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May 2, 2017 by Laurel Krause

AllisonProtestRuffnerAs protest season opens across America, citizen concern for the safety and protection of protesters comes to the fore. Like so many Americans raised in the Sixties, I experience a post-traumatic stress trigger every time a protester faces off with the brute force of law enforcement, bringing back all the memories of the violence against protesters we witnessed during the Vietnam war and Civil Rights movement.

Today whether it’s Water Protectors at Standing Rock, Climate Change Marchers, Black Lives Matters advocates, activists protesting the president’s unconstitutional executive orders, even mass protesters at January’s Women’s March and April’s March for Science, all risk arrest, being made into targets for simply exercising First Amendment rights.

I remember when the US government killed six student protesters at Kent State and Jackson State in May of 1970. The precedent to kill, and get away with it, was established early on in the life of our country however this was the first time it was televised for the world to experience first hand. It hasn’t helped that the US government continues to refuse to accept accountability, admitting no wrongdoing in its targeted assassinations of Americans, including young people who have actively disagreed with American leadership.

In April 2017 Pepsi launched a controversial and pricey protest commercial starring Kendall Jenner. The extended two and one half minute short was immediately scrapped after a very strong negative response from the viewing public. The ‘kinder, gentler’ soft soap version of this battle between protesters and law enforcement in America failed to resonate. No one bought it. Protesters will never save the day by opening a can of soda pop. The commercial irresponsibly and dangerously projects an image of safety while ignoring the actual danger of deadly force from police. This type of advertising is not new. Watch the Pepsi 2017 commercial http://bit.ly/2oJlBOT and watch the Coke commercial from 1971 http://bit.ly/2pjQEEh.

Who made the decision at Pepsi to invest in this fable of a gentle and safe world for protesters? Is this some kind of set up? Will those who are unaware of the blood spilled by protesters and the actual risk of conflict — sometimes deadly — between the police and our black and brown brothers and sisters, be tricked by this ‘kinder, gentler protest world’ imagineered by corporatocracy?

The Pepsi protest commercial is an insult to legions of American protesters who have shed rivers of blood, and still face violent, brute force from authorities. Bernice A. King, the daughter of assassinated Reverend Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. summed it up well in her April 6th tweet, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi.”

The truth is that protesting in America has always been extremely dangerous, and as my sister Allison Krause learned on May 4, 1970 in an anti-war rally at Kent State University, it can get you killed by government forces.

Forty-seven years ago Allison was gunned down by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State because she was protesting. The Pepsi commercial is an insult to Allison’s memory. It mocks her bravery and masks the personal risks she took to create a better world for all of us. No quantity of Pepsi could have saved Allison from the brute force of unrestrained government power and a national guard that willingly acted as government henchmen. A Pepsi, in fact, did not stop the bullet that took her life that day.

The Kent State Truth Tribunal seeks accountability and the acknowledgement of startling evidence revealed in 2010 – an exposed command to fire – that emerged, sharing a whole new view of what went down May 4, 1970 at the Kent State massacre, a view so starkly in contrast to the previous official version that it provoked – finally – an admission by the US government that my sister was “killed, murdered’’ by the US government.

Since founding the Truth Tribunal in 2010, we have spread the word of wrongful protest harassment and killing, and have sought answers about command responsibility, taking the human rights issues of Kent State all the way to the United Nations. http://bbc.in/1qwOdqe.

The 2010 Kent State evidence exists in the form an audio recording of the actual command to fire, digitally isolated and verified by forensic audio expert Stuart Allen. http://bit.ly/aM7Ocm. Have a listen to Stuart Allen analyzing the Kent State tape and hear the command to fire: http://bit.ly/R4Ktio

I learned at the Truth Tribunal how the targeted assassinations at Kent State and Jackson State forever changed the landscape of protest in the United States. One of the top comments I’ve heard is from Maureen Bean Ui Lassig shared, “A horrific day none of us could ever forget. The unimaginable happened. Our children, the kids that would help to shape our future, were shot dead by our own government. RIP Allison.” Most share that they could never view the American government in the same way again.

Back then we watched the military and cops dressed in armor, bearing heavy weaponry created for war, trample the flowers, lives and dreams of those who stood for peace; it reminds me of Allison and her epitaph, “Flowers are better than bullets.”

We must be able to protest in America and express our dissent without fear of death, excessive force or wrongful arrest. The illegal and immoral exercise of power by government forces, corporations and covert groups organized to harm protesters, thwart protests, turn protests into violent, military events (by their very presence), must cease. Intimidating, deterring, and killing protesters violates basic human rights law and the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights. It is also a clear sign of a totalitarian government or dictatorship.

With all this on my mind, I attended an April 2017 Town Hall organized by my Congressman Jared Huffman. During the local event, I asked Representative Huffman to help protect protesters by developing legislation for their protection. I voiced my concern for the lives of Water Protectors at Standing Rock, bolstered by applause from my community. I asked Rep. Huffman to help us counteract the legislation, and law enforcement strategies, seeking to limit our rights to protest. We are beginning our efforts to establish the Allison Krause Bill for the Protection of Protest and Protesters in America.

Who knows what may go wrong this season of protest 2017, especially when we consider the plethora of state legislation intended to limit, hurt and criminalize protest. Even the right to protest on the sidewalk in front of White House is being tried in the courts now at the request of President Trump. http://reut.rs/2pmt6yM

I don’t want to see another protester killed for protesting. It is an American first amendment right to protest that guarantees the right to assemble and take action to disagree and dissent – that is the right to protest! Currently protesters face excessive force, including deadly force, as well as wrongful arrest.

Please join me in demanding your Congressional representatives to support the Allison Krause Bill for the Protection of Protest and Protesters in America, legislation intended to protect the right of Americans to protest without getting killed.

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SETH SHULMAN for Grist, part of the Guardian U.K., August 23, 2010

The ocean has been our savior.

Besides generating about two thirds of the oxygen we breathe, oceangoing phytoplankton — those floating microscopic plants that form the base of the aquatic food chain — absorb about a third of all the carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere. In this way, the oceans have managed to slow the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and stave off even more dramatic warming of the planet.

But John Guinotte and colleagues are discovering that the critical role of “carbon sink” comes at a potentially devastating cost for the world’s oceans: acidification.

Guinotte is a coral specialist at the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Bellevue, Wash. The changes he sees in ocean chemistry spell trouble for the coral that he studies closely. If the acidification process continues on its current trajectory, it poses a dire threat to the whole marine ecosystem.

“What I’m really concerned about with ocean acidification is that we are facing the prospect of a crash in marine food webs.” says Guinotte. “There is no question that many of my colleagues in marine science are scared about what is happening. We know we need a more precise understanding of the changes and biological responses now under way — and we need it as quickly as possible, before it is too late to turn things around.”

Guinotte has dedicated his life to the study of coral, especially the less well understood deep-sea varieties. Growing up in rural Kansas, his only exposure to corals was through the pages of National Geographic. But that changed when he learned to scuba dive at his grandfather’s winter home in the Florida Keys. The experience, plus his interest in biology and geography, led him to Australia, where he earned his Ph.D.

Guinotte still remembers the thrill of exploring Australia’s Great Barrier Reef for the first time. “I was absolutely blown away by the abundance and diversity of coral,” he recalls. At that time, back in the late-1990s, scientists were increasingly concerned about coral bleaching caused by environmental stresses such as warming ocean temperatures. Those threats remain, Guinotte says, but ocean acidification may be an even more serious and intractable problem.

On the macro scale, Guinotte explains, the chemistry of ocean acidification is relatively clear. Based on some 25 years’ worth of measurements scientists know that oceans absorb about 22 million tons of carbon dioxide every day. The oceans are vast. But even so, the absorption of CO2 is now occurring at such an unprecedented rate that ocean chemistry is approaching a state not seen in many millions of years. Guinotte fears that many marine species might be unable to adapt quickly enough to survive these dramatic changes.

As carbon dioxide is absorbed by seawater, hydrogen ions are released. This lower the pH, making the water more acidic. Measurements indicate that Earth’s oceans are already about 30 percent more acidic than they were before the industrial revolution. As the number of hydrogen ions has risen, the number of carbonate ions available in seawater has gone down. This carbonate deficit makes life more difficult for the “marine calcifiers,” species such as coral and shellfish that use carbonate to build their skeletons and protective shells.

“Ocean water becomes increasingly corrosive to calcium carbonate,” says Guinotte. “A reduction in carbonate ions not only impedes corals’ ability to build their skeletons, but once the calcium carbonate drops below critical levels, the ocean erodes the framework they have built up previously — the reefs upon which corals live.” Even if select coral species can survive ocean acidification, Guinotte says, when the coral reefs begin to dissolve, the effects on the entire marine ecosystem are likely to be devastating.

Scientists know from the fossil record that reefs which sustained damage from high atmospheric concentrations of CO2 in the geologic past took millions of years to recover. “Given that we need to think in human time scales, it means we’re playing for keeps here,” says Guinotte. “To me, it sometimes seems like a school bus full of children heading for a cliff. Somehow we have to slow it down enough to find some real solutions.”

Because of the very clear potential for ocean acidification to effect everything from the tiniest oxygen-providing phytoplankton to the larger fish that feed in the coral reefs — or, as Guinotte has written, “from the shallowest waters to the darkest depths of the deep sea” — the threat to humankind is immense.

To figure out precisely how much acidification many varieties of coral can tolerate, and what we can do to preserve the health of the marine ecosystem, Guinotte argues for a coordinated research effort that tackles every aspect of the problem. That includes better monitoring of ocean carbon; closer tracking of calcifying organisms and more laboratory and field studies of their physiological responses to increasingly acidicity; and more detailed studies that model the threat to the marine ecosystem as a whole. Some of this work is under way, but too much of it has been conducted in piecemeal fashion. Only a more intensive, coordinated effort, says Guinotte, can provide the detail necessary for policymakers to develop strategies that protect critical species, habitats, and ecosystems.

“From the standpoint of the oceans,” Guinotte says, “there is no escaping the fact that we are going to need major reductions in our CO2 emissions — something like 80 to 90 percent. When we see governments arguing about reductions of 10 to 15 percent, I think all of us in the marine science community need to say that CO2 reductions of this scale are simply not going to be sufficient. We have to get off fossil fuels.”

The fossil record shows that high CO2 concentrations have likely played a big role in mass extinctions of marine life in the past. “If marine systems start to crash, it may well be too late to stop the train,” says Guinotte. “Governments are likely to panic and make irrational decisions; international tensions could certainly heat up. These are the kinds of things that keep me awake at night. I continue to hope we can get it turned around. But it will take political will, and so far, that has been in short supply.”

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DAVID FOGARTY and NICK MACFIE, Reuters, August 17, 2010

A dramatic spike in ocean temperatures off Indonesia’s Aceh province has killed large areas of coral and scientists fear the event could be much larger than first thought and one of the worst in the region’s history.

The coral bleaching — whitening due to heat driving out the algae living within the coral tissues — was first reported in May after a surge in temperatures across the Andaman Sea from the northern tip of Sumatra island to Thailand and Myanmar.

An international team of scientists studying the bleaching event found that 80% of some species have died since the initial assessment in May.

More coral colonies were expected to die within the next few months and that could spell disaster for local communities reliant on the reefs for food and money from tourism.

“I would predict that what we’re seeing in Aceh, which is extraordinary, that similar mortality rates are occurring right the way through the Andaman Sea,” said Andrew Baird of James Cook University in Townsville, in the Australian state of Queensland.

If so, that would make it the worst bleaching recorded in the region, said Baird.

Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Syiah Kuala University in Aceh have also been assessing the damage.

“This one of the most rapid and severe coral mortality events ever recorded,” the U.S.-based WCS said in a statement.

It also fits a pattern of climate extremes, from heatwaves to flooding, that have hit many areas of the globe this year.

