May 4, 2006
Sometimes Governments Listen: Threat to Lake Baikal Averted
Last week, while I was still away, President Vladimir Putin
ordered the rerouting of a Siberian oil pipeline to avoid the northern shore of Lake Baikal, a world heritage site. See UNESCO site on Lake Baikal
Rare public protests followed the approval in March of the initial route, with rallies from Moscow to Irkutsk, the Siberian region bordering the lake. "It was not a huge wave," Aleksandr Shuvalov, deputy executive director of Greenpeace Russia, said of the protests, "but it was a wave." The pipeline's route, so close to Lake Baikal, raised concerns that an oil spill in the seismically active region could contaminate Lake Baikal, which holds more than 20 percent of the world's fresh water and an abundance of unique wildlife species. Not only environmental groups, but also Russian scientists opposed Transneft's planned route. A commission of specialists from the Russian Academy of Sciences initially opposed the route on environmental grounds. Its recommendation was rejected and a new review ordered with new specialists.
Mr. Putin's decision on Wednesday was an unexpected reversal and appeared choreographed for state television networks. Meeting with federal and regional officials in Tomsk, a Siberian city, he publicly chided Transneft's director, Semyon M. Vainshtok, after asking if there was an alternative to the contested route. "Since you hesitate, it means that there is such a possibility," Mr. Putin told a visibly uncomfortable Mr. Vainshtok. "If there had not been such a possibility, you would have said 'no' without any doubt."
Mr. Putin then ordered that the route hew more closely to one previously recommended by the Academy of Sciences but rejected by a regulatory agency. He said a new route should be charted at least 40 kilometers, or nearly 25 miles, from Lake Baikal. That would put it outside of Baikal's watershed, environmental groups said.
Mr. Shuvalov called it "a victory of common sense." The reversal underscored Mr. Putin's highly centralized power and his penchant for dramatic gestures. Wielding a pen in front of an oversize map of the Baikal region, he swept aside decisions by several government agencies, as well as those by Transneft, which had warned that finding another route would be prohibitively expensive.
Mr. Vainshtok and other officials from Transneft could not be reached for comment. They had said that the planned route would be safe and that moving it could add nearly $1 billion to the cost of the pipeline. When Mr. Vainshtok, in the televised exchange, suggested that the pipeline would have to move "much farther north," Mr. Putin responded curtly. "If there is at least a tiny chance of polluting Baikal," he said, "we, thinking of future generations, must do everything not only to minimize this threat, but to exclude it."
A British Perspective on Fuel Prices
I love reading the Economist. Here's its take on the American reaction to high fuel prices. I have one quibble with the Economist's perspective: it is not inconsistent to object to the profits of price-gouging oligopolists and to advocate higher taxes on fuels. In the first case, the money goes to the rich getting richer -- in the second case, the money goes to the public and could be used to deal with critical energy-related problems: creating more efficient, sustainable and available public transportation, encouraging more sustainable energy production and use, etc:
Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute points out, there is no debate as to whether these penumbras and emanations include the right to cheap petrol. Americans are convinced that the rising price of petrol—the average price of a gallon has reached $2.90 and some places are charging more than $3—is nothing less than a violation of the rights they won from George III; and they have no doubt that the people doing the violating are the oil companies. Aren't the oil companies making record profits? And didn't the chairman of Exxon, Lee Raymond, just get parting “compensation” worth about $400m? “Does everybody love Raymond?”, asks Mr O'Reilly. “I don't. I think he's a greed-head.”
You can quibble for as long as you want about the economics of all this. You can point out that the price of petrol is fixed by global forces—from rising demand in India and China to political instability in Nigeria and, particularly, Iran—rather than devilish CEOs. You can point out that, so far, rising petrol prices have had remarkably little impact on the economy. The oil shocks of the 1970s sent inflation soaring and tipped the world economy into recession. Today the American economy is motoring along on a full tank, with low inflation, low unemployment and rising consumer confidence. You can point out that Americans don't know how lucky they are—a gallon of petrol costs $6.4 in Britain. You can even argue that it is their fault for driving gas-guzzling SUVs and living in McMansions miles from anywhere.
