Monday, June 19, 2006

The Science of Global Warming: Are we reaching the "tipping points?"

Gabrielle Walker reported in Nature last week on whether we are reaching the tipping point in climate change.  The phrase "global warming" suggests to the uninitiated a gentle, linear increase in temperature with predictable linear effects on the earth.  But both the complex system that is climate, and the more subtle and difficult to identify biological systems affected by climate, cannot be captured by neat linear equations.  They have non-linearities: cliffs that are points of no return and tipping points when internal dynamics start to propel changes and small changes produce exponential impacts.  See Real Science post on tipping points. (tipping point post)  Are there tipping points or cliffs in climate change?  When will they be reached?  When and if they are reached, are they not just tipping points, but cliffs -- points of no return? 

Although there's no strong evidence that the climate as a whole has a point beyond which it switches neatly into a new pattern, individual parts of the system could be in danger of changing state quickly, and perhaps irretrievably. And perhaps the most striking of these vulnerable components are in the Arctic. Farthest north is the carapace of sea ice over the Arctic Ocean. South of that is the vast ice sheet that covers Greenland. And then there is the ocean conveyor belt, which originates in a small region of the Nordic seas and carries heat and salt around the world.  All three seem to have inbuilt danger zones that may deserve to be called tipping points. And the outside forces pushing them towards those points are gathering.

Even as it published the piece on tipping points, Nature noted in its editorial that there are dangers in focusing on those concepts:

there are three dangers attendant on focusing humanity's response to the climate crisis too much on tipping points. The first is the uncertainty of the science; the second is the tendency of such an emphasis to distort our responses; the third is the danger of fatalism.

The models through which our understanding of the climate system are channelled into assessments of how it might behave in the future are impressive by the standards of human investigation, but crude with respect to the details of the Earth system. All sorts of phenomena, from the formation of clouds to the respiration of soils, are hard to capture accurately, and it is on such details that an understanding of possible tipping points depends. Anyone claiming to know for sure when a particular tipping point will be reached should be treated with suspicion — and so must anyone who suggests that no tipping point will ever be reached.

The second problem is that an emphasis on tipping points not yet reached increases the focus on the future. Such an increase tips the balance away from adapting to climate change and in favour of trying to avoid it. A rational response to the challenge of the twenty-first century's climate is to do both: to reduce the rate at which greenhouse gases force climate change, but at the same time build up the ability to cope with adverse climates.

The third issue is that tipping points can induce fatalism. The concept may encourage the belief that a complete solution is the only worthwhile one, as any other course may allow the climate system to tumble past the crucial threshold. This sort of all-or-nothing approach is already over-stressed in climate policy by the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which calls for the complete avoidance of dangerous anthropogenic climate change, rather than the more reasonable and more feasible goal of minimizing and controlling it.

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June 19, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Blue/Green Alliance

Link:  NY Times

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Political organizing in the US may be catching up with the rest of the world: the Steelworkers and the Sierra Club are going to tackle global warming together in what they call the Blue/Green Alliance. 

The Alliance supports stronger environmental and worker protections in trade agreements and ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.  The Blue/Green Alliance will also advocate for higher fuel efficiency standards to combat global warming and air pollution, and to benefit American automobile manufacturers. "The companies that embrace the soundest environmental principles, that move to alternative and renewable forms of energy, those will be the companies that survive," said David Foster, the executive director of the alliance and the steelworkers' regional director for the Northwest. The Sierra Club and the steelworkers support a proposal, known as the Apollo Project, that aims to spur the economy and create jobs by investing $300 billion to create more energy-efficient office buildings, manufacturing techniques and modes of transportation.

Now if they can just get the Teamsters and autoworkers on board!

June 12, 2006 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, US | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 9, 2006

Clean Development Mechanism Reduces CO2 by 1 Billion Tons

 

The Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism has reportedly produced 1 billion tons of emissions reductions (by 2012) thus far. The CDM allows industrialized countries to generate emission credits through investment in emission reductions projects in developing countries.  The one billion tonne mark in emission reductions corresponds to the present annual emissions of Spain and the United Kingdom combined. 

A list of registered projects can be found on the UNFCCC site registered CDM projects along with a great interactive map that allows you to get information on all CDM projects in the pipeline.CDM Project Map 

As with all marketable pollution right systems, key issues remain:

the integrity of baseline emissions inventories and monitoring -- For example, the EUs emission targets were apparently manipulated by industry so they could sell excess credits (1 - 4 %) garnering increased profits for power companies of 15 - 25%.  IHT reported:

