Friday, March 7, 2008

Plug in to NRDC's Blog

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Pulitzer Prize Anyone??? Only if you write by March 12th

Well, no prize, but...You can become a Pulitzer Center Citizen Journalist!!! 


  • Read the corresponding coverage at Pulitzer’s website. Your article should draw on information from the Pulitzer Center articles; but you may also include include original reporting of your own or firsthand experiences. The goal is to provide fresh insight in a compellingly written article.
  • Share your perspective on the issue and write your best article at Helium by March 12th.

March 5, 2008 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Election 2008 -- The Candidates Speak in Their Own Words -- Part II:Hillary Clinton

During the last year, Foreign Affairs published a series of pieces on the 2008 presidential election, allowing candidates to frame their foreign policy in their own words. Foreign Affairs Election 2008 I am reviewing those pieces for discussions of global environmental issues, including climate change.  I find this a particularly useful approach because it allows candidates to move beyond sound bites and into the substance of what they believe. 

I expect to look at all of the current candidates: Democratic and Republican. The first candidate I am reviewed was Barack Obama. Today's post is Hillary Clinton.

Here's the foreign policy of Hillary Clinton with respect to the environment (especially global warming) in her own words:

The tragedy of the last six years is that the Bush administration has squandered the respect, trust, and confidence of even our closest allies and friends. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the United States enjoyed a unique position. Our world leadership was widely accepted and respected, as we strengthened old alliances and built new ones, worked for peace across the globe, advanced nonproliferation, and modernized our military....At the same time, we embarked on an unprecedented course of unilateralism:..Our withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol and refusal to participate in any international effort to deal with the tremendous challenges of climate change further damaged our international standing....At a moment in history when the world's most pressing problems require unprecedented cooperation, this administration has unilaterally pursued policies that are widely disliked and distrusted....

We need more than vision, however, to achieve the world we want. We must face up to an unprecedented array of challenges in the twenty-first century, threats from states, nonstate actors, and nature itself...Finally, the next president will have to address the looming long-term threats of climate change and a new wave of global health epidemics....

But China's rise is also creating new challenges. The Chinese have finally begun to realize that their rapid economic growth is coming at a tremendous environmental price. The United States should undertake a joint program with China and Japan to develop new clean-energy sources, promote greater energy efficiency, and combat climate change. This program would be part of an overall energy policy that would require a dramatic reduction in U.S. dependence on foreign oil....

We must find additional ways for Australia, India, Japan, and the United States to cooperate on issues of mutual concern, including combating terrorism, cooperating on global climate control, protecting global energy supplies, and deepening global economic development...

As president, I will make the fight against global warming a priority. We cannot solve the climate crisis alone, and the rest of the world cannot solve it without us. The United States must reengage in international climate change negotiations and provide the leadership needed to reach a binding global climate agreement. But we must first restore our own credibility on the issue. Rapidly emerging countries, such as China, will not curb their own carbon emissions until the United States has demonstrated a serious commitment to reducing its own through a market-based cap-and-trade approach.

We must also help developing nations build efficient and environmentally sustainable domestic energy infrastructures. Two-thirds of the growth in energy demand over the next 25 years will come from countries with little existing infrastructure. Many opportunities exist here as well: Mali is electrifying rural communities with solar power, Malawi is developing a biomass energy strategy, and all of Africa can provide carbon credits to the West.

Finally, we must create formal links between the International Energy Agency and China and India and create an "E-8" international forum modeled on the G-8. This group would be comprised of the world's major carbon-emitting nations and hold an annual summit devoted to international ecological and resource issues.

February 23, 2008 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 18, 2008

ExxonMobil Deliberately Misled Blogosphere About Funding Global Warming Denialists

Yesterday's post on ExxonMobil (2/17/08)  highlighted that it had funded the Frontiers of Freedom and its Center for Science and Public Policy (CSPP link ) during 2006, contrary to its claim that it was not funding global warming denialists.  You may wonder about the context in which ExxonMobil made this claim.

Remember last year when the IPCC 4th Assessment report came out – the Guardian wrote a story about American Enterprise Institute soliciting result-oriented denialist analyses of the IPCC report and that report included information about ExxonMobil’s funding of AEI. Guardian 2/2/07 Report.  During conversations in late January and early February, 2007 with me and other bloggers, Maria Surma Manka from Green Options [Giant Part I Post; Giant Part II Post], Jesse Jenkins from Watthead [ExxonMobil Posts], Tom Yulsman from Prometheus [Post on earlier conversations -- I can't recall whether Tom participated in the February call, but I believe he did], Stuart Staniford from The Oil Drum [ExxonMobil AEI Post], Ken Cohen, ExxonMobil’s Vice President for Public Affairs had assured us that ExxonMobil was no longer funding controversial denialist groups like Competitive Enterprise Institute and it did not fund AEI with the intent that they engage in denialist analyses.  The first conference call occurred in late January and the second on the same day that the Guardian story and the IPCC report came out.


Cohen spent considerable time before the IPCC report came out in January 2007 trying to convince us that ExxonMobil was changing its Neanderthal stripes, truly accepted that anthropogenic global warming was a serious problem, and was ready to take a responsible role in the future discussions of how to reduce GHG emissions. Admittedly Cohen did that in the truly diplomatic way of saying that ExxonMobil had not effectively communicated its position that anthropogenic global warming is real and that GHG emissions need to be reduced.


During the February call, Cohen knew that the Guardian’s report about ExxonMobil’s funding of AEI and AEI’s alleged solicitation of result-oriented denialist analyses threatened to undercut public perception of ExxonMobil as a responsible actor. Indeed, those reports ended up on CNN. So, Cohen went out of his way to schedule this call about the Guardian’s allegations.


As Maria recounted that discussion:

“We had no knowledge that this was going on,” insisted Cohen. He explained that Exxon funds a lot of different groups, and “when we fund them, we want good analysis." Exxon does not condone what AEI did, but Cohen confirmed that it does continues to fund AEI, although other groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute are not funded by them anymore.

Cohen assured us that Exxon is “trying to be a constructive player in the policy discussion and not associate [themselves] with those that are marginalized and are not welcome in that discussion.” The IPCC report “is what it is,” and Exxon does not believe in engaging in scientific research that preordains an answer. Cohen:

…that's the issue with AEI: Are they preordaining an answer?…I can understand taking a market approach or a government interventionist approach, but this is not a question of trying to find who’s right or who’s wrong. Let’s let the process work.

But, I asked, how can you grant AEI nearly two million dollars (n.b. slsmith -over the entirety of AEI operations, not annually) and not know what they’re doing with the money? Turns out that Exxon conveniently funds the “general operations” of AEI, not specific programs that would allow them to track how the money is being used. Perhaps Exxon needs to think hard next time before it funds an organization so clearly disinterested in constructive solutions.