But you might as well hold your breath for all the difference it makes. No less than 69% of Americans think that the rise in petrol prices has already caused them either severe (23%) or moderate (46%) hardship. Nearly two-thirds think that the president has a lot of influence over the price of petrol. The result is that a presidency that has already been battered by Hurricane Katrina and bruised by the Iraq war is being bombarded by soaring petrol prices. Mr Bush's approval ratings are at an all-time low of 32%; economists are warning everyone that the price of petrol will rise higher as the summer driving season starts; and pundits are suggesting that Mr Bush may be a Republican Jimmy Carter, destroyed by Middle Eastern terrorists and rising oil prices. All he needs is a cardigan and a liking for the word “malaise”.
The Democrats have seized the opportunity to bash Big Oil with predictable relish. Herb Kohl, a senator from Wisconsin, has introduced a bill to prevent petrol companies from colluding to keep prices high. Big Oil has “unquestionably enriched itself during this period of high prices,” he says. Carl Levin, a senator from Michigan, has urged Mr Bush to impose a windfall tax on the oil companies' “obscene profits”. On April 20th the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recommended that candidates for office hold campaign meetings at petrol stations—and pledge that as members of Congress they will “fight for families...not the oil and gas executives”.
And those stalwart friends of big business, the Republicans? Naturally, they have fired a few shots at the Democrats. How can the Democrats have the nerve to complain about rising petrol prices when they have systematically blocked attempts to increase the production of oil? And when they want to bring in “green” taxes that will push the price of petrol much higher? But for the most part they have contented themselves with me-too company bashing. Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert, respectively the majority leader in the Senate and the speaker of the House, have called for an investigation into “price fixing” and “gouging”. Arlen Specter, a senator from Pennsylvania, is also talking about a “windfall-profits tax” and an antitrust investigation. Other Republicans have threatened to summon oil executives to Capitol Hill for a grilling.
Details on the Fuel Economy Suit
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo today (Wednesday) filed a lawsuit challenging the Bush Administration for failing to address the impacts of its new federal fuel economy standards for SUVs and light trucks on air quality, fuel conservation and global climate change.
Spitzer and Cardozo were joined in the filing by eight other state Attorneys General and the District of Columbia. The lawsuit, filed today in the 9 Circuit Court of Appeals, alleges the National Highway Traffic th Safety Administration (NHTSA) failed to meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), which require the government to determine the impacts of the new regulations on both fuel conservation and the environment.
The basis for the lawsuit is set forth in a comment letter by the plaintiffs submitted to NHTSA on November 22, 2005. The letter stated that NHTSA “failed to consider alternative approaches that would have promoted energy conservation, made meaningful contributions to increased fuel economy and encouraged technological innovation. In addition, NHTSA failed, in all respects, to consider the environmental consequences of its proposed overhaul of light truck standards, failed to consider the changes in the environment since its last Environmental Impact Statement in the 1980s, and failed to evaluate the impact of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions despite identifying the threat of CO2 and global climate change as new information concerning the environment.”<>
The letter also stated that the standards, which shift the mile-per-gallon requirements from a fleet-wide basis
to a new structure based on weight categories, “create incentives to build larger, less fuel-efficient models, which will jeopardize air quality and the climate.”
The final standards, issued in March, also contain an attempt by the Administration to argue for preemption of California’s landmark law, also adopted by New York, requiring reductions in vehicle emissions that contribute to global warming. The published document included a 52-page discussion asserting that only the federal government can regulate motor vehicle carbon dioxide emissions.>
The NY press release stated:
“At a time when consumers are struggling to pay surging gas prices and the challenge of global climate change has become even more clear, it is unconscionable that the Bush Administration is not requiring greater mileage efficiency for light trucks,” said Attorney General Spitzer. “The failure of this Administration to lead on vital environmental issues like this will burden our nation for generations to come.”
