Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Keystone XL: Designed to Undermine American Economy

The Keystone XL Pipeline project is designed to carry tar sands oil—by far the dirtiest form of petroleum—from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the Gulf coast, the oil would then be refined into products for sale—overseas. The most destructive aspects of the pipeline project—astonishing in their hubris and their potential for catastrophic degradation of the human condition—are the climate destabilizing effects we know will ensue and the potential for irreversible contamination of the Ogallala fossil aquifer, on which the Great Plains depend for their world-leading agricultural output. 

The last time the Great Plains agricultural economy underwent sudden, pervasive collapse, the United States experienced what became known as the “Dust Bowl”, millions of people emigrated to the coasts, and the subsequent ripple effect through the global food economy deepened and prolonged the Great Depression across much of the world. There is no plan for clean-up if a spill occurs in the underground Keystone XL that would pass through the Ogallala aquifer. There is no known technology that would allow for clean-up of such a spill. No entity—corporate, governmental or otherwise—has ever conducted such a clean-up. 

What we do know is that TransCanada, the company that would be administering the pipeline has a record of pipeline spills. In 2011 alone, there were 12 serious spills from just one pipeline with a similar construction to the planned Keystone XL pipeline. When politicians or commercial interests talk about the “urgent need” for the Keystone XL pipeline, they are talking about the profit-making needs of specific interests that plan to profit from selling Canadian tar sands oil to foreign markets, most likely China, which is escalating its consumption of petroleum and other fossil fuels more rapidly than anywhere else on Earth. 

Here is a simple message that must accompany any and every mention of the Keystone XL pipeline project, if we are to reach an informed and responsible decision (not to build it): Anyone who argues for building this pipeline is arguing for doing something that will contribute to the irreversible destabilization of global climate patterns, destabilizing dozens of nations’ national economies, and may lead to the collapse of the American agricultural economy, which would send food-price shocks throughout the US and global economies, all in order to make a few bucks for a few years selling an unnecessary resource to foreign countries. 

We can power our entire economy from wind, solar and hydro power, by 2030:

  • We have the stock of raw energy, and far more than we could possibly consume. 
  • We have the technology (as of 2009, existing technology was already capable of providing all energy needs from clean sources). 
  • We will spend the same amount to build fossil fuel infrastructure that will contribute to the corrosion of our environment and our long-term economic wellbeing as we would spend to build the clean-energy infrastructure we need. 
  • In a clean-energy economy, everyone is empowered; in a fossil fuel economy, the powerful concentrate their power to the detriment of democracy and local communities. 
  • Keystone XL will impose huge externalized costs on society that will push back the onset of the true clean-energy economy. 

We can do better than Keystone XL; we are already doing better than Keystone XL. Now, all we have to do is build a smart-grid-enabled clean-energy economy suited to the complexities of the 21st century and capable of providing for our needs without destroying our future. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

James Hansen Pushes Fee & Dividend in NY Times Piece

From James Hansen’s landmark article in today’s New York Times: a resounding endorsement of Carbon Fee and Dividend:

"We need to start reducing emissions significantly, not create new ways to increase them. We should impose a gradually rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, then distribute 100 percent of the collections to all Americans on a per-capita basis every month. The government would not get a penny. This market-based approach would stimulate innovation, jobs and economic growth, avoid enlarging government or having it pick winners or losers. Most Americans, except the heaviest energy users, would get more back than they paid in increased prices. Not only that, the reduction in oil use resulting from the carbon price would be nearly six times as great as the oil supply from the proposed pipeline from Canada, rendering the pipeline superfluous, according to economic models driven by a slowly rising carbon price."

Spread the word. Ask those you know who care about the environment, the security of our democracy, and the future of our families and communities, to read this article and to share it: nytimes.com/2012/05/10/opinion/game-over-for-the-climate.html

Monday, March 26, 2012

How Much Will it Cost to Save Our Economy’s Foundation?

From Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute

During the past two summers, Pakistan was hit with catastrophic floods. The record flooding in the late summer of 2010 was the most devastating natural disaster in Pakistan’s history. The media coverage reported torrential rains as the cause, but there is much more to the story. When Pakistan was created in 1947, some 30 percent of the landscape was covered by forests. Now it is 4 percent. Pakistan’s livestock herd outnumbers that of the United States. With little forest still standing and the countryside grazed bare, there was scant vegetation to retain the rainfall.

Pakistan, with 185 million people squeezed into an area only slightly larger than Texas, is an ecological basket case. If it cannot restore its forests and grazing lands, it will only suffer more “natural” disasters in the future. Pakistan’s experience demonstrates all too vividly why restoring the earth is an integral part of Earth Policy Institute’s Plan B to save civilization. Restoring the earth will take an enormous international effort, one far more demanding than the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild war-torn Europe and Japan after World War II. And such an initiative must be undertaken at wartime speed before environmental deterioration translates into economic decline, just as it did for the Sumerians, the Mayans, and many other early civilizations whose archeological sites we study today.

Our natural systems are the foundation of our economy. We can roughly estimate how much it will cost to reforest the earth, protect topsoil, restore rangelands and fisheries, stabilize water tables, and protect biological diversity. The goal is not to offer a set of precise numbers but rather to provide a set of reasonable estimates for an earth restoration budget.