Cohen was consistently explicit in Exxon's position that global warming is happening and mainly caused by human activities. If that is true, then how will Exxon fight the huge misperception that it’s still the planet's largest naysayer? Cohen conceded that the company needed to do a better job of communicating its position on global warming, rather than allowing a fact sheet or news release on their website to do the work.


Cohen kept telling us that the 2006 contribution report was coming out, but declined to give us any specifics about ExxonMobil’s contributions to AEI or other groups, but he said Competitive Enterprise Institute was no longer funded.  Cohen continued to defend AEI as a responsible, albeit very conservative, think tank doing legitimate policy research. And frankly, I supported him on that score during the calls because at least some of the work done by AEI is just that. And I was not nearly as skeptical as others about ExxonMobil's protestations of innocence.  See my post on the AEI matter ELP Blog Post on AEI


Here’s why yesterday I called ExxonMobil’s behavior in early 2007 deliberately misleading. Initial Post on 2006 Funding Report  


As the quoted material above indicates, Cohen in early February 2007 led us to believe that ExxonMobil was no longer in the denialist camp and did not condone AEI soliciting denialist analysis (if indeed that’s what they had done). He claimed that ExxonMobil no longer associated with marginalized denialist groups. He suggested that the 2006 report would indicate that ExxonMobily had disassociated itself from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which brought us the classic, sadly humorous “Carbon dioxide: they call it pollution, we call it life!” TV commercials. You tube link to CEI Energy commercial.


From this discussion, it seems clear that Cohen knew precisely which “public information and policy research” organizations that were funded by ExxonMobil during 2006. Yet, while he perhaps sat with the 2006 report in front of him and refused to release its contents, the 2006 contribution report later showed that in 2006 ExxonMobil provided $ 180,000 to Frontiers of Freedom and the CSPP, the policy center it created with ExxonMobil's funding several years ago. P.S. Cohen denied funding CSPP in an e-mail today, but unless my sight is failing: CSPP is reported as the Science and Policy Center under Frontiers of Freedom Download 2006 ExxonMobil's "public information and policy research" contributions If that’s not supporting denialists and associating with marginalized denialist groups, I don’t know what is!

Take a good look at the high quality analysis of global warming that CSPP provides:


(1) the amicus curiae brief filed in Mass. v. EPA by lawyers from the Competitive Enterprise Institute

(2) Dr. Ball's The Science Isn't Settled powerpoint presentation - Dr. Ball is the Chairman of the Natural Resources Stewardship Project which describes its first project on understanding climate change as "a proactive grassroots campaign to counter the Kyoto Protocol and other greenhouse gas reduction schemes." NRSP describes Dr. Ball as the "lead participant in a number of recent made-for-TV climate change videos, The Great Global Warming Swindle."

(3) Joe Daleo's Congressional Seminar on global warming in March 2007 devoted to disputing the IPCC's report and arguing that anthropogenic global warming from greenhouse gas emissions are not a real problem.

(4) CSPP's May 2007 rebuttal of Al Gore's testimony, which suggests there is no scientific consensus that CO2 emissions are causing global warming

(5) a nonsensical piece on "Gore's Guru," positing that because Dr. Revelle, who died in 1991, had cautioned in 1988 and 1991 against drawing rash conclusions about global warming might still take that position.  I call it nonsensical because Dr. Revelle suggested that we wait 10-20 years to see if the trends continued.  We've waited and now we've answered that question: between 1998 and 2008 we witnessed incredibly dramatic global warming and the scientific community has spent the last 10-20 years studying whether indeed human-caused GHG emissions are responsible for much of that warming.  We and ExxonMobil know its answer to that question.

Obviously, the blogosphere is not the only group worried about ExxonMobil's funding choices.  Britain's national academy of scientists, The Royal Society,  in September 2006 took ExxonMobil to task about its funding of denialist groups.  Royal Society letter

Well, maybe ExxonMobil finally pulled the plug on FF and its “Science and Policy” center in 2007 (and so Cohen was just tap-dancing around the embarrassing, but not on-going, reality of funding denialists). Although, FF's CSPP might survive: it apparently does have funding from two major tobacco companies!

Maybe ExxonMobil has rethought its policy on funding organizations whose primary contribution to the climate change discussion is to distribute continued attacks on those who conclude that the current state of climate science supports an effective policy to reduce GHG emissions.  I’d like to think so – but we won’t know until ExxonMobil releases its 2007 contributions report. I requested that Cohen release it to me; he declined.

However, even if it had defunded FF and CSPP (and other denialist groups), I’m not sure I’d believe that ExxonMobil hadn’t found new denialist outlets to fund.


If the Guardian and other media or the blogosphere produce a big enough stir on this story, perhaps it will. But I am astonished that, just as it was selling itself as a responsible player on global warming, ExxonMobil would act so irresponsibly and so deceptively. And I am deeply embarrassed at my naievete in believing what Ken Cohen and ExxonMobil were selling about ExxonMobil’s born again conversion to a responsible position on anthropogenic global warming.


Watch out, though, ExxonMobil knows that the question is no longer whether global warming is real, but what to do about it. You can bet it is smart enough and devious enough to fund a lot of “public information and policy research” that will muddle policy discussions about global warming legislation and may assure that not much is done to regulate GHG emissions from oil and gas and that what is done doesn’t cut hardly at all into ExxonMobil’s astounding profits: $41 billion for 2007 and almost $ 12 billion in the 4th quarter of 2007 alone. ExxonMobil profits post

I have a modest suggestion for ExxonMobil: do not fund organizations whose published information, analysis, and research on global warming or climate change has primarily sought to undercut the conclusions reached by the joint statement published in 2005 by 11 national academies of science, including the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, India, Brazil and China .  That statement is linked here:   Joint Science Academies' Statement: Global Response to Climate Change

Unless and until ExxonMobil stops funding the sort of stuff that Center for Science and Public Policy is peddling, I hope that the new President and Congress will not believe a single word that is said about global warming policy by ExxonMobil or any of denialist and anti-regulatory "public information and policy research" organizations it funds.



Continue reading

February 18, 2008 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Foreign Affairs - The Candidates in Their Own Words --

During the last year, Foreign Affairs published a series of pieces on the 2008 presidential election, allowing candidates to frame their foreign policy in their own words. Foreign Affairs Election 2008  I am reviewing those pieces for discussions of global environmental issues, including climate change.  I find this a particularly useful approach because it allows candidates to move beyond sound bites and into the substance of what they believe. 