“Given the number of light trucks that travel daily around New York City, the NHTSA should not have ignored, among other things, the significant environmental effects of the carbon dioxide emitted from such vehicles that contribute to climate change,” said New York City Corporation Counsel Cardozo. “The City remains concerned about the adverse impacts from global warming that our residents, infrastructure, and resources have and will continue to experience in light of the City’s coastal, island geography and extremely dense urban population.”>
States sue EPA over Refusal to Regulate CO2 in New Source Performance Standards
Yet another salvo in the war between the states and the Bush Administration: the states sue EPA for failing to regulate CO2 in the new NSPS for electric generating plants. The states continue to aggressively seek policy changes responsive to global warming concerns. Link: Green Car Congress
Nine state Attorneys General today sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to adopt strong emission standards to reduce air pollution from new power plants across the nation. The District of Columbia and the City of New York also joined in the legal action.
The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA review and revise emission standards for new pollution sources every eight years to ensure that they protect public health and the environment. On February 27, 2006, EPA issued revised regulations in accordance with a court order. However, the revised standards fail to regulate power plant emissions of carbon dioxide, the major contributor to global warming....
Joining New York State in the suit are California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New York City, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. A coalition of environmental organizations, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Environmental Defense filed a related petition today.<>
The suit charges that EPA’s rulemaking in this matter is inadequate in two fundamental ways:>
- EPA refused to regulate carbon dioxide, despite overwhelming research and scientific consensus that carbon dioxide contributes to global warming and thus harms “public health and welfare.” EPA’s claim that it does not have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions is contrary to the plain language of the Clean Air Act.
- EPA failed to set adequate standards for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, power plant pollutants that contribute to soot, smog, acid rain and higher levels of respiratory disease. The law dictates that the emission safeguards be set at levels that require use of the best demonstrated technology, but EPA is setting weak standards that can be met through less effective technologies.
A growing body of evidence, including reports from the National Academy of Sciences, NASA and major universities, has found that increasing global temperatures will have dramatic effects in the United States, including rising sea levels, worsened air quality, water shortages and droughts, and increased intensity of hurricanes.
Power plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions responsible for increasing temperatures worldwide. According to current projections, dozens or even hundreds of new coal-fired plants will be built in the United States over the next 15 years. Under the current rule, these plants would face no requirement to control or reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Since the power plants have a life span of 40-60 years, the plants built in the near future will determine the level of our carbon emissions for generations.
The suit may be targeting powerplants, but forcing the EPA to regulate CO2 from that sector would also force regulation in the transportation sector.
Student Writing Competition: Global Warming Liability
An opportunity to write on global warming over the summer:
The University of Pennsylvania Law Review is pleased to announce its first annual Symposium Scholar Essay Competition. We are seeking submissions of student-written work advancing a legal argument related to our 2006 symposium topic: Liability for Global Warming: Law, Economics, and Science. The winning author will be invited to present the paper at the Law Review’s symposium in November 2006, and the paper will be published in our symposium issue. Please see the attached document for details about submission requirements. Download penn_student_writing_competition.pdf
This is an exciting opportunity for
students interested in pursuing careers in academia and for students concerned
about the implications of global warming liability. Please direct any questions
or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org
May 3, 2006
AMS Seminar Today Addresses Ice Melt from Global Warming
The introductory remarks in the announcement of today's American Meteorological Society's Environmental Science Seminar "Changes in Cold Places: A Look at the Greenland Ice Sheet, Arctic Sea Ice and the Antarctic Ice Sheet" is a noteworthy summary of the effects of global warming on the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and Arctic sea ice:
Are parts or all of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets undergoing a net melting? What is the nature of the observational evidence of melting? How far back in time do these observations extend? Are the melting and rates of melting consistent with model simulations and projections of melting? What are the factors deemed responsible for the melting? Is Arctic Sea Ice thinning? If so, by how much and over what period of time? What is the nature of the observational evidence for this thinning? Are the thinning and rates of thinning consistent with model simulations and projections of thinning? What factors are deemed responsible for the thinning of Arctic Sea Ice? Are there implications with respect to sea level rise? Is there any evidence of a fundamental change in the rate at which the Greenland ice sheet is changing and the manifestation of those changes? If so, why? How well do model simulations capture the dynamics of ice sheets and sea ice relative to observations? How well are these ice sheet models poised to project future changes in ice sheets, sea ice and sea level?