Between April and late May, sea surface temperatures in the Andaman Sea rose to 34 degrees Celsius or about 4 degrees C above the long-term average, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Hotspots website. (See: here )

SLOW RECOVERY

“Similar mass bleaching events in 2010 have now been recorded in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and many parts of Indonesia,” the WCS statement said.

Baird, of James Cook University’s ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, told Reuters that climate change could have played a role in the extreme ocean temperatures around Aceh.

“There might be one of these cyclic climate phenomena driving it but it’s much more severe than you would predict unless there was something else forcing it, which is almost certainly global warming,” he told Reuters on Tuesday.

The bleaching is a blow to local communities in Aceh still recovering from the 2004 tsunami. That disaster caused relatively little damage to reefs and Baird said some areas had showed a dramatic recovery.

Baird said reefs in Indonesia would normally take 5 to 10 years to recover from localized bleaching. But if the event was spread across a much wider area, recovery would take longer.

“I suspect the scale of this event is so large there is unlikely to be many healthy reefs in the rest of Aceh.”

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JULIETTE JOWIT, Guardian UK, July 28, 2010

Phytoplankton might be too small to see with the naked eye, but they are the foundations of the ocean food chain, ultimately capturing the energy that sustains the seas’ great beasts such as whales.

A new study though has raised the alarm about fundamental changes to life underwater. It warns that populations of these microscopic organisms have plummeted in the last century, and the rate of loss has increased in recent years.

The reduction – averaging about 1% per year – is related to increasing sea surface temperatures, says the paper, published tomorrow in the journal Nature.

The decline of these tiny plankton will have impacted nearly all sea creatures and will also have affected fish stocks.

Phytoplankton provide food – by capturing energy from the sun – and recycle nutrients, and because they account for approximately half of all organic matter on earth they are hugely important as a means of absorbing carbon.

“This decline will need to be considered in future studies of marine ecosystems, geochemical cycling, ocean circulation and fisheries,” add the paper’s authors, from Dalhousie university in Nova Scotia, Canada.

The researchers looked at measurements of ocean transparency and tested for concentrations of chlorophyll, which gives large numbers of phytoplankton a distinctive green sheen. They said that although there were variations in some areas due to regional climate and coastal run-off, the long-term global decline was “unequivocal”.

The Nature article comes as climate scientists published what they said today was the “best ever” collection of evidence for global warming, including temperature over land, at sea and in the higher atmosphere, along with records of humidity, sea-level rise, and melting ice.

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FRANK HARTZELL, Fort Bragg Advocate News, June 11, 2010

Rising acidity of ocean waters will wipe out the world’s coral reefs and could devastate crab, scallops and other creatures that build shells from calcium compounds in ocean waters, a top professor told a Fort Bragg audience last Friday.

San Francisco State Professor Jonathon Stillman presented figures that showed the pH balance of ocean waters has tilted toward acid in the past 20 years. That’s nearly as much as it did in the previous 200 years, which were themselves a steady but slow increase over historical levels.

The bad news could be good news for Fort Bragg’s efforts to launch a marine science study center. Millions in study funding has already been pledged by various organizations to monitor new Marine Life Protected Areas. Ocean acidification and upwelling present further tasks critical to the planet’s future that a local marine study center could help with, locals said.

The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative is a public-private effort to create a connected array of new areas of the ocean where fishing uses are prohibited or restricted. The MLPAI is a private organization authorized by the state and funded by the Resources Legacy Foundation Fund to gather public input and create the proposed maps of closed areas.

Stillman presented preliminary experimental data that showed disturbing changes to mollusks, crustaceans and even fish, including decreasing shell-building and creature size.

Rising proof about the impacts of global climate change and acidification show that coral reefs will actually be melted in this century if current rates of acidification continue.

Perhaps most distressing to the crowd of about 40 people was that the life-giving upwelling off the Mendocino Coast actually adds to acidification by bringing up more acidic deep waters.

The more upwelling, the more acidic waters become.

Ocean acidification is caused by atmospheric carbon dissolving in the oceans. Ocean acidity has been rising since the beginning of the industrial revolution, as factories, cars and even cows have pumped out increasing amounts of carbon dioxide. About 30% of carbon released into the atmosphere ends up in the oceans.

Stillman was both harried and delighted by the steady barrage of questions from the audience. Many were complex and scientific in nature such as queries from geologist Skip Wollenberg and seaweed harvester Tomas DiFiore.

Everybody seemed to have a question and got an answer from the professor:

  • Do rising salinity levels contribute? Answer: No and icecap melting means salinity is actually going down.
  • What about studying the winds that drive upwelling? Answer: Important question but too tangential.

Wollenberg wanted to know if the fossil record provided any warnings of what happens when oceans get more acid. Stillman said it does, but wanted time to share important recent studies on that subject before answering, and he ran out of time, due to all the questions and discussion.

The Marine Life Protection Act Initiative never came up, although, it has greatly raised local interest (and controversy) in ocean issues and local participation in solving problems with the oceans.

The talk was sponsored by COMPASS (Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea) and OST (Ocean Science Trust). COMPASS seeks to help scientists like Stillman step outside the ivory tower and communicate complex topics to the general public.

“They are an effort to provide relevant science talks to our communities — which is such a treat,” said Jeanine Pfeiffer, a locally-based college science teacher who is also outreach coordinator for MLPAI. “I personally am thrilled to have free access to the types of seminars I used to be able to see on a weekly basis at UC Davis, but are so rare here on the coast, due to our remote location.”

Stillman provided no solutions, with his handout stating that reduced carbon output is the only solution to ocean acidification (as well as rising sea levels).

More scientific study of the oceans — like that locals hope to create with a science center on the former Georgia Pacific mill site — is critical to the survival of the planet, Stillman said.

“At present we cannot adequately predict how marine ecosystems as a whole will respond to ocean acidification and our ability to deal with (acidification) depends on how well we can predict its effects,” Stillman’s handout states.

State efforts to stem global climate change and prepare for rising sea levels were explained to the crowd by Sheila Semans, project specialist with the California Ocean Protection Council, the state agency that oversees the oceans.

She explained the sweeping Global Warming Solutions Act signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006 that targets emission reductions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Among important specific actions she cited was the acquisition of Bay Area wetlands, mostly from the Cargill Corporation, another public-privatized effort (like MLPAI) financed by the Resources Legacy Foundation.

Unlike Georgia Pacific at the mill site, Cargill was allowed to convey tens of thousands of acres to the state before cleaning up toxic effects of generations of salt mining.

This reporter, accompanied by dissident Bay Area local environmentalists and Department of Fish and Game employees, toured miles of these former salt marshes, which support little life in many places. The state has little funding for a cleanup that could cost a billion.

Local critics of the acquisition process for the salt marshes (such as refuge friends organizations) say they were unable to influence the centralized marketing and acquisition process. After the massive land tracts were acquired amid much fanfare, problems with the amount paid and the extent of the cleanup needed emerged, as local critics had predicted.

The MLPAI effort pledges better follow up study, but many locals remain skeptical that study dollars or efforts will involve locals and those with hands-on familiarity with the local ocean.

– For an overview of climate change: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/

– California Climate Change portal: http://www.climatechange.ca.gov/

The site with videos addressing rising sea levels (and other topics): http://www.climatechange.ca.gov/visualization/index.html

– Cargill acquisition: http://baynature.org/articles/jul-sep-2007/highway-to-the-flyway/napa-sonoma-marshes

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DAVID HELVARG, Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2010

President Obama’s decision to have Interior Secretary Ken Salazar open vast new areas of federal ocean waters to offshore oil drilling is no surprise. In his State of the Union address, the president explained that his vision for a clean energy future included offshore drilling, nuclear power and clean coal. Unfortunately, that’s like advocating a healthy diet based on fast-food snacking, amphetamines and low-tar cigarettes.

If the arguments you hear in the coming days for expanded drilling sound familiar, it’s because they’ve been repeated for generations. We’ve been hearing promises about safer drilling technologies since before Union Oil began drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel. And if you don’t remember what happened that time, you should. Soon after the wells were bored, one of them blew out in January 1969, causing a massive oil slick that slimed beaches and killed birds, fish and marine mammals. The resulting catastrophe helped spark the modern environmental movement.

The president has promised no new drilling off the West Coast, and it’s no wonder. Opposition was unified and vociferous during Salazar’s public hearing on offshore energy development in San Francisco in April 2009. More than 500 people – including Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Gov. Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, California’s lieutenant governor and four House members – testified and rallied for clean energy and against any new oil drilling.

Boxer noted that the coast was a treasure and a huge economic asset “just as is,” generating $24 billion a year and 390,000 jobs.

Still, in the new Department of Interior announcement, one can hear echoes of President Reagan’s Interior secretary, Don Hodel, who warned us in the 1980s that if we didn’t expand offshore drilling, we’d be “putting ourselves at the tender mercies of OPEC.”

We did expand offshore drilling then, not off the stunning redwood coastline of Mendocino, Calif., as Hodel wanted, but where the oil industry knew most of the oil and gas actually was and is: in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We even created a royalty moratorium for the oil companies that went after those huge deep-water fields.

But offshore drilling has done little to wean us from Middle Eastern oil. And with less than 5% of our domestic oil located offshore, more ocean drilling won’t help now either.

The only real way to quit relying on foreign oil is to wean ourselves from oil, and that’s something our leaders are unlikely to fully embrace until we’ve tapped that last reserve of sweet crude.

Nor is it likely that oil-friendly politicians in Louisiana, Alaska and Virginia, where new drilling will take place under the Obama plan, are going to embrace administration-backed climate legislation that recognizes drilling as a temporary bridge to a post-fossil-fuel world.

The only real difference in the drilling debate from 30 years ago is that back then the issue was energy versus marine pollution. Today we know it’s even more urgent. Oil, used as directed, overheats the planet.

Plus, any new platform drilled is a structural commitment to at least 30 more years of fossil fuel extraction – assuming it’s not taken out by a big storm like the jack-up rig I saw washed onto the beach at Alabama’s Dauphin Island after Hurricane Katrina.

I’ve visited offshore oil rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel and the Gulf of Mexico and was impressed by the oil patch workers I met there. The innovative technologies they use for extracting ever more inaccessible reserves of oil and gas are also impressive.

But now we need to direct that can-do spirit of innovation to large-scale carbon-free energy systems, including photovoltaics, wind turbines, biomass, hydrogen fuel cells and marine tidal, wave, current and thermal energy. The difficulties of producing energy with those technologies will make today’s drilling challenges seem simple.

I respect the roughnecks and roustabouts I’ve met who continue to practice a dangerous and challenging craft, and the contribution they’ve made to our nation’s maritime history. But I believe it’s time for them to exit the energy stage. Apparently the president does not.

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JEANNE ROBERTS, Celsias via CleanTechies, March 29, 2010

There is a cascade failure going on in the world’s oceans that promises nothing but trouble in the future, and the problem stems in part from agricultural practices developed over the last half-decade aimed at growing more food on the same amount of land to feed rising populations.

A cascade failure is the progressive collapse of an integral system. Many scientists also call them negative feedback loops, in that unfortunate situations reinforce one another, precipitating eventual and sometimes complete failure.

The agricultural practices relate to “factory farming,” in which farmers grow crops using more and more chemical fertilizers, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus, which are the first two ingredients (chemical symbols N and P) listed on any container or bag of fertilizer. The last is potassium, or K.

But farmers aren’t the only culprits. Lawn enthusiasts add to the problem with their massive applications of fertilizer designed to maintain a species of plant that doesn’t provide either food or habitat, and is grown merely to add prestige. And groundskeepers at parks and large corporate headquarters are equally guilty. In fact, a whole generation needs to rethink its addiction to lawns.