I expect to look at all of the current candidates: Democratic and Republican. The first candidate I am reviewing is Barack Obama.  I chose Obama first in part because I am torn between Clinton and Obama.  Although I respect John McCain's leadership on climate change, I could not vote for a Republican after the 1994 - 2006 Republican congressional legacy and the debacle of Bush's presidency for virtually every freedom and human need.  I also disagree with McCain's position on Iraq.

In his own words, Barack Obama primarily addresses climate change as a matter of global policy.  He ties the US response to global warming to his overall foreign policy in this way:

Strengthened institutions and invigorated alliances and partnerships are especially crucial if we are to defeat the epochal, man-made threat to the planet: climate change. Without dramatic changes, rising sea levels will flood coastal regions around the world, including much of the eastern seaboard. Warmer temperatures and declining rainfall will reduce crop yields, increasing conflict, famine, disease, and poverty. By 2050, famine could displace more than 250 million people worldwide. That means increased instability in some of the most volatile parts of the world.

As the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, America has the responsibility to lead. While many of our industrial partners are working hard to reduce their emissions, we are increasing ours at a steady clip -- by more than ten percent per decade. As president, I intend to enact a cap-and-trade system that will dramatically reduce our carbon emissions. And I will work to finally free America of its dependence on foreign oil -- by using energy more efficiently in our cars, factories, and homes, relying more on renewable sources of electricity, and harnessing the potential of biofuels.

Getting our own house in order is only a first step. China will soon replace America as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Clean energy development must be a central focus in our relationships with major countries in Europe and Asia. I will invest in efficient and clean technologies at home while using our assistance policies and export promotions to help developing countries leapfrog the carbon-energy-intensive stage of development. We need a global response to climate change that includes binding and enforceable commitments to reducing emissions, especially for those that pollute the most: the United States, China, India, the European Union, and Russia. This challenge is massive, but rising to it will also bring new benefits to America. By 2050, global demand for low-carbon energy could create an annual market worth $500 billion. Meeting that demand would open new frontiers for American entrepreneurs and workers.

February 18, 2008 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 8, 2008

FY2009 Budget -- the bad news and the good

Although all of the big chunks of the President's budget are no doubt meaningless, given Bush's lame duck status and Democratic control of Congress, there still may be nuggets within the smaller agency budgets.  For your midnight reading enjoyment, visit OMB's online budget page FY2009 Budget Proposal.    But a number of domestic programs, including energy, took hits.  Stan Collender on E&E TV suggested that the proposed cuts in subsidies for renewables and other domestic spending items were really just an inartful way to balance the budget in light of the Administration's determination to bolster Republican fiscal conservative and pro-Defense credentials.  In other words, there's nothing really serious about this in terms of energy policy.

February 8, 2008 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Legislation, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Candidates Compete for Green Title

After the Bush administration legacy, it is refreshing to see both Democratic and some Republican candidates competing for the title of Mr. or Ms. Green. See the comparison in Grist.

February 6, 2008 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Oregon Global Warming Commission appointed

Here's the announcement of Oregon's Global Warming Commission
January 24, 2008
Governor Kulongoski Announces Global Warming Commission and Outlines 2009 Climate Change Agenda
Governor calls for Commission to develop long-term policy recommendations to combat global warming for future legislatures and administrations.

Salem – Governor Ted Kulongoski today announced the appointments to the Oregon Global Warming Commission, a 25-member advisory group created by the 2007 legislature through House Bill 3543. In a meeting with the new commission members, the Governor charged the group to develop recommendations for policy makers for the 2009 legislative session that will build on Oregon’s aggressive actions on global warming and climate change.

“The mission of the Global Warming Commission becomes more urgent every day,” said Governor Kulongoski. “From rising waters during winter storms to raging forest fires and drought that threatens the future of our farms, vineyards, and orchards, global warming is already threatening Oregon’s economic prosperity and quality of life.”

The commission follows the work of the Climate Change Integration Group that will soon release its report on how Oregon is making progress on adapting to climate change  and outline next steps for the state. The final report, in conjunction with the work of the Global Warming Commission, will play a key role in the development of the Governor’s climate change package for the 2009 legislative session. The package will focus on both protecting the climate and continuing to develop Oregon’s nationally recognized green economy to bring new companies and jobs to the state.

“Dealing with global warming is not just a moral imperative, it’s an economic imperative,” said Governor Kulongoski. “Oregon’s efforts to attract companies that are focused on climate change benefits not only the environment but also our goal to create a business climate ideal for investment in renewable and clean energy technologies.”

The Governor outlined key elements of his 2009 Climate Change Agenda, including:
  • Development of a cap and trade proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region;
  • A comprehensive water package to address reduced snow pack leading to low water levels in the summer;
  • Aggressive steps for energy efficiency and the development of green building, a green collar workforce and electric cars; and,
  • Resources for state and local agencies to integrate climate change policy and analyze impacts of climate change on our water, forest, coastal and transportation resources.
“I look forward to working with the Global Warming Commission on the important work they have before them,” said Governor Kulongoski. “Together, we will meet the challenges presented by rapid climate change.”

The Governor also took action today to support the state’s climate change efforts by signing on to a letter, along with thirteen other states, to the Environmental Protection Agency expressing frustration with the EPA’s refusal to grant a waiver for tailpipe emissions standards that would allow Oregon to reduce greenhouse gasses emitted by automobiles by implementing stricter standards. The clean tailpipe standards are a key part of the Governor’s existing climate strategies.  This letter follows one sent by Oregon’s Attorney General urging the EPA to move forward on the Massachusetts v. EPA case where the court ordered the EPA to determine if greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles cause air pollution that endangers public health.

For a copy of the letter, go to:

For the membership of the Global Warming Commission, go to:

Anna Richter Taylor, 503-378-5040
Rem Nivens, 503-378-6496
Patty Wentz, 503-378-6169

January 26, 2008 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Law, Legislation, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Harvard Open Paper Competition -- Climate Policy Framework



The Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements invites submission of papers focused on the design of international climate policy architectures.  Papers should propose a complete policy framework to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in the post-2012 period.   

The Harvard Project will select one or more submitted papers and award winning authors an honorarium of US$3,000 per paper.   The Harvard Project will publish the winning paper through the Project’s Working Paper Series and website:

Papers should be submitted as a PDF file attachment by email to by July 1, 2008.  Include “HARVARD PROJECT PAPER” on the subject line of the email.  The paper should include the following: the title of the paper, name and institutional affiliation of author(s) and their disciplines on the title page; a one-page abstract; and text not too exceed 10,000 words.  Only English-language papers will be considered in the competition.  Email submissions should also include a PDF file attachment of the lead author’s curriculum vitae.