Introductory Perspective on Current Climate Changes
Over the last 30 years, the scientific understanding of the causes of the Earth's natural climate variability and the climatic impacts of human activity has advanced dramatically. In the early 1900's, global average temperatures increased from the predominately cooler temperatures of the previous several centuries, declined a little from 1940 to 1975, and then began to rise significantly. The climate warming of the early 1900's is now largely attributed to recovery from a period with more volcanic activity and consequent cooling. The small subsequent cooling in the mid-1900's is attributed mainly to increasing tropospheric aerosols from emission of sulfate pollutants, and the subsequent warming is attributed to increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations, the effect of which now overrides the aerosol cooling. About 0.6º C of the recent warming is attributed to the effect of GHG, which have been increasing exponentially (0.5%/year). Model projections of warming during the coming century range from about 1.5º C to 6º C depending on the GHG emission scenario. The models have also consistently projected that the warming will be greatest in the Arctic. During this century, we may be reaching or surpassing temperatures not seen since the last major warm period between ice ages 125-thousand years ago, when much of the Greenland ice sheet melted. Already, some of the largest effects of the global warming are becoming apparent in the Greenland ice sheet and the Arctic sea ice.
Observed Changes in Polar Ice Sheets and Sea Ice:
Responses to Climate Warming
Until recently, we did not know whether the Greenland and Antarctic ice
sheets were growing or shrinking, but significant climate-induced changes are now being detected. Satellites are detecting changes in ice
sheet mass by measuring changes in ice surface elevations and changes in
the sub-satellite gravity fields. Changes in ice velocity and ice
area are being determined from imaging radar and other high-resolution
imagery. The area and timing of surface melting are measured by
satellites, ice acceleration is measured by surface GPS, and surface
temperatures and other meteorological parameters are measured by
automatic weather stations on the ice. We now know that during 1992
to 2002 the Greenland ice sheet was thinning at the margins and growing
inland, probably with a small overall mass gain. Thinning at the
margins from increased melting and inland growth from increasing
precipitation are the expected responses to climate warming. The
area of surface melting during summer continues to increase, and the
acceleration of the ice flow (caused by the increased melting) has also
been increasing, since it was first detected in 1997. In the last 5
to 10 years, some of the outlet glaciers in Southern Greenland have been
accelerating and the number of associated ice-quakes has been
increasing. New satellite-gravity measurements indicate the mass
balance has now changed to a net loss, which suggests that the effects of
melting are becoming dominant over increasing precipitation, and that the
newly-discovered ice accelerations are very important.
During the 1990's, the ice sheet in West Antarctica was losing mass and the ice sheet in East Antarctica had a small mass gain. The ice loss in West Anatarctic is probably an ice-dynamic response to long-term climate change and perhaps past removal of adjacent ice shelves. The ice growth in the Antarctic Peninsula and parts of East Anarctica may be due to increasing precipitation. The floating ice shelves of the Antarctic had a corresponding mass loss in the West and a gain in the East. Continued ice shelf thinning from regional climate warming in West Antarctica may be a precursor to more loss of grounded ice. The recent contribution of the ice sheets to sea level rise has been a small part of the current rate of 3 mm/year (1 foot/century), but the ice sheets are likely to lose mass faster with additional warming.