Whoever is guilty of applying the fertilizer, these megadoses are eventually washed off the fields and lawns and into waterways. From there, they migrate to the nearest large bodies of water, where they spark such tremendous and unnatural growth in aquatic plants that the result is eutrophication , or lack of oxygen in the water as bacteria act to reduce the sheer mass of dying organic matter.

One of these aquatic growths is algae, or phytoplankton. Moderate algal growth can produce higher fish yields and actually benefit lakes and oceans, but over-stimulation leads to a whole host of problems whose integral relationship to one another threatens not only aquatic but human life.

A classic example would be the Baltic Sea, where phytoplankton are raging out of control. The Baltic Sea is, as a result, home to seven out of ten of the world’s largest “dead zones,” aquatic areas where nothing survives.

One of the other three is the Gulf of Mexico, where a 2008 dead zone the size of Massachusetts is expected to grow in future years thanks to the U.S. government’s biofuel mandate. Most of the crops for biofuel are grown along the Mississippi River, which drains directly into this dead zone.

In the Baltic, as elsewhere, overfishing has exacerbated the problem. Fish feed on smaller aquatic organisms, which themselves feed on the algae. Take the fish out of the equation, and the balance is lost. It’s very much like removing the wolves that keep down the deer population in order to protect the sheep, and it doesn’t work in the ocean any better than it works on land.

Once the algal blooms begin to thrive, they block sunlight to deeper water and begin to kill off seaweeds and other aquatic plants which are home to fish species. The dying plants then consume more oxygen as bacteria consume them. And, as the seaweeds die, the few remaining fish and shellfish species move away, deprived of habitat.

This is a classic example of a negative feedback loop, and it is reinforced by every meal of fish, every instance of Scotts lawn fertilizer, and every ear of corn grown with a little help from Cargill or Dow, to name just two multinational fertilizer manufacturers.

Another example is occurring in the Pacific Northwest , along the West Coast of the United States, where — in Washington State, Oregon, and even Northern California — piles of Dungeness crab shells on the ocean floor mark areas of severe eutrophication well within sight of land.

Elsewhere along the Pacific shoreline, bird deaths – ranging from pelicans to sea ducks – predict a failure in the natural world that can’t help but reverberate among the planet’s prime predator, man.

These areas of eutrophication have always been present, but their spread – from one or two areas to miles of coastal waters – indicates a larger problem that is likely about to overwhelm not only the fishing industry and tourism but the existence of oceans as living entities.

As Oregon State University ocean sciences professor Jack Barth notes, the once-scarce areas of low oxygen have become the “new normal”, with old areas repeating and new areas cropping up every year. In many of these areas, oxygen levels are 30% lower than they were a mere half-decade ago.

Not all algal blooms are harmful or noxious, of course. But those which occur in response to eutrophication do seem to be, and these – known as HABs, or harmful algal blooms – include pseudo-nitzschia producing algae, which deliver a neurotoxin called domoic acid that can kill humans, birds and aquatic mammals that eat the affected shellfish; golden algae, which under certain conditions produce toxins that cause massive fish and bivalve (clams, mussels, oysters) kills; brown tides, which are not toxic in themselves but create aquatic conditions that can kill fish larvae; red tides, which produce brevetoxins that can affect breathing and sometimes trigger fatal, respiratory illnesses in humans; and blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, which can form dense colonies that cause water to smell and become toxic to fish, pets and humans.

This last, which has spread from Texas to Minnesota, has led to livestock deaths in the former. In the latter, where having a lake home is a sign of prestige, many homeowners have been forced to sell at a loss to get away from once-pristine lakes so smelly and toxic that dozens of pet dogs have been killed drinking the water.

Lower oxygen levels in oceans are very attractive to one species; jellyfish, and these odd creatures with their many tentacles and poisonous sting thrive under such conditions. In fact, jellyfish have few predators except man, and those few (tuna, sharks, swordfish, a carnivorous coral , one species of Pacific salmon and the leatherback turtle) are all at great risk of extinction because of eutrophication and its related conditions, pollution, overfishing and climate change.

As one of the most prolific species in the ocean, and certainly one with a long history (the species has been around since the Cambrian), jellyfish will probably take over the oceans if things continue as they have been going since the 1960s. This is good news for the Japanese, Chinese and other Oriental cultures who regard the slimy beast as a delicacy.

For the rest of us, jellyfish are an acquired taste, and one we had better acquire if we want to keep eating seafood. Either that, or we can support legislation that, in the U.S. at least, promises some relief through research, monitoring and rule-making regarding the Great Lakes and both coasts.

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Reuters, November 25, 2009

California released on Tuesday draft rules for its landmark greenhouse gas cap and trade plan that will be the most ambitious United States effort to use the market to address global warming.

State law requires California to cut its carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Measures will range from clean vehicle and building rules to the cap and trade system that lets factories and power companies trade credits to emit gases that heat up the earth.

Federal rules under debate by Congress could eclipse and pre-empt regional plans, but California and other local governments see themselves as the vanguard of addressing climate change, especially in light of slow national action and setbacks for international talks scheduled in Copenhagen next month.

The draft shows California, seen as an environmental trend-setter, may take on even more than expected in its first round of cap and trade, which will start in 2012.

Gasoline and residential heating fuel suppliers could be included in the first cap and trade phase, which had been expected to focus on big pollution sources like power plants and refineries.

“California is the first out of the box,” Mary Nichols, state Air Resources Board chair, told reporters on a conference call. The draft rules kick off a comment period that will lead to final regulation next fall.

A less comprehensive Northeastern United States regional trading system is already under way, focusing on carbon dioxide emissions by big emitters. California by contrast plans to include nearly every source of emissions to reach its goal.

California businesses regularly criticize the plan as going too far too fast – and costing too much. Whether the net effect of the plan will be a new green economy or disaster for overburdened businesses is still hotly debated.

Outsize attention

New estimates of plan costs, including suggestions on how much support to give industry, won’t be available until an independent advisory group issues a report next year.

The draft avoids what may be the toughest issue – how much to rely on auctions of credits, which would require power companies and the like to buy permission to pollute. The emitters want allowances given to them, especially early on.

But Ms. Nichols said California had shown a strong preference for moving to auction as quickly as possible and that its 2006 global warming law provided clear guidance while politicians in the United States Congress were still raising support for a bill.

“Congress started this, you know, as a political exercise to see how many allowances you had to give out to which groups to get them to buy into the program. They didn’t have a climate bill,” she said.

“We know how many emissions we have to reduce. The question is how do we do it in a way that costs less,” added Ms. Nichols, whose Air Resources Board was appointed by state law as the main regulator deciding on how to cut greenhouse gases.

The cost of a ton of carbon dioxide initially could be around $10, based on how other programs operated, she said. That is about half the current European price. The average American has carbon production of about 20 tons per year, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The cap and trade system will account for only about a fifth of California reductions but it draws outside attention, in part because the state, with the largest United States economy and population, is part of the 11-member Western Climate Initiative, which includes American states and Canadian provinces.

China, too, will watch California’s action, partly by virtue of the state’s partnerships with Chinese provinces, said Derek Walker, climate change director of the Environmental Defense Fund California.

“In many ways this is similar to what you are hearing from international circles now. Everybody is coming to the table with their opening bets,” he said. But unlike most, California has committed to cuts and now is working out the details.

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BBC News, November 24, 2009

Three UK groups studying climate change have issued a strong statement about the dangers of failing to cut emissions of greenhouse gases across the world.

The Royal Society, Met Office, and Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) say the science of climate change is more alarming than ever.

They say the 2007 UK floods, 2003 heatwave in Europe and recent droughts were consistent with emerging patterns.

Their comments came ahead of crunch UN climate talks in Copenhagen next month.

‘Loss of wildlife’

In a statement calling for action to cut carbon emissions, institutions said evidence for “dangerous, long-term and potentially irreversible climate change” was growing.

Global carbon dioxide levels have continued to rise, Arctic summer ice cover was lower in 2007 and 2008 than in the previous few decades, and the last decade has been the warmest on average for 150 years.

The best thing we could do is to prepare for the worst. Build better flood defences in vulnerable areas Lee, Bracknell

Persistent drought in Australia and rising sea levels in the Maldives were further indicators of possible future patterns, they said.

They argue that without action there will be much larger changes in the coming decades, with the UK seeing higher food prices, ill health, more flooding and rising sea levels.

Known or probable damage across the world includes ocean acidification, loss of rainforests, degradation of ecosystems and desertification, they said.

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the world faced more droughts, floods, loss of wildlife, rising seas and refugees.

But Professor Julia Slingo, chief scientist of the Met Office, Professor Alan Thorpe, Nerc’s chief executive, and Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society, said cutting emissions could substantially limit the severity of climate change.

Copenhagen summit

Prof Slingo told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the importance of the statement was that “it emphasises that whilst global mean temperature changes may not sound very large, the regional consequences of those are very great indeed”.

She said: “As the inter-governmental panel on climate change stated very clearly in 2007, without substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions we can likely, very likely, expect a world of increasing droughts, floods, species loss, rising seas [and] displaced human populations.

“What this statement says very clearly is that some of those things, whilst we can’t directly attribute them at the moment to global warming, are beginning to happen.”

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SAM WATERSON, Special to CNN, November 2, 2009

CNN Editor’s Note: Sam Waterston is an award-winning stage, film and television actor who is best known for his long-running role as prosecutor Jack McCoy on “Law & Order.” He is a member of the board of directors of Oceana, a nonprofit organization that seeks to protect the world’s oceans by opposing overfishing and pollution.

t1larg.waterston.courtesyAs a native New Englander, I know full and well how much we depend on the oceans. They have often been a solution for our problems.

They’ve been a highway for goods and people, connecting us to the world, and a barrier against foreign invasion, protecting us from the world; a source of food and wealth, going back to our earliest beginnings, when whale oil lit our houses and when cod were so plentiful that huge specimens were commonly stacked like cordwood on our docks and wharves, and still there were so many that you could almost walk on their backs across some harbors.

Until the recent unrelenting hammering by our technologically impressive, very efficient, very destructive commercial fishing fleets, the seas have seemed an inexhaustible cornucopia of sea life for our sustenance, delight and wonder.

Now, science tells us the global wild fish catch is, for the first time in history, declining. Fortunately, we also know what steps our governments need to take to reverse this trend — steps that can again return our seas to abundance.

But, along with the ravages of industrial-scale fishing, there is another even more troubling story to tell about our oceans. For centuries, our oceans have been an uncomplaining dump. They’ve absorbed our waste — from manufacturing, power generation, and oil spills, and our nuclear waste, our trash, and our sewage.

And carbon. For the last 250 years, the oceans have absorbed 30% of the carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, moderating and masking its global impact. They take in 11 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Each year, the amount we release grows another 3%.

What happens to the carbon dioxide absorbed by the seas is something that you should understand if you love seafood or care about the millions of fishing jobs vital to coastal towns.

Carbon dioxide combines with seawater to create carbonic acid, raising the acidity of that vast solution and reducing the amount of available carbonate. And that is serious mischief for all kinds of sea life, from corals and pteropods, continuing on through shellfish, clams, oysters, lobsters, mussels and so on, which need carbonate to make the structures that support them.

A chain reaction begins. Even creatures whose own structural parts might better survive a decrease in available carbonate in sea water depend to one degree or another on critters with higher sensitivity. Whales and salmon eat pteropods for dinner. The very tasty and much-prized Alaskan pink salmon makes pteropods 45% of its diet.

Many kinds of fish need corals for habitat. And corals aren’t just tropical — the colder the water they live in, the more vulnerable they are to changes in the availability of carbonate.

The current acidification level hasn’t been seen for at least 800,000 years, and acidification is coming on 100 times faster than at any point for hundreds of thousands for years. The levels are alarming. The rate of change makes them even scarier, because it so restricts the ability of sea creatures to adapt.

