Thursday, July 27, 2006

Here's a Nonstarter: Individual Carbon Allowances

This proposal is not only political suicide, it would lead to wild economic inefficiencies.  It is far more efficient to internalize the social cost of carbon emissions in vehicles, at the pump and in the power grid.

Link: Carbon credits for the Joneses: Nature.

Last week, UK environment secretary David Miliband suggested issuing all British adults with an annual carbon allowance. Advocates say the system is fair and would focus people's attention on conserving energy. But could it ever succeed?

Here is how the system would work. For transactions that involve direct purchases of energy, such as buying petrol or paying fuel bills, a person would hand over money and some of the carbon credits he or she had been allocated by government. If those credits ran out, the person would have to buy extra when paying for the fuel or electricity. By regulating the amount of personal credits handed out each year, the government could cap total carbon emissions and help tackle climate change.

"Instead of banning particular products, services or activities — or taxing them heavily — a personal carbon allowance enables citizens to make trade-offs," said Miliband as he floated the idea on 19 July.

Civil servants will look into the proposal and report back to government next year. Researchers who have studied the idea say domestic quotas are a sensible way to extend emissions trading to the personal level — such trading is already used to limit emissions from some European industries. And unlike a blanket carbon tax, it encourages individuals to think about their emissions. "It makes carbon more visible," says Richard Starkey, a carbon-policy expert at the University of Manchester, UK. Starkey also points out that low-income families, which tend to use less energy than higher earners, could save and then sell carbon credits. At current UK emission levels, he reckons each individual would receive around 1.25 tonnes of carbon. For an idea of scale, a 200-km journey in a car that uses petrol would use about 1% of that. The allowance would be worth only a few tens of pounds (or US dollars) at today's prices, but if policies are enacted to meet the ambitious UK target of reducing emissions to 60% below 1990 levels by 2050, that would rise significantly.

July 27, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bird Flu Blues: Ain't No Cure, But Perhaps a Vaccine

NYTimes reported today [NYTimes article] that GlaxoSmithKline has developed a more effective bird flu vaccine that works at a far smaller dose, so it might be manufactured rapidly enough to respond to a pandemic.  Sanofi Pasteur's vaccine developed last year and stockpiled by the government requires such large doses (90 v. 4 ugm) that it could not keep up with a pandemic spread of bird flu.  GSK expects to seek approval FDA approval this year.  The vaccine will sell for the same price as a standard flu shot, which is an average of $8 to $12 a shot.  GlaxoSmithKline’s current production capacity for seasonal flu vaccine is 60 million to 70 million doses a year, and that it could make an equal amount of the bird flu vaccine. By 2008, GSK expects to expand its production capacity to 150 million doses a year. 

Continue reading

July 27, 2006 in Economics, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, Toxic and Hazardous Substances | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Record Heat Wilts Europe, Strains Power Supply and Hurts Crops - New York Times

Link: Record Heat Wilts Europe, Strains Power Supply and Hurts Crops - New York Times.

Record Heat Wilts Europe, Strains Power Supply and Hurts Crops

    *
By THOMAS CRAMPTON
Published: July 27, 2006

PARIS, July 26 — With Paris, London and Berlin experiencing peak temperatures, matching those of Bangkok, Hong Kong and New Delhi, Europe’s heat wave this summer has already headed for the record books. The severe and prolonged heat has prompted the authorities across Europe to issue advice on everything from personal safety to power use.
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Russia and the Post-Soviet Nations
Russia and the Post-Soviet Nations

Wide-ranging coverage of Russia and the former Soviet republics, updated by The Times's Moscow bureau.

A 1911 record for the highest July temperature in Britain was broken last week when Wisley, a village in Surrey, hit 97.7 degrees.

Mark Vance, an entertainer at Warwick Castle who wears a full suit of armor and was named the man with the hottest job in Britain by The Daily Express, was photographed frying an egg on the breastplate of his outfit.

In the Netherlands, July will probably qualify as the hottest month since temperatures were first measured in 1706, the Dutch meteorological institute, KNMI, said Tuesday.

Many parts of Germany have hit the highest July temperatures since records began to be kept.

The French health minister, Xavier Bertrand, urged that medical students and retired doctors volunteer for hospital work as more than half the country was placed under the second-highest level of heat-wave alert.

Most of the 40 heat-related deaths in Europe in the last two weeks were in France, recalling the 2003 heat wave, in which 15,000 died in the country.

