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 21, 2011
You might expect an article titled "How the Budget Bill Will Decimate Conservation" to be found on the Environmental Defense, Greenpeace or a variety of other environmentalist websites. In fact, the article was posted at fieldandstream.com. When you search for "Field and Stream" on Google, the search heading reads "Hunting, Fishing, Survival, Guns, Gear." This is not the place conventional wisdom would suggest that you find an article criticizing recent Congressional proposals to slash the budget. The beginning of the article, however, sums up quite well the sentiment among conservationists who might also often be characterized as conservative:
"Unlike their counterparts at hard-line environmental groups, leaders of sportsmen's conservation organizations tend to measure their words. They avoid hyperbole, don't hyperventilate, and never hint that the sky is falling. That changed when they got a look at the budget priorities unveiled recently by the House of Representatives. Now they’re all looking nervously at the sky and using words like disaster, eviscerate, and destroy."
Last week I posted about Preserving Environmental Protection in a Down Economy, and how the current fiscal crisis creates difficult choices over the balance of government spending and environmental protection. The Field and Stream article is yet another example of how fiscal conservatism can often be at odds with conservation - even conservation supported by people who might under ordinary circumstances be categorized as fiscal conservatives.
The article highlights a point made last week that fiscal crises can sometimes cause the evisceration of needed environmental protections under the guise of fiscal necessity, noting that much of the budget bill's cuts "will not lower the deficit but simply take aim at environmental laws that polluting industries have opposed for years—laws that sportsmen's groups support because of their ultimate impact on fish and wildlife habitat."
Sporting groups have long been friends of the environment, often putting aside partisan politics when it comes to environmental protection - think President Teddy Roosevelt. Sporting groups are also a boon to the economy. As the article notes, "the federal government spends about $5 billion a year in conservation programs that are essential to the habitat that supports hunting and fishing, but it gets back about $14 billion in direct tax payments from people who make their livings in those industries--and that's a conservative estimate."
Ultimately, it would serve fiscal conservatives well to look to sporting groups' supported use of a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer when it comes to environmental protection. Professor Daniels' recent post about "Junk Politics" is nowhere more apparent as here, where fiscal conservatives demonstrate a lack of discernment over which government funded projects are waste and which ones serve a vital role in the continuance of our society. Sporting groups, with all their hunting, fishing, guns, gear and - perhaps most importantly - survival instincts, seem to discern the differences quite well.
- Blake Hudson
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."
Monday, March 14, 2011
A recent slate of reports have highlighted Congressional efforts to curb spending on environmental matters in order to prevent further deterioration of the economy. A House subcommittee recently voted to block EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, asserting that such authority would drive up energy costs and ship jobs overseas. Leadership in the House recently proposed cutting $1.2 billion (21 percent) out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's satellite program budget - a program used for hurricane and weather tracking. NOAA head Jane Lubchenco recently stated that this action would cause NOAA to "inevitably have a gap" in storm tracking and warning capacity. Paper and chemical industries have called on Congress to assess the cost of regulatory oversight, claiming that duplicative and burdensome regulation should be eliminated to avoid a loss of competitive advantage and preserve jobs in those industries. Congress has even taken aim at light bulbs, calling for a repeal of legislation mandating the use of more efficient bulbs. These are just a few of the many legislative proposals coming out of Congress that cut funding for environmental protection (for others, see "Losing the Future: House Republican Budget Cuts Would Strangle Innovation").
Current levels of Congressional spending are unprecedented and unsustainable. For environmentalists, who focus on sustainability of natural resources, it would seem quite consistent to express similar concern over the sustainability of the economic system that gives us the luxury to protect the environment in the first instance. Yet when high government spending and economic downturn overlap, difficult choices arise over which environmental protections to maintain. Spending on environmental protection may very well be duplicative and inefficient in some cases, such as when special interests procure wasteful subsidies - money that would be better allocated elsewhere. And often the parties complaining about environmental protection expenditures actually add to those expenditures, by increasing administrative costs through continual judicial challenges to environmental regulations. Perhaps of greater concern is the fact that an economic downturn allows the evisceration of appropriately allocated environmental protection resources under the guise of legitimate concerns over government spending. So, how can we use a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer? How can we preserve legitimate environmental protection interests while recognizing the need to move toward an economic policy that acts in a more fiscally responsible manner? Is it too much spending or rather too much inefficient spending? Where do environmental priorities rank when deciding where to tighten the belt?
- 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.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tax Incentives for the “Green” Industry
Date: Thursday, September 10, 2009
Time: 12:30 PM - 2:00 PM ET
Between Lamborghini developing a hybrid and the proliferation of “green” marketing, there can be no doubt that green is going mainstream. Congress is trying their best to encourage the green vision by enacting (and expanding) tax incentives designed to use and develop renewable and sustainable resources. Obtaining the benefit of the incentives depends on a number of items, including satisfying the statutory criteria and placing the property in service in a timely manner. However, due to some recent changes by Congress, it is not dependent on the taxpayer having taxable income to offset.