The most significant change in sea ice has been a 9%/decade decline in the area of sea ice surviving the summer melting on the Arctic Ocean. Now, for the first time the laser altimeter on NASA's ICESat is making comprehensive measurements of sea-ice freeboards, from which ice thickness maps are being derived. These new results show a fundamental change in the character of the sea-ice thickness distribution in the Arctic, indicating a loss of the thicker ice that was characteristic of earlier decades.
Causes of Changes in Arctic Sea Ice
The Arctic Ocean has been warming in recent decades and that warming
appears to have accelerated during the last several years as observed by
satellites and in situ measurements and as projected by models.
The main manifestation of such a trend has been melting of the Arctic ice
pack and the dramatic reduction of summer sea ice cover. Satellite
records of the Arctic sea ice cover show a decreasing trend in ice
concentration since 1979, with large seasonal and interannual
variability. This trend has been coincident, in part, with the
high-index polarity of the Northern Hemisphere Annular Mode or NAM
(a.k.a., the North Atlantic Oscillation or NAO, or the Arctic Oscillation
or AO) represented by a reduced winter weather regime over mid- to
high-latitude continental regions of the Northern Hemisphere. However,
some of the recent variability clearly points to other modes of large
scale climate forcing as well. Especially overlooked appears to be the
oceanic thermodynamic control of sea ice through the under-ice ablation
and lateral melt along marginal ice zones. Those ice-ocean interactions
may act to accelerate summer melt and significantly reduce the
correlation between sea ice cover change and AO/NAO forcing.
Some global climate models project up to a 50% reduction of summer sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean by 2100, as a result of an amplified response to global warming. Unfortunately, the majority of such models can not adequately reproduce past and present variability in the Arctic sea ice and ocean circulation, which diminishes their accuracy of future climate prediction. An arguably more realistic representation of the Arctic Ocean and its sea ice, using regional high resolution simulations over the past decades, implies that during the last decade sea ice thickness and volume might be shrinking at a much higher rate than predicted by climate models or determined from the satellite-derived trend of sea ice extent. Positive ice-albedo feedback and increased oceanic advection of heat via Pacific and Atlantic Water may in reality lead to an accelerated reduction or even to the complete removal of summer Arctic sea ice within a few decades. Such a change may result in additional significant changes to the global ocean thermohaline circulation and climate, especially over northern Europe. In addition, the warming trend, if it continues along its present trajectory, will likely not only significantly affect global climate but is also likely to change the strategic and economic importance of the Arctic Ocean through its use for commercial shipping routes and increased exploration of natural resources.
Model Estimates of Ice-Sheet Thinning
Ice-sheet thinning in response to warming probably is contributing to sea-level rise a century earlier than indicated by previous model estimates, suggesting that future sea-level rise may be faster than formerly projected.
Earth-system models are increasingly skillful at simulating the atmospheric and oceanic changes that have occurred over recent decades, and projections from earlier earth-system models are proving to have been fairly accurate. However, the 2001 IPCC assessment indicated that the most-likely response of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to warming through the year 2100 would be to remove water from the oceans, with snowfall increasing more than melting and with little change in ice flow, although assessed uncertainty was large and included the possibility of ice-sheet mass loss. Just five years later, best estimates from numerous recent studies indicate that the ice sheets are losing mass in response to warming, although again with some uncertainty.
Numerous barriers exist to accurate projection of ice-sheet changes in response to specified climate changes. The ice-sheet thickness is not even known everywhere, nor is the depth of ocean water beneath floating extensions called ice shelves that expose ice to potentially rapid melting from below. Basal thawing of ice on land allows faster ice flow, especially if the ice rests on smooth rocks or soft muds, but the distribution of these substrates is not well-mapped. Most earlier ice-flow models simplified the representation of ice flow for computational efficiency, but the recent data show that the simplifications omitted important processes that can contribute to rapid ice-sheet changes. Coupled ocean-atmosphere models do not resolve the processes and heat fluxes very near the ice sheets well, complicated by difficulties in representing sea ice that often occurs near ice sheets.