The Harvard Project will acknowledge receipt of all submissions by email.  Notification of acceptance will be made by September 1, 2008. 

This call for papers is open to policy practitioners, scholars, students, and others in all fields from developed and developing countries.  Professors, researchers, students, and others affiliated with Harvard University or Resources for the Future are not eligible to participate in this competition.

Criteria for Evaluating Papers

The Harvard Project will evaluate the submitted papers based on how effectively they address the following questions:

(1) What incentives does the policy framework provide for participation and compliance?

(2) Is the policy approach robust to various economic, political, and environmental shocks as well as the resolution of uncertainty over time?

(3) Is it politically feasible to transition from the Kyoto Protocol to the proposed policy architecture?  How does the proposed approach address major issues raised in the Bali Action Plan, including mitigation, adaptation, technology, and financial mechanisms?

(4) What are the equity implications of the proposal?

(5) How does the proposal pursue cost-effective mitigation of climate change risks?

(6) How does the proposed framework provide the basis for satisfying the ultimate objective of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (Article 2)?

(7) What are the costs and benefits of the proposed policy architecture, to the extent these can be identified?   

For examples of climate policy architectures, please refer to the proposals described in:

Architectures for Agreement: Addressing Global Climate Change in the Post-Kyoto World, Joseph E. Aldy and Robert N. Stavins, eds., Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Summaries of these proposals can also be found on the Harvard Project website:

About the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements

The goal of the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements is to help identify key design elements of a scientifically sound, economically rational, and politically pragmatic post-2012 international policy architecture for global climate change. We are drawing upon leading thinkers from academia, private industry, government, and non-governmental organizations from around the world to construct a small set of promising policy frameworks, and then disseminate and discuss the design elements and frameworks with decision makers. The Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements is co-directed by Robert N. Stavins, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government and Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, and Joseph E. Aldy, Fellow at Resources for the Future, a non-partisan, non-advocacy research institute in Washington, DC. For news, research results, and more information, see the Project’s website at  To sign up for email alerts, please go to and click on the “Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements” box.   

Major funding for the project has been provided by the Climate Change Initiative of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation ( ). Additional funding has been provided by Christopher P. Kaneb, AB 1990, Harvard College and the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Foundation.

Best regards,

Joe Aldy and Rob  Stavins

Joseph E. Aldy
Co-Director, Harvard Project on International  Climate Agreements
Fellow, Resources for the Future
(202)  328-5091

Robert N. Stavins
Co-Director, Harvard  Project on International Climate Agreements
Albert Pratt Professor of  Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School
(617)  495-1820

Robert C. Stowe
Project  Manager, Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements
(617)  496-4265

Sasha Talcott
Communications  Director, Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements
(617)  495-7831

January 26, 2008 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ruth Norton Smith (Nov 27, 1921 - Oct 14, 2007)

Ruth Norton Smith died peacefully in Boulder, Colorado  on Sunday, October 14, 2007 after enjoying her full measure of life. 

Ruth was born in Oklahoma on November 27, 1921 in a tent in Oklahoma.  She was raised during the Depression years, moving frequently as her family farmed and followed the tunneling, mining, and other work available to her father.  Ultimately, her family settled in southern California.  There Ruth met the love of her life, Herbert Frank Smith, a carpenter and union organizer, whom she married on June 4, 1941. 

In WW II, while her husband served in the Navy in the South Pacific, Ruth became a Rosie the Riveter, building bombers, and then joined the Women’s Army Corps, serving as a nurse.  After the war, they settled in the Los Angeles area, where she became a real estate broker and the mom of two children, Greg in 1948 and Susan in 1953.

In 1955, her family moved to Colorado where she worked side by side with her husband to build two of the largest home-building companies in Colorado, Happy Homes and Fireside Homes, and a prominent real estate firm.  When she left real estate and home-building in the late 1960s, Ruth became a political and market researcher for Research Services, Inc. and later became a researcher for the U.S. Census Bureau, from which she retired in 1989.

Ruth was a life-long Democratic political activist with a passion for peace, civil rights, and all aspects of social justice.  She served in every capacity: running political campaigns, serving as a precinct committee woman, county, congressional district, and state delegate, pollwatcher, and election judge.  She worked with Metro Denver Fair Housing center as a realtor, helping the first African-American families in Jefferson County to find housing.  She volunteered with youth mentoring programs in Four Points and with Metro Denver Urban Coalition, Another Mother for Peace, Meals on Wheels, and countless other organizations. 

Ruth was too busy with her family, volunteer work and career for many hobbies.  She thrived on the stimulating conversations born by inviting friends and guests from all over the world and from every walk of life to dinner.  She also found great pleasure in reading, traveling and attending theatre and opera performances.

Ruth was a warm, intelligent, extroverted vibrant woman who loved and was loved by virtually everyone she met.   Her loss will be sorely missed by the many friends and family she has left behind, including her sister Lorene, her brother Fred, her son Greg, her daughter Susan, and her grandchildren Clint Smith, Brent Smith, Nathanial Smith-Tripp and Sarah Smith-Tripp.  Her family and friends will gather at Mt. Vernon Country Club on Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 10:30 am for a celebration of her life.  The family requests that no flowers be sent and suggests donations to Meals on Wheel or a charity of your choice.

October 18, 2007 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Thank you to Read/Write Web

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A Modest Proposal

As my Climate Change and Energy class was talking on Tuesday, I floated a modest proposal. 

Cap and trade CO2 emissions at existing power plants and other industrial consumers of fossil fuels to meet the 80% decrease from 1990 level by 2050 goal, but also put in place a little command and control regulation.  With respect to new coal-fired (and I suppose natural gas) plants, impose a uniform, national technology-based performance standard under the Clean Air Act requiring new plant carbon dioxide emissions to be equal to or less than the emissions from IGCC with carbon sequestration and storage [i.e. roughly zero].  To assure a level playing field, impose a ban on licensing of any new nuclear power plant unless and until there are fully permitted, environmentally safe locations for permanent storage of all nuclear waste produced from existing plants and the plant to be licensed.   This would assure that every new power plant built be roughly carbon neutral and more environmentally benign.

While arguably burdensome NSPS and NSR requirements for new power plants  previously created strong incentives for utilities and others to continue to use old plants, retool them, and game applicability thresholds set on modification/reconstruction, those incentives would be substantially reduced if existing plants faced a relatively steep CO2 phase-down requirement.

So what's wrong with a little command & control?  It would certainly create strong incentives for the power industry to install IGCC or develop alternative technologies, and hasten the establishment of CSS technology and sites.  From what I read, it is technically feasible to require IGCC and CSS.  We have plentiful coal resources.  We could share any clean coal and nuclear waste storage technological developments fostered by these requirements with other countries which undoubtedly will be using more coal and nuclear.