In contrast to the debate that continues about the causal relationship between this or that weather event and human activity, there is no debate about the source of ocean acidification. The change in the chemistry of the ocean is a man-made event, plain and simple, and the consequences of its continuing rise in acidity will belong squarely to us.

It will make for some uncomfortable moments around the dinner table when our children and grandchildren ask, “What did you do in the [climate] war, Daddy?” If we don’t recognize the ocean’s warning, the first cataclysm from man-made carbon dioxide emissions that will get our attention will be the collapse of the oceans.

If we do recognize the warning, the oceans are ready to be a solution. Power in the tides and waves is there to tap. Offshore wind power is a technology that’s ready to go right now, near the great population centers on our coasts, where it’s most needed.

For 800,000 years, the seas were a stable solution, a hospitable solution for all sorts of creatures to live in, and a generous solution to all sorts of human problems, from food supply to waste disposal. We must not make them inhospitable, for people or for the 80% of life on the planet that lives in them.

Carbon dioxide in the sea is the front line of climate carbon addiction. Reverse the trend toward ocean acidification, and we will also have made a giant stride in addressing the effects of climate change. The sea is warning us to change course and calling us to seize enormous opportunities. Now.

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Endangered species’ communication critical to survival

ARIEL DAVID, Seattle Post Intelligence, December 8, 2008

Whale-460_980418cThe songs that whales and dolphins use to communicate, orient themselves and find mates are being drowned out by human-made noises in the world’s oceans, U.N. officials and environmental groups said Wednesday.

That sound pollution — everything from increasing commercial shipping and seismic surveys to a new generation of military sonar — is not only confounding the mammals, it also is further threatening the survival of these endangered animals.

Studies show that these cetaceans, which once communicated over thousands of miles to forage and mate, are losing touch with each other, the experts said at a U.N. wildlife conference in Rome.

“Call it a cocktail-party effect,” said Mark Simmonds, director of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, a Britain-based NGO. “You have to speak louder and louder until no one can hear each other anymore.”

An indirect source of noise pollution may also be coming from climate change, which is altering the chemistry of the oceans and making sound travel farther through sea water, the experts said.

Representatives of more than 100 governments are gathered in Rome for a meeting of the U.N.-backed Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

The agenda of the conference, which ends Friday, includes ways to increase protection for endangered species, including measures to mitigate underwater noise.

Environmental groups also are increasingly finding cases of beached whales and dolphins that can be linked to sound pollution, Simmonds said.

Marine mammals are turning up on the world’s beaches with tissue damage similar to that found in divers suffering from decompression sickness. The condition, known as the bends, causes gas bubbles to form in the bloodstream upon surfacing too quickly.

Scientists say the use of military sonar or seismic testing may have scared the animals into diving and surfacing beyond their physical limits, Simmonds said.

Several species of cetaceans are already listed as endangered or critically endangered from other causes, including hunting, chemical pollution, collisions with boats and entanglements with fishing equipment. Though it is not yet known precisely how many animals are affected, sound pollution is increasingly being recognized as a serious factor, the experts said.

As an example, Simmonds offered two incidents this year that, though still under study, could be linked to noise pollution: the beaching of more than 100 melon-headed whales in Madagascar and that of two dozen common dolphins on the southern British coast.

The sound of a seismic test, used to locate hydrocarbons beneath the seabed, can spread 1,800 miles under water, said Veronica Frank, an official with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. A study by her group found that the blue whale, which used to communicate across entire oceans, has lost 90 percent of its range over the past 40 years.

Despite being the largest mammal ever to inhabit Earth, the endangered blue whale still holds mysteries for scientists.

“We don’t even know where their breeding grounds are,” Simmonds said. “But what’s most important is that they need to know where they are.”

Other research suggests that rising levels of carbon dioxide are increasing the acidity of the Earth’s oceans, making sound travel farther through sea water.

The study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in the United States shows the changes may mean some sound frequencies are traveling 10% farther than a few centuries ago. That could increase to 70% by 2050 if greenhouse gases are not cut.

However, governments seem ready to take action, said Nick Nutall, a spokesman for the U.N. Environment Program, which administers the convention being discussed in Rome. The conference is discussing a resolution that would oblige countries to reduce sound pollution, he said.

Measures suggested include rerouting shipping and installing quieter engines as well as cutting speed and banning tests and sonar use in areas known to be inhabited by the animals.

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JOHN M. BRODER, The New York Times, December 18, 2008

17transition2-6001President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to lead the Interior Department, Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado, will inherit an agency demoralized by years of scandal, political interference and mismanagement.

He must deal with the sharp tension between those who seek to exploit public lands for energy, minerals and recreation and those who want to preserve the lands. He will be expected to restore scientific integrity to a department where it has repeatedly been compromised. He will be responsible for ending the department’s coziness with the industries it regulates. And he will have to work hard to overcome skepticism among many environmentalists about his views on resource and wildlife issues.

One senior Interior Department executive described the job Mr. Salazar has been chosen for as “the booby prize of the Cabinet.”

As Mr. Obama introduced Mr. Salazar and Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor tapped to be secretary of agriculture, at a press conference Wednesday in Chicago, he said their responsibility would be to balance the protection of farms and public lands against the need to find new sources of energy.

“It’s time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that’s committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all our families,” Mr. Obama said. “That means ensuring that even as we are promoting development where it makes sense, we are also fulfilling our obligation to protect our national treasures.”

Mr. Salazar, wearing his customary ten-gallon hat and bolo tie, said that his job entails helping the nation address climate change through a “moon shot” on energy independence. But that would include not just the development of “green” energy sources like wind power, but also the continued domestic development of coal, oil and natural gas, fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gases when they are burned.

Environmental advocates offered mixed reviews of Mr. Salazar, 53, a first-term Democratic senator who served as head of Colorado’s natural resources department and as the state’s attorney general. Mr. Salazar was not the first choice of environmentalists, who openly pushed the appointment of Representative Raul Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, who has a strong record as a conservationist.

Oil and mining interests praised Mr. Salazar’s performance as a state official and as a senator, saying that he was not doctrinaire about the use of public lands. “Nothing in his record suggests he’s an ideologue,” said Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association. “Here’s a man who understands the issues, is open-minded and can see at least two sides of an issue.”

Mr. Popovich noted approvingly that Mr. Salazar had tried to engineer a deal in the Senate allowing mining companies and others to reclaim abandoned mines without fear of lawsuits. (The legislation is pending.) He has also supported robust research on technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants, something the coal industry favors.

He also backed a compromise that would let oil companies drill for natural gas in limited parts of the Roan Plateau in northwestern Colorado, a plan that most environmental advocates opposed.

Mr. Salazar is a fifth-generation Coloradan who grew up on a ranch near the New Mexico border. He has been a farmer, lawyer and small-business man as well as a public servant.

Pam Kiely, program director at Environment Colorado, said Mr. Salazar had been a champion of wilderness protection and of strong water quality laws, and had raised questions about the environmental costs of oil shale development, a subject of great controversy in the Mountain West. She said he had not spoken out forcefully against oil and gas development in millions of acres of national forests and roadless areas.

“We hope he continues to play a role in ensuring that, as we develop our mineral rights in these incredibly sensitive areas, we require industry to put in place safeguards that protect our health, environment, water and air quality,” Ms. Kiely said.

Marc Smith, executive director of the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, said in a statement that Mr. Salazar understood that energy security can be achieved only by making use of all domestic energy sources, including those found on and under public lands.

“We are pleased that the president-elect has chosen someone who understands that there is a direct connection between federal lands and access to affordable, clean natural gas,” Mr. Smith said.

While industry officials praised his moderation, Mr. Salazar drew harsh criticism from some environmentalists.

“He is a right-of-center Democrat who often favors industry and big agriculture in battles over global warming, fuel efficiency and endangered species,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of Center for Biological Diversity, which tracks endangered species and habitat issues. “He is very unlikely to bring significant change to the scandal-plagued Department of Interior. It’s a very disappointing choice for a presidency which promised visionary change.”

Daniel R. Patterson, formerly an official of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and now southwest regional director of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group, said that Mr. Salazar has justifiably become the most controversial of Mr. Obama’s cabinet appointees.

“Salazar has a disturbingly weak conservation record, particularly on energy development, global warming, endangered wildlife and protecting scientific integrity,” said Mr. Patterson, who was elected last month to the Arizona House of Representatives from Tucson and who supports fellow Arizonan Mr. Grijalva for the Interior job. “It’s no surprise oil and gas, mining, agribusiness and other polluting industries that have dominated Interior are supporting rancher Salazar — he’s their friend.”

Even as Mr. Salazar navigates the department’s tricky political cross-currents, he must also deal with significant internal management challenges. Members of Congress and outside groups are calling for review of dozens of decisions made under the Bush administration on endangered species and oil and gas leasing. The senior management ranks of the department have been depleted by departures of demoralized career employees.

And the agency’s computer systems are badly in need of repair, after millions of dollars have been spent on systems that have not worked, according to several internal reports.

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JOHN KING, The San Francisco Chronicle, December 19, 2008

dungenessThe impacts of climate change are a hot topic among scientists and environmental activists.  Now the Bay Conservation and Development Commission wants to hear from another perspective: the design community.

The state agency is preparing to launch a $125,000 competition that will invite architects, planners and engineers to bring innovative proposals “to climate proof the Bay Area,” in the words of the competition outline.

The aim isn’t to stop climate change from happening, say officials, or to build impregnable levees. The goal is to get designers thinking creatively about how to prepare for a world where the sea level might climb several feet – inundating large portions of the developed region unless something is done

“We are looking for ideas that can lead to future standards about how to deal with rising tides,” said Brad McCrea, a development design analyst for the commission. “We want to move the discussion forward.”

The commission approved a $25,000 contract with David Meckel to manage the competition. This means selecting the design jury as well as framing the rules – such as deciding whether design teams will be asked to look at specific sites or respond to broader issues.

“There’s an opportunity to suggest ideas that can be applied to our bay but have universal access,” said Meckel, whose design competition work is a sideline to his role as director of research for the California College of the Arts. “If one of the results is a solution for protecting low-lying freeways, for example, other cities are welcome to steal it.”

As now envisioned, $10,000 awards would go to each of the five entrants who present the most innovative schemes for adapting our urban region to natural changes. The current timetable calls for the competition to be launched in the spring and conclude by the end of 2009.

Given the relatively modest prize, Meckel suggested it’s unlikely that major architectural and/or engineering firms will respond.

“More likely we’d get something from three young staffers in the back room” of a large firm, said Meckel. “It’s a great way for emerging talent to step out.”

Still, commission officials say they’re looking for provocative and plausible examples of what the competition brief calls “resilient shoreline development techniques.”

“We all want it to go beyond cool-looking ideas,” McCrea said. “What’s needed are multidiscipline solutions … that go beyond what we think of when we talk about ‘protecting the shoreline.’ ”

The competition is the latest sign of how a commission created in 1965 to keep the bay from shrinking now grapples with the opposite problem: projections that show climate change could lift the level of the bay by more than a yard at high tide by 2050.

Left unchecked, this would submerge much of Silicon Valley as well as stretches of Highway 101 on the Peninsula. Marin County subdivisions along Richardson Bay would be imperiled; so would the Oakland and San Francisco airports.

Other coastal regions face similar impacts – which is why the commission wants the competition to have as wide an impact as possible. Current plans call for presenting the top entries in public forums and a competition catalog.

Another factor that might draw attention: the novelty.

“There’s been nothing with a focus like this that I’ve heard of in this country,” said G. Stanley Collyer, editor of Competitions, a professional quarterly.

“Ideas competitions can really have value if people take them seriously,” Collyer said. “If this one comes up with interesting ideas, it could be a model for other communities.”

