Thursday, April 14, 2011
Following report comes from the Hill:
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) isn’t ruling out putting curbs on EPA regulations in play when lawmakers cast high-stakes votes next month on raising the federal debt ceiling.
The House passed legislation last week that strips EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases, but the Senate rejected the measure and Republicans failed to graft temporary limits to spending legislation.
Asked at a Thursday press conference whether he expects the issue to be part of negotiations on the debt limit, Boehner replied that there have not been decisions yet about what’s on or off the table in the debate.
He added: “Clearly, the direction of the EPA and the direction they're heading with their numerous regulations are going to cripple our economy and cripple the ability of employers to create jobs.”
Congress is likely to take up a debt limit increase measure after it returns in May, so stay tuned.
-- Brigham Daniels
Drive by any large power plant, and you are bound to notice the obvious. The facility announces itself long before you make its acquaintance. Big power plants come with big transmission needs, so the wires emanating from the facilities always make a striking sight.
This is perhaps no more apparent anywhere than it is in nuclear power plants. Because their generating capabilities are so large -- and their capacity factors so high -- the bundle of wires running from nuclear facilities is inevitably noticeable. A good example, if you find yourself in the vicinity, is Southern California Edison's San Onofre plant. Drive by on I-5, and you can't miss the mass of perfectly parallel lines overhead.
The image of precise bundles of wires is fitting, perhaps, because the exactness that the nation's electrical transmission circuits demand stands in sharp contrast to the many loose ends currently in the nuclear industry. Prior posts have touched on some of these points, but the recent developments continue only. Looking at it today, if we were all weather anchors on the local news, the only forecast we could offer the industry would be "cloudy, with likely more clouds on the way."
- The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled last week largely in favor of the U.S. government in a case brought by Energy Northwest. Energy Northwest's claim is for breach of contract for the government's failing to take its spent nuclear fuel, when Yucca Mountain remained non-operational. The case is certainly notable for its ruling in favor of the government, but it may be even more notable for two other reasons. First, the decision now stands with numerous other cases the government has lost as a result of the political stalemate over Yucca, as the DOE used a standard contract in promising to take utilities' waste under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. Second, Energy Northwest had won an award of nearly $57 million, but the government only appealed about $10 million of that award. It let the rest -- $47 million -- stand.
- The New York Times is reporting increased resistanceto the Jaitapur nuclear power plant proposed to be built in India. If it goes forward, it will be the largest in the world. If it does not, we will know that Fukushima's shadow can reach at least as far as this only growing, energy-hungry nation.
- Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved an increase in Exelon's Limerick Generating Station's capacity by about 32 MW. Why? Because in a nation that seems increasingly skittish about nuclear energy, we also need more energy. Clouds, and more clouds.
Friday, April 8, 2011
I noted in a recent "Property and Renewable Energy" post on Land Use Prof Blog that I am teaching a "Law of Electricity" seminar this semester, which describes the laws that apply to all phases of electricity production (from the siting and construction of generation to transmission and distribution). The course focuses primarily on wind energy, and I have assigned each of my students to compose a portion of a model wind energy code for Oklahoma and to suggest how portions of the code could benefit other states' energy policy projects. As part of the project we have begun to speak with state senators and representatives in Oklahoma to identify the policy challenges facing wind and other energy industries. One point raised in a recent call struck me as particularly relevant to professors teaching in this area and looking for creative projects for students. One state senator expressed frustration over the lack of energy "facts" from neutral third parties, such as information on the current and projected price per kilowatt hour of electricity from all energy sources--both traditional and renewable. If state legislators want these facts, why not have our students research, compile, and analyze them and send them to policymaking bodies? The facts could be combined with relevant legal analysis, such as comparisons of local, state, and federal energy subsidies and other laws that have affected the pace of various forms of energy development. Students in policy, economics, business, or science programs might be better equipped to provide many of these neutral third-party facts, but it seems that law students have an important role to play, too. If federal policymakers in Washington benefit from hoards of white papers and briefs from active research institutions, why not give state and local policymakers similar information that could better inform their decisions?
Professor Michael Gerrard at Columbia Law School is already putting this idea in action through the Center for Climate Change Law's Model Municipal Ordinance Project; the Center is currently seeking comments on its model ordinance. Other law schools have also begun providing valuable information on energy to local, state, and federal policymakers. To name a few, the University of Houston's Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Center presented carbon trading ideas to federal policymakers at the conclusion of its "Practice of Carbon Trading Class," which included business and law students. Berkeley Law's Center for Law, Energy & the Environment similarly involves students in analysis of energy policy, as does the University of Colorado Law School's Center for Energy & Environmental Security, the University of Connecticut School of Law's Center for Energy and Environmental Law, the UC Davis School of Law's California Environmental Law & Policy Center, the UNC School of Law's Center for Law, Environment, Adaptation and Resources, Pace Law School's Pace Energy and Climate Center, Stanford's Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, San Diego School of Law’s Energy Policy Initiatives Center, the University of Texas School of Law's Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration, and Environmental Law, the University of Tulsa's and George Kaiser Family Foundation's National Energy Policy Institute, and Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment. I am sure that I have omitted key institutions here; I welcome comments and additions.
With the rise of energy and environmental policy work in law schools, I also pose a question: Are state policymakers getting the message? How can we better distribute the valuable information produced by bright law students so that policymakers have access to the neutral, third-party information that they are demanding? In a world of overabundant information, it seems that classes embarking on code writing projects or policy whitepapers should include communications students to ensure that the information produced does not go to waste.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
In only the latest of the many twists and turns of the saga that is Yucca Mountain, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced last week that it will investigate the Obama administration's decision to de-fund the only site in the nation slated for long-term storage of high-level nuclear waste. At least two factors clearly informed this move: the ongoing disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, and the growing GOP push-back against the incumbent administration's environmental agenda.
The press release makes this clear. Some highlights:
- "Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Environment and the Economy Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) are launching the inquiry after reviewing available evidence indicating there was no scientific or technical basis for withdrawing the [DOE's] application [for approval of the project]."
- "Congress is demanding answers about the administration’s decision to halt development of the only permanent U.S. site for spent nuclear fuel."
Congressman Upton's view of the Obama administration's decision, clearly, is quite dim:
The administration’s move to shutter Yucca raises serious red flags. Despite the scientific community's seal of approval, extensive bipartisan collaboration, as well as nearly three decades and billions of taxpayer dollars spent, this administration has recklessly sought to pull the plug on the Yucca repository without even the sensibility of offering a viable alternative.
No matter what conclusions the investigation ultimately reaches, both the fact that it's happening and the tone in which it has been launched are notable. They remind us of a few truths of energy policy in the United States: We constantly allow what will eventually be pressing energy issues lie dormant in the background until a catastrophe or disaster pushes us to action. When we do take action, we allow politics to divide us. And our allowance of those divisions, in turn, fractures our overall energy policy.