And....the cost per ton of carbon dioxide emissions avoided is likely to be much less than that achieved through ethanol, biodiesel, and hybrid transportation technologies.  So start here now!  Besides, if we can get clean electricity, then the electric car may rise from the dead  and the production of hydrogen for transportation may become economically feasible.

What do you think???

October 4, 2007 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Law, Legislation, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

What would Americans say about the best leadership on climate change

According to the Washington Post poll [ Poll ], Mr. Bush now enjoys his lowest level of support in the last five years.  Although his current rating of 33-64 has been matched -- earlier there were more strong supporters and fewer strong opponents.   Americans are not impressed with Congress and regard it as not accomplishing much, but they tend to blame Bush and the Republicans, not the Democrats.  Americans regard the Democrats as better able to handle the war, health care, the economy, and the deficit than the Republicans. [On a related note, the WSJ reports that even Republicans are starting to doubt the benefits of free trade to the US economy].

At the same time, Clinton (Hilary that is) is in ascendance.  For Democrats, she is increasingly regarded as the strongest leader, more honest and trustworthy, and most inspiring candidate as well as most likely to be elected and best representing core Democratic values . 

So, where's Hilary on climate change?  [I was going to add "and other environmental issues" but frankly this is not only the most crucial environmental issue, it is a good bellweather of how a candidate will address other issues].

While Clinton's climate change position is not particularly daring (she favors renewable energy, clean coal / carbon sequestration, and the McCain-Lieberman bill), I am fond of her for her willingness to give Michael Crichton a hard time when he was called last Congress as a climate change science witness (I guess he was the best that Inhofe could do).  See reports below.


But even if Bill is the albatross around Hilary's neck in some respects, his work on climate change suggests that she will be a far stronger leader on climate change than her current position statements suggest.  As Bryan Walsh's article in Time on Saturday indicated, Bill's Global Climate  Initiative, launched in August 2006, has brought business and philanthropy together to fund local efforts to reduce energy use and carbon emissions. As Walsh noted:

While UN action on climate change remains stalled by the deadlock   between the developed and the developing world, Clinton has proved   remarkably successful in fostering real engagement and investment             on global warming across national lines. "Clinton just really gets it            (EMPHASIS ADDED BY ENVIRONMENTAL LAW PROF)," says Ted Nordhaus,    co-author of the new environmental politics book Break Through.The success of the Clinton Initiative is emblematic of how people who care about climate change in America have chosen to approach the problem in the near total absence of action from Washington. Lobbying has shifted to the corporate world, where large companies like Wal-Mart have implemented energy efficiency polices far more aggressive than anything coming from the government. High-profile celebrities like Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio have made green cool for consumers. And hardly a day goes by without news of a leap forward on solar, wind or hybrid cars, thanks to private investment — again, in the absence of significant government spending.  Time - Walsh article


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October 4, 2007 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Legislation, South America, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, July 6, 2007

Vote for Children's Safe Drinking Water

Welcome, SusanSmithDrinkWaterforLife
Our Money. Your Ideas. Your Decision.
My Current Vote
Children's Safe Drinking Water
Votes this round: 512  |  Send to a Friend

Project ID: 01250
Date Posted: 7/02

Supporting Organization
US Fund for UNICEF

Project Description:
For Two Cents We Can Change the World. Four thousand children die needlessly every day from drinking contaminated water. It's a tragedy that hundreds of millions of people obtain their drinking water from polluted sources such as muddy rivers, ponds, and streams. This public health crisis can be addressed today through an innovative and low-cost technology that effectively purifies and cleans water while removing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Right now millions of people in Africa, Asia, and the Americas are being reached by a not-for-profit project, but millions more are in need. Help us reach a goal of providing 2 billion liters of safe drinking water. For only two pennies a day a child can have safe drinking water. We'd love to hear your thoughts. In fact, Give Us Your Two Cents Worth. Thank you.

Member: gsallgood

About Me:
My mission is to prevent the sickness and death that occur in the developing world from drinking unsafe water. I'm lucky to spend much of my life building partnerships to provide a low-cost technology to purify water. I never get tired of seeing filthy and highly contaminated water miraculously turn into clear and safe water. And, what's most satisfying is to provide children with their first drink of truly clean and purified water. Now we've developed a way for everyone to get involved. We can make, transport, and deliver the technology on a sustainable basis for only pennies per person. In fact, for just two cents we can provide purified drinking water for a person for a day. Two Cents to Change a Life. Please consider joining our project: "Give Your Two Cents Worth.

Hear From The Fulfilling Organization

1.1 billion people around the world do not have access to clean water. As a result, 5,000 children die needlessly every day. In poor, rural communities, the only source of water is often miles away and the grueling task of collecting it often falls to young girls.

In the mountain village of La Horca, Nicaragua, Rosibel Gonzalez, 12, traveled 7.5 miles each day to fetch water for her parents and five siblings. Waking up before dawn, she walked to the creek before school and carried back a bucket of water on her head. She repeated the task after school and again before bed. But because the water she fetched came from the same source used by village livestock, it was dangerous to drink. When Rosibel's little brother, Wilber, was only eight months old, he and other villagers contracted cholera. That's where UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, came in. UNICEF provided a new solar-powered water pump and filtration system to bring clean water directly into La Horca's 35 homes. Now, Rosibel and her entire village have safe water to drink and Rosibel is left with plenty of time to study and play with her little brother.

With a presence in 156 countries, UNICEF is striving to duplicate this success worldwide. By voting for this project, you can help UNICEF save millions of children's lives. We know what needs to be done, we just need your help to do it. Only 2 cents will purchase one water purification tablet to clean 5 liters of water, $48 can purchase a portable latrine and $5,000 can buy a solar water pump, like the one installed in Rosibel's village. UNICEF partners with communities to provide these and other innovative, low-cost and life-saving solutions for the world's most vulnerable children and their families.

July 6, 2007 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Zoellick becomes World Bank president

The Executive Directors of the World Bank yesterday unanimously selected Robert Zoellick as the 11th President of the bank for a five-year term.

The President of the bank is ex-officio President of the International Development Association (IDA) and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), and the Administrative Council of the International Centre of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

This announcement affects every aspect of environmental, energy, and resources law, of course, due to the Bank's pivotal role in financing development -- and thereby setting development policy throughout the world.  So, who is this masked man?