“The temperatures have not been so high in France as they were in the first weeks of August 2003, but the heat wave has lasted much longer,” said Bernard Strauss, head of forecasting for M�t�o-France. “In the last six weeks we have had one of the longest stretches of higher than normal temperatures since we started records.”

Temperatures along the west of France will probably rise in coming weeks, Mr. Strauss added.

The newspaper Le Parisien dedicated five pages to the heat wave, including tips for keeping cool, like wetting feet and hands as often as possible while walking the city.

A second type of warning was also issued in Europe — about strained electricity supplies, along with destroyed crops and forest fires.

Europe’s increased demand for air-conditioning could make summer a greater challenge than winter for electricity suppliers, a report by the Datamonitor Group warned.

Nuclear power stations in France and Spain have been forced to cut output because the river water normally used to cool reactors is too warm.

Low water levels in the Po River in northern Italy affected hydroelectric supplies, prompting power shortages in Rome that knocked out air-conditioning and left people trapped in elevators.

Scorching temperatures and drought could destroy up to 20 percent of Poland’s grain harvest, warned the country’s agriculture minister, Andrzej Lepper. “It is quite simply dramatic, and if the weather does not change we could have a disaster,” he said on Polish Radio.

Germany is facing crop losses of up to 50 percent in the worst-hit regions, according to Gerd Sonnleitner, the president of the national farmers association.

Forest fires affected regions as far afield as Corsica, in the Mediterranean, where homes near the capital, Ajaccio, were threatened, and the Czech Republic, Finland and Sweden.

July 27, 2006 in Climate Change | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

NPS takes heat for putting conservation first in National Parks

The NPS responded to the outcry about its draft policy (8/05 draft NPS policy post ) by restoring conservation as its fundamental mission.  But no good deed ever goes unpunished:

Latest NPS management policies draft examined
Serious questions remain over what NPS views as its fundamental mission

Washington - The House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks today held an oversight hearing on the final draft of the National Park Service Management Policies.

"I believe the development of these management policies are critical to the vitality of the National Park System," Subcommittee Chairman Stevan Pearce (R-N.M.) said. "I am very concerned that the final draft, while making some notable improvements, appears to retreat back to the 2001 management policies, which failed to provide an effective balance between enhancing visitor enjoyment and conservation.  Achieving such a balance remains a critical priority."

The primary purpose of the management policies is to help direct National Park Service (NPS) managers in their day-to-day operations. In October of 2005, the NPS released a new draft of the policies for public comment. The subcommittee held a hearing on that version in March 2006. Today's hearing was called in reaction to the changes made in the final version of the draft.

Chairman Pearce called attention to many of the sections and themes in the current version that differed from that of 2005, especially those that recognized the mission of the NPS to conserve and provide for enjoyment in the 2005 draft, but reverted to the 2001 language that focused only on conservation.

July 25, 2006 in Biodiversity, Environmental Assessment, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Land Use, Law, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Peer Review for Corps Projects

The McCain-Feingold amendment to the Water Resources Development Act requires external reviews of large engineering projects planned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on projects costing $40 million or more. State governors or federal agency heads may also seek external review.  An panel of 5 - 9 experts chosen by the Secretary of the Army would evaluate engineering, economic and environmental assumptions, and other aspects of Corps construction projects.  As previous posts indicated, independent investigations of the New Orleans levees identified design and construction problems that might have been avoided with expert external review.  GAO determined in March that four recent Corps proposals were "fraught with errors, mistakes, and miscalculations and used invalid assumptions and outdated data." 2006 GAO review of Corps planning   The Senate bill (S. 728) must now be reconciled with the House bill (H.R. 2864).

July 25, 2006 in Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, Legislation, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Lithium buckyballs provide nano storage of hydrogen

 

Researchers have identified, in theory, a new storage system to hold large quantities of hydrogen fuel, which could power cars in a more cost-effective, consumer-friendly, and environmentally sound way.  The new system is described in the Bulletin of the American Chemical Society to be published August 6th (published online July 6).

 

A lithium-coated fullerene, also known as a C60 cluster, as a potential material for hydrogen storage. Yellow represents lithium atoms, and black represents carbon atoms. (Photo courtesy of Qiang Sun, Ph.D., and Puru Jena, Ph.D. / VCU)
 

Science Daily posted this from Virginia Commonwealth University's press release:  SD post

This theoretical research moves scientists another step closer in the exploration of alternative fuel sources and methods to store hydrogen fuel.

