Thursday, February 26, 2009

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Gives Willamette University’s Dempsey Environmental Lecture

Prominent environmental activist and attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will address “Our Environmental Destiny” Friday, March 6, at 8 p.m. at the Salem Conference Center as part of the Willamette University Dempsey Lecture Series on Environmental Issues.

Kennedy advocates an aggressive approach against entities whose policies accelerate pollution and maintain the status quo, and he has used numerous media outlets, including his 2004 book Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals are Plundering the Country and Hijacking our Democracy, to call into question the environmental policies of the United States. 

Kennedy, who serves as senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, chief prosecuting attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and president of Waterkeeper Alliance, was named one of Time magazine’s “Heroes for the Planet” for his success in helping Riverkeeper lead the fight to restore the Hudson River.

He is a clinical professor and supervising attorney at the Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University School of Law, and he is co-host of Ring of Fire on Air America Radio.

In addition to Crimes Against Nature, Kennedy’s books include The Riverkeepers (1997) and Judge Frank M. Johnson Jr.: A Biography (1977). His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Rolling Stone and Atlantic Monthly.

The event is sponsored by the Dempsey Foundation and the Center for Sustainable Communities at Willamette University.

February 26, 2009 in Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Outstanding environmental law professors join the green team

Wow.  Obama's talent is awesome!

Professor Jody Freeman LL.M. '91 S.J.D. '95

JODY FREEMAN: COUNSELOR FOR ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE, WHITE HOUSE

Harvard Law School Professor Jody Freeman is serving as a senior advisor to Carol Browner, the White House energy and climate “czar,” as Counselor for Energy and Climate Change.  Freeman was chosen by Harvard to serve as the founding director of the HLS Environmental Law Program and has taught at Harvard since 2005.

Freeman authored an amicus brief on behalf of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in Massachusetts v. EPA, the global warming case decided by the Supreme Court in 2007. Her analysis of the implications of the case, Massachusetts v. EPA: From Politics to Expertise appears in the 2007 Supreme Court Review.


Lisa_heinzerling_2008a_2

LISA HEINZERLING, EPA SENIOR POLICY COUNSEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Georgetown Law Professor Lisa Heinzerling has joined Lisa Jackson's team at EPA.  She was lead author of the plaintiffs' briefs in Massachusetts v. EPA, the court case settled by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

Heinzerling is author of a number of outstanding law review articles critiquing the cost-benefit analysis work of John Morrell and John Graham.  She is also the co-author with Frank Ackerman of Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing, which rejects the idea that government policy should be based on exclusively on cost-benefit analysis.

Last May Grist published dueling comments by Richard Resverz and Heinzerling on cost-benefit analysis. Heinzerling wrote: "Cost-benefit analysis also produces results that are kin to neither reason nor compassion. Scientists around the world now urge us to act quickly to prevent catastrophic effects from climate change…Many economists soberly advise us to do nothing, or very little, because their calculations demonstrate that the future is worth very little, that people prefer warm weather to cold, and that humans in poor countries are not worth as much as humans in rich ones. These calculations are not the work of the radical fringe in economics; they come from highly regarded cost-benefit practitioners. But they are unreasonable and uncompassionate all the same."


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February 26, 2009 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Saga of Snowbasin - Book Review

Here's a book review I published in American Scientist about Stephen Trimble's recent book.  AmSci link

BARGAINING FOR EDEN: The Fight for the Last Open Spaces in America. Stephen Trimble. xiv + 319 pp. University of California Press, 2008. $29.95.

Snowbasin%20in%201997

The strikingly beautiful Utah landscapes Stephen Trimble writes about in Bargaining for Eden—the craggy Wasatch mountain range, the desolate desert mesas—change subtly in appearance with each passing moment, as light and shadow dance over them. The same could be said of the book’s evolving perspective—every time I thought I understood Trimble’s position regarding the battles being waged over the precious wild lands that remain in the western United States, his point of view subtly shifted.