The European Commission admitted (on May 15, 2006) that member states had given companies far too generous targets for greenhouse gas emissions last year, raising questions about the Continent's ability to meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol and triggering chaos in Europe's embryonic market in trading emissions credits. The revelations, some of which had been leaked earlier in the month, prompted Germany and Britain to call for stricter European quotas for greenhouse gas emissions in the years ahead. Although companies polluted less than expected, the move by Germany and Britain indicated that the level of Europe's carbon dioxide emissions was still too high to meet the goals set out by the Kyoto agreement among countries to fight global warming. Europe's market to trade carbon dioxide credits was shaken Friday when the news was leaked in a posting on the commission's Web site. Governments use the market, which opened in January 2005, to curb industrial pollution by allocating permits limiting the amount of carbon dioxide countries can release into the atmosphere. Companies can trade the permits, selling credits they do not need or buying extra ones if they exceed their quotas...Germany said it would cut the number of credits it had handed out, a controversial move that is being opposed in court by the European Union.  Europe's market for trading these credits was worth $10 billion in 2005, and may grow to as much as $30 billion in 2006, the World Bank estimates. Its success, analysts say, is crucial to reaching the Kyoto Protocol goals. "Trading is the only way to reduce emissions economically and efficiently," said Louis Redshaw, head of environmental products at Barclays Capital.  In recent weeks, though, the market has attracted calls for a swift overhaul from participants, environmentalists and governments alike. At the heart of the complaints: Information that filtered out to the market beginning with the Netherlands on April 25 showed that countries had far lower carbon emissions than the market had budgeted for. The European Commission's official figures, released Monday, showed that 21 of the 25 member states produced 44.1 million tons less carbon dioxide, or 2.5 percent less, in 2005 than expected. Taken at face value, this should be good news: After all, lowering carbon dioxide is the goal. But many in the market say the reverse is true: Governments, under pressure from industry, have overestimated the amount of carbon dioxide credits their companies need, making it possible for companies to sell them at a profit.  So far, the permit market appears to have done more for the balance sheets of power companies than for pollution control. The permits, which started trading at about €9, or $11, in January 2005, peaked at €30 last month and have raised the revenues of power companies in the EU 15 percent to 25 percent, according to Point Carbon, a consulting firm specializing in energy markets and emissions trading based in Oslo.  "The electricity sector has had a very good year," said Kristian Tanger, research director at Point Carbon, adding that most improvements in energy efficiency in the past year were unrelated to the trading system. If several countries emitted fewer gases than expected it was because governments had handed out 1 percent to 4 percent more permits than industry had required, Tanger said. One explanation is that the emissions market is unique in terms of the sway governments hold over it. They determine how much their countries get to pollute and which industries get how many permits.  So the fact that European countries have hit, or even come in under, their targets is by no means an indication that they will meet the obligations for emission cuts set in the Kyoto Protocol, he said. "Most countries are off track when it comes to Kyoto," Tanger said. Environmental activists and agencies argue that the recently released year-end figures show that most European governments are more interested in protecting their companies than in reducing carbon emissions. "Governments have been cheated by the big industries, which gave them the wrong assumptions for their emissions," said Stephen Singer, head of the European climate and energy policy unit of the World Wildlife Fund.  François Loos, France's industry minister, disputed this, but said that he and his counterparts from Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg were working on a proposal for the commission that would avoid carbon prices driving electricity prices - and profits of power companies - higher. The proposal will be submitted in June, he said.  Meanwhile, the banks, brokers, hedge funds and traders that jumped into the rapidly growing market for trading carbon emission credits complain that the big difference between what countries estimated they would use and what they actually used unfairly skews the market. International Herald Tribune

what projects count -- For example, current projects are heavily weighted toward  HFC destruction.  The UN CDM chief opposes funding the destruction of a super-greenhouse gas and byproduct of air conditioning, HFC 23, which has nearly 12,000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide (CO2).  His comments could worry the emerging carbon market, however, which saw 58 percent of $2.5 billion CDM investment last year directed into HFC projects, which investors like because of the high multiple pollution cuts they yield compared to CO2. Reuters CDM article  Some countries are also trying to claim credit for forests that they do not cut.

distribution of impacts -- Given the global impact of greenhouse gases, the problem is not distribution of costs, but rather distribution of benefits.  The United Nations Climate Change Secretariat today claimed that there is some progress towards a "slightly more equitable geographic distribution of the projects. In Africa, there are currently 27 activities in the CDM pipeline of which 5 have been registered. This constitutes a five-fold growth within a year. More than 800 projects are presently in the pipeline, of which 210 are registered and another 58 are requesting registration. Last year, only around 140 activities were registered or being considered for registration." UNFCCC press release  But even a quick glance at the CDM project map reveals an African continent with virtually no projects (red, orange, or yellow dots) compared to the multitude of projects in Central America, South America, Southern Asia, and Southeast Asia.

June 9, 2006 in Climate Change, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

This Could Be Really Big News: Sulfur Scrubbing Made Easy

Link: Sulfur .