Consideration of history over many time scales shows that warming generally melts ice and raises sea level. The recent ice-sheet changes point in the same direction. Model improvements and additional data will be required to learn how rapidly this might occur in the future.
Dr. Anthony Socci, Senior Fellow, American Meteorological Society
Dr. H. Jay Zwally, ICESat Project Scientist, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski, Research Associate Professor, Department of Oceanography, Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA
Dr. Richard B. Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences and Associate of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
Bird Flu Blues: Science Reports on The State of Our Ignorance
Science published an issue on April 21st about influenza: anyone interested in bird flu should look it up. The table of contents, a summary of the issue's contents, and the contents of Science's special access portal can be found below.
Here's the table of contents:
Science Influenza Special Issue: 21 April 2006
INTRODUCTION TO SPECIAL ISSUE
On the Science Podcast
This week's entire show is devoted to influenza -- including interviews with Science news contributors Martin Enserink and Jocelyn Kaiser on Tamiflu and universal flu vaccines, and with scientists Ron Fouchier on wild birds as carriers of influenza, Angus Nicoll on outbreak responses, and Jeffrey Taubenberger on what we can learn from studying the 1918 pandemic flu virus.
Here's part of the summary of the April 21, 2006 issue written by Caroline Ash and Leslie Roberts. Link: Science.
Olsen and colleagues (p. 384) outline the unseen network of influenza among migratory birds that spans Earth. H5N1 has engendered alarm not only because it is unusually virulent, laying waste to poultry and causing severe economic losses for farmers, but also because it can, with some difficulty, infect humans and other mammals. So far, the virus has killed more than half of the nearly 200 people known to have been infected. Kuiken and colleagues (p. 394) explore the routes through the obstacles to interspecies transmission (the host species barrier) of viruses. Their analysis focuses on which adaptations are needed to facilitate bird-to-human transfer of H5N1. Examples are provided by Shinya* and in a Brevia by van Riel et al. (p. 399). These authors show that the virus preferentially binds to cell types bearing specific surface receptors found deep in the lungs, which may partly explain its poor human-to-human transmissibility.
The combination of ever-unfolding modes of variability (Stevens, p. 404) and symptomless transmission makes identification of the virus slow and hinders the implementation of influenza containment. As Lu outlines in his Editorial (p. 337), we urgently need faster and more robust diagnostic tests for field use (an area we will be covering shortly in our pages). Further articles in this special section describe other tools and approaches for preparedness. Smith (p. 392) summarizes the models that have been developed for tracing the rate and spread of pandemic influenza through human populations, including scenarios for the deployment of drugs and development of vaccines. We might be able to buy some time for vaccine manufacture by stockpiling antiviral drugs for immediate use, but that time may be short. Regoes and Bonhoeffer (p. 389) indicate that the generation and transmission of resistant strains could happen quickly. Unfortunately, our knowledge of influenza transmission is incomplete, and more basic data are needed to make models accurate and to give them predictive weight. Seasonal influenza statistics will provide an important insight into the transmission biology of influenza; Viboud et al. (p. 447) have used a large data set from the United States to model annual waves of infection.
In a News story (p. 380), Kaiser explores efforts to develop broader influenza vaccines that protect against new strains and perhaps even all influenza subtypes. Antiviral drugs are also sorely needed to fight a pandemic, but oseltamivir, or Tamiflu, has been in short supply. As Enserink describes (p. 382), Roche and other companies are now ramping up production, while scientists are investigating faster and cheaper synthetic pathways that could make the drug affordable to developing countries.
Anyone researching bird flu should consider subscribing, if only for access to Science's special portal. That portal includes:
In Science Classic: The 1918 Pandemic
10 States Challenge U.S. Fuel Economy Rules for SUVs and Other Light Trucks
The NY Times reported that ten states are filing suit this week to force the Transportation Department to toughen mileage regulations for sport utility vehicles and other trucks.