The first part of the book, aptly named “Bedrock,” sets the stage and sketches the main characters. The citizens of Ogden, Utah, are fighting billionaire oil magnate Earl Holding, who wants to transform Snowbasin, a community ski area on Mount Ogden, into a posh resort in time for the 2004 Winter Olympics. Trimble avoids the temptation to make this starkly partisan struggle into a morality play, perhaps because the story doesn’t end happily. Although the local environmentalists win a few battles, they lose the war, and the majesty of Mount Ogden is marred by development.

Rather than framing the Snowbasin saga as a tragedy, Trimble deftly uses it as a device for exploring a far more complicated theme, addressing himself directly to those who treasure wild land out West. They yearn for the romance, simplicity, community and connection they draw from open space and wilderness. Yet they also benefit from the roads, rural retreat homes and high-tech ski lifts that development provides. The poles of maximum development and maximum preservation are extremes at the ends of a continuum. Attaching oneself unthinkingly to either extreme creates destructive antagonism that severs ties to people and values on “the other side of the moral mountain.” A better, more sustainable approach to managing the lands of the West is needed.

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February 25, 2009 in Biodiversity, Economics, Environmental Assessment, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Land Use, Law, Legislation, North America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Obama gains nothing on tar sands in Canada

President Obama appears to have made no progress with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the Canadian tar sands issue.  Harper has requested that tar sands production be excluded from any global climate treaty -- which would be disasterous in terms of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with tar sands development.  Obama appears to have been overly diplomatic in his discussions with Harper -- perhaps in hopes of softening Harper up over time.  I trust that he isn't really prepared to concede on the tar sands issue.

Muckracker posted this analysis on Grist (Grist link) about Obama's visit north with respect to tar sands and clean energy:

President Obama ventured north to Canada on Thursday to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but environmentalists looking for any indication that the two leaders would issue unequivocal calls for action on global warming or a curtailing of America's dependence on Canada's vast oil deposits were left disappointed. The two leaders, instead, promised a "clean energy dialog" that commits senior officials from both countries to collaborate on technologies that will reduce greenhouse gases and combat climate change, said Harper. That will include a monetary partnership on the development of carbon capture and storage technologies -- the holy grail for many oil and coal boosters who insist that renewable energies can't replace fossil fuels. The United States already committed to using the $3.4 billion in the newly enacted economic stimulus package for carbon capture and storage demonstrations, while Canada has committed $1 billion to a Clean Energy Fund in the government's Economic Action Plan. The two leaders also agreed to partner on the development of smart grid technologies.

"How we produce and use energy is fundamental to our economic recovery, but also our security and our planet, and we know we can't afford to tackle these issues in isolation," said Obama during a joint news conference.

Beyond dialog and promised investments in technology, there weren't a whole lot of answers from either leader on how their governments will deal with energy and climate in the short term. A major issue between the two nations has been oil from Canada's tar sands. The United States imports a lot of Canadian oil - 1.9 million barrels a day in 2008, to be exact. That's more than the U.S. imported from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and all those other nations that are so often targeted in complaints about U.S. energy "dependence."

Harper's government wants any climate pact to exempt the vast tar sands of Alberta from regulation. The tar sands contain up to 173 billion barrels of oil, but their extraction is an environmental nightmare (not to mention the problem of burning it). Thousands of acres of forests have to be destroyed to get to the oil. Separating the oil from the sand and clay is extremely energy intensive, and the waste material drenches waterways in toxic sludge. 

Asked about the issue today, Obama compared the tar sands problem with the coal problem in the United States (a comparison many Canadians have also made). While he was clear that carbon capture technologies are not cost effective at this point, he implicitly endorsed efforts to spend billions more on researching them. "In the United States, we have issues around coal, for example, which is extraordinarily plentiful and runs a lot of our power plants and if we can figure out how to capture the carbon, that would make an enormous difference in how we operate," said Obama. "Right now, the technologies are at least not cost effective. So my expectation is is that this clean energy dialog will move us in the right direction."

In an interview with the CBC on Tuesday, Obama acknowledged that tar-sands oil "creates a big carbon footprint," but was optimistic that the both the tar sands and coal problems "can be solved by technology."