Only time will tell whether the latest turn of events for Yucca Mountain will lead us down the same road we have repeatedly trod over the last century, or whether, as we enter the second decade of this millennium, we might find new hope in old problems.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
In a 50-50 vote, the Senate today rejected the Energy Tax Prevention Act. (A tiebreaking vote was not cast because the vote that took place related to cloture—which requires 60 votes.) As a comic side note, it is worth knowing that House member Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) suggested that the bill be renamed the “Koch Brothers Appreciation Act” or “Protecting Americans from Polar Bears Act.” Regardless of what one calls the bill, however, had it become law, the bill would have stripped away a substantial chunk of the EPA’s power to use the Clean Air Act to address climate change. While the bill would have preserved the more stringent mobile emission standards put in place to address greenhouse gases, it would have put an end to other regulations under the Act, particularly the regulations associated with major stationary sources. While the House is almost certain to pass the bill later today and while President Obama would have been likely to veto the bill had it made it to his desk, all of this doesn’t matter much given its death in the Senate.
(For those following the legislative process closely, note that the Senate also decisively rejected a number of other amendments, including amendment 215 proposed by Senator Rockefeller, amendment 236 by Senator Baucus, and amendment 265 by Debbie Stabenow.)
Despite the fact that that the Senate rejected the bill, it should not come as a surprise to anybody that Congress is rethinking EPA regulations. And, this is not just because many in Congress oppose addressing climate change (though that is true). In fact, it was not all that long ago that many of the present defenders of the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations assumed that Congress would and should preempt these regulations. The major difference being that at the time, these same advocates assumed that we would not only dump these regulations but also replace them with some other form of regulation, most likely a cap-and-trade. For example, consider the following response to a question that Administrator Lisa Jackson received at a press conference held at the White House on the day that the Obama administration announced its intention to regulate light-duty vehicles many months ago:
Q: If Congress doesn't come through, though, on some sort of climate legislation, would you be ready to pull the trigger using the Clean Air Act with some of the work that you’re doing right now?
ADMINISTRATOR JACKSON: I have said before that I actually hope that doesn’t come to pass. I believe very strongly that legislation is the preferable route. It allows for a comprehensive economy-wide discussion of the issues that are going to make for a successful program. That being said, the Clean Air Act is a strong and extraordinarily successful piece of legislation. It has made huge differences in air quality in our country.
And we have an obligation under the law, based on the Supreme Court ruling, to continue to do our job. And that is what we will do. I have also said that I believe strongly that that job can be done in a way that's, step one, that's reasonable, that complies with all administrative processes.
It is uncertain whether, as some have argued, the EPA actually used the Clean Air Act to force Congress into addressing climate change back in the days when Democrats controlled both chambers. Regardless, the EPA is living with the reality that its endangerment finding and regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act have come at a political cost. While the EPA is not likely to have its statutory authority clipped by our present Congress, the EPA is not out of the woods. It seems quite likely that it will still face a substantial budget cut or—at the very least—have to live with the burdens that go along with a mobilized opposition both inside and outside the halls of Congress.
-- Brigham Daniels
Update: The House indeeded passed the Energy Tax Prevention Act passed by a 255-172 vote. However, because the same bill died in the Senate, it is largely a symbolic gesture at this point.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
As the saga continues to unfold at Fukushima Daiichi, commentators continue to question what the disaster will mean for the future of nuclear energy. Numerous media outlets have extensive coverage, including at the Washington Post, the New York Times, the BBC, and Time.
This week's Economist has a particularly interesting article, "When the Steam Clears," which takes up the question from the international vantage. The article, in a way, begins with its conclusion: "Fear and uncertainty spread faster and farther than any nuclear fallout." Its point is clear. Whether one is on the nuclear energy bandwagon or not, perception matters terribly. And for an industry that, in the U.S. at least, has been largely stalled out for the immediate past decades, Fukushima is casting a rather long shadow.
More specifically, the article makes three observations worth highlighting:
- Nuclear is expensive. This is hardly revelatory, but the point The Economist makes with the fact is one often forgotten. It is worth remembering. As a result of nuclear's cost, most plants today are old: "[W]ith a median age of about 27 years and a typical design life of 40 a lot [of nuclear power plants] are nearing retirement."
- Nuclear is ubiquitous, if not dominant. Although the U.S. leads the world with over 100 reactors, we get about 20 percent of our electricity from them. Other nations take much more of their electricity from nuclear -- Germany at 26 percent, Japan at 29, South Korea at 35, Ukraine at 49, and, of course, France leading the globe at roughly three-quarters their total electric production. Still, the world average is much lower. "[N]nuclear power is much less fundamental to the workings of the world than petrol or aeroplanes. Nuclear reactors generate only 14% of the world’s electricity . . . ."
- Nuclear is not going away. While the disaster at Fukushima clearly has resurrected the specter of nuclear tragedy 25 years after Chernobyl and 30 post-Three Mile Island, even the dimmest of views on the technology has not stopped its continued use. Last week, with Fukushima still front page news, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission extended the license of one U.S. plant. And, as with many things nowadays, China is a leader. It is planning extensive nuclear expansion. "Though China, which has 77 reactors at various stages of construction, planning and discussion, has said it will review its programme in the aftermath of Fukushima, few expect it to stop entirely. China has a great appetite for energy, which will continue to grow."
Weighing these observations leads to a number of others that will certainly be in play as the fate of nuclear is considered, both here in the U.S. and abroad, in the aftermath of Fukushima.
First, virtually everyone will reevaluate plant safety because of Fukushima, and this may mean changes for both those already in existence and those planned to come online. The NRC has already said it will be taking a hard look in the U.S., and of course other countries have become even more skittish, as I posted two weeks ago. In any case, these (re)evaluations may well impact how much -- or at least how quickly -- new facilities are added to the grid. The massive stranded costs the companies that built plants in the U.S. in the 1970s and 80s faced after regulation kept changing cannot be far from the front of their collective minds.
Second, we still have not solved the largest stumbling block to using nuclear, whether that use is in its current proportion or an increased one. Long-term storage of high-level nuclear waste is a bugaboo. No state wants the waste. Yucca has dragged on for literally decades. Now it is unfunded. Meanwhile, there are already rumblings about whether the current de facto "solution" -- storing the waste at operating reactors, often in storage ponds -- should continue. None of those facts, or the questions they imply, are easy.