"We are going to face an energy crisis at some point in the future. It's not a question of if, but when. There is a high demand on oil, particularly due to a growing global population," said lead author Puru Jena, Ph.D., a professor of physics at VCU.

"We need an energy source that is abundant, cost effective and renewable, burns clean and does not pollute," he said. "Today, approximately 75 percent of the oil currently available is used for transportation alone. Any solution to the energy crisis has to take into account the amount of energy we spend on transportation."

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and considered an ideal energy carrier. When hydrogen burns, it produces only water and thus, does not pollute the atmosphere. For this reason, it is considered an ideal alternative when discussing theoretical alternatives to fossil fuels.

... Jena and his team describe the theoretical composition of a material -- a lithium-coated buckyball -- that may have the potential to serve as a storage vessel for hydrogen atoms. A buckyball is a soccer ball-shaped nanoparticle containing 60 carbon atoms. Essentially, the lithium buckyballs absorb the hydrogen, which means that one lithium atom can store five hydrogen molecules. According to Jena, the theoretical buckyball, which was designed using computer modeling, has 12 lithium atoms and can store 60 hydrogen molecules.

"The biggest hurdle in a hydrogen economy is to find materials to store hydrogen," Jena said. "The storage materials in question need to have the ability to store hydrogen and allow us to take it out, which means the system must be reversible and operate under moderate temperatures and pressures."

Theoretical and experimental work by other researchers has proposed using titanium-coated buckyballs for hydrogen storage. However, those researchers observed that the titanium atoms had a tendency to react with each other and form clusters on the surface of the buckyball. Once clustering takes place, the properties of the buckyball are no longer effective for storing hydrogen in large quantities.

Industry standards require materials that store hydrogen to have a high gravimetric density of 9 weight percent, and high volumetric density of 70 grams/liter.

"The material that we have designed is capable of storing hydrogen at a gravimetric density of 13 weight percent -- so it exceeds the industry target. Also, the volumetric density is approximately twice that of liquid hydrogen. This theoretical work has promise, provided one can make it in large enough quantities," said Jena.

....Jena is currently collaborating with scientists who will conduct experiments to prove that hydrogen can be stored in the lithium buckyballs. Furthermore, these investigators will determine the necessary temperature and pressure conditions for storage and removal of hydrogen from the lithium buckyballs, and how to produce these materials in large quantities.

July 25, 2006 in Economics, Energy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Leadership Wanting, Leadership Wanted

Weather-related disasters like Hurricane Katrina—or the intense heat wave now hitting the United States—are on the rise. The toll of these catastrophes is exacerbated by growing ecological stresses and the future health of the global economy. The stability of nations will be shaped by our ability to address the huge imbalances in natural systems that now exist. While governments and businesses around the world are beginning to take action to stem the damage, our future demands more aggressive responses.

Earlier this month, we at the Worldwatch Institute released a new report, "Vital Signs 2006-2007," examining trends that point to unprecedented levels of commerce and consumption, set against a backdrop of ecological decline in a world powered overwhelmingly by fossil fuels. In 2005, the average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration increased 0.6 percent over the high in 2004, representing the largest annual increase ever recorded. The average global temperature reached 14.6 degrees Celsius, making 2005 the warmest year ever recorded on the Earth’s surface.

Our report shows that some 40 percent of the world’s coral reefs have been damaged or destroyed, water withdrawals from rivers and lakes have doubled since 1960, and species are becoming extinct at as much as 1,000 times the natural rate. While ecosystems can be overexploited for long periods of time with little visible effect, many ultimately reach a “tipping point” after which they begin to collapse rapidly, with far-reaching implications for all who depend on them.

Abrupt change was evident in southern Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005. For decades, the flow of the Mississippi River had been altered, the wetlands at its mouth destroyed, and massive amounts of water and oil extracted from beneath the delta. Only an unheeded minority noticed that this gradual destruction of natural systems had left New Orleans as vulnerable as a sword-wielding soldier on today’s high-tech battlefields. Thanks to a combination of human and geological causes, a city that was at sea level when the first settlers arrived in the 18th century had sunk as much as a meter below that level when the hurricane season began in 2005.

Weather-related catastrophes have jumped from an average of 97 million a year in the early 1980s to 260 million a year since 2001. This mounting disaster toll has several causes, including rapid growth in the human population and the even more dramatic growth in human numbers and settlements along coastlines and in other vulnerable areas.