Click here for the full article…

Monday, November 7, 2011

Zwick: Climate Debate is Over. Let’s Tap Markets to Save Trees, Planet & Ourselves

Our economy is changing our climate in dangerous ways, and the latest figures show it’s getting worse, with greenhouse gas emissions up a nauseating and unforgiveable 6% in 2010, despite the global economic slowdown. If you’re one of these self-proclaimed “skeptics” who still deny that man caused this mess and that man must fix it, then you’ve sacrificed your credibility as a sentient human being.

That’s the take-home message from the Berkley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) Study, which was funded in part by the Koch Brothers and headed by Richard Muller, a vocal critic of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  BEST examined the evidence that “Climategate” supposedly suppressed, and published its conclusion in mid-October.

“We find that the global land mean temperature has increased by 0.911 ± 0.042 C since the 1950s (95% confidence for statistical and spatial uncertainties)” the authors wrote on the very first page.  “This change is consistent with global land-surface warming results previously reported, but with reduced uncertainty.”

That means that everything you have heard about “institutional bias” among scientists in the IPCC is wrong.  It means everything you have heard about the rate of global warming slowing down in the last decade is wrong.  It means that, if anything, the earth is warming faster than the cautious scientists of the IPCC stated, and all signs point to mankind as the culprit.

Friday, October 21, 2011

South Africa Carbon Tax Plan: Paper for Public Comment

Discussion_Paper_Carbon_Taxes_81210.pdf Download this file


A carbon tax appears to be the most appropriate mechanism to reduce GHG emissions in South Africa, creating incentives for emissions reduction at least cost to the economy. While it would not guarantee a fixed quantitative reduction in such emissions over the short term, a carbon tax set at an appropriate level and phased in over time would provide a strong price signal and certainty to both producers and consumers, acting as an incentive for more environmentally friendly behaviour over the long term.

Taxes on carbon afford firms the flexibility to undertake emissions reductions according to their specific processes and provide the long-term price certainty necessary for investment decisions. Ideally, a carbon tax should apply directly to emissions of CO2 but for administrative reasons this is not feasible. The next best option is a proxy carbon tax on fossil fuel inputs.

The main body of this discussion document is structured as a technical paper. The remainder of the paper is structured as follows:

  • Background
  • Climate change and its effects
  • Economics of climate change 
  • Policy instruments to address climate change 
  • Environmentally related Pigouvian taxes 
  • Tax policy design considerations 
  • International practice 
  • Revenue use – revenue recycling, tax shifting and/or earmarking 
  • Potential impacts of carbon taxation for South Africa.

The next phase of government’s investigation into a carbon pricing regime will elaborate on the economics, design and practicality of an emissions trading scheme. This will involve an analysis of implemented and proposed emissions trading schemes internationally. The policy discussion document is expected to be published for comment next year.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On the Front Line of Climate Change & Displacement: Brookings

Brookings-climate_change-frontlines.pdf Download this file

The “Regional Workshop on Internal Displacement Caused by Natural Disasters and Climate Change in the Pacific” was held in Suva, Fiji from 4-6 May 2011 as a joint initiative of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, the Regional Office for the Pacific of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Sub-Regional Office for the Pacific of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The workshop brought together representatives of governments, international organizations and civil society from seven Pacific countries—Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu—to examine and reflect on the implications of natural disasters and climate change in the region. We are grateful to the UN for its collaborative spirit in organizing the workshop and for the background documents prepared by their offices; for the past few years we have found ourselves relying on and promoting the protection tools developed by the UN Humanitarian Team in the Pacific. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse Climate Change Testimony (video + transcript)

In this address on the floor of the United States Senate, from October 13, 2011, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) delivers one of the most thorough and committed arguments for immediate comprehensive action to mitigate the effects of human-caused climate destabilization ever heard in the United States Congress.

The following is a transcript of his remarks, from the Congressional Record

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Monday, July 11, 2011 Monday, July 4, 2011

Listening, to Find Shared Solutions

During this year’s Citizens Climate Lobby international conference in Washington, DC, we learned a great deal about how to have informed dialogue with people who fundamentally disagree over the vocabulary of climate and energy policy. In Washington, DC, big things are decided that affect, directly or indirectly, nearly everyone on this planet, and deference to the significance of competing views is of paramount importance.

When a subject like climate science is politicized, and forced into ideological subcategories, the vocabulary of practical problem solving is impoverished, and the potential for making sound judgments that will allow our nation to make the right choices, is diminished. Having the patience, the respect and the vision, to listen carefully, to hear the subtext of competing opinion frameworks, allows anyone wishing to engage in dialogue to do so more effectively.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011 Saturday, June 25, 2011 Friday, May 20, 2011

Carbon Emissions Overload, by the Numbers

Coal requires 83 pounds of fuel to generate 1 million BTU, which produces 227 pounds of CO2 emissions.

Wood requires 156 pounds of fuel to generate 1 million BTU, which produces 195 pounds of CO2 emissions.

Oil requires 52 pounds of fuel to generate 1 million BTU, which produces 164 pounds of CO2 emissions.

Natural gas requires 50 pounds of fuel to generate 1 million BTU, which produces 117 pounds of CO2 emissions.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the US economy produced/consumed 100.1 QUADRILLION BTU in 2008. (1 quadrillion is 1 billion times 1 million. That 0.1 is 100 TRILLION BTU.)

There are roughly 3,400 BTU to one kiloWatt-hour, in case you’re counting…

Monday, May 16, 2011 Saturday, April 23, 2011