“What’s needed are multidiscipline solutions … that go beyond ‘protecting the shoreline.’ “

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MARGOT ROOSEVELT, The Los Angeles Times, December 12, 2008

california_mapCalifornia regulators adopted the nation’s first comprehensive plan to slash greenhouse gases on December 11th and characterized it as a model for President-elect Barack Obama, who has pledged an aggressive national and international effort to combat global warming.

The ambitious blueprint by the world’s eighth-largest economy would cut the state’s emissions by 15% from today’s level over the next 12 years, bringing them down to 1990 levels.

Approved by the state’s Air Resources Board in a unanimous vote, the 134 page plan lays out targets for virtually every sector of the economy, including automobiles, refineries, buildings and landfills. It would require a third of California’s electricity to come from solar energy, wind farms and other renewable sources — far more than any state currently requires.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been a vigorous advocate of the plan, vowed that it would “unleash the full force of California’s innovation and technology for a healthier planet.”

Businesses, however, are sharply divided.

Automakers oppose California’s pending crackdown on carbon dioxide emissions from cars, a regulation that more than a dozen states have pledged to adopt. Manufacturers want regulators to lower the cost of complying, saying it will lead to billions of dollars in higher electricity costs.

“This plan is an economic train wreck waiting to happen,” James Duran of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce told the board, saying that it would cause financial hardship to minority-owned companies.

But Bob Epstein, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, led a coalition of energy, technology and Hollywood executives, including Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, in endorsing the plan as a spur to the state’s lagging economy.

Investors have poured $2.5 billion into California cleantech companies in the first nine months of the year, up from $1.8 billion for all of 2007, he said, a level that eclipsed the software industry.

“This plan is a clear signal to investors to invest in California,” Epstein said.

Schwarzenegger, a sharp critic of President Bush’s opposition to climate legislation, said, “When you look at today’s depressed economy, green tech is one of the few bright spots out there.”

California’s plan will be “a road map for the rest of the nation,” he predicted.

After an aborted attempt last spring, Congress is expected to renew its efforts to craft climate legislation next year. Many of the elements in contention are addressed in California’s blueprint, including a cap and trade program that would allow industries to reduce emissions more cheaply.

In 18 months of public hearings and workshops, hundreds of people testified and more than 43,000 comments were submitted. More than 250,000 copies of the plan have been viewed or downloaded from the air board’s website in the last two months.

The state’s blueprint will be implemented over the next two years through industry specific regulations. Republican legislators have called on Schwarzenegger to delay the plan, citing the dire state of California’s economy and criticism of the air board’s economic models.

Fears were also expressed by city and county officials who said the plan’s effort to force land use changes infringes on local powers. Environmentalists want more ambitious strategies to curb the sprawl that has led to a rapid increase in driving, and thus in greenhouse gases.

Worldwide, emissions of planet warming gases, which are mainly formed by burning fossil fuels, have been growing far more rapidly than scientists had predicted. California is expected to experience severe damage from climate change by mid-century, including water shortages from a shrinking snowpack, increased wildfires, rising ocean levels and pollution aggravating heat waves.

Given the state’s fast growing population and sprawling suburban development, its emissions are on track to increase by 30% over 1990 levels by 2020. The new blueprint would slash the state’s carbon footprint over the next 12 years by a total of 174 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions — the equivalent of 4 metric tons for every resident.

Despite the reach of the state’s effort, it would barely make a dent in global warming: The state’s emissions account for about 1.5% of the world’s emissions. Nonetheless, air board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said California’s leadership has spurred other states to move ahead. “We are filling a vacuum left by inaction at the federal level,” she said.

More than two dozen states have committed to capping emissions since California passed its landmark 2006 global warming law, the trigger for this action by the Air Resources Board.

California has joined with four Canadian provinces and seven western states to form a regional cap and trade program. Under the program, the states would set a total allowable amount of emissions — as California did in its blueprint. Utilities and other large industries would be required to obtain allowances to cover their emissions. If companies cut emissions more than required, they can sell their extra emission reductions to firms that are not able to meet their targets.

A cap and trade system has been adopted in Europe, where it was initially fraught with logistical problems and afforded windfall profits to many industries. California’s system, which would apply to industries responsible for 85% of its emissions, is the most controversial aspect of its plan.

Groups representing low income residents of polluted urban areas testified that allowing industries to trade in emissions would lead to dirtier plants in their neighborhoods. Under California’s plan, industries would also be allowed to buy “offsets” — emission reductions from projects in other states, or possibly foreign nations, to avoid making their own reductions.

However, the board assuaged many environmentalists Thursday when it pledged that it would gradually move toward a system to auction 100% of greenhouse gas permits, rather than give the permits away for free, as was initially the case in Europe.

Bernadette del Chiaro, an energy analyst for Environment California, predicted the auctions could bring in $1 billion at the outset and up to $340 million per year by 2020.

“This is huge,” she said. “Revenue from polluters would be used to transit to a green economy.”

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ELIZABETH ROSENTHAL, The New York Times, December 11, 2008

Poznan, Polan — Senator John Kerry arrived at the United Nations climate conference here on Thursday and immediately reassured delegates that the United States would take strong measures to combat climate change.

“President Obama will be like night and day compared to President Bush,” Mr. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, said at a news conference, adding, “Congress and the president-elect are committed to movement on mandatory goals as rapidly as possible.”

Although the incoming president has no official representatives here, the conference center is crawling with Congressional representatives and their staff members, a sign of the political transition in the United States.

Over the past two weeks, there have been staff members from more than 50 Congressional offices, representing figures like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, a Republican foreign policy statesman and Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, who will be the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

On Wednesday, transition team officials for Mr. Obama said he would announce his top environment team next week, which so far includes Carol M. Browner, Steven Chu and Lisa P. Jackson.

Despite elation at the new United States presence, there was widespread concern among delegates that developed nations would be less willing to make the financial investments in climate change at a time of global recession. In opening the two-day meeting of environment ministers on Thursday morning, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said there should be “no backsliding on our commitments.”

In a roundtable on Thursday, dozens of environment ministers pledged to hold to previous plans for emissions reductions. Stavros Dimas, environment director general of the European Union said, “We are determined despite economic surprises to deal with climate change.” The European Union has committed to reducing emissions 20% by 2020.

Still, other ministers made it clear that the global recession had made good works harder. “If we can bring our finance ministers back on board, we will be successful in Copenhagen,” where countries hope to arrive at a climate treaty by December 2009, said Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s environment minister, who reiterated his country’s goal of cutting emissions by 25% to 30% over 1990 levels by 2020.

There were some bright spots at the conference, which is part of a negotiation to create the global climate treaty. Mexico took the lead among developing countries and committed itself to emission reduction targets and caps, even though developing countries are not required to do so under the Kyoto Protocol. Brazil said it would aim to cut deforestation 70% in the next decade.

But Xie Zhenhua, the head of the Chinese delegation, reiterated that as a developing country China should not have to make such numerical commitments, but that it would “take positive and effective mitigation and adaptation measures.” China is the world’s largest emitter.

Also, some developing countries said promises by industrial nations to help them cope with climate change seemed to have been put off. The fate of a fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change was unclear on Thursday.

“We are really disappointed with the progress we are seeing in Poznan,” said Amjad Abdulla, director general of the Ministry of Environment in the Maldives, a chain of low-lying islands that is threatened by rising sea levels. “We are drowning, and there is this huge gap in commitment.”

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DEBORAH CHARLES, Reuters, December 10, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama’s team to address climate change emerged on Wednesday as Democratic officials said he had chosen a Nobel laureate for U.S. energy secretary and was likely to pick an environmental veteran to serve as coordinator of climate policies.

Announcements to come in the days ahead include several key environment-related appointments — Steven Chu as energy secretary, Carol Browner as energy and climate coordinator, Nancy Sutley to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Lisa Jackson to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

They will be charged with developing policies to reduce carbon emissions blamed for global warming, develop new sources of energy and create new jobs — a top priority for Obama.

Chu is director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics. He was an early advocate for scientific solutions to climate change.

Browner was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration. A principal at global strategy firm The Albright Group LLC, she heads Obama’s advisory team on energy and the environment.

Sutley has a long history in the environmental community. She is currently deputy mayor for energy and environment for Los Angeles and served on the California State Water Resources Control Board earlier this decade.

Jackson has served as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection in New Jersey.

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CHRIS GOODALL, Guardian/U.K, November 27, 2008

Myth 1: Solar energy is too expensive to be of much use

In reality, today’s bulky and expensive solar panels capture only 10% or so of the sun’s energy, but rapid innovation in the US means that the next generation of panels will be much thinner, capture far more of the energy in the sun’s light and cost a fraction of what they do today. They may not even be made of silicon. First Solar, the largest manufacturer of thin panels, claims that its products will generate electricity in sunny countries as cheaply as large power stations by 2012.

Other companies are investigating even more efficient ways of capturing the sun’s energy, for example the use of long parabolic mirrors to focus light on to a thin tube carrying a liquid, which gets hot enough to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity. Spanish and German companies are installing large-scale solar power plants of this type in North Africa, Spain and the south-west of America; on hot summer afternoons in California, solar power stations are probably already financially competitive with coal. Europe, meanwhile, could get most of its electricity from plants in the Sahara desert. We would need new long-distance power transmission but the technology for providing this is advancing fast, and the countries of North Africa would get a valuable new source of income.

Myth 2: Wind energy is too unreliable

Actually, during some periods earlier this year the wind provided almost 40% of Spanish power. Parts of northern Germany generate more electricity from wind than they actually need. Northern Scotland, blessed with some of the best wind speeds in Europe, could easily generate 10% or even 15% of the UK’s electricity needs at a cost that would comfortably match today’s fossil fuel prices.

The intermittency of wind power does mean that we would need to run our electricity grids in a very different way. To provide the most reliable electricity, Europe needs to build better connections between regions and countries; those generating a surplus of wind energy should be able to export it easily to places where the air is still. The UK must invest in transmission cables, probably offshore, that bring Scottish wind-generated electricity to the power-hungry south-east and then continue on to Holland and France. The electricity distribution system must be Europe-wide if we are to get the maximum security of supply.

We will also need to invest in energy storage. At the moment we do this by pumping water uphill at times of surplus and letting it flow back down the mountain when power is scarce. Other countries are talking of developing “smart grids” that provide users with incentives to consume less electricity when wind speeds are low. Wind power is financially viable today in many countries, and it will become cheaper as turbines continue to grow in size, and manufacturers drive down costs. Some projections see more than 30% of the world’s electricity eventually coming from the wind. Turbine manufacture and installation are also set to become major sources of employment, with one trade body predicting that the sector will generate 2m jobs worldwide by 2020.

Myth 3: Marine energy is a dead-end

The thin channel of water between the north-east tip of Scotland and Orkney contains some of the most concentrated tidal power in the world. The energy from the peak flows may well be greater than the electricity needs of London. Similarly, the waves off the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal are strong, consistent and able to provide a substantial fraction of the region’s power. Designing and building machines that can survive the harsh conditions of fast-flowing ocean waters has been challenging and the past decades have seen repeated disappointments here and abroad. This year we have seen the installation of the first tidal turbine to be successfully connected to the UK electricity grid in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, and the first group of large-scale wave power generators 5km off the coast of Portugal, constructed by a Scottish company.

But even though the UK shares with Canada, South Africa and parts of South America some of the best marine energy resources in the world, financial support has been trifling. The London opera houses have had more taxpayer money than the British marine power industry over the past few years. Danish support for wind power helped that country establish worldwide leadership in the building of turbines; the UK could do the same with wave and tidal power.

Myth 4: Nuclear power is cheaper than other low-carbon sources of electricity

If we believe that the world energy and environmental crises are as severe as is said, nuclear power stations must be considered as a possible option. But although the disposal of waste and the proliferation of nuclear weapons are profoundly important issues, the most severe problem may be the high and unpredictable cost of nuclear plants.