Climate change may be contributing to the rising tide of disasters as well, according to several scientific studies published in 2005. Three of the 10 strongest hurricanes ever recorded occurred last year, and the average intensity of hurricanes is increasing, recent research concludes. This is not surprising, considering the main “fuel” driving hurricanes is warm water. Temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico were at record-high levels in the summer of 2005, turning Hurricane Katrina in just over 48 hours from a low-level Category 1 hurricane to the strongest Atlantic storm ever recorded. (In September 2005, Hurricanes Wilma and Rita each broke Katrina’s record as the strongest storm ever in that region.)

Yet all of this is merely a foreshadowing of what is to come. The concentration of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas that is driving climate change, has reached its highest level in 600,000 years, and the annual rate of increase in cardon dioxide levels is accelerating, according to atmospheric measurements taken in 2005.

Scientists are beginning to shed their usual reserve in the face of ever-more alarming evidence. In early 2006 James Hansen, the lead climate researcher at NASA, and five other top climate scientists warned that “additional global warming of more than 1 degree C above the level of 2000 will constitute ‘dangerous’ climate change as judged from likely effects on sea level and extermination of species.”

If either the Greenland or the West Antarctic ice sheet were to melt, hundreds of millions of coastal residents would be displaced—effects a thousand times the scale of the New Orleans evacuations. In the Shanghai metropolitan area alone, 40 million people could lose their homes. Large sections of Florida’s peninsula would simply disappear.

If melting ice and catastrophic storms are not enough to bring on an energy transition, the oil market is offering a helping hand. Oil prices in 2005 and early 2006 gyrated wildly, flirting several times with over $70 a barrel, the highest prices in real terms in more than 20 years. The cause is simple: geologists are no longer finding enough oil to replace the 83 million barrels being extracted each day. However, the reality of a new energy era has begun to sink in. In the United States, sales of large sport utility vehicles have plummeted, while those of hybrid-electric cars have doubled in little more than a year. And in China, government leaders have responded to rising fuel prices by increasing the tax on large vehicles and mandating higher levels of efficiency.

None of this has yet been sufficient to bring energy markets into balance. But signs are now growing that the world is on the verge of an energy revolution. The already-rapid growth of renewable energy industries has accelerated in the past year, with ethanol production increasing 19 percent, wind power capacity 24 percent, and solar cell production 45 percent. The energy technology growth surge is propelled by scores of new government policies and by surging private investment. And it is attracting major commitments by multinational companies such as General Electric, Siemens, and Sharp, while also becoming one of the hot¬test fields for venture capitalists, who are financing scores of small start-up firms. Even oil companies are getting into the act: BP and Shell are both investing in solar energy and wind power.  These developments are impressive and are likely to provoke far-reaching changes in world energy markets within the next five years. But the change is still not fast enough to bring on the broader changes in the global economy that could stave off imminent ecological and economic crises. Government leaders and private citizens will have to mobilize in an unprecedented way if we are to have any chance of passing a healthy and secure world on to the next generation.

      
Chris Flavin, published by TomPaine.com HT Common Dreams

July 24, 2006 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Political (ir)Responsibility

IMHO, it is the height of political irresponsibility for members of Congress to continue publishing the lie that global warming is not real or that it is not caused by human actions.  Just in case anyone has missed the last year or two of scientific evidence confirming those facts, here is an article published in the LA Times today, written by Naomi Oreskes,  discussing the scientific consensus on this issue:

 

An Op-Ed article in the Wall Street Journal a month ago claimed that a published study affirming the existence of a scientific consensus on the reality of global warming had been refuted. This charge was repeated again last week, in a hearing of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

I am the author of that study, which appeared two years ago in the journal Science, and I'm here to tell you that the consensus stands. The argument put forward in the Wall Street Journal was based on an Internet posting; it has not appeared in a peer-reviewed journal — the normal way to challenge an academic finding. (The Wall Street Journal didn't even get my name right!)

My study demonstrated that there is no significant disagreement within the scientific community that the Earth is warming and that human activities are the principal cause.

Papers that continue to rehash arguments that have already been addressed and questions that have already been answered will, of course, be rejected by scientific journals, and this explains my findings. Not a single paper in a large sample of peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 refuted the consensus position, summarized by the National Academy of Sciences, that "most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations."

Since the 1950s, scientists have understood that greenhouse gases produced by burning fossil fuels could have serious effects on Earth's climate. When the 1980s proved to be the hottest decade on record, and as predictions of climate models started to come true, scientists increasingly saw global warming as cause for concern.