Third, if nuclear is going to be used, Fukushima only highlights the need to make the decision concsiously, openly, and democratically. As David Spence articulately observed yesterday on the envlawprofs email listserv, all energy options force tradeoffs. Fears associated with nuclear are persistent, whether they are accurate representations of its real risks or not. Compare the actual deaths and costs associated with nuclear over the past half-century with those of, say, coal, as Prof. Spence noted, and the factual (rather than perceived) assessment of risks may change. True, nuclear has clear downsides, but it has many advantages as well. As with climate change, if industry is going to continue pursuing nuclear as an option, clear signals are needed.
Right now, the legislative signals on climate change, in the U.S. at least, are muddled if not stalled out. Fukushima may have only the same effect for nuclear.
For an energy source that now provides one-fifth of our electricity, one wonders whether stalemate is the right answer. In a world where nuclear now faces multiple possible futures, that's a question we must ask.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Hari Osofsky, Minnesota Law School, has posted a thoughtful and engaging article titled "Diagonal Federalism and Climate Change: Implications for the Obama Administration" on SSRN. The article is forthcoming in the Alabama Law Review and can be downloaded here. The abstract can be read at the bottom of this post.
Osofsky provides a clear view of the complexity of crafting climate change solutions, specifically noting that:
"The complex interactions between and among governments around the world at an international level, other branches of government at a national level, and multiple governmental entities at subnational levels—all of which also interact with nongovernmental organizations, corporations, international organizations, and private individuals—pose an ongoing governance challenge for the Obama Administration."
Osofsky describes how these complexities in the U.S. manifest through a "diagonal federalism" framework, which incorporates public and private actors vertically at all levels of government (local, state, national and international) and horizontally within specific levels of government. Her article targets how the Obama administration can approach diagonal federalism in a way that "leads to the most effective climate policy," and how to structure the above-described complex interactions in a way that most effectively addresses climate change.
All too often, discussions of climate change response are focused on forging political will for regulatory action on climate or fleshing out what types of climate change responses would be most effective to curb carbon emissions (regulatory v. market-based, top-down v. bottom-up, e.g.). Osofsky's article highlights an often overlooked aspect of climate change response; that is, how to navigate complex domestic legal structures to effectively implement climate change policy if and when it is forged. It is easy to say that "nations should enter into an international agreement on climate" or "nations should establish markets to foster unilateral nation-state initiatives to reduce carbon emissions." It is another thing altogether to assess the much more difficult questions of how to achieve those policy goals on the ground. Osofsky's article takes an important and much-needed step toward tackling the latter, and often more difficult, question.
"Diagonal Federalism and Climate Change: Implications for the Obama Administration"
The Obama Administration’s efforts on climate change continue to face daunting challenges domestically and internationally. This Article makes a novel contribution by exploring how the Obama Administration can meet these challenges more effectively though systematically addressing the multiscalar character of climate change in the areas where it has greater regulatory control. Mitigating and adapting to climate change pose complex choices at individual, community, local, state, national, and international levels. The Article argues that these choices lead to many diagonal regulatory interactions: that is, dynamics among a wide range of public and private actors which simultaneously cut across levels of government (vertical) and involve multiple actors at each level of government that it includes (horizontal). After assessing the Obama Administration’s progress on climate change and energy issues, this Article develops a theory of diagonal federalism to explore how the Obama Administration might engage in more effective crosscutting regulatory approaches. It proposes a taxonomy for understanding how these diagonal interactions vary across multiple dimensions over time. Specifically, the taxonomy includes four dimensions: (1) scale (large v. small); (2) axis (vertical v. horizontal); (3) hierarchy (top-down v. bottom-up); and (4) cooperativeness (cooperation v. conflict). The Article then applies this taxonomy to the case example of the Obama Administration’s efforts at reducing motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions to demonstrate how it can be used as a tool in policymaking. The Article argues that existing diagonal efforts to regulate what cars we drive tend to be predominantly large-scale, vertical, and top-down, in line with their direct impact on automobile companies. In contrast, approaches targeting how we drive those cars, which affect those companies less directly and are grounded in land use planning, are more likely to be small-scale, horizontal, and bottom-up. This divergence creates an opportunity for normative reflection. The Article argues that the Obama Administration should consider whether these skews are appropriate by taking into account the benefits and limitations of such skews in particular contexts. It then proposes ways in which the Administration could create more balance in the dimensions and argues for the value of that balance. Specifically, the Obama Administration could explore additional opportunities for (1) greater smaller-scale governmental involvement in technology-oriented financial incentives programs; (2) federal-level, top-down, vertical initiatives connecting federal approaches to highways, railroads, and gas prices with smaller-scale efforts to have people drive less in their communities; and (3) litigation, which often has a rescaling effect, by interested individuals, nongovermental organizations, corporations, and government.
- Blake Hudson
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Regulation of renewable energy is almost as old as the field itself. Who, for instance, doesn't want a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo "I <heart> PURPA"?
Clearly, the emergence of renewable portfolio standards, feed-in tariffs, net metering requirements, a "smart grid," and more, make renewable energy regulation a burgeoning field. This past January, the University of Utah law school hosted a symposium on "The Future of Energy Law," which touched on many of these issues.
Increasingly, though, there is an emerging scholarship on the intersection of the common law and renewable energy. How these legal developments shake out, too, will have important ramifications for our energy profile of tomorrow.
Three recent examples of this scholarship are worth noting. Or, as Professor Solum would say, "download them while they're hot!":
- Alan J. Alexander on The Texas Wind Estate: Wind as a Natural Resource and a Severable Property Interest: "Similar to the initial growth of the oil and gas industry in Texas, the wind energy industry was also born, and continues to grow, in the absence of clear legal and regulatory standards. Lack of regulation in the early development of the oil industry contributed to oversupply and rampant waste of oil. Similarly, lack of regulation of the developing wind energy industry could lead to wasteful practices regarding wind energy development. This Note argues that the Texas Legislature should pass laws clarifying that wind is a natural resource under the Texas Constitution, and that to promote [conservation and development], the Legislature should statutorily recognize wind rights as an interest severable from land ownership."
- Alexandra B. Klass on Renewable Energy and the Public Trust Doctrine: "This Article explores the role of the public trust doctrine in current efforts to site large-scale wind and solar projects on public and private lands. Notably, both proponents and opponents of such renewable energy projects have looked to the public trust doctrine to advance their goals. Proponents of large-scale renewable energy projects point to the environmental and climate change benefits associated with renewable energy development and argue that the use of public lands and large tracts of private lands to facilitate such projects are both in the public interest and consistent with the public trust doctrine. At the same time, parties opposed to particular renewable energy projects have argued that the land-intensive nature of these projects as well as their potential adverse impacts on endangered species, open space, aesthetic values, and pristine landscapes will result in a violation of the public trust doctrine. Which side is right? How do we balance the benefits and harms of large-scale renewable energy projects and what role should the public trust doctrine play in setting that balance?"