Robert Service reports in Science on a new sulfur scrubbing technology that may make fuel cells a practical reality and clean up coal gasification plants:

Fuel cells and coal-burning plants may seem worlds apart technologically, but they share a common enemy: sulfur. Even a trace of it in the hydrogen gas that feeds fuel cells will poison the catalysts that convert hydrogen into electricity. Next-generation coal plants that will convert coal into a hydrogen-rich gas must also remove sulfur before the gas can be transformed into liquid fuels or used in fuel cells. Current technologies for capturing sulfur have made some progress, but often at a high cost. Now, new work with compounds called rare earth oxides could shift sulfur removal--and energy-generating technologies potentially stymied by sulfur--into high gear...Chemical engineer Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos and colleagues at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, report turning a type of ceramic powder into a chemical sponge that quickly sops up sulfur and then can be "wrung out" and reused over and over...The need for a cheap way to remove sulfur from fuel gases has spurred engineers for decades. In many countries, coal-fired electric plants are required to install smokestack scrubbers to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, a chief component of acid rain. And many developers would like to be able to use a wide range of hydrocarbon fuels as a feedstock for generating the molecular hydrogen that powers most fuel cells. But even the trace amounts of sulfur that remain create havoc...One option for removing sulfur has been using another spongelike ceramic called zinc oxide, which readily grabs on to sulfur, converting the zinc oxide to zinc sulfide. But it's far from a perfect solution. Once the outer surface becomes coated with zinc sulfide, the interior of the ceramic has trouble grabbing more sulfur. And zinc sulfide is not easily converted back to zinc oxide. So zinc oxide-based filters must be replaced regularly.

Researchers have explored using lanthanum and other rare earth oxides for years. Like zinc oxide, these ceramics also readily grab sulfur, but unlike zinc oxide they can later release it, making them reusable. In previous studies, researchers have exposed the ceramics to sulfur for long periods, allowing gases to percolate completely through the crystalline structure of the material. But such heavily saturated ceramics give up their sulfur too slowly to be practical for real-world use.  The Tuft s researchers tried exposing their rare earth oxides to sulfur-bearing gases for relatively brief periods, so they became coated with sulfur only on their surface. They found that lanthanum-based oxides, in particular, both grabbed and released a full surface complement of sulfur in just minutes. Moreover, they could reduce the sulfur content in fuel streams to the parts-per-billion range--good enough to protect even the most sensitive fuel-cell catalysts. When the researchers ran their materials through about 100 such charging and discharging cycles, they found little change.

An industrial plant could use multiple filters, switching back and forth so some sop up sulfur while others discharge it. In their paper, the Tufts researchers outline such a system for use with solid oxide fuel cells, which are being developed as backup power sources for hospitals and other industrial users. If such a design can keep fuel-cell catalysts working, it could go a long way toward making such fuel cells reliable enough to succeed in the real world.

June 9, 2006 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Energy, Physical Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 5, 2006

War, peace, and oil

Link: US downplays Iranian oil threat (Washington Post).

... Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the world's fourth largest oil exporter, said on Sunday that oil flows could be disrupted if the United States made a "wrong move" against Iran. His remarks prompted oil prices to rise.

"I understand why the commodities markets may be unsettled by a comment like that, but over time if this succeeds the commodities markets are going to be very happy and so should we all be," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Khamenei did not specify what would be considered a wrong move, but the White House interpreted the comment as referring to an invasion. Khamenei also said the United States was not capable of securing energy flows in the region.

"He threatened that in the case of a United States invasion. That was a theoretical statement," Snow said.

"I am not going to tell what steps one might take in such a situation. That not only would be irresponsible, it would be unprecedented," he added.

Snow urged patience to allow Iran to consider the offer agreed last week by the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, designed to persuade Tehran to halt uranium enrichment.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is to deliver the package to Iran this week.

"There are going to be any number of statements coming out of Iran. I would caution against leaping to conclusions until the leadership in Iran has actually had an opportunity to look over the package of incentives and disincentives," Snow said.

"The Iranians are going to realize that this is a serious offer. It's an offer that offers great promise for them, it offers great promise for the region, but it's going to take some time," Snow said.

Western nations suspect Iran is enriching uranium to make an atomic bomb. Iran insists its aims are peaceful and that it wants to make fuel only to generate electricity.

"Let's give it time, let the Iranians take a look at what the offers are, the incentives and disincentives. One can probably expect there to be a couple of quick rejoinders. We counsel patience," Snow said.

Hoping to make the incentive package more attractive to Iran, Washington last week announced it was ready to join multilateral talks with Iran on condition that Tehran ceased uranium enrichment.

June 5, 2006 in Energy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ethanol

David Sandalow describes the shift in Brazil to ethanol, where 70% of Brazil's vehicles now are dual fuel vehicles.  His paper, published in the Aspen Institute volume: A High Growth Strategy for Ethanol, can be found at the Brooking Institute site.

Link: Ethanol: Lessons from Brazil.

Ethanol is hot. In the United States, production increased by more than 20% in 2005. The nation's 97 ethanol plants are operating at close to full capacity, with another 33 plants under construction. Politicians from President George W. Bush to Senator Richard Lugar to Senator Barack Obama to Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean all support aggressive programs to promote ethanol.

Yet today ethanol provides only about 3% of the United States' transportation fuel. Few experts expect this figure to increase to more than 7% by 2010. In Brazil, in contrast, ethanol provides more than 40% of the fuel for transportation. Flex-fuel cars – capable of running on gasoline or ethanol -- grew from less than 1% of the Brazilian new car market in 2001 to more than 70% today.

As the United States explores ways to reduce oil dependence, many observers are looking south for guidance. This paper summarizes the history of the Brazilian ethanol program, describes the program's current status and considers lessons for the United States from the Brazilian experience.