Here's the Bank's bio:

Professional History of Mr. Robert B. Zoellick

Mr. Zoellick, a U.S. national, is currently Vice Chairman, International, of Goldman Sachs Group, and a Managing Director and Chairman of Goldman Sach’s Board of International Advisors. He has served in a number of senior positions in successive US administrations, including as Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of State, and as U.S. Trade Representative (2001-05). He also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions Policy, US Department of Treasury, and Undersecretary for Economic and Agricultural Affairs and Counselor in the U.S. State Department. He was Executive Vice President of Fannie Mae (1993-1997), the large U.S. mortgage finance corporation, as well as Vice President and Assistant to the Chairman and CEO. In addition, he served as Olin Visiting Professor, U.S. Naval Academy, as Senior Advisor, Goldman Sachs, as Research Scholar, Belfer Center, Harvard University, and previously on three corporate boards, as well as numerous research and non-profit boards.

Mr. Zoellick has a J.D., magna cum laude, Harvard Law School, and a M.P.P. (in public management and international issues) from the Kennedy School of Government. In addition, Mr. Zoellick has received numerous distinguished service awards.

Read between the lines: Zoellick is a Bush loyalist and true believer in globalization for the benefit of corporate interests and the wealthy.  Wouldn't it be refreshing sometime for the World Bank to be led by someone who is committed to reducing international poverty and who has on the ground development experience -- rather than ideological theorizing and strategizing experience.

Unfortunately, and I say this as an alumna of both, Zoellick's Kennedy School and HLS credentials just mean he's smart, not moral or committed to the public he is supposed to serve.

June 26, 2007 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Lessons of the Montreal Protocol

I remember sitting about 20 years ago in a conference room of the Assistant Attorney General for the Environment Division in the Justice Department.  As the Department's policy representative, I was listening to representatives of several CFC manufacturers who were trying to prevent US implementation of the Montreal Protocol.  They explained that it was simply infeasible for the CFC manufacturers to comply with the Montreal Protocol.  I am extremely glad that no one believed them:  since that time the US has effectively implemented the Protocol, even to the point of criminally prosecuting car repair shops that mishandled air conditioning refrigerants regulated under the Montreal Protocol. 

Science reports on a new study published in PNAS indicating that the Montreal protocol has limited the growth in global warming as well as helping repair the ozone layer.  Indeed, so far its beneficial effects in limiting global warming outstrip those of Kyoto.  That should really come as no surprise.  First of all, the Montreal Protocol has been fully implemented and in effect far longer.  Second, it regulated some of the most detrimental GHGs because of their effect on the ozone layer -- so essentially the Montreal Protocol picked some of the "low-hanging fruit" --an overworked, but accurate metaphor for the most easily accomplished changes. 

However, most importantly, the Montreal Protocol used an effective regulatory approach.  There is little doubt that the most effective regulatory device is a phased-in ban or stringent cap, particularly one that allows trading during the phase down, which in turn efficiently distributes the costs of phase down to the least cost avoiders.  [In this respect, a cap with marketable rights is far superior to a tax because we have real certainty about the environmental target that will be accomplished through the cap, whereas the amount of a tax to hit the target is guesswork, that may well require multiple adjustments, thus reducing regulatory certainty and industry willingness to commit R & D]. 

We've verified that theoretical observation with the real life successes of the CAA lead phase down as well as the acid rain program.  The key is a strict schedule for the phasedown and stringent targets.  It gives industry the regulatory certainty necessary to invest in necessary R & D -- and even if industry does not believe it is feasible to hit the target when the target is first established (as indeed the CFC manufacturers claimed at the time), industry is remarkably adept at finding ways to do seeming impossible tasks.   Indeed, that is the genius of free enterprise.

Obviously, Kyoto was intended to be the beginning of a phase-down of carbon emissions.  But it hasn't worked as well as it might have due to the constant uncertainty about post-2012 requirements. 

There is a lesson in this for the world's policymakers if they are willing to learn.  The tripe currently being circulated in policy circles about "maintaining flexibility in the face of improving or changing information" is just that -- tripe.  Regulatory certainty is essential to induce the magnitude of investment necessary to get us out of the carbon trap.  Sometimes we just have to say "no," provide a series of targets and firm deadlines, ease the pain and create flexibility in implementation through well-designed trading programs that first and foremost hit the targets, and use strong enforcement mechanisms to assure compliance.  Then, we can actually accomplish something.

Since reducing carbon emissions is something we really need to accomplish, we need to use the lessons of the past about how to effectively regulate, and refuse to listen to theoretical nonsense about optimal regulation.  We know how to do this.  We just need to do it.  Now.    


.Picture of a graph
So far, the CFC ban has prevented the release of far more greenhouse gases (green and blue lines) than have the CO2 reduction targets imposed by the Kyoto Protocol (red line). See full story from Science News below.

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March 6, 2007 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Physical Science, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances | Permalink | TrackBack (1)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

As the ice they depend on for their way of life melts away around them, indigenous people of the Arctic are taking a crack at Washington in international court

New Standard reports:

Climate-Change Victims Chip Away U.S. Procrastination
Inuit cite global warming as human-rights violation
by Megan Tady, The NewStandard

While the rest of the world debated global warming, Roy Nageak watched the ice melt and recede in his Arctic backyard. Nageak, an Inuit, lives in the northernmost settlement in Alaska. Growing up, he recalls that there was "always ice." There were great pads of ice that were solid and many feet thick" ... But Nageak and other Inuit, who live a world away from burning smokestacks and traffic jams are among the first victims of global warming. And human rights groups say the Inuit case mirrors the plight of other populations around the globe who are expected to face the ramifications of climate change sooner, and more harshly, than the countries most responsible for the gases linked to global warming."Now, we are lucky to get four feet of ice because of what is happening outside our region," Nageak said. "It's a lifestyle that is prevalent in another society that is so far away from us, and it's affecting our way of life."

A 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment by international scientists found that "climate changes are being experienced particularly intensely in the Arctic " and that the "Inuit face major threats to their food security and hunting cultures."

Nageak joined 62 other Inuit in Alaska and Canada in 2005 to hold the world's most-notorious polluter accountable. They filed a petition against the United States with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – one of the bodies set up to promote and protect human rights in the Americas. The petition argues that the impacts of climate change caused by the US violate the human rights of the Inuit.. The Inuit say their livelihoods, their spiritual life and their cultural identity are threatened because of the greenhouse-gas emissions of the United States and the government's failure to curb the damage.  Today, the Commission is holding a one-hour hearing to investigate the relationship between human rights and climate change in North and South America.

In a letter to the Commission, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, former director of the Inuit Circumpolar Council leading the Inuit charge, listed many of the ways climate change has jeopardized the Inuit way of life: "Because of the loss of ice and snow, communities have become isolated from one another; hunting, travel and other subsistence activities have become more dangerous or impossible; drinking-water sources have been jeopardized; [and] many coastal communities are already threatened or being forced to relocate." In a statement to the press yesterday, Watt-Cloutier said, "We offer our testimony as a warning to humanity that, while global warming has hit Arctic peoples first, changes are coming for everyone."