- Troy A. Rule on Airspace in a Green Economy: "[A] growing number of policies aimed at promoting sustainability disregard landowners' airspace rights in ways that can cause airspace to be underutilized. This article analyzes several land use conflicts emerging in the context of renewable energy development by framing them as disputes over airspace. The article suggests that incorporating options or liability rules into laws regulating airspace is a useful way to promote wind and solar energy while still respecting landowners' existing airspace rights. If properly tailored, such policies can facilitate renewable energy development without compromising landowners’ incentives and capacity to make optimal use of the space above their land."
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
A few months ago, Dan Kahan, Donald Braman, and Hank Jenkins-Smith published an important article titled, Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus (available here). The article looked at several risks, two of which are quite relevant to today’s news and environmental law: the risks associated with climate change and those associated with storing nuclear waste.
While I do not want to rehash all of the article’s findings, consider one of the article’s major conclusions:
When mechanisms of cultural cognition figure in her reasoning, a person processes information in a manner that is equivalent to one who is assigning new information probative weight based on its consistency with her prior estimatio. Because of identity protective cognition (Sherman and Cohen 2006; Kahan et al. 2007) and affect (Peters, Burraston, and Mertz 2004), such a person is highly likely to start with a risk perception that is associated with her cultural values. She might resolve to evaluate the strength of contrary evidence without reference to her prior beliefs. However, because of culturally biased information search and culturally biased assimilation (Kahan et al. 2009), she is likely to attend to the information in a way that reinforces her prior beliefs and affective orientation (Jenkins-Smith 2001).When mechanisms of cultural cognition figure in her reasoning, a person processes information in a manner that is equivalent to one who is assigning new information its probative weight based on its consistency with her prior estimation. Because of identity protective cognition and affect, such a person is highly likely to start with a risk perception that is associated with her cultural values. She might resolve to evaluate the strength of contrary evidence without reference to her prior beliefs. However, because of culturally biased information search and culturally biased assimilation, she is likely to attend to the information in a way that reinforces her prior beliefs and affective orientation.
In other words, one’s worldview alters risk perception in ways we would never anticipate. Our minds seek out and give greater weight to information that harmonizes with our worldviews. Interestingly and disturbingly, even when risks are very complex and difficult for non-experts to assess, non-expert brains often trust one's worldview even if it means disagreeing with the experts.
While the article presents a very convincing case, a few items in the news this past week seemed to reinforce the article’s findings for me. (Granted, the article has left me uneasily wondering if I am just reinforcing my own priors.)
First, a post on a political science blog called Monkey Cage (discussed in an excellent post by Dan Farber earlier this week) suggests that as education increases, liberals are more likely to see climate change as caused by human activity whereas, surprisingly, as education increases, conservatives are less likely to see climate change as caused by human activity.
Both the Monkey Cage and Farber’s post provide the following helpful graph to illustrate this finding:
Second, CBS News recently released a poll showing, among other things, support for nuclear power in decline. This is not too surprising given the recent failing of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Interestingly however, CBS’s data show that Democrats are more worried than Independents and much more worried than Republicans about risks associated with nuclear power.
It is a bit humbling to recognize that in addressing major problems like climate change even our perceptions of risks can be divisive.
- Brigham Daniels
Thursday, March 17, 2011
While the people of Japan continue to deal with the devastation of the massive earthquake and tsunami last week, the tragedy there has reignited the debate over nuclear power worldwide. As the Washington Post reports, in the wake of the growing nuclear emergency in Japan, Germany announced that it will shut down seven of its older plants for safety inspections, and Switzerland declared a freeze on new nuclear construction.
At the same time, U.S. Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials assured Congress of the safety of the domestic nuclear fleet, as did leaders in France of theirs.
Nuclear energy inevitably elicits strong responses from both sides of the aisle. Whether it is Yucca Mountain or the Skull Valley Goshutes' suggestion to store waste on their reservation, rhetoric is rarely scarce when it comes to atomic power.
There is no question that the people of Japan deserve all the world can offer in this time of dire need, but isn't there a much deeper question here about energy policy than the immediate nuclear debate that Fukushima has elicited?
It is another entirely to ask what is at the heart of our modern energy dilemma.
That is the question we should be asking. At a minimum, as Professor McAllister rightly noted earlier this week, it is a question about our energy consumption, and our failure to heed efficiency as a goal with the same vigor that our energy policy gives it lip service.
Even more fundamentally, however, it is a question about energy planning. Nuclear plants provide roughly 20 percent of the United States' current electrical production. In France, that figure is closer to 80 percent. Turning that train around cannot happen overnight.
It could, however, happen over a longer period of time -- if we want it to.
Fukushima is not Chernobyl. But however bad the crisis in Japan ends up being, it should now be as clear as ever that when it comes to energy, we face hard choices.
These choices are not necessarily dichotomies. We can solve climate change, and nuclear power may be part of that solution -- or it might not, or it might be only for awhile. Natural gas certainly will play a role. Carbon capture and sequestration holds promise, if we are willing to pay the higher prices and energy penalties the technology entails. Renewables are always there. The number of possible resource mixes, in short, for energy production is virtually limitless.
The question, then, is not: "Whether nuclear power?"
The question is: "What do we want our energy future to be?" And, correspondingly: "Will we plan for that future, or will we leave it to chance?"
As Amory Lovins reminded nearly a decade ago, "Our energy future is...choice -- not fate."
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Currently the United States House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee is considering legislation that would strip the EPA of its power to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. Earlier this week, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) offered an amendment to that proposal. Regardless of how Congress decided to deal with the EPA’s regulation under the Clean Air Act, Waxman wanted to put Congress on record in accepting the scientific finding that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” The Committee voted down the amendment by a vote of 20-31. No Republicans on the Committee voted for the amendment.
While it seems there are many reasons to worry about the EPA regulating greenhouse gases, particularly through the Clean Air Act, the Committee’s rejection of climate science is disturbing. While certainly, there is a lot of disagreement among Americans about the science behind climate change, there is little dispute among scientists. With its vote, the Committee not only parted ways with the EPA and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change but also with the National Academies of Science, the InterAcademy Council, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, just to name a few among many.
Certainly, the Committee’s vote did not go unchallenged (see the video posted below as an example). Still, while there is a lot of banter in politics about junk science, it seems the larger problem is junk politics.
-- Brigham Daniels
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Earlier this week, Tim DeChristopher was found guilty by a Utah jury for unlawfully interfering with a public auction for oil and gas leases on federal lands near national parks in southern Utah. In many ways, the result was not surprising because there is little dispute that DeChristopher posed as an oil man and made and won bids on leases with no intention of paying for them.