June 5, 2006 in Energy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Army Admits that Levee Design was Flawed

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The NY Times reported on the June 1 Army Corps of Engineer study of the causes of the disaster in New Orleans, attached here:  Katrina_Corps_study_of_levees.pdf


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[T]the Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged today that the levees it built in the city were an incomplete and inconsistent patchwork of protection, containing flaws in design and construction, and not built to handle a hurricane anywhere near the size of Katrina.

"The hurricane protection system in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana was a system in name only," said the draft of the nine-volume report.

The region's network of levees, floodwalls, pumps and gates lacked any built-in resilience that would have allowed the system to remain standing and provide protection even if water flowed over the tops of levees and floodwalls, the report's investigators found. Flaws in the levee design that allowed breaches in the city's drainage canals were not foreseen, and those floodwalls failed even though the storm waters did not rise above the level that the walls were designed to hold.

But the system was also overwhelmed in significant ways by Hurricane Katrina, and some degree of flooding would have happened even if the floodwalls had not been topped by the surging waters, the report stated.

"Regardless of breaching or no breaching, there would have been massive flooding and losses" from Katrina, said Dr. Ed Link, the director of the study and an engineering professor at the University of Maryland, in an interview. "The losses were increased because of the breaching that occurred," he said.

June 5, 2006 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, North America, Physical Science, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Alaska and US Exercise Exxon Valdez Reopener Provision

The United States and the State of Alaska today submitted to ExxonMobil Corporation a detailed plan for a proposed restoration project to restore habitat in the area affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The restoration plan was submitted in accord with the "Reopener for Unknown Injury" in the consent decree which settled the governments' civil claims against Exxon Corporation (now ExxonMobil), the Exxon Shipping Company and the Exxon Pipeline Company arising from the spill.  Today's submission of a plan to ExxonMobil is the first step in exercising the Reopener provision of the consent decree.  The Reopener allows ExxonMobil 90 days after submission of the proposed restoration plan before it is required to pay or respond -- this provision allows negotiations to settle a Reopener claim without litigation.

The proposed restoration project focuses on removing much of the oil that remains in the environment in a form that is potentially harmful to natural resources and disruptive of human activities.  The proposed project has two major objectives: (1) to determine the locations, approximate amounts, and chemical states of all significant residual deposits of oil from the spill in the spill area; (2) to accelerate the natural processes of degradation and dispersal of the lingering oil, or otherwise restore the oiled sites, to the greatest extent scientifically appropriate taking into account such factors as the size and distribution of lingering oil patches, conditions at the oiled sites, affected natural resources or human uses, and the relative benefits and costs (including potential adverse effects) of active remediation.The ultimate cost of the project depends upon such factors as how many oiled sites require remediation and the remediation approach selected. It is currently estimated to cost approximately $92 million. 

At the time of the settlement, Exxon agreed to pay the governments $900 million in installments for costs and for natural resource damages known or reasonably anticipated at the time of the settlement.  The settlement also included a unique provision allowing the federal and state
trustees to seek up to $100 million in additional monies for damages where a substantial loss or decline in one or more populations, habitats, or species in the area of the spill, (1) resulted from the spill; (2) the loss or decline was unknown and could not reasonably have
been anticipated by the governments; (3) one or more projects that would help restore the injured
population, habitat or species; and (4) the project costs are not grossly disproportionate to benefits.   

From Exxon Valdez Reopener Factsheet
               

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June 1, 2006 in Biodiversity, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, North America, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Hurricane Season Looms Large

William Gray and Colorado State University predicted yesterday that the Atlantic season will see nine hurricanes and an 82% probability that the US coast would be hit by a major hurricane.  This is far above the average 50-50% chance of a major hurricane making landfall in the US.  Planet Ark story

As usual, Gray totally discounted the impact of anthropogenic global warming.  However, John Schwartz of the NY Times reported today that climate researchers at Purdue and MIT separately reported new evidence supporting the idea that global warming is causing stronger hurricanes. Schwartz report The Purdue paper by Huber and Sriver, appearing in a forthcoming issues of Geophysical Research Letters, calculates total damage caused by storms worldwide, using data normally applied to reconciling weather forecast models with observed weather events.  The Huber and Sriver results were consistent with earlier work by Kerry Emanuel of MIT. Emanuel has argued that global warming, specifically the warming of the tropical oceans, is increasing the power expended by hurricanes. 

Another new study by Emanuel and Mann  published in EOS compared global sea surface temperatures data with tropical Atlantic data and attributed recent strengthening of hurricanes to the rise in ocean surface temperature. Using increasingly sophisticated climate models that account for the impact of aerosols, Emanuel and Mann question the theory that hurricane activity fluctuates over a natural decadenal climate cycle. Their analysis estimated human influences on climate compared to possible natural cyclical influences, finding "anthropogenic factors are likely responsible for long-term trends in tropical Atlantic warmth and tropical cyclones."  They question the theory of the Atlantic multi-decadal signal, a natural climate cycle, as an explanation of the surges and declines over decades of hurricane activity. Instead, more sophisticated climate models and more precise global temperature data suggest that there is a linear increase in hurricanes related to the increase in Atlantic sea surface temperatures, rather than a natural cycle.