Although the Inuit are the first indigenous population to make such a formal claim, human-rights activists say that as the impacts of climate change increase, so too will its toll on human life. And with it, they warn, will come populations seeking redress from the world's big polluters. I don't think there's any doubt we'll see more of this," said David Hunter, a senior advisor of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). "As the causal link becomes clearer… between climate change and specific injuries, we're going to see people that are injured looking for justice somewhere." CIEL, along with the law firm Earthjustice, worked with the Inuit to submit the petition. 

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March 1, 2007 in Cases, Climate Change, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, North America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Spirit of the Eagle

This blog is devoted principally to the professional or academic aspects of environmental law, policy, science, and ethics.  But like any blogger, I do have a life.  Anyone interested in the slightly less academic side of me is welcome to visit Spirit of the Eagle, my personal blog.

February 26, 2007 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

ExxonMobil --Some progress towards a clear message

original post 2/15; revised 2/20

Here's the text of ExxonMobil CEO's recent speech.  I still think Exxon should clarify the reasons why Tillerson discusses economic development, poverty eradication, and public health (according to Ken Cohen, to make effective policy with the interests of developing countries in mind -- not to suggest that we can't afford aggressive climate change policy).  But, the overall message does strike me as clearer.

No discussion about the realities facing our industry today would be complete without reference to the issue of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. This is an issue that crosses all boundaries, impacts industry and governments, but most importantly will directly impact consumers in every part of the world.

The majority of the growth in energy demand will come from developing nations as their growing populations pursue higher standards of living. With this improvement in living standards will come most of the growth in future greenhouse gas emissions.

By the year 2030 it is expected that global emissions of carbon dioxide will approach 40 billion tons per year, up from close to 28 billion tons per year today.

So, we know our climate is changing, the average temperature of the earth is rising, and greenhouse gas emissions are increasing. We also know that climate remains an extraordinarily complex area of scientific study. While our understanding of the science continues to evolve and improve, there is still much that we do not know and cannot fully recognize in efforts to model and predict future climate system behavior.

Having said that, the risks to society and ecosystems from climate change could prove to be significant. So, despite the uncertainties, it is prudent to develop and implement sensible strategies that address these risks while not reducing our ability to progress other global priorities such as economic development, poverty eradication and public health.

Our industry has a responsibility to contribute to policy discussions on these important issues – and to take concrete actions ourselves to reduce emissions.

As an industry, we are already improving efficiency in our operations - greatly enhancing our energy efficiency while supplying more products than ever before. Steps taken at ExxonMobil, for example, since 1999 to improve energy efficiency at our facilities, for example, resulted in CO2 emissions savings of 11 million metric tons in 2005. That’s equivalent to taking two million cars off the road.

But we must do more. We must continue to foster and support scientific research into technology breakthroughs to deliver new sources of energy with even lower emissions. One example is Stanford University’s Global Climate and Energy Project, which ExxonMobil and other partners are supporting with a collective contribution of $225 million.

The approaches policymakers adopt to address climate risks are also important. A global approach is needed that promotes energy efficiency, ensures wider deployment of existing emissions-reducing technologies and supports research into new technologies.

It is also critical to maintain support for fundamental climate research, recognizing that there remains much that we still do not understand.

Specific policy tools should be assessed for their likely effectiveness, scale, and costs, as well as their implications for economic growth and quality of life. In that regard, rigorous and informed debate - - debate that takes into account the essential role played by energy in advancing social and economic progress -- will best support thoughtful policymaking.

In our view, the most effective approaches will maximize the use of markets.  This will help promote global participation and facilitate the rapid spread of successful initiatives.


Consistent with a market-based approach, effective policies will ensure a uniform and predictable cost of reducing carbon emissions, maximize transparency, minimize complexity, and adjust to new developments in climate science and the economic impacts of policies.

Just as technology has continually been the driver of progress in our industry, I am confident that future technology advances will both expand our understanding of the climate system and enable an effective response.

We must encourage all participating in this debate to frame the discussion in terms of the realities we face – the realities of growing demand and the need for affordable, reliable energy to enable the world’s consumers to achieve genuine improvements in their quality of life.

The policy measures adopted today will have far-reaching implications in the years ahead. We must consider the potential impacts on future economic growth and quality of life for not just the current generation, but those of our children and grandchildren.

Last week, I summarized my reaction to Planet Ark reports on the ExxonMobil CEO's most recent statement on global warming as "little progress on a clearer message." 

ExxonMobil obviously is still not ready to assume a leadership position on climate policy and continues to play the "balancing" game: 

"It is prudent to develop and implement sensible strategies that address these risks while not reducing our ability to progress other global priorities, such as economic development, poverty eradication and public health,"

Ken Cohen had indicated that Exxon was not arguing that climate change policy had to be formulated to assure economic development and poverty eradication.  It sure sounds like it to me.

My opinion was based on the Planet Ark report.  Exxon sent me the full speech.  Looking at the speech as a whole, I think that the message delivered is clearer. I believe that "some progress" is a more accurate description.    But the problem for Exxon remains that it speaks in nuanced language that doesn't dramatically depart from its prior positions.  Until Exxon takes a dramatic step, such as joining the Climate Action Partnership or otherwise sending an unequivocal signal that it supports immediate progress on creating an global climate policy, including strict targets in reducing GHG emissions, Exxon will still be perceived as dragging its feet.

Planet Ark report:


Exxon Mobil CEO: Climate Policy Would be Prudent


HOUSTON - Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Rex Tillerson said Tuesday nations should work toward a global policy to fight climate change -- another sign the oil giant is softening its stance on global warming.


"The risks to society and ecosystems from climate change could prove to be significant," Tillerson said.    

"It is prudent to develop and implement sensible strategies that address these risks while not reducing our ability to progress other global priorities, such as economic development, poverty eradication and public health," he said.

The comments come after Exxon Mobil, a long-time foe of limits on greenhouse emissions, began engaging in talks with about 20 other companies on ways the United States could regulate heat-trapping gases.

Speaking at a conference sponsored by Cambridge Energy Research Associates, Tillerson said climate change is a global problem and policy should lend itself to global participation, including from the Asia Pacific region, where rapid economic growth could boost emissions.

He also said that the most effective policy approaches would maximize the use of markets. Europe uses a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in which government sets an emissions limit and companies buy and sell the right to pollute against that limit.

Tillerson said that regional approaches to the problem are "not likely to make much of a difference." And he added he believes that there is still much uncertainty about climate.