In 1988, the World Meteorological Assn. and the United Nations Environment Program joined forces to create the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action. The panel has issued three assessments (1990, 1995, 2001), representing the combined expertise of 2,000 scientists from more than 100 countries, and a fourth report is due out shortly. Its conclusions — global warming is occurring, humans have a major role in it — have been ratified by scientists around the world in published scientific papers, in statements issued by professional scientific societies, and in reports of the National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society and many other national and royal academies of science worldwide. Even the Bush administration accepts the fundamental findings. As President Bush's science advisor, John Marburger III, said last year in a speech: "The climate is changing; the Earth is warming."

To be sure, there are a handful of scientists, including MIT professor Richard Lindzen, the author of the Wall Street Journal editorial, who disagree with the rest of the scientific community. To a historian of science like me, this is not surprising. In any scientific community, there are always some individuals who simply refuse to accept new ideas and evidence. This is especially true when the new evidence strikes at their core beliefs and values.

Earth scientists long believed that humans were insignificant in comparison with the vastness of geological time and the power of geophysical forces. For this reason, many were reluctant to accept that humans had become a force of nature, and it took decades for the present understanding to be achieved. Those few who refuse to accept it are not ignorant, but they are stubborn. They are not unintelligent, but they are stuck on details that cloud the larger issue. Scientific communities include tortoises and hares, mavericks and mules.

A historical example will help to make the point. In the 1920s, the distinguished Cambridge geophysicist Harold Jeffreys rejected the idea of continental drift on the grounds of physical impossibility. In the 1950s, geologists and geophysicists began to accumulate overwhelming evidence of the reality of continental motion, even though the physics of it was poorly understood. By the late 1960s, the theory of plate tectonics was on the road to near-universal acceptance.

Yet Jeffreys, by then Sir Harold, stubbornly refused to accept the new evidence, repeating his old arguments about the impossibility of the thing. He was a great man, but he had become a scientific mule. For a while, journals continued to publish Jeffreys' arguments, but after a while he had nothing new to say. He died denying plate tectonics. The scientific debate was over.

So it is with climate change today. As American geologist Harry Hess said in the 1960s about plate tectonics, one can quibble about the details, but the overall picture is clear.

Yet some climate-change deniers insist that the observed changes might be natural, perhaps caused by variations in solar irradiance or other forces we don't yet understand. Perhaps there are other explanations for the receding glaciers. But "perhaps" is not evidence.

The greatest scientist of all time, Isaac Newton, warned against this tendency more than three centuries ago. Writing in "Principia Mathematica" in 1687, he noted that once scientists had successfully drawn conclusions by "general induction from phenomena," then those conclusions had to be held as "accurately or very nearly true notwithstanding any contrary hypothesis that may be imagined…. "

Climate-change deniers can imagine all the hypotheses they like, but it will not change the facts nor "the general induction from the phenomena."

None of this is to say that there are no uncertainties left — there are always uncertainties in any live science. Agreeing about the reality and causes of current global warming is not the same as agreeing about what will happen in the future. There is continuing debate in the scientific community over the likely rate of future change: not "whether" but "how much" and "how soon." And this is precisely why we need to act today: because the longer we wait, the worse the problem will become, and the harder it will be to solve.

Naomi Oreskes is a history of science professor at UC San Diego.

 

July 24, 2006 in Climate Change, Governance/Management, Physical Science | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Moving biodiversity to the front burner

A group of 19 preeminent biodiversity scientists are seeking to move biodiversity off of the environmental back burner and engender public appreciation of the catastrophic loss of biodiversity that is occurring.  They recently published a compelling joint statement in Nature: Biodiversity Crisis

    

Life on earth is facing a major crisis with thousands of species threatened with imminent extinction - a global emergency demanding urgent action. This is the view of 19 of the world's most eminent biodiversity specialists, who have called on governments to establish a political framework to save the planet.

The planet is losing species faster than at any time since 65 million years ago, when the earth was hit by an enormous asteroid that wiped out thousands of animals and plants, including the dinosaurs. Scientists estimate that the current rate at which species are becoming extinct is between 100 and 1,000 times greater than the normal "background" extinction rate - and say this is all due to human activity.

The call for action comes from some of the most distinguished scientists in the field, such as Georgina Mace of the UK Institute of Zoology; Peter Raven, the head of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis, and Robert Watson, chief scientist at the World Bank. "For the sake of the planet, the biodiversity science community had to create a way to get organised, to co-ordinate its work across disciplines and together, with one clear voice, advise governments on steps to halt the potentially catastrophic loss of species already occurring," Dr Watson said.