              

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February 25, 2009 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Energy, Governance/Management, International, North America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

President Obama's "State of the Union" Speech

The White House has published the "Remarks of President Barack Obama -- Address to Joint Session of Congress" as prepared for delivery on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009. White House link   The President called for Congress to send him a cap and trade bill to address climate change and stressed investments in clean energy as the path to America's future.  What a difference from last year!

As the President says about the long term investments that are absolutely critical to our economic future:

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century.  And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient.  We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it.  New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years.  We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country.  And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy.  So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.  And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink.  We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices.  But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win.  Millions of jobs depend on it.  Scores of communities depend on it.  And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy.  But this is America.  We don’t do what’s easy.  We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

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February 25, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Creating a Sustainable Society - the Role of Social Entrepreneurs and Volunteers

Today, the House Committee on Education and Labor had a Congressional hearing on volunteerism. Both Van Jones and Cheryl Dorsey testified to the value of volunteerism for the future of the green movement and social entrepreneurship.  Cheryl Dorsey’s video testimony can be found here Dorsey video link  and her written testimony is here. Dorsey written link  Van Jones’ video testimony is here Jones video link  and his written testimony is here.Jones' written link   Although we frequently focus on using regulation to control traditional profit-oriented business endeavors, it's good to remind ourselves that social entrepreneurs and volunteers can make a real difference in the quality of life in our communities as well as the quality of the environment.

February 25, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Legislation, North America, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition

Congratulations to all of the participants in the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition held at Pace University during the last few days.  Roughly 70 law schools participated in the competition, which featured a difficult and oft-times confusing problem about salvage of a Spanish shipwreck.  The law covered by the problem included admiralty law, administrative law, international law such as the UNESCO treaty and the Law of the Sea, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Rivers and Harbors Act, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and for good measure, the Submerged Military Craft Act.  Just typing that list makes me tired!

The learning is in participating, but the honors for Best Briefs go to University of Houston, Georgetown, and University of California at Davis, with Houston winning overall Best Brief.  The Best Oralist Honor goes to Louisiana State University.  The final round of the competition featured Lewis & Clark law school, University of Utah, and Louisiana State. Lewis & Clark prevailed, winning the overall competition for the 2d time in a row.  If I recall correctly, that may be the first back to back win.  Congratulations to everyone!

The students of Pace University deserve special mention for sacrificing their ability to compete and for running a flawless competition.  More details can be found at the NELMCC site.

February 25, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Will Obama say "NO" to tar sands?

The environmental community is mobilizing to get Obama to reject imports of oil produced from tar sands.  While the campaign primarily focuses on the climate change impacts, the most pernicious effects of tar sands production are on water, both in terms of water quality and water allocation.  Tar sands production requires huge amounts of water and the water becomes polluted to the point where it is largely uneconomic to clean it: essentially permanently polluting freshwater resources, which are already limited.  On these grounds alone, we should not encourage development of tar sands.  In addition, tar sands and other "secondary" forms of oil production, all contribute more to global warming than conventional oil.  We must be prepared for Canada's response: the U.S. is being hypocritical unless it also discourages production of oil shale in the Mountain West -- another secondary recovery source of oil.  And the answer to that needs to be -- yes, we need to get our own house in order and develop a marketable carbon rights program or carbon tax that forces energy corporations to realize that development of such resources is both socially undesirable and economically infeasible.

February 16, 2009
By Earth's Newsdesk, a project of Ecological Internet http://www.ecoearth.info/newsdesk/
CONTACT: Dr. Glen Barry, glenbarry@ecologicalinternet.org

(Seattle, WA) -- On February 19, President Barack Obama
travels to Canada on his first international trip as
President, where he will face pressure from the
Government of Canada to support production of Alberta's
filthy tar sands oil. An international network of
environmental groups has launched the "Obama2Canada"
campaign[1] urging President Obama to stand strong on his
new energy economy agenda and reject entreaties from
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to shelter the
dirtiest oil on earth from global warming regulation.

"Tar sands oil is the dirtiest form of energy in the
world. It has no place in President Obama's plans for a
clean energy economy," said Sierra Club Dirty Fuels
Campaign Coordinator Pat Gallagher. "Tar sands oil
accelerates global warming. It destroys forests. It
endangers public health. Instead of importing this
expensive, dirty oil, we can invest in clean energy that
will create millions of much-needed, sustainable jobs."

Called oil sands by proponents, tar sands are the very
dirtiest of fossil fuels. Producing oil from tar sands
emits three times the global warming pollution as
conventional oil, requires excessive amounts of energy
and fresh water, and destroys huge swaths of ancient
boreal forest. Given its massive carbon footprint, tar
sands would almost certainly prove unviable under any
reasonable climate change regulations. Along with ending
the use of coal and old growth forest destruction,
stopping tar sands is essential global climate policy
required to maintain an operable atmosphere.

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February 16, 2009 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, North America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (2)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Christopher Field and Anny Cazenave AAAS reports on rapidly worsening climate change

On Saturday, I noted the AAAS meeting report on climate change by Christopher Brown.Climate change worsens more rapidly than IPCC anticipated   Here's a bit more on Christopher Field's report from MSNBC:

Carbon emissions have been growing at 3.5 percent per year since 2000, up sharply from the 0.9 percent per year in the 1990s..."It is now outside the entire envelope of possibilities" considered in the 2007 report of the International Panel on Climate Change...The largest factor is the widespread adoption of coal as an energy source... "and without aggressive attention societies will continue to focus on the energy sources that are cheapest, and that means coal."  Past projections for declines in the emissions of greenhouse gases were too optimistic, he added. No part of the world had a decline in emissions from 2000 to 2008.

Anny Cazenave of France's National Center for Space Studies [reported] that improved satellite measurements show that sea levels are rising faster than had been expected... Rising oceans can pose a threat to low level areas such as South Florida, New York and other coastal areas as the ocean warms and expands and as water is added from melting ice sheets...And the rise is uneven, with the fastest rising areas at about 1 centimeter — 0.39 inch — per year in parts of the North Atlantic, western Pacific and the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica...

MSNBC link
 

February 15, 2009 in Asia, Australia, Climate Change, Energy, International, Law, Legislation, North America, Physical Science, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Peasant Movement of Papaye

Our congregation, 1st Congregational United Church of Christ, is launching our 2009 Drink Water for Life challenge this Lenten season, hoping to collect another $ 8 - 10,000 to help the Peasant Movement of Papaye provide water for three communities that contain about 15,000 people.  Here's some information about the Peasant Movement of Papaye.  If you are interested in contributing, please contact me.

February 14, 2009 in Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Ehrenfield Thinking about Sustainability

John Ehrenfield recently wrote an editorial in the e-journal Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy entitled "Sustainability needs to be attained, not managed"  Ehrenfield link   Since I am in the middle of a short article about sustainability, I found his discussion interesting:

....Sustainability and its derivatives fall into the same class as a few of the key concepts underlying liberal democracies everywhere—like equality, freedom, and liberty—that are explicitly written into the founding documents of the United States. Such terms have been called “essentially contested concepts” (ECCs), signifying that there is an ongoing, never-ending dispute about both the meaning and the degree to which one can attain whatever is named by the concept (Gallie, 1956). I recall a recent allusion to some 300 or more definitions regarding sustainability. Sustainability is confused or conflated with “green” in many places. It is used more-or-less interchangeably in this publication and others focused on the notion of “sustainable development.”

...All ECCs are emergent properties of complex systems, and are subjective in the sense that they arise through an assessment by some observer looking on the whole system. ECCs are unquantifiable, but can be described via qualities coming from the observer’s assessment [like Justice Potter Stewart's definition of obscenity, "I know it when I see it."] ....The second point about ECCs is that they cannot be managed in the deterministic sense that “management” implies: that a manager operates according to some set of rules describing the behavior of the system being managed, and further that the outcome can be measured according to some quantifiable metric. So goes one of the most famous of management mantras, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” If I push a little here, the system will move to the place I want it to be. This apparent limitation is just that, apparent. The biggest challenge to those who construct or oversee human-made complex systems or oversee natural systems is to make sure that they are producing the desirable properties that make them special.                    

Sustainability is a much more general concept than is implied in its adjectival use in sustainable development. It is better defined as the possibility that some system that is now producing, or soon will produce, one of these desirable emergent properties will continue to produce it indefinitely. (emphasis added-SLS).....But sustainability, as contrasted with “sustainable development” or any phrase using the adjective sustainable, is very different. Sustainable development is, indeed, all about managing the technocratic process of economic development so that the Earth will continue to support future generations in the same way it has for us. Development is certainly not the objective. But what is? Even the conventional triad—environment, economy, and equity—that accompanies the standard Brundtland definition does not help much. Further, since sustainable development is categorically a continuing process, it cannot, by definition, ever be achieved. .... I begin with a very different way to define and construe sustainability. In a recent book, I define sustainability as “the possibility that human and other life will flourish on the Earth forever” (Ehrenfeld, 2008). Here “flourishing” is the emergent property and the system producing flourishing is the Earth. I chose flourishing as the quality that encompasses all three legs of sustainable development because it conjures up a vision of a desirable future state and, thus, can be assessed as being present or not. It is certainly not going to be easy to get there, but it is not something “that never can be achieved.”      

Flourishing is a metaphor for many things, but always connotes aliveness, joy, health and many other qualities related to being. The challenges we face today, as portrayed in the volumes of this journal, are different from those related to managing sustainable development. Our goal should be to attain sustainability because it exists now only in tiny bits and patches, if at all. Even if we continue to disagree on the meaning of sustainability, we are largely in agreement that the present state of the Earth is unsustainable. We can come to terms here because we do define unsustainability in quantitative measures and rules.

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February 14, 2009 in Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Climate Change Likely To Be More Devastating Than Experts Predicted, Warns Top IPCC Scientist

ScienceDaily (2009-02-15) -- Without decisive action, global warming is likely to accelerate at a much faster pace and cause more environmental damage than predicted, says Stanford scientist Chris Field, a leading member of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who will be responsible for coordinating the Work Group II report. Field warns that higher temperatures could ignite tropical forests and melt the Arctic tundra, releasing billions of tons of greenhouse gas that could raise temperatures even more -- a vicious cycle that could spiral out of control by the end of the century. Science Daily

....Since 1990, the IPCC has published four comprehensive assessment reports on human-induced climate change. Field was a coordinating lead author of the fourth assessment, Climate Change 2007, which concluded that the Earth's temperature is likely to increase 2 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 to 6.4 degrees Celsius) by 2100, depending on how many tons of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere in coming decades.

But recent climate studies suggest that the fourth assessment report underestimated the potential severity of global warming over the next 100 years. "We now have data showing that from 2000 to 2007, greenhouse gas emissions increased far more rapidly than we expected, primarily because developing countries, like China and India, saw a huge upsurge in electric power generation, almost all of it based on coal," Field said.

This trend is likely to continue, he added, if more developing countries turn to coal and other carbon-intensive fuels to meet their energy needs. "If we're going to continue re-carbonizing the energy system, we're going to have big CO2 emissions in the future," he said. "As a result, the impacts of climate change will probably be more serious and diverse than those described in the fourth assessment."....

Of particular concern is the impact of global warming on the tropics. "Tropical forests are essentially inflammable," Field said. "You couldn't get a fire to burn there if you tried. But if they dry out just a little bit, the result can be very large and destructive wildfires."

According to several recent climate models, loss of tropical forests to wildfires, deforestation and other causes could increase atmospheric CO2 concentrations from 10 to 100 parts per million by the end of the century. This would be a significant increase, given that the total concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is currently about 380 parts per million, the highest in 650,000 years.

"It is increasingly clear that as you produce a warmer world, lots of forested areas that had been acting as carbon sinks could be converted to carbon sources," Field said. "Essentially we could see a forest-carbon feedback that acts like a foot on the accelerator pedal for atmospheric CO2. We don't exactly know how strong the feedback could be, but it's pretty clear that the warmer it gets, the more likely it is that degradation of tropical forests will increase the atmospheric CO2."

The ocean is another vital reservoir for carbon storage. Recent studies show that global warming has altered wind patterns in the Southern Ocean, which in turn has reduced the ocean's capacity to soak up excess atmospheric CO2. "As the Earth warms, it generates faster winds over the oceans surrounding Antarctica," Field explained. "These winds essentially blow the surface water out of the way, allowing water with higher concentrations of CO2 to rise to the surface. This higher-CO2 water is closer to CO2-saturated, so it takes up less carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."

Tundra thawing

Climate scientists also worry that permafrost in the Arctic tundra will thaw, releasing enormous amounts of CO2 and methane gas into the atmosphere. According to Field, the most critical, short-term concern is the release of CO2 from decaying organic matter that has been frozen for millennia. "The new estimate of the total amount of carbon that's frozen in permafrost soils is on the order of 1,000 billion tons," he said. "By comparison, the total amount of CO2 that's been released in fossil fuel combustion since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is around 350 billion tons. So the amount of carbon that's stored in these frozen soils is truly vast."

Much of the carbon is locked up in frozen plants that were buried under very cold conditions and have remained in deep freeze for 25,000 to 50,000 years, he added. "We know that the Arctic is warming faster than anyplace else," he said. "And there is clear evidence that these frozen plants are very susceptible to decomposition when the tundra thaws. So melting of permafrost is poised to be an even stronger foot on the accelerator pedal of atmospheric CO2, with every increment of warming causing an increment of permafrost-melting that shoots an increment of CO2 into the atmosphere, which in turn increases warming.

"There's a vicious-cycle component to both the tundra-thawing and the tropical forest feedbacks, but the IPCC fourth assessment didn't consider either of them in detail. That's basically because they weren't well understood at the time."

For the fifth assessment report, Field said that he and his IPCC colleagues will have access to new research that will allow them to do a better job of assessing the full range of possible climate outcomes. "What have we learned since the fourth assessment? We now know that, without effective action, climate change is going to be larger and more difficult to deal with than we thought. If you look at the set of things that we can do as a society, taking aggressive action on climate seems like one that has the best possibility of a win-win. It can stimulate the economy, allow us to address critical environmental problems, and insure that we leave a sustainable world for our children and grandchildren. Somehow we have to find a way to kick the process into high gear. We really have very little time."

 

February 14, 2009 in Climate Change, Governance/Management, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (2)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Here Comes the Sun!!!!

As we approach spring in Oregon, we get more and more desperate for the sun (actually its been a great, cold and sunny winter for the most part, but we've got to complain to keep immigrants out).  Here's a welcome story from Andrew Rivkin of the NY Times about significant solar coming on line:

The largest utility in California, squeezed by rising demand for electricity and looming state deadlines to curb fossil fuels, has signed a deal to buy solar power from seven immense arrays of mirrors, towers and turbines to be installed in the Mojave Desert. The contracts amount to the world’s largest single deal for new solar energy capacity, said officials from the utility, Southern California Edison, and BrightSource Energy, the company that would build and run the plants. When fully built, the solar arrays on a sunny day would supply 1,300 megawatts of electricity, somewhat more than a modern nuclear power plant. That is enough electricity to power about 845,000 homes. Mojave Desert plant

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February 13, 2009 in Energy | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Guns in Parks

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, posted a blog entry last night (post link) about the Bush Administration guns-in-National-Parks rule.  The post is featured on
Huffington Post's Environment page today.HP Envt page link   The post itself links to government documents concerning the organization's lawsuit to block the Guns-in-National-Parks rule, which underscore how the rule violated NEPA by not even preparing an environmental assessment of the rule. 

February 13, 2009 in Environmental Assessment | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Green companies win: companies with a commitment to sustainability tend to outperform their peers during the financial crisis

A study released yesterday by  A.T. Kearney, Inc, titled Green Winners:  The Performance of Sustainability-focused Companies in  the Financial Crisis, found that in 16 out of 18 industries companies with a commitment to sustainability were the clear leaders in the financial markets.  The study examined 99 companies identified by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the Goldman Sachs Sustain Focus List as having a strong commitment to sustainability and compared their performance with industry averages.   In 16 of the 18 industries studied, companies committed to sustainability outperformed industry averages by 15% over the six months from May through November 2008.  From a market capitalization perspective, this superior performance averages out to $650 million in protected market capitalization per company. 