Despite the clear cut nature of his case, this trial attracted national and even international media attention, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Guardian, to name a few. The reason for all the attention boils down to DeChristopher’s purpose in participating in the auction—for him it was a form of environmental protest mainly relating to climate change. Particularly from environmental quarters, DeChristopher’s trial is a story of an environmentalist so committed to combating climate change that he was willing to serve federal prison time if that is what it took to make a difference, see Time's Eco Centric Blog, Bill McKibben on Grist, and Robert Redford on the Huffingtonpost as examples. This line of thinking paints DeChristopher's actions as heroic—transforming him into something of a Gandhi for the planet.
To me the narrative of DeChristopher as noble activist misses the point. While certainly there is little dispute that DeChristopher’s actions will land him in prison and that he is willing to go there due to his beliefs, his actions are something to bemoan rather than celebrate.
First, while I respect his ideals, it is hard to see his actions as anything other than misguided. Even in the most generous light, how does posing to be an oil man and making fake bids on gas leases amount to anything but an empty symbolic gesture? There is little doubt that these oil and gas reserves are very modest and perhaps worthless. Why did he pick that fight? When it comes to climate change, aren’t there a bazillion more pressing problems than these gas leases?
Second and more importantly, even if these oil and gas leases should warrant our attention, there are plenty of ways to oppose them that are not only legal but also much more likely to prove successful than the route DeChristopher took. The leases were vulnerable to a number of significant political and legal challenges. Interestingly, these alternative tools—not DeChristopher’s actions—have at least stalled and in many cases stopped most of the leases at issue (and many others as well). DeChistopher threw himself on the road when he could have just helped to build a much more effective road block. Sure he wouldn’t have gotten all the press, but he would have been more likely to make a difference and done this without risking prison time. DeChirstopher’s methods do not amount to heroism. Instead, they are silliness.
Third, he did not need to break the law to make his point. Why did he have to pose to be someone he wasn’t and lie to the federal government during the auction? Even if all he wanted to do was protest, aren’t there many other ways to protest that would not have left him legally vulnerable?
DeChistopher made some mistakes. His empty gesture, his backwards strategy, his lies, and entanglement with the law were all mistakes. Yet, instead of trying to find a quiet way out, he held press conferences. Instead of owning up, he embraced the celebrity of the moment.
Certainly, DeChristopher’s actions have lessons for activists. Unfortunately, in the rush to praise his good intentions, the real lesson has been lost. As admirable as we might find his ideals, we need to understand his actions are not admirable. They are far from it. After his trial, DeChristopher invited others who were true to the cause to join him in prison. I hope activists see this invitation to join him for what it is: an invitation to join the ranks of the misguided who have squandered their potential.
- Brigham Daniels
Monday, March 7, 2011
A recent CNN article described the plummeting population of big cats in Africa, noting that populations have dropped from 450,000 fifty years ago to as few as 20,000 today. Worldwide tiger populations have experienced similar drastic declines, with an estimated 95% drop in population over the past one hundred years - from 100,000 tigers at the turn of the 20th Century to as few as 3,200 today. Of course, scientists are similarly concerned about the implications of climate change for polar bear populations, not to mention numerous other bear populations around the world. These scenarios raise interesting questions about the significance of "charismatic megafauna" in either spurring environmental protection (cute and cuddly panda bears) or in exacerbating species decline due to the "prize value" of the animal (ivory elephant tusks, tiger meat in Asian markets).
Charismatic megafauna are often described as species that people "really care about," such as pandas, whales, and bald eagles, to name a few. So what does it say about the status of global biodiversity when we continue to witness precipitous declines in populations of charismatic megafauna? Perhaps the problem is jurisdictional: lions and tigers are distributed in developing countries with far less stringent environmental protections and where the animal's economic value is far higher when it is dead rather than alive. The case of mountain lions and wolves in the U.S. lends evidence in this regard, as each (the western mountain lion, at least) is recovering in population size and regaining portions of former habitat presumably due to the (relatively recent) focus on environmental protection throughout their habitat range. But as the polar bear and a variety of other species demonstrate, economic growth and habitat fragmentation also play a key role in the decline of these species. So, if lions, tigers, and bears are charismatic megafauna that people "really care about," what happens to global resources that people hold in far less regard?
- Blake Hudson
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Green Buildings: Is Your City in the Top Ten?
The U.S. Green Building Council ranked cities across the country with the most LEED certified green buildings. A total of 88 green buildings makes Chicago number one. Portland and Seattle follow with 73 and 63 green buildings respectively.
This list, however, is not comprised of just major cities. Grand Rapids, MI made the top ten with 44 LEED certified buildngs, surpassing both Los Angeles and Boston.
Following are the top 10 U.S. cities, ranked by LEED certified buildings:
2. Portland, Or.--73.
4. Washington, D.C.--57.
6. San Francisco--50.
7. New York City--46.
8. Grand Rapids, Mich.--44.
9. Los Angeles--40.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
The Obama administration on Tuesday formally proposed joint CAFE-CAA fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks that link fuel economy to reduced emissions from vehicles. Manufacturers would need to increase fuel economy 5 percent per year from 2012 to 2016, with new cars and trucks averaging 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. Alternatively, manufacturers must meet a requirement that their vehicles on average emit no more than 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. With current technology, the measures are essentially equivalent. Current CAFE standards require that cars average 27.5 miles per gallon and light trucks average 23.1 miles per gallon. Download 2012-2016_CAFE_GHGN_PRM EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson estimates the proposed regulations would save 1.8 billion gallons of oil between 2012 and 2016, and prevent greenhouse-gas equivalent to the output of 42 million cars.
According to the Washington Post, Washington Post story President Obama appeared at a General Motors plant in Lordstown, Ohio, claiming the proposal is a boon for both the environment and the automobile industry because "it will give our auto companies some long-overdue clarity, stability and predictability." The Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, the industry trade group, supported Obama's remarks, stating "This is really the road map for automakers to follow." AAM estimated that the required changes would cost the auto industry $60 billion by 2016, but did not provide an estimate of price increase that consumers would experience..
The proposal, if finalized in a timely manner -- i.e. before Copenhagen -- is a victory on one front of the battle to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The other front is the legislation to cap GHGs from stationary sources such as utility and industrial powerplants. According to the Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday that the Senate may not act on climate legislation until next year. The Obama administration, of course, could pressure Congress by proceeding to regulate GHGs under the existing Clean Air Act through calling for new State Implementation Plans, requiring New Source Review permits impose LAER and BACT for GHG, and imposing New Source Performance Standards for GHG. However, the Administration is unlikely to play chicken with Congress absent proof that Congress is truly dragging its feet.
The Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA almost 2 1/2 years ago determined that EPA has the power to regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles, prompting yesterday's action.
See the press release below:
EPA: Cathy Milbourn
DOT: Rae Tyson
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 15, 2009
DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson Propose National Program to Improve Fuel Economy and Reduce Greenhouse Gases
New Interagency Program to Address Climate Change and Energy Security
“American drivers will keep more money in their pockets, put less pollution into the air, and help reduce a dependence on oil that sends billions of dollars out of our economy every year,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “By bringing together a broad coalition of stakeholders – including an unprecedented partnership with American automakers – we have crafted a path forward that is win-win for our health, our environment, and our economy. Through that partnership, we’ve taken the historic step of proposing the nation’s first ever greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles, and moved substantially closer to an efficient, clean energy future.”
“The increases in fuel economy and the reductions in greenhouse gases we are proposing today would bring about a new era in automotive history,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “These proposed standards would help consumers save money at the gas pump, help the environment, and decrease our dependence on oil – all while ensuring that consumers still have a full range of vehicle choices.”
Under the proposed program, which covers model years 2012 through 2016, automobile manufacturers would be able to build a single, light-duty national fleet that satisfies all federal requirements as well as the standards of California and other states. The proposed program includes miles per gallon requirements under NHTSA’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE) program and the first-ever national emissions standards under EPA’s greenhouse gas program. The collaboration of federal agencies for this proposal also allows for clearer rules for all automakers, instead of three standards (DOT, EPA, and a state standard).
Specifically, the program would:
· Increase fuel economy by approximately five percent every year
· Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 950 million metric tons
· Save the average car buyer more than $3,000 in fuel costs
· Conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil
Increase Fuel Economy and Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions:
The proposed national program would
require model year 2016 vehicles to meet an estimated combined average
emission level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. Under the
proposed program, the overall light-duty vehicle fleet would reach 35.5
miles per gallon (mpg) in model year 2016, if all reductions were made
through fuel economy improvements. If this occurs, Congress’ fuel
economy goal of 35.0 mpg by 2020 will be met four years ahead of
schedule. This would surpass the CAFE law passed by Congress in 2007,
which required an average fuel economy of 35 mpg in 2020.
Reduce Greenhouse Gases:
Climate change poses a significant long-term threat to
Save Consumers Money:
NHTSA and EPA estimate that
Conserve Oil and Increase Energy Security:
The light-duty vehicles subject to this proposed National Program account for about 40 percent of all
Within the Auto Industry’s Reach:
EPA and NHTSA have worked closely to develop this coordinated joint proposal and have met with many stakeholders including automakers to insure the standards proposed today are both aggressive and achievable given the current financial state of the auto industry.
NHTSA and EPA expect automobile manufacturers would meet these proposed standards by improving engine efficiency, transmissions and tires, as well as increasing the use of start-stop technology and improvements in air conditioning systems. EPA and NHTSA also anticipate that these standards would promote the more widespread use of advanced fuel-saving technologies like hybrid vehicles and clean diesel engines.
NHTSA and EPA are providing a 60-day comment period that begins with publication of the proposal in the Federal Register. The proposal and information about how to submit comments are at: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/climate/regulations.htm for EPA and http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/portal/site/nhtsa/menuitem.43ac99aefa80569eea57529cdba046a0/
Draft Environmental Impact Statement:
NHTSA has prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed CAFE standards. The Draft EIS compares the environmental impacts of the agency’s proposal and reasonable alternatives. NHTSA is providing a 45-day comment period on the Draft EIS. Information on the submission of comments is provided at the above NHTSA Web address.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The Economist published an article Data Diving discussing new data that allows closer analysis of whether speculators are responsible for driving up oil prices. The short answer according to the speculators is probably not. And, even if they were, in the Economist's opinion, the critical importance of liquidity overwhelms any effect on higher prices.
The regulatory question is whether the Commodity Futures Trading Commission should limit the positions that speculators such as banks, hedge funds, and others take on oil because of the harmful influence that speculators have on the market.
... whether speculation has really been responsible for spiking prices is a controversial issue. In 2008 the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) issued a report dismissing the role of speculators in last year’s startling run-up in prices. But banks, hedge funds and others who bet on oil (without a use for the stuff itself) still face limits on the positions they can take, if Gary Gensler, the new CFTC head, can show that their influence in markets does harm.
New disaggregated data show more clearly the role of speculators in the market:
On September 4th the CFTC added more evidence to the debate by releasing what it said were more transparent data on market positions. Before this month, the CFTC simply classified traders as “commercial” or “non-commercial” in its weekly report on the overall long and short positions in the market. Now it has started to disaggregate them further, into producers and buyers, swap dealers and “managed money”. The third category includes hedge funds.
The new data indicate that speculators (swap dealers and managed money) were long on oil in the week to September 1st, with managed money holding a net long position by more than a 2-to-1 ratio. Those actually involved in the oil business (producers and users) held positions that were net short by similar ratios. And the swap dealers and managed-money players are bigger in the market, both in terms of the contracts they hold and their own sheer numbers.
So, the speculators constitute the largest amount of the market and they take dramatically opposite positions in the market as compared with producers and users. Still, the speculators' analysts discount the ability of speculators to affect the market. I'm not market savvy enough to understand the speculators' analysis proffered by the Economist so would someone out there explain how this tells us that speculators are not influencing the market?
But analysts at Barclays Capital note that long swaps accounted for just 6.4% of total futures and options contracts, not enough to drive prices up on their own. Physical traders held more of the outstanding long positions (10.3%) and held even more short positions. This one set of numbers, in other words, does little to prove that speculators are overriding market fundamentals to drive prices. New quarterly data also released by the CFTC show that money flows to exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in commodities failed to correlate strongly with last year’s price surge.
Maybe some more numbers will help us sort this out (in favor of the speculators):
There are more disclosures to come. The CFTC says it will soon release the newly disaggregated data going back three years. If those numbers, like the quarterly ETF data, are equally unconvincing on the role of speculation, the case for limiting positions will be weakened.
And the Economists' speculator-friendly bottom line:
And a strong counter-argument remains: that speculators provide crucial liquidity. Even if they also have some effect on prices, taking them out of the game could well do more harm than good. It is tempting to look for scapegoats when high prices hurt consumers. But the real culprits for oil-price volatility may be much more familiar: supply, demand and global instability.
September 9, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Australia, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, North America, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Many of us attempt to bring ethical perspectives to bear on issues raised by our classes in addition to ecological and economic perspectives. Although it may be a bit late for those of you who have already started class, here is the most recent statement by the World Council of Churches on eco-justice and ecological debt. In a related, but fascinating, note, the WCC as part of its current programme work on poverty, wealth and ecology is attempting to articulate a consumption and greed line -- in addition to the more typical poverty line. This would provide practical spiritual guidance on when, in Christian terms, too much is too much. Check it out!!!