What will be covered
This presentation focuses on identifying the available tax incentives and understanding how to take advantage of them. Whether you have worked on “green” projects in the past or this is a new area for you, this webinar will present the issues that must be addressed, including the tax compliance requirements.
This 60-90 minute webinar will provide participants with a conceptual understanding and practical application of the following:
- Overview of Available Tax Incentives
- Tax Credits
- Eligibility of Taxpayers To Take Advantage of the Incentives
- The Energy Production Tax Credit
- The Energy Investment Tax Credit
- Electing a Tax-Free Grants In Lieu of Tax Credits
- Special Depreciation and Deductions
Participants will learn how to:
- Identify the availability of “green” tax incentives for commercial projects
- Recognize fundamental ideas and solutions available to plan for tax efficient usage or development of renewable energy products
- Evaluate which tax incentive may be optimal in a situation
Register quickly and easily online to secure your space now. Or, please call 1-800-372-1033 option 6, then option 1, and refer to the date and title of the audioconference. Lines are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. ET, excluding most federal holidays.
Don't miss this opportunity to hear a lively, dynamic presentation. Not only are audioconferences an excellent way for you to stay current, with BNA you also get:
- Quality. Count on it. Nothing is canned.
- Objectivity. BNA Tax Management provides you with the best and most objective information.
- Affordability. BNA Tax Management audioconferences are inexpensive when compared to the cost of travel to attend conferences with leading experts and practitioners. Plus, you may use a speakerphone and invite as many of your colleagues as you want to listen in -- all for the price of a single registration. See pricing for more details.
- Convenience. No airlines. No travel. No time out of the office.
In addition, you'll receive:
- Personal attention. Once you've registered, send your e-mail questions in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be included in the program. You'll also have a chance to e-mail your questions during the audioconference.
- Conference materials. We’ll e-mail links to the materials that will accompany the audioconference one day in advance. If you do not receive this pre-conference e-mail, e-mail email@example.com.
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)
I teach Sustainable Natural Resources Law in the spring. Here's a new publication brought to my attention by Gerd Winter that looks like a great fit for introducing students to the fisheries area. A slightly edited summary of the book courtesy of Gerd appears below:
Towards Sustainable Fisheries Law
As most of the fish resources in the world's oceans are constantly depleting, the development of effective and efficient instruments of fisheries management becomes crucial. Against this background, the IUCN
Environmental Law Programme proudly presents its latest publication in the IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper Series, edited by Gerd Winter, a member of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Law, which focuses on a legal approach towards sustainable and equitable management of fish resources.
This publication is a result of an interdisciplinary endeavour with worldwide participation studying multiple demands on coastal zones and viable solutions for resource use with emphasis on fisheries. The book consists of six case studies including Indonesia, Kenya, Namibia, Brazil, Mexico and the EU, which are preceded by an analysis of the international law requirements concerning fisheries management. The final part of the book summarizes the case studies and proposes a methodology for diagnosing problems in existing management systems and developing proposals for reform.
Towards Sustainable Fisheries Law thus helps the reader to learn more about the international legal regime for fisheries management that is currently in place, improves the understanding of the institutional and legal problems related to fisheries management that countries face at the national level, and provides guidance for sustainable use of fish resources through a "legal clinic" for fisheries management.
The book was published as IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Paper No. 74. Free copies can be ordered at the IUCN office or downloaded (2,05 MB) from the IUCN website at: Toward Sustainable Fisheries Law
September 9, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Biodiversity, Books, Current Affairs, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, Physical Science, Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | 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, 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)
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I haven't tried to find out other blog and website traffic figures, but based on my figures, swine flu "sells." This might be a good time to remind readers that all royalties from this blog go to fund water and sanitation projects in developing countries, not my extravagant lifestyle! The traffic since Sunday has exceeded the highest traffic since I began the blog three years ago. Yet only about half of the traffic overall involves swine flu.
I saw the news from the Commerce Department today that the US economy contracted at a 6.1% annual rate during the first quarter of this year following a 6.3% loss in GDP during the fourth quarter of 2008. A quick glance at the CRS report on recessions indicates that no post WWII recession had two quarters of consecutive reductions in GDP in the 6+% range. This is a much steeper recession than anything in the past.
The Mexican swine flu virus is a swine influenza A/H1N1 virus hybridized (mixed) with human and bird viruses. We have some immunity to human flu and to some strains of swine influenza A/H1N1; We don't have immunity to bird flu, which is why that virus is so virulent - with a kill ratio of almost 50% -- and why so much pandemic planning and preparedness focused on bird flu.
But in 1998, says Richard Webby of St Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, swine H1N1 hybridised with human and bird viruses, resulting in "triple reassortants" that surfaced in Minnesota, Iowa and Texas. The viruses initially had human surface proteins and swine internal proteins, with the exception of three genes that make RNA polymerase, the crucial enzyme the virus uses to replicate in its host. Two were from bird flu and one from human flu. Researchers believe that the bird polymerase allows the virus to replicate faster than those with the human or swine versions, making it more virulent.