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush met with Peter Webster and Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology, who published research last year showing an increase in global hurricane intensity, with a doubling of the number of Category 4 or 5 hurricanes since 1970. That increase coincides with a rise of nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit in ocean surface temperatures.  Webster and Curry agree with the cyclical theory and accept that the Atlantic basin is experiencing a natural cyclical increase in hurricanes.  However, Webster and Curry argue that cycle does not explain such a dramatic increase in strong storms. Increasing global surface temperatures cause warmer water, fueling more intense hurricanes. AP report

June 1, 2006 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, North America, Physical Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 26, 2006

NY Proposes New Mercury Standard

The NY Times reported today that NY governor George Pataki has  proposed one of the most stringent mercury standards in the nation for electric power plants:       

Under the draft proposal, New York would cut the level of mercury from electricity-generating stations in half by 2010. By 2015, the new state mercury standard would be toughened further, requiring a 90 percent reduction from current levels.

The state rule would be significantly more restrictive than a federal mercury standard set last year by the Bush administration. Under the federal rule, power plants must decrease mercury emissions 70 percent by 2018. Another major difference is that the federal plan allows generators to trade pollution credits, while New York's does not.

If the state's new mercury rule is carried out, it would complete a far-ranging and comprehensive set of controls over the four most damaging air pollutants from power plants. A 2003 state program curtails nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, which cause acid rain. Late last year, seeing the federal inaction on global warming, New York and six other northeastern states joined together to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the heat-trapping gases that contribute to climate change.

May 26, 2006 in Energy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Public supports stiffer fuel economy standards

Link: World Public Opinion.

Congress has blocked changes in the CAFE standards for cars since 1995.  But according to World Opinion Poll, Americans favor higher fuel efficiency standards.  It cites a February 2006 survey by Pew Research Center, which showed 86 % favor requiring better fuel efficiency for cars, trucks and SUVS and only 12% oppose stricter fuel efficiency requirements.  Other polls during the last 10 months underscore public support for higher fuel efficiency standards:

lA poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and fielded by Knowledge Networks in January 2005 asked respondents to assume that requiring car manufacturers to meet higher fuel efficiency standards would mean “it would cost more to buy or lease a car.” Nonetheless, 77% supported requiring them, with just 20 percent opposed. This was a bipartisan view, favored by 74% of Republicans and 83% of Democrats.

Polls also show that the American public does not believe the U.S. government is doing enough to conserve energy. In November 2005, the Civil Society Institute asked respondents whether, in view of reports that fuel supplies were likely to get scarcer and more expensive, they believed the United States had done enough to develop alternative energy resources and to conserve fuel use, through steps such as requiring more efficient vehicles. Eighty-two percent of the respondents said the United States had not done enough; twelve percent said the United States had done about the right amount. Three percent believed the United States had done too much.

The same survey found that nearly eight in ten Americans agreed with the statement, “We need higher federal fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles now in order to conserve more energy, making us less dependent on Middle Eastern oil, and to reduce the ill effects of global warming.”

May 15, 2006 in Energy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Green Campuses

My university's Sustainability Council is about to begin its second year.  So far, it has raised consciousness, greened our new buildings, supported greener operation of our existing physical plant and operations, funded a number of small staff, faculty, and student sustainability projects, and brought several sustainability scholars to campus.  Willamette Sustainability Site   It is a grassroots effort that receives significant support from the President, the Board of Trustees, as well as administration, faculty, staff, and students.  Although there are many small next steps to be taken,  I am wondering what the next giant leap should be.  My current nomination is a carbon neutral campus.  Can this be accomplished and how???  Please submit links to your campus sustainability efforts and let me know what you think about a carbon neutral campus.

May 9, 2006 in Air Quality, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, Sustainability, US, Water Quality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Sometimes Governments Listen: Threat to Lake Baikal Averted

Last week, while I was still away, President  Vladimir Putin ordered the rerouting of a Siberian oil pipeline to avoid the northern shore of Lake Baikal, a world heritage site.  See  UNESCO site on Lake Baikal

                                        Graphic: Route of Proposed Pipeline
Putin reversed a controversial government decision in March to allow Russia's pipeline company Transneft to build the line within a half mile of Lake Baikal. The 2600 mile pipeline will provide oil to markets in Asia at a cost of $11.5 billion, which reportedly will be closer to $ 12.5 billion after the rerouting.

Russian environmental groups had protested the initial routing decision.  Pacific Environment  The NY Times  wrote about the impact of public protests on the routing decision: NYTimes link

Rare public protests followed the approval in March of the initial route, with rallies from Moscow to Irkutsk, the Siberian region bordering the lake.  "It was not a huge wave," Aleksandr Shuvalov, deputy executive director of Greenpeace Russia, said of the protests, "but it was a wave."  The pipeline's route, so close to Lake Baikal, raised concerns that an oil spill in the seismically active region could contaminate Lake Baikal, which holds more than 20 percent of the world's fresh water and an abundance of unique wildlife species. Not only environmental groups, but also Russian scientists opposed Transneft's planned route.  A commission of specialists from the Russian Academy of Sciences initially opposed the route on environmental grounds. Its recommendation was rejected and a new review ordered with new specialists. 