WCC Statement on eco-justice and ecological debt
The World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee adopted a "Statement on eco-justice and ecological debt" on Wednesday, 2 Sept. The statement proposes that Christians have a deep moral obligation to promote ecological justice by addressing our debts to peoples most affected by ecological destruction and to the earth itself. The statement addresses ecological debt and includes hard economic calculations as well as biblical, spiritual, cultural and social dimensions of indebtedness.
The statement identifies the current unprecedented ecological crises as being created by humans, caused especially by the agro-industrial-economic complex and the culture of the North, characterized by the consumerist lifestyle and the view of development as commensurate with exploitation of the earth's so-called "natural resources". Churches are being called upon to oppose with their prophetic voices such labeling of the holy creation as mere "natural resources".
The statement points out that it is a debt owed primarily by industrialized countries in the North to countries of the South on account of historical and current resource-plundering, environmental degradation and the dumping of greenhouse gases and toxic wastes.
In its call for action the statement urges WCC member churches to intervene with their governments to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adopt a fair and binding deal at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, in order to bring the CO2 levels down to less than 350 parts per million (ppm).
Additionally the statement calls upon the international community to ensure the transfer of financial resources to countries of the south to refrain from oil drilling in fragile environments. Further on, the statement demands the cancellation of the illegitimate financial debts of the southern countries, especially for the poorest nations as part of social and ecological compensation.
In a 31 August hearing on "ecological debt" during the WCC Central Committee meeting in Geneva, Dr Maria Sumire Conde from the Quechua community of Peru shared some ways that the global South has been victimized by greed und unfair use of its resources. In the case of Peru, Sumire said mining has had particularly devastating effects, such as relocation, illness, polluted water,and decreasing biodiversity.
The concept of ecological debt has been shaped to measure the real cost that policies of expansion and globalization have had on developing nations, a debt that some say industrialized nations should repay. Dr Joan Martinez Alier, a professor at the Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain, said climate change, unequal trade, "bio-piracy", exports of toxic waste and other factors have added to the imbalance, which he called "a kind of war against people around the world, a kind of aggression."
Martinez went on saying: "I know these are strong words, but this is true." He beseeched those present, at the very least not to increase the existing ecological debt any further.
The WCC president from Latin America, Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega of Cuba, said ecological debt was a spiritual issue, not just a moral one. "The Bible is an ecological treatise" from beginning to end, Ortega said. She described care for creation as an "axis" that runs through the word of God. "Our pastoral work in our churches must be radically ecological," she said.
September 3, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Religion, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Good news: world fisheries could avoid collapse by using new management tools in both developed and developing countries
Planet Ark reported that Dr. Boris Worm of Dalhousie University and colleagues are publishing a paper in Science that suggests world fisheries may avoid a total global collapse by using proven management tools in both the developed countries and the developing countries. This is notable because Dr. Worm had predicted total global collapse of fish and seafood populations by 2048. But, the effort will require rebuilding 63 percent of fish stocks worldwide and applying proven management tools not only to the ecosystems primarily affected by developed countries, but also those primarily affected by developing countries. These management tools include: restrictions on gear like nets so that smaller, younger fish can escape; limits on the total allowable catch; closing some areas to fishing; certifying fisheries as sustainable; offering shares of the total allowable catch to each person who fishes in a specified area. Researchers indicated that fishing limits must be set well below the maximum sustainable yield, which is the highest number of fish that can be caught in an area without hurting the species' ability to reproduce. Maximum sustainable yield should be an absolute upper limit, rather than a target that is frequently exceeded.
Worm's optimism was provisional, because the current research only looked at about one-quarter of the world's marine ecosystems, mostly in the developed world where data is plentiful and management can be more readily monitored and enforced. Of the 10 major ecosystems studied, scientists found five marine areas had cut the average percentage of fish they take, relative to estimates of the total number of fish. Two other ecosystems were never overexploited, leaving three areas overexploited. The fisheries in the study were the Iceland Shelf, Northeast U.S. Shelf, North Sea, Newfoundland-Labrador Shelf, Celtic-Biscay Shelf, Baltic Sea, Southern Australia Shelf, Eastern Bering Sea, California Current, and New Zealand Shelf.
Strict fisheries management in the developing world has put increasing pressure on fisheries controlled by developing countries, particularly African countries that struggle to provide food for their populations. To deploy effective fisheries management globally will require addressing the management capacity and governance problems of developing countries and reducing the poverty that makes effective management and governance so difficult.
July 30, 2009 in Africa, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, EU, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, June 28, 2009
On June 16, the U.S. Global Change Research Program released the NOAA-led study, "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States" - which it describes as a "state of knowledge" report about current and project impacts of global warming on the US. Climate-impacts-report full copy PDF The report is based on the accumulated body of scientific information from 21 US synthesis and assessment reports as well as the IPCC assessments.Executive-summary of climate impacts report The report includes separate assessments of various US regions (regional analyses) as well as various aspects of society such as human health, transportation, energy supply and use, water resources, agriculture and ecosystems (sector analyses).
The key findings of the report as described by the government are:
1. Global warming is unequivocal and primarily human-induced.
Global temperature has increased over the past 50 years. This observed increase is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. (p. 13)
2. Climate changes are underway in the United States and are projected to grow.
Climate-related changes are already observed in the United States and its coastal waters. These include increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows. These changes are projected to grow. (p. 27)
3. Widespread climate-related impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase. Climate changes are already affecting water, energy, transportation, agriculture, ecosystems, and health. These impacts are different from region to region and will grow under projected climate change. (p. 41-106, 107-152)
4. Climate change will stress water resources.
Water is an issue in every region, but the nature of the potential impacts varies. Drought, related to reduced precipitation, increased evaporation, and increased water loss from plants, is an important issue in many regions, especially in the West. Floods and water quality problems are likely to be amplified by climate change in most regions. Declines in mountain snowpack are important in the West and Alaska where snowpack provides vital natural water storage. (p. 41, 129, 135, 139)
5. Crop and livestock production will be increasingly challenged.Agriculture is considered one of the sectors most adaptable to changes in climate. However, increased heat, pests, water stress, diseases, and weather extremes will pose adaptation challenges for crop and livestock production. (p. 71)
6. Coastal areas are at increasing risk from sea-level rise and storm surge.
Sea-level rise and storm surge place many U.S. coastal areas at increasing risk of erosion and flooding, especially along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Pacific Islands, and parts of Alaska. Energy and transportation infrastructure and other property in coastal areas are very likely to be adversely affected. (p. 111, 139, 145, 149)
7. Threats to human health will increase.
Health impacts of climate change are related to heat stress, waterborne diseases, poor air quality, extreme weather events, and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents. Robust public health infrastructure can reduce the potential for negative impacts. (p. 89)
8. Climate change will interact with many social and environmental stresses.
Climate change will combine with pollution, population growth, overuse of resources, urbanization, and other social, economic, and environmental stresses to create larger impacts than from any of these factors alone. (p. 99)