The states argue the Bush administration did not rigorously analyze the environmental benefits of fuel economy regulations or consider the impact of gasoline consumption on climate change. The plaintiff state and cities are California, New York, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont, as well as New York City and the District of Columbia.
The current fuel economy standard for cars is 27.5 miles a gallon, while light trucks must average 21.6 miles a gallon. The new standard for light trucks, published on March 29, 2006, is estimated to increase to an average of 24 miles a gallon when fully implemented in 2011. The 8.1% fuel savings from the new standard amounts to 10.7 billion gallons over the lifetime of the vehicles built while the rule is effective from 2008-2011 -- only one month of gasoline use in the US.
The Transportation Department fuel economy rules are considerably less stringent than new California greenhouse gas emissions regulations that New York and other states intend to pass -- which have been challenged by the automotive industry. As reported by Hybrid Cars:Hybrid Cars link
In Sep. 2004, California regulators approved a plan to drastically reduce vehicle emissions related to global warming over the next 11 years. "It's the most challenging regulation that's ever been proposed by the California Air Resources Board, or even the E.P.A." said Thomas C. Austin, a top research consultant on the regulation. The new regulation, which could affect as much as 30 percent of the U.S. market (not just California), would phase in from 2009 to 2016. It would require the auto industry to cut greenhouse gas emissions from its new fleets by approximately 30 percent.
The response from automakers, Honda included, is that they don't have the technology to make this happen. Auto lobbyists also object on the basis that they can't manufacture vehicles based on two or more different emissions standards, and that a single fuel economy standard must be set at the federal level for all 50 states. The issue gets more complicated because standards for other tailpipe emissions, such as carbon monoxide and particulate matter, are indeed set at the state level. Can greenhouse gas pollution be regulated like a tailpipe emission or is it a surrogate for fuel economy, as the automakers contend?
As expected, in early Dec. 2004, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno by 13 California car dealerships and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, seeking an injunction to halt California from enacting the plan. The alliance includes G.M., DaimlerChrysler, BMW, Volkswagen, and even hybrid-makers Ford and Toyota. The Alliance of International Automobile Manufacturers, which includes Honda, Toyota, and 16 other carmakers and suppliers, also joined the lawsuit.
Honda is the only car company advocating for increases in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which would set a single standard for fuel economy more in line with the California proposals, as a resolution to the standoff.
Bird Flu Blues - Don't Bother with the Borders
A paper published by Ferguson online by Nature on 26 April examined strategies the US and the UK might use to contain a pandemic flu. Closing the borders and limiting domestic travel would not be effective. More successful strategies focus on isolating patients, quarantining their households, and using an antiviral drug prophylactically. A paper published by Cooper online in PLoS Medicine also concluded that travel bans would have little effect on the overall spread of the pandemic. The virus would reach cities around the globe only 2 days later if a travel ban were implemented after the first 100 cases. Only if an almost completely effective travel ban were implemented immediately after the first detection would a travel ban significantly slow the pandemic's global spread.
Hard to Believe
Now that the Bush administration has concluded that global warming is real and caused by fossil fuel combustion, you'd think it might be willing to move off its neanderthal position on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But you would be wrong, it wants to answer all of the "unanswered" questions and still favors "voluntary" emissions reductions. Link: Federal Study Finds Accord on Warming - New York Times.
Andrew Rivkin of the NYTimes writes:
The finding eliminates a significant area of uncertainty in the debate over global warming, one that the administration has long cited as a rationale for proceeding cautiously on what it says would be costly limits on emissions of heat-trapping gases.
But White House officials noted that this was just the first of 21 assessments planned by the federal Climate Change Science Program, which was created by the administration in 2002 to address what it called unresolved questions. The officials said that while the new finding was important, the administration's policy remained focused on studying the remaining questions and using voluntary means to slow the growth in emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide.