April 30, 2011
The Psychology of Weather and Climate Change
People often confuse unusal weather with climate change.* While talking about climate change and weather together does not have much of a basis in fact, a recent study suggests that it might not be a bad strategy if what you want to do is influence public opinion. The study shows that people are more likely to believe that climate change is occurring if they confront the question on a day that is hotter than normal.
While I would oppose any strategy to win over the public that exploits their confusion about climate change, this study underlines the point that part of winning over the public will require us to better understand how to communicate the nature of climate change and its risks. Many of those interested in addressing the problem understand this at a basic level, but research along these lines is at its beginning stages. My estimation is that we ought to add the topic of how to communicate the risks of climate change to the long list of uncertainties related to the problem.
* Today it is snowing at my house, which is unusual for this time of year. So, I will bundle up and prepare for climate skeptics who see the snow as proof sufficent to debunk climate scientists. This sort of thinking fails to grasp the concept of climate change in a couple of ways. First, climate is measured over decades or centuries, not days. Second, the sort of climate at issue in discussions of climate change is the global climate, so even if we witness a cooler or warmer climate for a particular area, this is only one of many data points that make up the global climate. Of course, one confusing aspect of this is that one of the findings of climate change scientists is that climate change will lead to increased incidences of extreme weather events like droughts, heat waves, cold waves, tropical storms, hurricanes, and floods. Because of this, it is not unusual to hear even informed spectators of climate change opine on climate change when news cycles are covering extreme weather events. When we do, the general line we are likely to hear is that while it is difficult (at best) to attribute an extreme weather event to climate change, over the longer term we should expect more of them and extreme weather is likely to become even more extreme when it occurs.
-- Brigham Daniels
April 29, 2011
The Pickens Plan -- in Bill Form
On April 6, a bipartisan group of federal congressmen from Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Texas introduced a bill--H.R. 1380--which is an "offshoot" of the energy strategy that T. Boone Pickens has advocated for several years now; indeed, the bill embodies a key element of the Pickens Plan, and Pickens predicts that it will pass by "late May." The Pickens Plan encompasses four goals, which include building wind energy (and some solar) capacity (an element that Pickens seems to have moved away from since first introducing his plan), updating the electrical grid, providing home energy efficiency incentives, and replacing imported oil with domestic natural gas. The recently introduced bill focuses on this final component.
H.R. 1380--the "New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act of 2011" (the "NAT GAS Act") would expand existing natural gas subsidies in the Internal Revenue Code. Section 4081 of the Internal Revenue Code, for example, taxes "the removal of a taxable fuel from any refinery" or "terminal," among other activities, and Section 6426 of the Code exempts certain fuels from this tax, including biodiesel and compressed or liquefied natural gas, among others; this exemption expired at the end of 2009, with the exception of the exemption for hydrogen. The NAT GAS Act would extend the tax exemption for natural gas through December 31, 2016. The Internal Revenue Code also taxes sales of compressed natural gas and other alternative fuels in Section 4041, and the exemptions to this tax also expired at the end of 2009 (with the exception of liquefied hydrogen); the NAT GAS Act would extend this exemption through December 31, 2016, for natural gas. Perhaps the most influential components of the NAT GAS Act--infrastructurally speaking--are its proposed extensions and expansions of credits for manufacturing and purchasing natural gas vehicles, investing in R&D for natural gas vehicles, and placing natural gas "refueling property" in service.
The NAT GAS Act might be a promising development, but, depending on one's perspective, it may also have a key flaw: it subsidizes one important domestic resource while leaving others--particularly renewables--behind.
April 28, 2011
Environmental Justice @ 2011
No doubt that one of the most important forces in environmentalism over the last three decades has been the environmental justice movement. Leaders in this field -- Bunyan Bryant, Robert Bullard, Sheila Foster, Eileen Gauna, Hazel Johnson, and Beverly Wright, to name only a few -- changed the way environmental issues are seen. They point out that much of environmental protection has been myopic, and that its focus must change: to include equity, gender, income, race, and, ultimately, justice.
This week, the Department of Energy, the EPA, and the Department of the Interior, among others, are sponsoring what looks to be a phenomenal conference on the state of environmental justice today. From the press release:
The U.S. Department of Energy, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Small Town Alliance, the Howard University School of Law and others, kicked off the State of Environmental Justice in America 2011 Conference today in Washington, D.C.
This year's conference theme is "Building the Clean Energy Economy with Equity," and will focus on climate change, green jobs and equity for low-income, minority and Tribal populations. The goal is to continue bringing together participants from Federal agencies, academia, business and industry, nonprofit organizations, faith-based organizations and local communities to participate in a dialogue on achieving equality of environmental protection.
April 26, 2011
THE Reason to Visit London this Spring
No, it’s not for the Royal Wedding. The ABA Standing Committee on Environmental Law (SCEL), in coordination with the London School of Economics and Political Science and the UK Environmental Law Association, will present “Navigating the New Green Economy: The Challenges of Climate Change and the Opportunities for Clean Energy” on May 23-24, 2011.
Keynote speakers include Lord Anthony Giddens, member of the House of Lords and author of The Politics of Climate Change, and Lisa Heinzerling, professor at Georgetown University Law Center and former Assistant Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Topics of discussion will include:
• Financing a sustainable reduced-carbon future
• Regulations and incentives in emerging green technologies
• Energy efficiency
• Carbon marketplaces
• Renewable energy subsidies and trade
• Technology transfer
• REDD – Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.
N.B. I serve as the ABA Section of State and Local Government Law’s liaison to SCEL, but I haven’t played a role in the organization of this conference. Congratulations to the good people at SCEL for putting it together!
- Lesley McAllister
April 25, 2011
The Dirt on Climate Change
Discover recently highlighted a new (and old) tool to combat climate change - dirt. The article, titled "Could Dirt Help Heal the Climate?," details new research demonstrating that better stewardship of agricultural soils "would have the potential to soak up 13 percent of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today - the equivalent of scrubbing every ounce of CO2 released into the atmosphere since 1980."
The research is focused on the benefits of "regenerative agriculture," which boosts soil fertility and moisture retention by increased use of composting, keeping fields planted year round and increasing plant diversity. Not only do these methods have the potential to combat climate change, but they also can rejuvinate farmlands upon which a variety of developing societies depend for subsistence.
Agriculture has been one of the most disruptive forces interfering with the planet's carbon soil building process, both with respect to the planting of crops and grazing of animals. Land use changes associated with agriculture have "stripped 70 billion to 100 billion tons of carbon from the world's soils and pumped it into the earth's atmosphere, oceans, and lakes since the dawn of agriculture."
In one case study, the researchers determined that by adjusting agricultural methods to achieve 1.5 additional tons of carbon dioxide absorption a year - a task certainly within reach of agricultural practices - 28 million acres of California grazing lands could absorb nearly 40 percent of the state's total yearly carbon emissions from electricity generation.
This research further demonstrates the important role that land use practices play in combatting climate change. States and private actrors could certainly be more proactive in guiding agricultural practices on the nation's farmlands. Given that states are the primary arbiters of land use, however, the federal government and states should also be more proactive in seeking cooperative approaches to adjust land uses associated with agricultural soil retention and enhancement. When a few modifications to such a simple resource as dirt could have such profound impacts on carbon sequestration capabilities, failure to act should leave our governments and private actors feeling, well, down right dirty.
- Blake Hudson