Mr. Putin's decision on Wednesday was an unexpected reversal and appeared choreographed for state television networks. Meeting with federal and regional officials in Tomsk, a Siberian city, he publicly chided Transneft's director, Semyon M. Vainshtok, after asking if there was an alternative to the contested route. "Since you hesitate, it means that there is such a possibility," Mr. Putin told a visibly uncomfortable Mr. Vainshtok. "If there had not been such a possibility, you would have said 'no' without any doubt."

Mr. Putin then ordered that the route hew more closely to one previously recommended by the Academy of Sciences but rejected by a regulatory agency. He said a new route should be charted at least 40 kilometers, or nearly 25 miles, from Lake Baikal. That would put it outside of Baikal's watershed, environmental groups said. 

Mr. Shuvalov called it "a victory of common sense."  The reversal underscored Mr. Putin's highly centralized power and his penchant for dramatic gestures. Wielding a pen in front of an oversize map of the Baikal region, he swept aside decisions by several government agencies, as well as those by Transneft, which had warned that finding another route would be prohibitively expensive.

Mr. Vainshtok and other officials from Transneft could not be reached for comment. They had said that the planned route would be safe and that moving it could add nearly $1 billion to the cost of the pipeline. When Mr. Vainshtok, in the televised exchange, suggested that the pipeline would have to move "much farther north," Mr. Putin responded curtly.  "If there is at least a tiny chance of polluting Baikal," he said, "we, thinking of future generations, must do everything not only to minimize this threat, but to exclude it." 

May 4, 2006 in Asia, Biodiversity, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Governance/Management, International, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A British Perspective on Fuel Prices

I love reading the Economist.  Here's its take on the American reaction to high fuel prices.  I have one quibble with the Economist's perspective: it is not inconsistent to object to the profits of price-gouging oligopolists and to advocate higher taxes on fuels.  In the first case, the money goes to the rich getting richer -- in the second case, the money goes to the public and could be used to deal with critical energy-related problems: creating more efficient, sustainable and available public transportation, encouraging more sustainable energy production and use, etc:

Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute points out, there is no debate as to whether these penumbras and emanations include the right to cheap petrol. Americans are convinced that the rising price of petrol—the average price of a gallon has reached $2.90 and some places are charging more than $3—is nothing less than a violation of the rights they won from George III; and they have no doubt that the people doing the violating are the oil companies. Aren't the oil companies making record profits? And didn't the chairman of Exxon, Lee Raymond, just get parting “compensation” worth about $400m? “Does everybody love Raymond?”, asks Mr O'Reilly. “I don't. I think he's a greed-head.”

You can quibble for as long as you want about the economics of all this. You can point out that the price of petrol is fixed by global forces—from rising demand in India and China to political instability in Nigeria and, particularly, Iran—rather than devilish CEOs. You can point out that, so far, rising petrol prices have had remarkably little impact on the economy. The oil shocks of the 1970s sent inflation soaring and tipped the world economy into recession. Today the American economy is motoring along on a full tank, with low inflation, low unemployment and rising consumer confidence. You can point out that Americans don't know how lucky they are—a gallon of petrol costs $6.4 in Britain. You can even argue that it is their fault for driving gas-guzzling SUVs and living in McMansions miles from anywhere.

But you might as well hold your breath for all the difference it makes. No less than 69% of Americans think that the rise in petrol prices has already caused them either severe (23%) or moderate (46%) hardship. Nearly two-thirds think that the president has a lot of influence over the price of petrol. The result is that a presidency that has already been battered by Hurricane Katrina and bruised by the Iraq war is being bombarded by soaring petrol prices. Mr Bush's approval ratings are at an all-time low of 32%; economists are warning everyone that the price of petrol will rise higher as the summer driving season starts; and pundits are suggesting that Mr Bush may be a Republican Jimmy Carter, destroyed by Middle Eastern terrorists and rising oil prices. All he needs is a cardigan and a liking for the word “malaise”.

The Economist (subscription)

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May 4, 2006 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Nuclear Energy Industry Gains PR Team

Link: Center for Media and Democracy - Publishers of PR Watch.

Source: The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), April 23, 2006

With help from the PR firm Hill & Knowlton, the industry group Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) launched the "Clean and Safe Energy Coalition." NEI is fully funding the group and paying its spokespeople, former Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman (who now heads the lobbying firm Whitman Strategy Group) and Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore (who now heads the PR firm Greenspirit Strategies). NEI's Steve Kerekes said the new group will allow NEI to provide "a unifying platform that supporters of nuclear energy can add their voices to." The group was launched two days before the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. Like NEI, the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition says that "nuclear power is clean, emitting none of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming," and "new nuclear plants could provide the 50 percent boost in energy supplies the government projects are needed by 2025 without cramping lifestyles."

See how effective this can be! Wash Post nuclear energy article

April 26, 2006 in Energy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 7, 2006

Are Aesthetics Part of Ecological Sustainability?