By 1999, these viruses comprised the dominant flu strain in North American pigs and, unlike the swine virus they replaced, they were actively evolving. There are many versions with different pig or human surface proteins, including one, like the Mexican flu spreading now, with H1 and N1 from the original swine virus. All these viruses still contained the same "cassette" of internal genes, including the avian and human polymerase genes, reports Amy Vincent of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Ames, Iowa (Advances in Virus Research, vol 72, p 127). "They are why the swine versions of this virus easily outcompete those that don't have them," says Webby.
But the viruses have been actively switching surface proteins to evade the pigs' immunity. There are now so many kinds of pig flu that it is no longer seasonal. One in five US pig producers actually makes their own vaccines, says Vincent, as the vaccine industry cannot keep up with the changes. This rapid evolution posed the "potential for pandemic influenza emergence in North America", Vincent said last year. Webby, too, warned in 2004 that pigs in the US are "an increasingly important reservoir of viruses with human pandemic potential". One in five US pig workers has been found to have antibodies to swine flu, showing they have been infected, but most people have no immunity to these viruses.
While researchers focused on livestock problems could see the threat developing, it is not one that medical researchers focused on human flu viruses seemed to have been aware of. "It was confusing when we looked up the gene sequences in the database," says Wendy Barclay of Imperial College London, who has been studying swine flu from the recent US cases. "The polymerase gene sequences are bird and human, yet they were reported in viruses from pigs."
So where did the Mexican virus originate? The Veratect Corporation based in Kirkland, Washington, monitors world press and government reports to provide early disease warnings for clients, including the CDC. Their first inkling of the disease was a 2 April report of a surge in respiratory disease in a town called La Gloria, east of Mexico City, which resulted in the deaths of three young children. Only on 16 April - after Easter week, when millions of Mexicans travel to visit relatives - reports surfaced elsewhere in the country.
Local reports in La Gloria blamed pig farms in nearby Perote owned by Granjas Carroll, a subsidiary of US hog giant Smithfield Foods. The farms produce nearly a million pigs a year. Smithfield Foods, in a statement, insists there are "no clinical signs or symptoms" of swine flu in its pigs or workers in Mexico. That is unsurprising, as the company says it "routinely administers influenza virus vaccination to swine herds and conducts monthly tests for the presence of swine influenza." The company would not tell New Scientist any more about recent tests. USDA researchers say that while vaccination keeps pigs from getting sick, it does not block infection or shedding of the virus.
All the evidence suggests that swine flu was a disaster waiting to happen. But it got little research attention, perhaps because it caused mild infections in people which didn't spread. Now one swine flu virus has stopped being so well-behaved.
April 29, 2009 in Agriculture, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Current Affairs, Economics, EU, Food and Drink, Governance/Management, International, North America, Religion, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
I was browsing at Worldwatch Institute and saw these results from their poll. By the way, I voted for reengineering the energy system:
What opportunities for sustainability may emerge in 2009
because of the current economic crisis?
Go visit Elizabeth Royte's new blog: Water. waste. and whatever She's got more information on bottled water than anyone else in the world -- remember, she's the author of Bottlemania.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
New Congressional Legislation: Strong support for drinking water and
sanitation continues on Capitol Hill, where legislation introduced in
the Senate would put the U.S. in the lead among governments in
responding to the Millennium Development Goals for water and sanitation.
Companion legislation is expected soon in the House. Titled "The Senator
Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009" (S624), the bipartisan bill
introduced by Senators Durbin, Corker and Murray on March 17 seeks to
reach 100 million people with safe water and sanitation by 2015 and to
strengthen the capacity of USAID and the State Department to carry out
the landmark Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005.
USAID: Dozens of USAID missions, notably in Sub-Saharan Africa and
Southeast Asia, are gearing up to utilize increased appropriations to
implement the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act, after years of
lacking the tools to help extend safe, sustainable water, sanitation and
hygiene. USAID this past month announced a number of initiatives
including: new strategic partnerships to extend water and sanitation
access to the urban poor in Africa and the Middle East (with
International Water Association), new multilateral revolving funds (in
the Philippines), new collaborations (with Rotary International) and a
new USAID Water Site http://tinyurl.com/newUSAIDwater.
Appropriations: Through the recently passed Omnibus legislation,
Congress appropriated $300 million for Fiscal Year 2009, for "water and
sanitation supply projects pursuant to the Senator Paul Simon Water for
the Poor Act of 2005." As with last year's appropriations, forty percent
of the funds are targeted for Sub-Saharan Africa. Priority will remain
on drinking water and sanitation in the countries of greatest need.
Report language suggests increased hiring of Mission staff with
expertise in water and sanitation. It also recommends that $20 million
of the appropriation be available to USAID's Global Development Alliance
to increase its partnerships for water and sanitation, particularly with
In Fiscal Year 2010, a broad spectrum of U.S. nonprofit organizations,
corporations and religious organizations are urging $500 million to
implement the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act, as part of an
overall increase of foreign development assistance, a level also called
for by InterAction and the "Transition to Green" Report.
For more water news, visit Drink Water for Life.
April 2, 2009 in Africa, Asia, Economics, EU, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, North America, Physical Science, Science, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)