In a joint declaration, published today in Nature, the scientists say that the earth is on the verge of a biodiversity catastrophe and that only a global political initiative stands a chance of stemming the loss. They say: "There is growing recognition that the diversity of life on earth, including the variety of genes, species and ecosystems, is an irreplaceable natural heritage crucial to human well-being and sustainable development. There is also clear scientific evidence that we are on the verge of a major biodiversity crisis. Virtually all aspects of biodiversity are in steep decline and a large number of populations and species are likely to become extinct this century.

"Despite this evidence, biodiversity is still consistently undervalued and given inadequate weight in both private and public decisions. There is an urgent need to bridge the gap between science and policy by creating an international body of biodiversity experts," they say.

More than a decade ago, Edward O Wilson, the Harvard naturalist, first estimated that about 30,000 species were going extinct each year - an extinction rate of about three an hour. Further research has confirmed that just about every group of animals and plants - from mosses and ferns to palm trees, frogs, and monkeys - is experiencing an unprecedented loss of diversity.

Scientists estimate that 12 per cent of all birds, 23 per cent of mammals, a quarter of conifers, a third of amphibians and more than half of all palm trees are threatened with imminent extinction. Climate change alone could lead to the further extinction of between 15 and 37 per cent of all species by the end of the century, the scientists say: "Because biodiversity loss is essentially irreversible, it poses serious threats to sustainable development and the quality of life of future generations."

There have been five previous mass extinctions in the 3.5 billion-year history of life on earth. All are believed to have been caused by major geophysical events that halted photosynthesis, such as an asteroid collision or the mass eruption of supervolcanoes. The present "sixth wave" of extinction began with the migration of modern humans out of Africa about 100,000 years ago. It accelerated with the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago and began to worsen with the development of industry in the 18th century.

Anne Larigauderie, executive director of Diversitas, a Paris-based conservation group, said that the situation was now so grave that an international body with direct links with global leaders was essential. "The point is to establish an international mechanism that will provide regular and independent scientific advice on biodiversity," Dr Larigauderie said. "We know that extinction is a natural phenomenon but the rate of extinction is now between 100 and 1,000 times higher than the background rate. It is an unprecedented loss."

The scientists believe that a body similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change could help governments to tackle the continuing loss of species. "Biodiversity is much more than counting species. It's crucial to the functioning of the planet and the loss of species is extremely serious," Dr Larigauderie said. "Everywhere we look, we are losing the fabric of life. It's a major crisis."

One suggestion is creating a global biodiversity science panel akin to the IPCC or the Millenium Project:

One of the reasons the issue of biological diversity remains on the back burner of environmental concern is perhaps linked to the fact that that it is more complex than issues such as the stratospheric ozone hole or global climate change. Scientists say they understand that biodiversity cannot be measured by simple universal indicators such as temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide because it involves several levels of organization, such as genes, species, and ecosystems. On the other hand, however, statistical facts on the loss of biodiversity suggest the imminent dangers of inaction, as two thirds of the services provided by nature to humankind are already in decline, with 12 percent of bird species, 23 percent of mammals, 25 percent of conifers, 32 percent of amphibians, and 52 percent of cycads (a type of evergreen plant similar to palms and ferns) continuing to face serious threats of extinction. Moreover, according to scientific calculations, within the next 50 years, it is quite likely that up to another 37 percent of currently existing species might be gone due to climate change.

About 14 years ago, the world community created a treaty on biodiversity setting out three main goals that include the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the use of genetic resources. Under the treaty, which has been signed by 188 countries, governments are required to take certain steps that would "significantly reduce" the biodiversity loss by the year 2010. But many countries continue to lag behind in implementing plans on biodiversity protection, in large measure because their policy makers have no close and coordinated links with the scientific researchers in the field. Though comprehensive in various ways, the treaty on biodiversity has no clear-cut structural means to organize scientific opinion on a global level, according to the group that is currently engaged in efforts to create unity among its own rank and file first.