The NYTimes reported today on the fate of the offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound:

A Senate-House conference committee has approved a measure that would effectively kill a proposal for the first large offshore wind farm in the United States, in Nantucket Sound south of Cape Cod, Mass. The measure, an amendment to a Coast Guard budget bill, gives the governor of "the adjacent state," Massachusetts, veto power over any wind farm in the sound. Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, opposes the wind farm, and most of the candidates running to replace him in the election for governor this fall have also come out against it, as have most of the state's prominent politicians.  The budget bill now goes to the full Congress, and members are expected to consider it after their recess.Wind Farm

A decade ago, a student of mine Averill Rothrock wrote an article on whether Oregon's land use laws adequately reflected ecological sustainability.  Obviously her task started with defining ecological sustainability and she chose to include aesthetic values as part of her definition of ecological sustainability.  Then and now I disagree.   And the battle in Massachusetts over the Nantucket offshore wind farm may be the perfect example of the danger of a policy that gives primacy to aesthetics. 

I understand that the objections of Massachusetts politicians dooming this project are not based on adverse ecological impacts -- but rather they are based on the impact of the project on aesthetics and tourism (and, of course, the state's elite for whom the Sound is a playground). 

To meet the challenge of moderating climate change, we will need extraordinary efforts harnessing carbon-neutral energy sources.  Allowing aesthetic factors, rather than ecological impact or necessity, to determine whether such projects are built is a fatal error.

April 7, 2006 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, Governance/Management, Legislation, Sustainability, US | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 10, 2006

ABA SEER LNG Development Projects Teleconference

In light of the approval of the Trans-Siberian pipeline past Lake Baikal and European plans to make long-term contracts with Russia for LNG, LNG development is a timely topic.  ABA SEER will have a quick teleconference on LNG Development on Tuesday, March 18, 2006

Link: Environmental Issues in LNG Development Projects - An Introduction.

12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Central Time
10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Mountain Time
9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time

Program Overview: In the U.S., natural-gas prices are up fivefold since the beginning of the decade, and approach record highs. About 57 percent of the nation's households use natural gas for heat, according to the Census Bureau. Natural gas also is used for such purposes as generating electricity and producing plastics and fertilizer. Demand has grown amid a strengthening economy and interest in cleaner-burning fuel. While the majority of natural gas consumed in the U.S. comes from North American wells, many fields are aging and the industry has found it difficult to boost production. With domestic production leveled off, the energy industry expected to compensate with imports of liquefied natural gas or LNG. In some areas of the United States, including New England, the supply-demand balance for natural gas could be tipped as early as 2007, but certainly by 2010, unless new delivery infrastructure is built. On the supply side, most of the worldwide gas reserves are "stranded" and not connected to pipeline infrastructure or markets. Liquefaction of these stranded gas reserves is the method for bringing this natural gas to market. The process has been occurring for decades in many parts of the world, but is a relatively recent phenomenon in the United States. In 2001, the industry began the process of reopening mothballed liquefied natural gas terminals and proposed building dozens of new ones with almost 60 projects currently announced for North America. The federal government streamlined the regulatory process with amendments to the Deepwater Port Act in 2002 and the Energy Policy Act of 2005. As with any intensive energy infrastructure project, the environmental issues are myriad and complex.

The purpose of this conference it to highlight some of the more common environmental issues that arise in connection with LNG project development. Among those issues can be concerns related thermal impacts due to cryogenic temperatures, sea-water vaporization methods, air emissions, seismic concerns, exclusion zones for potential vapor clouds and radiant heat, as well as traditional project development issues related to wetlands, storm water discharge, and traffic. The conference will review both upstream and downstream environmental impacts from LNG development and community concerns in the U.S. and in Sakhalin Island, Russia.

Moderator: George Rusk, Vice President, Ecology & Environment, Inc., Lancaster, NY

Panelists:
William H. Daughdrill, Marine Safety Specialist, Ecology & Environment, Inc., Baton Rouge, LA
David Gordon, Pacific Environment, San Francisco, CA
Dianne Phillips, Holland & Knight LLP, Boston, MA

March 10, 2006 in Energy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Mangroves Crucial to Global Carbon Cycle

Although the days when mangrove swamps were cleared without thought are past, recent research highlights a new reason why mangroves are important:

The global carbon cycle is currently the topic of great interest because of its importance in the global climate system and also because human activities are altering the carbon cycle to a significant degree. This crucial biogeochemical cycle involves the exchange of carbon between the Earth's atmosphere, the oceans, the vegetation, and the soils of the Earth's terrestrial ecosystems.

Since the oceans stand for the largest pool of carbon near the surface of the Earth, their role is of particular importance in the global carbon cycle. Indeed, the organic matter dissolved in the oceans contains a similar amount of carbon as is stored in the skies as atmospheric carbon dioxide. Consequently, in order to understand global carbon cycle, and its effects on climate, it is crucial to quantify the sources of marine dissolved organic carbon (DOC).