The new nuclear power station on the island of Olkiluoto in western Finland is a clear example. Electricity production was originally supposed to start this year, but the latest news is that the power station will not start generating until 2012. The impact on the cost of the project has been dramatic. When the contracts were signed, the plant was supposed to cost €3bn (£2.5bn). The final cost is likely to be more than twice this figure and the construction process is fast turning into a nightmare. A second new plant in Normandy appears to be experiencing similar problems. In the US, power companies are backing away from nuclear because of fears over uncontrollable costs.

Unless we can find a new way to build nuclear power stations, it looks as though CO2 capture at coal-fired plants will be a cheaper way of producing low-carbon electricity. A sustained research effort around the world might also mean that cost-effective carbon capture is available before the next generation of nuclear plants is ready, and that it will be possible to fit carbon-capture equipment on existing coal-fired power stations. Finding a way to roll out CO2 capture is the single most important research challenge the world faces today. The current leader, the Swedish power company Vattenfall, is using an innovative technology that burns the coal in pure oxygen rather than air, producing pure carbon dioxide from its chimneys, rather than expensively separating the CO2 from other exhaust gases. It hopes to be operating huge coal-fired power stations with minimal CO2 emissions by 2020.

Myth 5: Electric cars are slow and ugly

We tend to think that electric cars are all like the G Wiz vehicle, with a limited range, poor acceleration and an unprepossessing appearance. Actually, we are already very close to developing electric cars that match the performance of petrol vehicles. The Tesla electric sports car, sold in America but designed by Lotus in Norfolk, amazes all those who experience its awesome acceleration. With a price tag of more than $100,000, late 2008 probably wasn’t a good time to launch a luxury electric car, but the Tesla has demonstrated to everybody that electric cars can be exciting and desirable. The crucial advance in electric car technology has been in batteries: the latest lithium batteries – similar to the ones in your laptop – can provide large amounts of power for acceleration and a long enough range for almost all journeys.

Batteries still need to become cheaper and quicker to charge, but the UK’s largest manufacturer of electric vehicles says that advances are happening faster than ever before. Its urban delivery van has a range of over 100 miles, accelerates to 70mph and has running costs of just over 1p per mile. The cost of the diesel equivalent is probably 20 times as much. Denmark and Israel have committed to develop the full infrastructure for a switch to an all-electric car fleet. Danish cars will be powered by the spare electricity from the copious resources of wind power; the Israelis will provide solar power harvested from the desert.

Myth 6: Biofuels are always destructive to the environment

Making some of our motor fuel from food has been an almost unmitigated disaster. It has caused hunger and increased the rate of forest loss, as farmers have sought extra land on which to grow their crops. However the failure of the first generation of biofuels should not mean that we should reject the use of biological materials forever. Within a few years we will be able to turn agricultural wastes into liquid fuels by splitting cellulose, the most abundant molecule in plants and trees, into simple hydrocarbons. Chemists have struggled to find a way of breaking down this tough compound cheaply, but huge amounts of new capital have flowed into US companies that are working on making a petrol substitute from low-value agricultural wastes. In the lead is Range Fuels, a business funded by the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, which is now building its first commercial cellulose cracking plant in Georgia using waste wood from managed forests as its feedstock.

We shouldn’t be under any illusion that making petrol from cellulose is a solution to all the problems of the first generation of biofuels. Although cellulose is abundant, our voracious needs for liquid fuel mean we will have to devote a significant fraction of the world’s land to growing the grasses and wood we need for cellulose refineries. Managing cellulose production so that it doesn’t reduce the amount of food produced is one of the most important issues we face.

Myth 7: Climate change means we need more organic agriculture

The uncomfortable reality is that we already struggle to feed six billion people. Population numbers will rise to more than nine billion by 2050. Although food production is increasing slowly, the growth rate in agricultural productivity is likely to decline below population increases within a few years. The richer half of the world’s population will also be eating more meat. Since animals need large amounts of land for every unit of meat they produce, this further threatens food production for the poor. So we need to ensure that as much food as possible is produced on the limited resources of good farmland. Most studies show that yields under organic cultivation are little more than half what can be achieved elsewhere. Unless this figure can be hugely improved, the implication is clear: the world cannot feed its people and produce huge amounts of cellulose for fuels if large acreages are converted to organic cultivation.

Myth 8: Zero carbon homes are the best way of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions from buildings

Buildings are responsible for about half the world’s emissions; domestic housing is the most important single source of greenhouse gases. The UK’s insistence that all new homes are “zero carbon” by 2016 sounds like a good idea, but there are two problems. In most countries, only about 1% of the housing stock is newly built each year. Tighter building regulations have no effect on the remaining 99%. Second, making a building genuinely zero carbon is extremely expensive. The few prototype UK homes that have recently reached this standard have cost twice as much as conventional houses.

Just focusing on new homes and demanding that housebuilders meet extremely high targets is not the right way to cut emissions. Instead, we should take a lesson from Germany. A mixture of subsidies, cheap loans and exhortation is succeeding in getting hundreds of thousands of older properties eco-renovated each year to very impressive standards and at reasonable cost. German renovators are learning lessons from the PassivHaus movement, which has focused not on reducing carbon emissions to zero, but on using painstaking methods to cut emissions to 10 or 20% of conventional levels, at a manageable cost, in both renovations and new homes. The PassivHaus pioneers have focused on improving insulation, providing far better air-tightness and warming incoming air in winter, with the hotter stale air extracted from the house. Careful attention to detail in both design and building work has produced unexpectedly large cuts in total energy use. The small extra price paid by householders is easily outweighed by the savings in electricity and gas. Rather than demanding totally carbon-neutral housing, the UK should push a massive programme of eco-renovation and cost-effective techniques for new construction.

Myth 9: The most efficient power stations are big

Large, modern gas-fired power stations can turn about 60% of the energy in fuel into electricity. The rest is lost as waste heat.

Even though 5-10% of the electricity will be lost in transmission to the user, efficiency has still been far better than small-scale local generation of power. This is changing fast.

New types of tiny combined heat and power plants are able to turn about half the energy in fuel into electricity, almost matching the efficiency of huge generators. These are now small enough to be easily installed in ordinary homes. Not only will they generate electricity but the surplus heat can be used to heat the house, meaning that all the energy in gas is productively used. Some types of air conditioning can even use the heat to power their chillers in summer.

We think that microgeneration means wind turbines or solar panels on the roof, but efficient combined heat and power plants are a far better prospect for the UK and elsewhere. Within a few years, we will see these small power plants, perhaps using cellulose-based renewable fuels and not just gas, in many buildings. Korea is leading the way by heavily subsidising the early installation of fuel cells at office buildings and other large electricity users.

Myth 10: All proposed solutions to climate change need to be hi-tech

The advanced economies are obsessed with finding hi-tech solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these are expensive and may create as many problems as they solve. Nuclear power is a good example. But it may be cheaper and more effective to look for simple solutions that reduce emissions, or even extract existing carbon dioxide from the air. There are many viable proposals to do this cheaply around the world, which also often help feed the world’s poorest people. One outstanding example is to use a substance known as biochar to sequester carbon and increase food yields at the same time.

Biochar is an astonishing idea. Burning agricultural wastes in the absence of air leaves a charcoal composed of almost pure carbon, which can then be crushed and dug into the soil. Biochar is extremely stable and the carbon will stay in the soil unchanged for hundreds of years. The original agricultural wastes had captured CO2 from the air through the photosynthesis process; biochar is a low-tech way of sequestering carbon, effectively for ever. As importantly, biochar improves fertility in a wide variety of tropical soils. Beneficial micro-organisms seem to crowd into the pores of the small pieces of crushed charcoal. A network of practical engineers around the tropical world is developing the simple stoves needed to make the charcoal. A few million dollars of support would allow their research to benefit hundreds of millions of small farmers at the same time as extracting large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere.

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GLOBE-Net, November 28, 2008

congressFive leading U.S. corporations – Nike, Starbucks, Levi Strauss, Sun Microsystems, and Timberland – have teamed up with the Ceres investor coalition to lobby the U.S. Congress for stronger climate and energy legislation.

These founding members of Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy, BICEP, are urging for government action to ensure future climate change issues do not impact the currently struggling economy further.

“These companies have a clear message for next year’s Congress: move quickly on climate change to kick-start a transition to a prosperous clean energy economy fueled by green jobs,” says Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres.

The global corporations that make up BICEP say that without aggressive government involvement, the move towards a green economy will be arduous and the effects on companies will be devastating.

“Large-scale climate change would have economic, social and environmental consequences for our business and the communities in which we operate,” says Hilary Krane, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Levi Strauss & Co. “We can voluntarily change our own behavior in the hopes of mitigating impacts and are doing so, but we also believe that U.S. government leadership is essential if we are to create an environment in which every U.S. company recognizes the role it must play in addressing climate change and the responsibilities associated with doing business in a carbon-constrained world.”

The coalition members agree that voluntary company efforts to reduce their environmental impact will not be enough to reap the overall benefits and security of a green economy.

“Climate change is a threat to any business that relies on an agricultural product like we do with coffee,” said Ben Packard, Starbucks vice president, global responsibility. “Starbucks believes that addressing climate change will help companies like ours reduce operating costs and mitigate future economic instability due to extreme weather conditions and agricultural loss.”

BICEP’s work will focus on working with members of the business community and with Congress to pass meaningful energy and climate change legislation consistent with the following eight core principles:

1. Set greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets to at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

2. Establish an economy-wide cap-and-trade system that auctions 100% of carbon pollution allowances, promotes energy efficiency and accelerates clean energy technologies.

3. Establish aggressive energy efficiency policies to achieve at least a doubling of the rate of energy efficiency improvement.

4. Encourage transportation for a clean energy economy by promoting fuel-efficient vehicles, plug-in electric hybrids, low-carbon fuels, and transit-oriented development.

5. Increase investment in energy efficiency, renewables, and carbon capture and storage technologies while eliminating subsidies for fossil-fuel industries.

6. Stimulate job growth through investment in climate-based solutions, especially “green-collar” jobs in low-income communities and others vulnerable to climate change’s economic impact.

7. Adopt a national renewables portfolio standard requiring 20% of electricity to be generated from renewable energy sources by 2020, and 30% by 2030.

8. Limit construction of new coal-fired power plants to those that capture and store carbon emissions, create incentives for carbon capture technology on new and existing plants, and phase out existing coal-based power plants that do not capture and store carbon by 2030.

The members of BICEP are not the only ones flexing their muscle on Capitol Hill. In September, Google and General Electric announced a joint effort to lobby Washington on policies that support alternative energy technologies.

Ceres is a coalition of investors, environmental groups and other public interest groups working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as global climate change.

BICEP members believe that climate change impacts will ripple across all sectors of the economy and that new business perspectives are needed to provide a full spectrum of viewpoints for solving the climate and energy challenges facing the United States.

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MATT NAUMAN, San Jose Mercury News, September 27, 2008

Al Gore said in San Jose on Saturday that the climate crisis deserves the same type of attention and money from Washington that the financial meltdown is getting.

“Instead of a focus only on a bailout, we need to bail in renewable energy,” Gore said during a 50-minute speech at the Civic Auditorium.

Gore, who turned 60 this year, was a three-term U.S. senator from Tennessee, vice president for eight years and narrowly lost the 2000 presidential election to George Bush. But it was his move toward environmentalism, symbolized by his starring role in the 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and his subsequent Nobel Peace Prize that turned him into an international crusader against global warming.

That’s what brought him to San Jose on Saturday, as the keynote speaker for the three-day West Coast Green conference. It included presentations on a variety of green-living topics, plus an exhibit hall of green-building products.

Wearing a navy suit, but no tie, Gore came across as part science teacher, part economist and part environmental evangelist. His remarks, which included a funny story or two and mentions of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, drew frequent applause and a few standing ovations.