"For the sake of the planet, the biodiversity science community has to create a way to get organized," says Dr. Robert Watson, chief scientists at the World Bank, who led the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment (MEA). Watson thinks that the global panel on climate change and other similar forums on international environmental issues could prove to be good models for biodiversity experts to help policy makers with advice on how to halt the catastrophic loss of species. "Each model has strengths and weaknesses," he says, "but essentially they all serve as a reliable source of information and advice for the public, their government and decision makers." Michel Loreau, a biology professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and one of the leading members of the group, fully agrees with Watson's proposal, but for other reasons as well. "We need diversity of opinions and approaches," he says, "but we also need unity behind this collective effort, to speak with one voice collectively when it comes to recognizing key issues and how they can best be addressed." Additionally, "biodiversity provides ecosystem services such as disease and climate regulation, storm protection, and habitat for useful species," says Charles Perrings of Arizona State University, who also signed the statement issued by the group. In his view, since biodiversity imposes "real economic costs on society, we need to develop clear science guidance for policy options accordingly."  

For their part, officials in some parts of the world, it seems, have no objection to the idea that Watson and his colleagues are floating. The French government, for example, has not merely agreed, but also provided funds for talks to create a global panel.  The ongoing consultations are likely to be concluded shortly before the ninth international conference of the parties to the treaty on biological diversity takes place in Berlin, Germany in 2008. The ongoing talks will determine what kind of biodiversity information is needed by decision makers in many relevant areas, including fisheries, transportation, industry, and parks management, in order to design a panel that addresses those requirements. The group says it wants the panel to be objective, independent, transparent, and representative, which includes official experts, as well as independent scientists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector representatives.  Source: OneWorld  HT Common Dreams

Unfortunately, such a panel seems less likely to achieve the visibility and the attention it deserves, as compared to the Millenium Assessment project or the IPCC.  First, the Millenium project created a scientific baseline that did not previously exist, while we already have a good notion that we are sustaining major biodiversity losses.  Similarly, with the IPCC, there was a real need to achieve scientific consensus about the science of global warming, due to widespread doubt about the existence, extent, and human contribution to global warming. There seems to be less scientific uncertainty about biodiversity losses.

Second, the major question with biodiversity is "who cares?"   Many, if not most, biodiversity issues boil down to value conflicts.  Do we want to restore wolf populations to the American west?  Do we want to create African animal reserves at the seeming expense of indigenous peoples?  Do we want to protect whales even if they might be hunted "sustainably?"  Why do we need tigers?  Unless and until we care either about the rest of God's creation in a spiritual way or we recognize dangers to humanity from massive biodiversity losses, policy makers simply lack the political incentives to pay attention to advice from a global biodiversity science.

July 24, 2006 in Biodiversity, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, International, Law, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Responsible Investing: Goldman Sachs remains firmly in the green

Greenwire reported that since Goldman Sachs announced the banking industry's most aggressive environmental policy less than a year ago,it has invested more than $1.5 billion in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects:

... And with big plans to become a major liquidity provider in emerging energy markets, reduce its carbon footprint and support a federal emissions cap-and-trade regime, Goldman appears to be just warming up.

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Wall Street is watching closely just how far Goldman's new Chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein will take the world's largest investment bank in an unprecedented green direction. While environmental and free-market advocates are divided whether Goldman should stay the course and whether other investment banks should follow, Goldman's most recent investments are clearly in the black. For the second quarter that ended May 26, Goldman reported net earnings of $2.3 billion, up from $865 million in the year-earlier quarter, but off slightly from a record first quarter.

The strong performance this year puts Goldman first in worldwide announced and completed mergers and acquisitions; equity and related offerings; public common stock offerings and initial public offerings, according the New York-based firm. Investment banking produced net revenues of more than $1.5 billion last quarter, Goldman's best quarterly performance in six years, according to the company's balance sheet. Net revenues from the firm's Trading and Principal Investments unit, which reflects a slew of investments in alternative energy companies, were $6.96 billion -- up a robust $4.15 billion from the year-earlier quarter. Also notable, net revenues from the firm's Fixed Income, Currency and Commodities trading unit soared to a record $4.3 billion, up 15 percent from the previous record level set in the first quarter of 2005. Revenues from the unit were boosted by a $700 million gain from the sale of East Coast Power LLC, which operates a 940 megawatt gas cogeneration power plant in Linden, N.J. Goldman still has major stakes in more than two-dozen power-producing entities and operates an energy-trading unit, spurring the online magazine Slate to ask whether Goldman was "the new Enron."