9. Thresholds will be crossed, leading to large changes in climate and ecosystems.
There are a variety of thresholds in the climate system and ecosystems. These thresholds determine, for example, the presence of sea ice and permafrost, and the survival of species, from fish to insect pests, with implications for society. With further climate change, the crossing of additional thresholds is expected. (p. 76, 82, 115, 137, 142)
10. Future climate change and its impacts depend on choices made today.
The amount and rate of future climate change depend primarily on current and future human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases and airborne particles. Responses involve reducing emissions to limit future warming, and adapting to the changes that are unavoidable. (p. 25, 29)
Sunday, May 3, 2009
As this report on the new studies published in Nature indicates, the global warming problem is and always has been understood to be a matter of the total loadings of GHG emissions in the atmosphere, not a matter of timing. The timing of the GHG emissions only matters over the course of centuries because eventually greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere decompose. I don't think that anyone familiar with climate policy has ever believed otherwise. So, on that score the new studies are not new, but they may alter how the problem is conceptualized for policy purposes.
Policy cannot simply divide the total allowable emissions among nations and be done with it. First, absent intermediate goals tied to deadlines, countries cannot monitor each others compliance with reduction targets. Second, it creates a tendency for nations to believe that they can just wait until 2050 or whatever when technology will save them and voila they will become carbon neutral. Our experience in the Clean Air Act attainment with NAAQS was that, faced with a deadline and no requirement for annual progress, states just planned to do something at the last moment and when their plans didn't work, they threw up their hands and said, "OH well."
We cannot afford to use that model of regulation with respect to climate. Instead, we need to use technology-forcing technology based standards (e.g. no new coal plants without CSS; CSS retrofit for existing fossil-fuel plants by 2020) along with streamlining the ability of renewables to come online and planning ala the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments with annual progress requirements and contingency measures built into the plan. Those approaches would be far more successful than the "consume up to the last moment" strategy that may be encouraged by the total emissions approach.
Lawyers have to leave science to the scientists and use extreme care when they are working on a cross-disciplinary basis. But scientists need to be just as wary of providing policy concepts unencumbered by an understanding of past performance of various regulatory approaches.
From: Naomi Antony, Science and Development Network
Published April 30, 2009 10:40 AM
Scientists put carbon ceiling at a trillion tonnes
Scientists hope a new approach to assessing carbon build-up in the atmosphere will simplify issues
for policymakers and economists. Two papers published in Nature today (29 April) show that the
timings of carbon emissions are not relevant to the debate — it is the total amount of carbon dioxide
emitted over hundreds of years that is the key issue.
Rather than basing negotiations on short-term goals such as emission rates by a given year,
the researchers say the atmosphere can be regarded as a tank of finite size which we must not
overfill if we want to avoid a dangerous temperature rise.
Climate policy has traditionally concentrated on cutting emission rates by a given year, such as
2020 or 2050, without placing these goals within the overall context of needing to limit cumulative
Both papers analyse how the world can keep the rise in average surface temperatures
down to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This figure is
widely regarded as the threshold beyond which the risk of dangerous climate change
rapidly increases. Policymakers around the world have adopted this limit as a goal.
The first study, led by Myles Allen from the University of Oxford, UK, found that
releasing a total of one trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
between 1750 and 2500 would cause a "most likely" peak warming of two degrees
Celsius. Emissions to 2008 have already released half of this. Allen said in a
press briefing this week (27 April): "It took 250 years to burn the
first half trillion tonnes and, on current predictions, we'll burn the next half
trillion in less than 40 years."
The second study, led by Malte Meinshausen at the Potsdam Institute for Climate
Impacts Research, Germany, used a computer model to demonstrate that to avoid
exceeding two degrees Celsius by 2100, cumulative carbon emissions must not exceed
0.9 trillion tonnes. "We have already emitted a third of a trillion in just the past nine years,"
David Frame, a co-author of the Allen paper and researcher at the University of
Oxford, said that these findings make the problem "simpler" than it's often
portrayed. "[The findings] treat these emissions ... as an exhaustible resource. For
economists, this way of looking at the problem will be a huge simplification," Frame
said. "Basically, if you burn a tonne of carbon today, then you can't burn it tomorrow
" you've got a finite stock. It's like a tank that's emptying far too fast
for comfort. If country A burns it, country B can't. It forces everyone to consider
the problem as a whole."
In a separate essay, Stephen Schneider of the Woods Institute for the Environment at
Stanford University in the United States, discusses what a world with 1,000 parts
per million of carbon dioxide in its atmosphere might look like.
This article is reproduced with kind permission of the
Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net).
For more news and articles, visit www.scidev.net.
Nature Abstract of Allen letter:
Warming caused by cumulative carbon emissions towards the trillionth tonne
- Department of Physics, University of Oxford, OX1 3PU, UK
- Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, OX1 2BQ, UK
- Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, OX10 8BB, UK
- Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK
- Met Office Hadley Centre (Reading Unit), Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, RG6 6BB, Reading, UK
- Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 14412 Potsdam, Germany
- Department of Statistics, University of Oxford, OX1 3TG, UK
Global efforts to mitigate climate change are guided by projections of future temperatures1. But the eventual equilibrium global mean temperature associated with a given stabilization level of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations remains uncertain1, 2, 3, complicating the setting of stabilization targets to avoid potentially dangerous levels of global warming4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Similar problems apply to the carbon cycle: observations currently provide only a weak constraint on the response to future emissions9, 10, 11. Here we use ensemble simulations of simple climate-carbon-cycle models constrained by observations and projections from more comprehensive models to simulate the temperature response to a broad range of carbon dioxide emission pathways. We find that the peak warming caused by a given cumulative carbon dioxide emission is better constrained than the warming response to a stabilization scenario. Furthermore, the relationship between cumulative emissions and peak warming is remarkably insensitive to the emission pathway (timing of emissions or peak emission rate). Hence policy targets based on limiting cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide are likely to be more robust to scientific uncertainty than emission-rate or concentration targets. Total anthropogenic emissions of one trillion tonnes of carbon (3.67 trillion tonnes of CO2), about half of which has already been emitted since industrialization began, results in a most likely peak carbon-dioxide-induced warming of 2 °C above pre-industrial temperatures, with a 5–95% confidence interval of 1.3–3.9 °C.
- Department of Physics, University of Oxford, OX1 3PU, UK
- Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford, OX1 2BQ, UK
- Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, OX10 8BB, UK
- Met Office Hadley Centre, FitzRoy Road, Exeter, EX1 3PB, UK
- Met Office Hadley Centre (Reading Unit), Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, RG6 6BB, Reading, UK
- Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, 14412 Potsdam, Germany
- Department of Statistics, University of Oxford, OX1 3TG, UK
May 3, 2009 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)