Indeed, the speech had something of a rock concert feel. Loud music played before the event started. Many in the casually dressed crowd of about 2,000 took cell-phone photos once Gore walked onto the stage. And his comments about the dangers of climate change, its impact on the world, and how it might be solved, sounded like Gore’s greatest hits.

He traced the current crisis with the financial markets to the subprime mortgage mess. There’s also a “subprime carbon” mess that’s shaking the world’s economy, he said, one that puts 70 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each day. And companies that deny it’s harmful are engaging in “a form of stock fraud,” he said.

Plans to seek oil from Canadian oil shale and tar sands are “utter and complete madness, complete insanity,” he said. And new coal plants should be banned in the United States, he said.

The world continues to look to America for leadership in solving global warming, he said, and it’s not getting it. “Every other nation that has failed to take action shares the same excuse for not doing so. They all point to the United States, and say, if the United States isn’t doing it, why should we,” he said. He linked that comment to the November election, but didn’t mention either Barack Obama or John McCain by name. But he repeated his quote from the Democratic convention, where he talked about McCain following Bush, saying “I’m for recycling, but this is ridiculous.”

Within 10 years, the United States should get 100% of its electricity from renewable sources. “It’s time to think boldly,” he said. “We’ve had enough of little tiny policies.

He called for a national smart grid with expanded, underground transmission lines that add solar, wind and geothermal power to the national’s energy supply. And he mentioned Silicon Valley, where he now works as a partner at the Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers venture-capital firm, as being integral to achieving something like a Moore’s Law for renewable technologies where efficiencies increase and prices fall at a consistent pace.

Gore was preceded on stage by California Attorney General Jerry Brown. He alluded to his stint as California’s governor three decades ago when he was derided as “Governor Moonbeam” for pushing for greener buildings and solar energy. He said that those have become popular notions today.

He, too, made reference to the $700 billion bailout package being negotiated in Washington, D.C.

“Why not spend $700 billion for solar, for efficiency, for conservation?” Vice Presideant Gore asked the audience. “Why not?”

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MendoCoastCurrent, September 2008

Fareed Zakaria: Your new book (Hot, Flat and Crowded) is about two things, the climate crisis and also about an American crisis. Why do you link the two?

Thomas Friedman: You’re absolutely right–it is about two things. The book says, America has a problem and the world has a problem. The world’s problem is that it’s getting hot, flat and crowded and that convergence–that perfect storm–is driving a lot of negative trends. America’s problem is that we’ve lost our way–we’ve lost our groove as a country. And the basic argument of the book is that we can solve our problem by taking the lead in solving the world’s problem.

Zakaria: Explain what you mean by “hot, flat and crowded.”

Friedman: There is a convergence of basically three large forces: one is global warming, which has been going on at a very slow pace since the industrial revolution; the second–what I call the flattening of the world–is a metaphor for the rise of middle-class citizens, from China to India to Brazil to Russia to Eastern Europe, who are beginning to consume like Americans. That’s a blessing in so many ways–it’s a blessing for global stability and for global growth. But it has enormous resource complications, if all these people–whom you’ve written about in your book, The Post American World–begin to consume like Americans. And lastly, global population growth simply refers to the steady growth of population in general, but at the same time the growth of more and more people able to live this middle-class lifestyle. Between now and 2020, the world’s going to add another billion people. And their resource demands–at every level–are going to be enormous. I tell the story in the book how, if we give each one of the next billion people on the planet just one sixty-watt incandescent light bulb, what it will mean: the answer is that it will require about 20 new 500-megawatt coal-burning power plants. That’s so they can each turn on just one light bulb!

Zakaria: In my book I talk about the “rise of the rest” and about the reality of how this rise of new powerful economic nations is completely changing the way the world works. Most everyone’s efforts have been devoted to Kyoto-like solutions, with the idea of getting western countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. But I grew to realize that the West was a sideshow. India and China will build hundreds of coal-fire power plants in the next ten years and the combined carbon dioxide emissions of those new plants alone are five times larger than the savings mandated by the Kyoto accords. What do you do with the Indias and Chinas of the world?

Friedman: I think there are two approaches. There has to be more understanding of the basic unfairness they feel. They feel like we sat down, had the hors d’oeuvres, ate the entrée, pretty much finished off the dessert, invited them for tea and coffee and then said, “Let’s split the bill.” So I understand the big sense of unfairness–they feel that now that they have a chance to grow and reach with large numbers a whole new standard of living, we’re basically telling them, “Your growth, and all the emissions it would add, is threatening the world’s climate.” At the same time, what I say to them–what I said to young Chinese most recently when I was just in China is this: Every time I come to China, young Chinese say to me, “Mr. Friedman, your country grew dirty for 150 years. Now it’s our turn.” And I say to them, “Yes, you’re absolutely right, it’s your turn. Grow as dirty as you want. Take your time. Because I think we probably just need about five years to invent all the new clean power technologies you’re going to need as you choke to death, and we’re going to come and sell them to you. And we’re going to clean your clock in the next great global industry. So please, take your time. If you want to give us a five-year lead in the next great global industry, I will take five. If you want to give us ten, that would be even better. In other words, I know this is unfair, but I am here to tell you that in a world that’s hot, flat and crowded, ET–energy technology–is going to be as big an industry as IT–information technology. Maybe even bigger. And who claims that industry–whose country and whose companies dominate that industry–I think is going to enjoy more national security, more economic security, more economic growth, a healthier population, and greater global respect, for that matter, as well. So you can sit back and say, it’s not fair that we have to compete in this new industry, that we should get to grow dirty for a while, or you can do what you did in telecommunications, and that is try to leap-frog us. And that’s really what I’m saying to them: this is a great economic opportunity. The game is still open. I want my country to win it–I’m not sure it will.

Zakaria: I’m struck by the point you make about energy technology. In my book I’m pretty optimistic about the United States. But the one area where I’m worried is actually ET. We do fantastically in biotech, we’re doing fantastically in nanotechnology. But none of these new technologies have the kind of system-wide effect that information technology did. Energy does. If you want to find the next technological revolution you need to find an industry that transforms everything you do. Biotechnology affects one critical aspect of your day-to-day life, health, but not all of it. But energy–the consumption of energy–affects every human activity in the modern world. Now, my fear is that, of all the industries in the future, that’s the one where we’re not ahead of the pack. Are we going to run second in this race?

Friedman: Well, I want to ask you that, Fareed. Why do you think we haven’t led this industry, which itself has huge technological implications? We have all the secret sauce, all the technological prowess, to lead this industry. Why do you think this is the one area–and it’s enormous, it’s actually going to dwarf all the others–where we haven’t been at the real cutting edge?

Zakaria: I think it’s not about our economic system but our political system. The rhetoric we hear is that the market should produce new energy technologies. But the problem is, the use of current forms of energy has an existing infrastructure with very powerful interests that has ensured that the government tilt the playing field in their favor, with subsidies, tax breaks, infrastructure spending, etc. This is one area where the Europeans have actually been very far-sighted and have pushed their economies toward the future.

Friedman: I would say that’s exactly right. It’s the Europeans–and the Japanese as well–who’ve done it, and they’ve done it because of the government mechanisms you’ve highlighted. They have understood that, if you just say the market alone will deliver the green revolution we need, basically three things happen and none of them are good: First, the market will drive up the price to whatever level demand dictates. We saw oil hit $145 a barrel, and when that happens the oil-producing countries capture most of the profit, 90% of it. So, some of the worst regimes in the world enjoy the biggest benefits from the market run-up. The second thing that happens is that the legacy oil, gas and coal companies get the other ten percent of the profit–so companies which have no interest in changing the system get stronger. And the third thing that happens is something that doesn’t happen: because you’re letting the market alone shape the prices, the market price can go up and down very quickly. So, those who want to invest in the alternatives really have to worry that if they make big investments, the market price for oil may fall back on them before their industry has had a chance to move down the learning curve and make renewable energies competitive with oil. Sure, the market can drive oil to $145 a barrel and at that level wind or solar may be very competitive. But what if two months later oil is at $110 a barrel? Because of that uncertainty, because we have not put a floor price under oil, you have the worst of all worlds, which is a high price of dirty fuels–what I call in the book fuels from hell–and low investment in new clean fuels, the fuels from heaven. Yes, some people are investing in the alternatives, but not as many or as much as you think, because they are worried that without a floor price for crude oil, their investments in the alternatives could get wiped out, which is exactly what happened in the 1980s after the first oil shock. That’s why you need the government to come in a reshape the market to make the cost of dirty fuels more expensive and subsidize the price of clean fuels until they can become competitive.

Right now we are doing just the opposite. Bush and Cheney may say the oil market is “free,” but that is a joke. It’s dominated by the world’s biggest cartel, OPEC, and America’s biggest energy companies, and they’ve shaped this market to serve their interests. Unless government comes in and reshapes it, we’re never going to launch this industry. Which is one of the reasons I argue in the book, “Change your leaders, not your light bulbs.” Because leaders write rules, rules shape markets, markets give you scale. Without scale, without being able to generate renewable energy at scale, you have nothing. All you have is a hobby. Everything we’ve doing up to now is pretty much a hobby. I like hobbies–I used to build model airplanes as a kid. But I don’t try to change the world as a hobby. And that’s basically what we’re trying to do.

Zakaria: But aren’t we in the midst of a green revolution? Every magazine I pick up tells me ten different ways to get more green. Hybrids are doing very well…

Friedman: What I always say to people when they say to me, “We’re having a green revolution” is, “Really? A green revolution! Have you ever been to a revolution where no one got hurt? That’s the green revolution.” In the green revolution, everyone’s a winner: BP’s green, Exxon’s green, GM’s green. When everyone’s a winner, that’s not a revolution–actually, that’s a party. We’re having a green party. And it’s very fun–you and I get invited to all the parties. But it has no connection whatsoever with a real revolution. You’ll know it’s a revolution when somebody gets hurt. And I don’t mean physically hurt. But the IT revolution was a real revolution. In the IT revolution, companies either had to change or die. So you’ll know the green revolution is happening when you see some bodies–corporate bodies–along the side of the road: companies that didn’t change and therefore died. Right now we don’t have that kind of market, that kind of change-or-die situation. Right now companies feel like they can just change their brand, not actually how they do business, and that will be enough to survive. That’s why we’re really having more of a green party than a green revolution.

Zakaria: One of your chapters is called “Outgreening Al-Qaeda.” Explain what you mean.

Friedman: The chapter is built around the green hawks in the Pentagon. They began with a marine general in Iraq, who basically cabled back one day and said, I need renewable power here. Things like solar energy. And the reaction of the Pentagon was, “Hey, general, you getting a little green out there? You’re not going sissy on us are you? Too much sun?” And he basically said, “No, don’t you guys get it? I have to provision outposts along the Syrian border. They are off the grid. They run on generators with diesel fuel. I have to truck diesel fuel from Kuwait to the Syrian border at $20 a gallon delivered cost. And that’s if my trucks don’t get blown up by insurgents along the way. If I had solar power, I wouldn’t have to truck all this fuel. I could—this is my term, not his—’outgreen’ Al-Qaeda.”

I argue in the chapter that “outgreening”–the ability to deploy, expand, innovate and grow renewable energy and clean power–is going to become one of the most important, if not the most important, sources of competitive advantage for a company, for a country, for a military. You’re going to know the cost of your fuel, it’s going to be so much more distributed, you will be so much more flexible, and–this is quite important, Fareed–you will also become so much more respected. I hear from law firms today: one law firm has a green transport initiative going for its staff–they only use hybrid cars–another one doesn’t. If some law student out of Harvard or Yale is weighing which law firm to join–many will say today: “I think I’ll go with the green one.” So there are a lot of ways in which you can outgreen your competition. I think “outgreening” is going to become an important verb in the dictionary – between “outfox” and “outmaneuver.”