“Our study indicates that the market rewards specific companies,” said Dr. Daniel Mahler, author of the study.  “We find common characteristics among the leading companies that show that sustainability goes far beyond the narrow definition of being environmentally friendly.”  These characteristics include:

  • A focus on long-term strategy, not just short-term gains
  • Strong corporate governance
  • Sound risk-management practices
  • A history of investment in green innovations

The study contains discussions of each of the 18 industries studied, as well as examples of best practices from a variety of industries. Together with the macro analysis, these case studies provide a map for companies looking to be proactive in terms of protecting their market capitalization.

While green measures that produce immediate cost-savings such as reducing packaging material and decreasing fuel use will become increasingly common in a cash-strapped economy, Sustainability and the Financial Crisis suggests that investing in sustainability for the long term may be the best way to protect a company’s value through the months — and years — ahead.

The study covered all 10 industries, and 18 out of 19 supersectors (excluding real estate) as defined by Industry Classification Benchmarks. These were:

  • Utilities
  • Telecommunications
  • Technology
  • Oil       & Gas
  • Industrial       Goods and Services
  • Construction       & Materials
  • Health       Care
  • Insurance
  • Financial       Services
  • Banks
  • Travel       & Leisure
  • Retail
  • Media
  • Personal       & Household Goods
  • Food       & Beverage
  • Automobiles       & Parts
  • Chemicals
  • Basic       Resources

The stock price for each of these was indexed to 100 for the time period analyzed, and were averaged within each supersector to create a combined Sustainable Company index for the industry.  These indices were then compared with Dow Jones World and STOXX global indices for these sectors to determine the performance differential.

February 10, 2009 in Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Access to water and sanitation is the largest driver of human development

Here's a BBC article I received today.  It confirms what I've been told by public health experts studying Haiti and others: access to water and sanitation is the largest driver of human development.  Its the key to jump-starting the whole development process.  That makes it far too important to leave in the hands of those who seek to profit from water.

Water - another global 'crisis'?
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website BBC link

If you look at the numbers, it is hard to see how many East African communities made it through the long drought of 2005 and 2006.  Among people who study human development, it is a widely-held view that each person needs about 20 litres of water each day for the basics - to drink, cook and wash sufficiently to avoid disease transmission.  Yet at the height of the East African drought, people were getting by on less than five litres a day - in some cases, less than one litre a day, enough for just three glasses of drinking water and nothing left over.  Some people, perhaps incredibly from a western vantage point, are hardy enough to survive in these conditions; but it is not a recipe for a society that is healthy and developing enough to break out of poverty.

"Obviously there are many drivers of human development," says the UN's Andrew Hudson.  "But water is the most important."

At the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), where Dr Hudson works as principal technical advisor to the water governance programme, he calculated the contribution that various factors make to the Human Development Index, a measure of how societies are doing socially and economically. 
"It was striking. I looked at access to energy, spending on health, spending on education - and by far the strongest driver of the HDI on a global scale was access to water and sanitation." 

Different lives

Two key questions arise, then.  Why do some communities have so little access to water? And how will the current picture change in a world where the human population is growing, where societies are urbanising and industrialising, and where climate change may alter the raw availability of water significantly?

The UNDP is unequivocal about the first question.  "The availability of water is a concern for some countries," says the report.  "But the scarcity at the heart of the global water crisis is rooted in power, poverty and inequality, not in physical availability."

Statistics on water consumption appear to back the UN's case.  Japan and Cambodia experience about the same average rainfall - about 160cm per year.  But whereas the average Japanese person can use nearly 400 litres per day, the average Cambodian must make do with about one-tenth of that.

