepping in line with any other state or nation.

The danger was one the organizers clearly recognized: “We’re not in any sense here to present solutions to Texas or tell you what to do,” Paul Lynch, the consul-general, told an audience of about 200.

Jim Marston, the head of the Austin office for Environmental Defense Fund, explained the hosting partnership this way:

“We both have funny accents that people in other states can’t understand. The Brits have royalty, and the people in Texas think they are royalty.”

More seriously, he said, both places have a large oil production industry and have to grapple with external carbon regulations — in the U.K.’s case, from the European Union, in Texas’ case, the prospect of federal rules. British businesses have had to figure out ways to prosper under a carbon-counting regime.

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U.S. global warming satellite seeks missing carbon

Peter Henderson | Reuters

The United States will launch a satellite next month to measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and to determine what happens to the climate-changing pollutant, NASA said on Thursday.

Carbon dioxide is the main cause of global warming. Burning fossil fuels and deforestation has raised carbon dioxide concentrations to levels that are causing global alarm about a changing climate. Measurement of the gas outside Europe and the United States is spotty, NASA researchers said.

After vehicles and factories release carbon dioxide into the air, the world’s oceans and land absorb much of it. But scientists cannot figure out where the remaining carbon dioxide goes, a detail critical to forecasting the speed and reach of pollution’s effect on climate.

“While we understand approximately how much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere each year due to human influences, we can only account for about half of the carbon dioxide that doesn’t remain in the atmosphere,” Eric Ianson, National Aeronautics and Space Administration program director for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, told a news conference.

The $278 million program launches its satellite on Feb. 23. For two years, the satellite will cover all of the Earth every 16 days. During each 16-day cycle, the satellite will take 8 million measurements of carbon dioxide.

Japan this month launched a satellite to measure carbon dioxide and methane, another greenhouse gas. [ID:nT440] Both launches come as about 190 nations try to agree on a successor climate change treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which binds wealthy nations — not including the United States — to emissions targets through 2012.

NASA said the Japanese and U.S. satellites use different technology, fly in different orbits, and have slightly different missions. The Japanese satellite is focused on monitoring sources of carbon dioxide for treaties, while the U.S. effort focuses on what happens to the gas.

The U.S. technology measures light bounced off the planet. Carbon dioxide absorbs light in some frequencies, so the less light detected, the higher the concentration of carbon.

In certain areas around the world, plants and the ocean remove carbon dioxide from the air. NASA wants to know why, how and where these natural areas, known as “carbon sinks,” exist, mission scientist Anna Michalak said at the news conference.

“The reason we want to know this is we want to be able to better predict how these sinks or these outtakes will evolve in the future,” Michalak said.

Other US crises shouldn’t derail action on global warming, Gore tells Congress



Former vice president Al Gore presented lawmakers yesterday with a new inconvenient truth: Action on global warming cannot wait until the economy recovers.

In three hours of testimony that at times looked like a sequel to the Oscar-winning documentary based on his book “An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore pressed Congress to pass President Obama’s economic stimulus plan as a first step to bringing greenhouse gases under control.

He also pushed for decisive action on a bill this year to limit emissions of heat-trapping gases, saying the legislation is needed for the United States to take a leading role in negotiations on a new international climate treaty.

To underscore his point, Gore flipped through more than four dozen slides showing melting ice caps, Western wildfires, deforestation, and oxygen-depleted seas.

Six months ago, Gore called for the country to produce all of its electricity from carbon-free sources within the next 10 years. Since then, the recession has deepened and the government – which is fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – has spent hundreds of billions of dollars to save financial institutions and keep automakers from bankruptcy.

Gore told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recession and wars should not delay climate change legislation.

Arctic’s thaw brings security risks for NATO


DAVID STRINGER | Associated Press

NATO will need a military presence in the Arctic as global warming melts frozen sea routes and major powers rush to lay claim to lucrative energy reserves, the military bloc’s chief said Thursday.

NATO commanders and lawmakers meeting in Iceland‘s capital said the Arctic thaw is bringing the prospect of new standoffs between powerful nations.

“I would be the last one to expect military conflict — but there will be a military presence,” NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters. “It should be a military presence that is not overdone, and there is a need for political cooperation and economic cooperation.”

The opening up of Arctic sea routes once navigable only by icebreakers threatens to complicate delicate relations between countries with competing claims to Arctic territory — particularly as exploration for oil and natural gas becomes possible in once inaccessible areas.

De Hoop Scheffer said negotiations involving Russia, NATO and other nations will be key to preventing a future conflict. The NATO chief is expected to meet Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov next week for talks.

The United States, Russia and Canada are among the countries attempting to claim jurisdiction over Arctic territory alongside Nordic nations. Analysts say China is also likely to join a rush to capture energy reserves.

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