....The firm, which is the nation's second-largest U.S. securities firm by market value, can inflame market passions easily. Such was the case last November when Goldman published its environmental policy framework that said the company would invest up to $1 billion in renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects, as well as encourage its employees and clients to promote activities that guard against climate change and environmental degradation. The policy followed a media campaign by the Rainforest Action Network to persuade Goldman and other large investment banks to develop comprehensive environmental policies. A mere eight months after unveiling its sustainability manifesto, Goldman has invested upwards of $1.5 billion in such projects, confirmed Lucas van Praag, a managing director with Goldman and head of its global corporate communications. "We saw opportunity beyond the $1 billion, so we pursued it," added van Praag, who would not specify which investments for competitive reasons.  What is clear is Goldman has invested heavily during the past year in wind farms, biofuels and solar energy.

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July 24, 2006 in Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Global Warming Solutions: Khosla on ethanol

Khosla's kause:  ethanol

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Vinod Khosla is a highly successful venture capitalist who is betting on next-generation ethanol.  Khosla supports

tax and regulatory policies to persuade people to adopt ethanol.  He advocates (1) requiring car manufacturers to provide more flex-fuel vehicles, (2) requiring large gasoline distributors to make ethanol available, and (3) a variable ethanol subsidy that falls as oil prices increase.  Khosla's policy fixes are cheap: flex-fuel cars do not cost appreciably more than gas cars, ethanol could be available at every tenth gas station for $ 1 billion, and a variable subsidy could cost no more than the current subsidy. 

Interestingly enough, Khosla's ethanol advocacy comes at a time when the market seems likely to achieve his goals even without policy reforms.  Car makers are flocking to flex-fuel vehicles and gas distributors seem likely to meet the demand for ethanol -- it's just a matter of time.  And if oil prices stay high, the current ethanol subsidy seems likely to fuel conversion to ethanol.

How does Khosla's ethanol proposal rate on the criteria for a serious global warming solution?

(1) dramatic and attention-compelling

For a US program to have the desired global leadership effect, it must convince the rest of the world of the magnitude of the crisis and the US commitment to an effective response.  Imposition of ethanol related requirements on car manufacturers and gasoline distributors and reform of the ethanol subsidy are hardly dramatic and attention compelling.  They are little more than priming the already functioning ethanol pump.  In addition, the proposals address only the vehicle problem.

(2) contains incentives for global responses that mirror the level of US commitment

Khosla's solutions do not include such incentives

(3) market based

Khosla's solutions are command and control requirements and subsidies.  They do not meet the market-based criterion -- and they privilege one technological solution over others -- which does not encourage innovation or provide a relatively economically efficient regulatory system.

(3) grandfathers portions of existing emissions through allotments or entitlements

This criterion need not be met because the proposal is not based on marketable rights or taxes. 

(4)  transparent

The proposal is easy to understand, so it meets the transparency criterion.

(5)  effectively monitored and enforced

The proposal would be extremely easy to monitor and enforce.  We can readily count flex-fuel cars and ethanol pumps.

(6) politically sustainable

The proposal is politically attractive because it doesn't do much and doesn't cost much.  But is it sufficiently effective in addressing the problem that it can withstand political pressures down the road?  I think not.  It is not sufficiently broad to effectively deal with the problem.  Its just another subsidy program, privileging ethanol and flex-fuel vehicles.  When entrepreneurs seeking support for another emerging fuel mobilize, ethanol may well lose its privileged status under the proposal.


July 24, 2006 in Agriculture, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Legislation, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Baby, Its Hot Out There III: The European Heat Wave 2006

According to the U.S. National Climate Data Center, hot weather enveloped much of Europe during mid-July, with temperatures surpassing 32°C (90°F). In Britain on the afternoon of the 19th, temperatures reached 36.3°C (97.3°F) at Charlwood, or the hottest temperature ever recorded in Britain in July." (NCDC link).  Temperatures on London's underground reached 47-52C (117-126F) and the drought in the south of England is the worst in a century.  For a great graphic, see MSN News European Temperature Map  Reuters reported today that the heatwave in France has killed 21 people.  Additional heat-related deaths have been reported in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Bosnia.  Temperatures in Italy reached over 39C (102F).  Temperatures were expected to rise over the weekend and continue well into next week. Madrid forecast; London forecast; Paris forecast Some scientists make the standard disclaimer that no one weather event can be tied to global warming. See Reuter foundation analysis But, on the other hand, Stott reported in Nature on the risk that human induced global warming added to the probability of extreme heat waves such as the European heat wave of 2004 -- it doubled the risk of such events and Stott predicted then that by 2040, over half of the European summers would include heat waves as severe as 2003.  Well, 2006 appears likely to break the 2003 record. 

July 23, 2006 in Air Quality, Climate Change, EU, Governance/Management, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)