The picture is improving to some extent.  Across the world, 1.6bn more people have access to clean drinking water than in 1990.  But population growth and climatic changes could change the picture.  In some regions, "the scarcity at the heart of the global water crisis" could become one of physical availability, especially in places where consumption is already unsustainably high.  "There are several rivers that don't reach the sea any more," says Mark Smith, head of the water programme at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  "The Yellow River is one, the Murray-Darling (in Australia) is nearly another - they have to dredge the mouth of the river every year to make sure it doesn't dry up.  "The Aral Sea and Lake Chad have shrunk because the rivers that feed them have been largely dried out; and you can see it on a smaller scale as well, where streams that are important for small communities in Tanzania may go dry for half the year, largely because people are taking more and more water for irrigating crops."

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February 5, 2009 in Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Global water scarcity: the blue gold rush....

Frank Rijsberman, Program Director at Google.org and formerly Director General of the International Water Management Institute, investigates the global water scarcity problem in an essay published on Boston Review. Global water scarcity  A rapidly growing population means that we need rethink the world's water resources –  both use and distribution. Rijsberman analyzes causes for the impending crisis, and addresses possible solutions, which he believes must include both technological and political innovation. The problems are serious, but Rijsberman remains optimistic: "We can avoid a full-blown global disaster. Unfortunately, the water crisis is complicated, often misunderstood, rarely grasped holistically, accelerated by climate change that melts glaciers and icecaps, and exacerbated by biofuel expansion that further stresses scarce water supplies. Forestalling it will require a mix of sustained technological innovation and institutional reform, all guided by deeper understanding and some new thinking."

February 5, 2009 in Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

New 6th Circuit Rapanos decision

A frequent reader who practices in the Sixth Circuit saw this 6th Circuit application of the Rapanos case and passed some comments along:

U.S. v. Cundiff
Cundiff decision 

The Court (Judges Martin, McKeague, and a District Judge Collier, with Martin writing for a unanimous panel (that lineup and the unanimity is interesting alone to me and I would guess other Sixth watchers)) held that, under Rapanos, the government had jurisdiction over the defendant's wetlands in Kentucky. The Court discussed the Marks-Rapanos problem at length (some fascinating discussion, along with a sharp rebuke of the Pacific Legal Foundation's view that the plurality test controls in a footnote), but did not make a final decision because it decided that jurisdiction was proper under both the plurality and Kennedy tests. The application of the plurality and Kennedy tests was also lengthy and interesting.

Also interesting was this footnote, describing the status of the property in Muhlenberg County, KY. (If you've ever been there, this is pretty accurate.)

"1 Singer-songwriter John Prine has colorfully recounted Muhlenberg County’s sordid ecological history: 

"And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County / Down by the Green River where Paradise lay / Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking / Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away . . . . / Then the coal company came with the world’s largest shovel / And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land / Well, they dug for their coal ‘til the land was forsaken / Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man . . . .

"JOHN PRINE, Paradise, on JOHN PRINE (Atlantic Records 1971)."

Thanks again -- I grew up singing to Paradise.

February 5, 2009 in Cases, Law, Mining, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Red Queens or Court Jesters: How Species Evolve

A review in this month's science by Michael Benton discusses two prominent models of evolution.Science article  The abstract and some snippets of the article are below:

Evolution may be dominated by biotic factors, as in the Red Queen model, or abiotic factors, as in the Court Jester model, or a mixture of both. The two models appear to operate predominantly over different geographic and temporal scales: Competition, predation, and other biotic factors shape ecosystems locally and over short time spans, but extrinsic factors such as climate and oceanographic and tectonic events shape larger-scale patterns regionally and globally, and through thousands and millions of years. Paleobiological studies suggest that species diversity is driven largely by abiotic factors such as climate, landscape, or food supply, and comparative phylogenetic approaches offer new insights into clade dynamics. 

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February 5, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Energy, North America, Physical Science, South America | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

We all expected this....

There is talk in the Oregon legislature of eliminating or streamlining environmental impact assessment/environmental permit requirements on projects related to the Oregon stimulus package.  When will they ever learn?  When will they ever learn?

February 5, 2009 in Environmental Assessment | Permalink | TrackBack (0)