German researchers have investigated the impact of mangroves, the dominant intertidal vegetation of the tropics and a source of terrestrial DOC, on marine DOC inventories. The study was performed on the scale of an entire mangrove-shelf system that integrates information of about 10,000 km² of north Brazilian mangroves. A combined approach of stable carbon isotopes and nuclear magnetic resonance was used to quantify mangrove-derived DOC on the North Brazilian shelf....Mangroves are the main source of terrestrial DOC in the open ocean off northern Brazil. Even at the outermost stations, where intrusion of Amazon River water could not be excluded, the mangrove-derived DOC concentrations were almost two-fold more important than the estimated riverine DOC concentration....DOC export from mangroves is more than 2 trillion moles of carbon per year which is similar to the annual Amazon River discharge and nearly triples the amount estimated from previous smaller scale estimates of the carbon released to the oceans. According to these estimates, mangroves probably account for more than 10% of the DOC globally transported from the continents to the ocean while covering less than 0.1% of the continents.

Since mangroves play a major role for the dissolved organic matter (DOM) exchange between continents and oceans, their rapid decline over the recent decades may already have reduced the flux of terrestrial DOM to the ocean, impacting one of the largest organic carbon pools on Earth. Mangrove foliage, however, has declined by nearly half over the past several decades because of increasing coastal development and damage to its habitat. As the habitat has changed, ever-smaller quantities of mangrove-derived detritus are available for formation and export of dissolved organic matter to the ocean. The researchers speculate that the rapid decline in mangrove extent threatens the delicate balance and may eventually shut off the important link between the land and ocean, with potential consequences for atmospheric composition and climate.

Dittmar, T, et al., (2006) « Mangroves, a major source of dissolved organic carbon to the oceans », Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 20(1).
Contact:
dittmar@ocean.fsu.edu   Reported by EU Science for Environment Policy service

March 9, 2006 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Climate Change to Affect European Production of Bioenergy Crops

The EU Science for Environment service reported on bioenergy crop research:

Changes in European agricultural productivity and subsidy policies are expected to reduce land devoted to food production and make land available for bioenergy crop production.  Because European policy depends on increasing use of renewable energy, including bioenergy, research has been done to assess the impact of climate change on bioenergy crops.  Recent research indicates that southern Europe's ability to produce bioenergy crops will be severely reduced in the future unless Europe undertakes measures to adapt to climate change, such as breeding for temperature and drought tolerance and alternative agricultural practices such as early sowing.

Tuck Gill et al. (2006) « The potential distribution of bioenergy crops in Europe under present and future climate », Biomass and Bioenergy 30: 183–197.
Contact:
gill.tuck@bbsrc.ac.uk

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March 9, 2006 in Agriculture, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

EU Commission Publishes Green Paper on Unified EU Energy Strategy

Yesterday, the European Commission published a Green Paper on developing a European Energy Policy. EU Energy Green Paper  The green paper will be reviewed by EU energy ministers on March 14 and by EU heads of state on March 23-24.  EU green papers are discussion papers, though, not concrete legislative proposals.  Nonetheless, since the EU has 50% more energy consumers than the US, everyone is watching as Europe attempts to develop an energy strategy.

Energy is a realm traditionally reserved to the national policy of EU member states.  Two previous green papers were largely ignored.  However, because the EU member states unanimously requested preparation of this third green paper, many hope that a unified European energy strategy is in the making.  Furthermore, a recent Eurobarometer poll indicated that a sizable majority of Europeans consider energy policy to be best handled at the EU level.  The green paper responds to this by proposing a new EU energy regulatory body, measures to complete the EU single energy market, energy efficiency measures, and research on renewable energy sources.

The green paper establishes sustainability, competitiveness, and supply security as the primary goals for European energy policy.  However, the emphasis of strategies in the paper is on the latter two as opposed to the environment.

The first priority is completion of the EU single market, currently liberalized to allow business to choose suppliers throughout the EU.  However, lack of interconnections and supply lines prevent completion of the market.  The green paper suggests an energy "grid" code, a priority European interconnection plan, i.e. constructing natural gas pipelines, a European energy regulatory agency, and mandatory unbundling of networks. 

The second priority is security of supply in the internal energy market and a commitment to "solidarity among member states." The green paper proposes a European Energy Supply Observatory and revision of the existing EU oil and gas legislation to deal with potential supply disruptions.

The third priority is external EU energy policy, including long-term agreements with Russia, which currently supplies most of EU's natural gas.

While the EU has had remarkable decreases in energy intensity and increases in GDP, EU energy demand and energy imports continue to grow.  Energy Demand, Intensity and GNP in EU25  Although EU energy efficiency is extremely high, the green paper on energy efficiency proposed improving it by 20%.

But overall the EU will need to move towards renewable energy sources.  According to the Eurobarometer polls, EU citizens favor solar and wind, with nuclear a very distant third.  Ironically, the green paper provided supporters of nuclear power with solace when it noted that national energy supply decisions (alluding to bans on nuclear power in Germany, Austria, Italy, Ireland, and Spain) can interfere with EU supply security and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Many EU citizens are willing to pay a small premium for renewable energy sources, up to 5%.  But that limited willingness to pay underscores the need for research and development that will provide renewable energy sources at prices that Europeans are willing to pay.

March 9, 2006 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Governance/Management, Legislation | Permalink | TrackBack (0)