"Everyone recognizes that no one can conclusively say 100 percent what's going on," he said. "Whatever we do needs to have the flexibility to accommodate the fact that this is going to continue to evolve ... It will not turn out the way any of us expect it to turn out."

A United Nations panel of scientists said this month that mankind is to blame for global warming, and predicted droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels even if greenhouse gas emissions are capped.

Since Democrats won control of Congress in November, heavy industries have been nervously watching which route the United States may take on future regulations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

Exxon in 2006 stopped funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit advocating limited government regulation, and other groups that have downplayed the risks of greenhouse emissions. Last year, CEI ran advertisements, featuring a little girl playing with a dandelion that downplayed the risks of carbon dioxide emissions.

Tillerson also said policymakers should remain realistic about the limited role biofuels can play in the wider energy market, saying it will be difficult to increase the amount of biofuel produced absent a technological advance.

"I'm no expert on biofuels. I don't know much about farming and I don't know much about moonshine," he said. "There is really nothing (Exxon) can bring to that whole (biofuels) issue. We don't see a direct role for ourselves with today's technology," he said.

February 20, 2007 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Legislation, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 16, 2007

No Comfort Here: We Can't Confidently Predict Ice Sheet Behavior

Climate change policymakers are struggling with how to deal with scientific uncertainty.  We're sure now that we have to pursue both GHG reduction efforts as well as adaptation.  The latter depends particularly upon having a relatively narrow range of estimated impacts.  But, with the IPCC 4th reports reluctance to guess about ice sheet behavior and include those estimates in its analysis of sea level changes, policymakers end up with a very broad range of sea level change estimates....from 1-2 feet by 2100 to  several meters.  We may adapt adequately to the former with moderate efforts (though seemingly herculean to some) and be satisfied with limiting GHG reductions to those necessary to hold SST change to 2 degrees.  Changes of the latter magnitude, however, would likely be catastrophic and thus require immediate, massive global efforts to reduce GHG emissions as quickly as feasible.

The significance of ice sheet behavior to policy has resulted in substantial research efforts that have been bearing fruit in the last year or two.  But recent studies suggest that the IPCC's uncertainty about ice sheet behavior is justified -- and may not be resolved quickly enough to allow us to make policy based on a narrow range of estimated sea level change.  So what are we to do?  It's the traditional problem of scientific uncertainty rearing its ugly head -- just at the time when we are convinced that something needs to be done, but now we have to decide what to do and how quickly it must be done.

The temptation is to say as much as feasible.  But that begs the cost question, which defines our sense of what is feasible.  So, we need to set "technology-forcing" or what I'd prefer to call "technology-facilitating" goals and let the genius of the market find ways to meet them.  And the goals need to be set not based on what we guess is the central tendency of estimated climate impacts, but based on the higher end of estimated climate impacts --not based on a worst case scenario, but based on a moderately worse case scenario.  To me, this is James Hansen's recommendation to hold SST increase to 1 degree by the end of the century.    Now, what does that require?  I don't know....but I'd like the answer to that question.

Here's the latest from the AAAS meeting: 

Clues to Sea Rise May Lie Beneath Antarctic Glaciers

[PHOTOGRAPH] Antarctic ice sheet in West Antarctica [Photo courtesy of NASA]

[PHOTOGRAPH] One of two images captured by MODIS [Photo courtesy of NASA]

[PHOTOGRAPH] One of two images captured by MODIS [Photo courtesy of NASA]’

Images courtesy of NASA

A network of rapidly filling and emptying lakes lies beneath at least two of West Antarctica’s ice streams, according to new research published online today by the journal Science, at the Science Express website.

More than 100 subglacial lakes have already been discovered, but the new ones are particularly interesting because they occur below fast-moving ice. Though it’s too early to say exactly how this liquid water is affecting the rates of ice flow above, understanding the behavior of these fast-moving ice streams is essential for predicting how Antarctica may contribute to sea level rise.

Helen Fricker of the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and colleagues analyzed elevation data recorded by NASA’s Ice Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) collected over the lower parts of the Whillans and Mercer Ice Streams. These are two of the major, fast-moving glaciers that are carrying ice from the interior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to the floating Ross Ice Shelf.

“We’ve found that there are substantial subglacial lakes under ice that’s moving a couple of meters per day. It’s really ripping along. It’s the fast-moving ice that determines how the ice sheet responds to climate change on a short timescale,” said Robert Bindschadler of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, one of the study’s coauthors.

“We aren’t yet able to predict what these ice streams are going to do. We’re still learning about the controlling processes. Water is critical, because it’s essentially the grease on the wheel. But we don’t know the details yet,” he said.

Bindschadler presented the findings at a news briefing for reporters on Thursday, 15 February, at the AAAS Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California. In coordination with the briefing, NASA released satellite images of West Antarctica.

Glaciologists have known that water exists under ice streams, but the observation of a system of water storage reservoirs is unprecedented. The surprising thing about this discovery is the amount of water involved, and the pace at which it moves from one reservoir to another, according to Fricker, the lead author.

“We didn’t realize that the water under these ice streams was moving in such large quantities, and on such short time scales,” Fricker said. “We thought these changes took place over years and decades, but we are seeing large changes over months.”

The authors identified numerous spots that either rose or deflated from 2003 to 2006, likely because water flowed into or out of them. Water would be capable of this because it is highly pressurized under the weight of the overlying ice.

The three largest regions are between approximately 120 and 500 square kilometers, while the others are widely scattered and smaller. One of the large regions, referred to as Subglacial Lake Engelhardt, drained during the first 2.7 years of the ICESat mission, while another, Subglacial Lake Conway, steadily filled during the same period.

“I’m quite astonished that with this combination of satellite sensors we could sense the movement of large amounts of water like this. From 600 kilometers up in space, we were able to see small portions of the ice sheet rise and sink,” Bindschadler said.

Studies of the subglacial environment are rare, being expensive, risky and labor-intensive. Bindschadler explained that before the ICESat mission, researchers would typically have to drill holes in the ice streams in order to study what was occurring beneath them. These holes, generally just about 4 inches in diameter, provided a much more limited view of the entire ice stream than the satellite images do.

“Until now, we’ve had just a few glimpses into what’s going on down there. This is the most complete picture to date what’s going on beneath fast flowing ice,” Bindschadler said.

Added Fricker: “The approach used for this work provides glaciologists with a new tool to survey and monitor the nature of the subglacial water system and to link these observations to the motion of the ice sheet. We still don’t know how the subglacial water system varies on longer time-scales from decades to centuries. To do this, we need to continue monitoring the ice streams with ICESat and future follow-on missions.”

Kathy Wren

15 February 2007 3:24 pm

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February 16, 2007 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, International, Legislation, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)