Zakaria: Finally, let me ask you–in that context–what would this do to America’s image, if we were to take on this challenge? Do you really think it could change the way America is perceived in the world?

Friedman: I have no doubt about it, which is why I say in the book: I’m not against Kyoto; if you can get 190 countries all to agree on verifiable limits on their carbon, God bless you. But at the end of the day, I really still believe–and I know you do too–in America as a model. Your book stresses this–that even in a post-American world we still are looked at by others around the world as a role model. I firmly believe that if we go green–if we prove that we can become healthy, secure, respected, entrepreneurial, richer and more innovative by greening our economy, many more people will follow us voluntarily than would do so by compulsion of a treaty. Does that mean Russia and Iran will? No. Geopolitics won’t disappear. But I think it will, speaking broadly, definitely reposition us in the world with more people in more places. I look at making America the greenest country in the world like running the Olympic triathlon: if you make it to the Olympics and you run the race, maybe you win–but even if you don’t win, you’re fitter, healthier, more secure, more respected, more competitive and entrepreneurial, because you have given birth to a whole new clean power industry–which has to be the next great global industry–and put your economy on a much more sustainable footing. So to me, this is a win-win-win-win race, and that’s why I believe we, America, need to take the lead in it. In the Cold War we had the space race with Russia to see who could be the first to put a man on the moon. Today we need an earth race with Japan, Europe, China and India–to see who can be the first to invent the clean power technologies that will allow man to live safely and sustainably on earth.

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RICHARD MORGAN, The New York Times, September 2, 2008

TOOLIK FIELD STATION, Alaska — As Anne Giblin was lugging four-foot tubes of Arctic lakebed mud from her inflatable raft to her nearby lab this summer, she said, “Mud is a great storyteller.”

Dr. Giblin, a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., is part of the Long Term Ecological Research network at an Arctic science outpost here operated by the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

Public discussion of complicated climate change is largely reduced to carbon: carbon emissions, carbon footprints, carbon trading. But other chemicals have large roles in the planet’s health, and the one Dr. Giblin is looking for in Arctic mud, one that a growing number of other researchers are also concentrating on, is nitrogen.

In addition to having a role in climate change, nitrogen has a huge, probably more important biological impact through its presence in fertilizer. Peter Vitousek, a Stanford ecologist whose 1994 essay put nitrogen on the environmental map, co-authored a study this summer in the journal Nature that put greater attention on the nitrogen cycle and warned against ignoring it in favor of carbon benefits.

For example, Dr. Vitousek said in an interview, “There’s a great danger in doing something like, oh, overfertilizing a cornfield to boost biofuel consumption, where the carbon benefits are far outweighed by the nitrogen damage.”

Soon after Dr. Vitousek’s report, the journal Geophysical Research Letters branded as a “missing greenhouse gas” nitrogen trifluoride, which is used in production of semiconductors and in liquid-crystal displays found in many electronics. According to the report, it causes more global warming than coal-fired plants. Nitrogen trifluoride, which is not one of the six gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol, the celebrated international global warming accord, is about 17,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Its estimated worldwide release into the atmosphere this year is equivalent to the total global-warming emissions from Austria.

“The nitrogen dilemma,” Dr. Vitousek added, “is not just thinking that carbon is all that matters. But also thinking that global warming is the only environmental issue. The weakening of biodiversity, the pollution of rivers, these are local issues that need local attention. Smog. Acid rain. Coasts. Forests. It’s all nitrogen.”

Dr. Vitousek’s summer report followed a similar account in May in the journal Science by James N. Galloway, an environmental sciences professor at the University of Virginia and a former chairman of the International Nitrogen Initiative, a group of scientists pushing for smarter use of nitrogen.

Dr. Galloway is developing a universal calculator for individual nitrogen footprints. “It’s Goldilocks’s problem,” he said in an interview. “Reactive nitrogen isn’t a waste product. We need it desperately. Just not too much and not too little. It’s just more complicated than carbon.” He continued, “But we’re not going to get anywhere telling people this is simple or easy.”

Dr. Giblin of Woods Hole spent the summer at the field station here, midway between the Arctic Circle and the Arctic Ocean, researching the nitrogen content of lakebed sediment — not the inert nitrogen that makes up 80& of air, the reactive nitrogen that Dr. Galloway referred to. In forms like nitric acid, nitrous oxide, ammonia and nitrate it plays a variety of roles.

Nitrogen is part of all living matter. When plants and animals die, their nitrogen is passed into soil and the nitrogen in the soil, in turn, nourishes plants on land and seeps into bodies of water. Dr. Giblin is pursuing her research because as the Arctic warms, the tundra’s permafrost will thaw, and the soil will release carbon and nitrogen into the atmosphere.

When an ecosystem has too much nitrogen, the first response is that life blossoms. More fish, more plants, more everything. But this quickly becomes a kind of nitrogen cancer.  Waters cloud and are overrun with foul-smelling algae blooms that can cause toxic “dead zones.” Scientists call this process eutrophication, but the laymen’s translation is that the water gets mucked up beyond all recognition. A recent such plague bedeviled China when its Yellow Sea was smothered in algae at Qingdao, the planned site of Olympic sailing events this summer. More than mere inconvenience, such problems routinely threaten many coastal areas and riverside communities.

Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, is known as Queen of the Dead Zone. She cruises around the Gulf of Mexico every summer in the research vessel Pelican to look for damage from nitrogen-rich river flows into the gulf. This year, she expects a dead zone that will beat the Massachusetts-size 8,500-square-mile bloom of 2002.

One of the problems, Dr. Rabalais said, is that the Mississippi River involves so many communities that it requires stronger federal guidance, which she said was not a part of the Bush administration’s policies. She is part of a national research committee financed by the Environmental Protection Agency and run by the National Academies of Science, but, she said, “it’s so much talk and not enough action.”

She continued: “Because you’re not just going up against the agribusiness lobby, but also the livelihood of farmers. It’s not exactly popular in the Midwest.”

Fertilizer use is largely inefficient. With beef, only about 6% of nitrogen used in raising cows ends up in their meat; the rest leeches out into air or water supplies. With pork, it is 12%; chicken, 25%. Milk, eggs and grain have the highest efficiency, about 35%, or half of what, in the metric of report cards, is a C-minus.

“Look,” she said, “you just can’t have all these states and all these communities knowingly overfertilizing their land because they want a bumper crop every year. That’s just all kinds of bad. But Des Moines, for example, is willing to filter their drinking water to an extra degree just to be able to flood their water supply with more-than-normal levels of fertilizer.”

Reactive nitrogen competes with greenhouse gases that have greater public awareness. “But it’s like looking at malaria and AIDS in Africa,” Dr. Rabalais said. “They’re both problems. And they both need vigilant attention.”

Environmentalists face the puzzle of how to deal with multiple problems at once. And some worry that after the hard-fought campaign spotlighting carbon, turning to focus on nitrogen could upset that momentum.

The tension can plague even the most informed and articulate campaigners. “One of the many complexities that complicate the task I’ve undertaken is complexity,” said Al Gore, the former vice president who won a Noble Peace Prize for his environmental work. Mr. Gore added, “Look, I can start a talk by saying, ‘There are 14 global warming pollutants, and we have a different solution for addressing each of them.’ And it’s true. But you start to lose people.”

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NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, The New York Times, August 28, 2008

One of the country’s largest builders of coal-fired power plants will give investors detailed warnings about the risks that global warming poses to its business under a deal with New York’s attorney general.

The agreement Wednesday between the attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, and the company, Xcel Energy of Minneapolis, is the first of its kind in the country. It could open a broad new front in efforts by environmental groups to pressure the energy industry into reducing emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Until now, advocates have largely relied on shareholder resolutions as a way of pushing the companies to reduce their carbon dioxide output and invest more aggressively in renewable energy sources like wind or solar power.

That effort has picked up pace, according to Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmental groups, with dozens of shareholder resolutions filed during the 2008 financial reporting season.

“This really takes it another step, by making it a settlement agreement that should have an impact across the industry,” said Dan Bakal, the director of electric power programs at Ceres.

Mr. Cuomo subpoenaed Xcel and four other companies last September, seeking to determine whether their efforts to build new coal-fired power plants posed risks not disclosed to investors, like future lawsuits or higher costs to comply with possible regulations restricting carbon emissions.

The attorney general’s office is still negotiating with the four other companies — the AES Corporation, Dominion, Dynergy and Peabody Energy. But Mr. Cuomo hopes that the agreement will help persuade other companies to follow in the footsteps of Xcel, which supplies natural gas and electricity to customers in eight states. Among utilities, Xcel is one of the nation’s largest producers of greenhouse gases and a major provider of wind energy.

Many coal-fired power plants have been proposed or are under construction across the country and environmental advocates have made it a priority to reduce their impact.

“This landmark agreement sets a new industrywide precedent that will force companies to disclose the true financial risks that climate change poses to their investors,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “Coal-fired power plants can significantly contribute to global warming, and investors have the right to know all the associated risks.”

The agreement represents another novel use by Mr. Cuomo of the Martin Act, a powerful tool that allows the attorney general to bring criminal as well as civil charges. Mr. Cuomo’s predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, used the law to vastly expand the office’s investigations of suspected Wall Street malfeasance.

Now Mr. Cuomo has turned it into a de facto form of environmental enforcement, too. For energy companies, including those based far from New York, he is able to claim jurisdiction because they issue securities on Wall Street.

The agreement with Xcel requires the company to analyze the likely effects on its business of current and future legislation or regulations in the states and countries where it operates and to disclose that information in its investor filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Congress and many states are considering global warming legislation. Ten states stretching from Maryland to Maine, including New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, have struck a deal to cap emissions and allow trading of pollution allotments among producers.

Under the agreement with Mr. Cuomo, Xcel will disclose the financial risks of lawsuits and of federal or state court decisions that would affect its business. The company will also analyze and disclosed the “material financial risks” to itself associated with global warming, like drought — coal plants are prodigious users of water — or rising sea levels.In a statement, the chairman of Xcel, Richard C. Kelly, said the company had already voluntarily reduced carbon emissions and planned to continue to do so.

“We previously provided detailed information concerning the expected impact of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions regulations on our operations, and under this agreement we will make even more detailed disclosures,” Mr. Kelly said. “This agreement will enhance our already aggressive efforts to be responsible environmental stewards.”

Xcel officials said their reductions of greenhouse gases had totaled 18 million tons since 2003. They added that the company planned to build an additional 6,000 megawatts of renewable energy generation by the end of the next decade.

Justin McCann, an energy analyst at Standard & Poor’s, said that the company had included more detailed information on climate change risks in its most recent filing, since Mr. Cuomo’s investigation began. But the new agreement will require even more disclosure, he said, and probably encourage other companies to follow suit.

“Utility lobbies are very strong, but they have read the writing on the wall in terms of greenhouse gas reductions,” Mr. McCann said. “They know it is extremely popular with the public, and so they have wanted to get ahead of the curve, so they can have some input.”

But some of the companies that Mr. Cuomo scrutinized might be less amenable to adopting the new requirements than others. When Mr. Cuomo issued his subpoenas last year, Vic Svec, a spokesman for Peabody Energy, described the attorney general’s inquiry as “outrageous” and suggested that Mr. Cuomo’s use of the Martin Act was a form of legal harassment.

Reached Wednesday, Mr. Svec said: “We’re confident that our disclosures around CO2” — carbon dioxide — “have been and continue to be adequate.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, August 6, 2008

In humanity’s more than 100,000 year history, we have evolved from vulnerable creatures clawing sustenance from Earth to a sophisticated global society manipulating every inch of it. In short, we have become the dominant animal. Why, then, are we creating a world that threatens our own species? What can we do to change the current trajectory toward more climate change, increased famine and epidemic disease?

Renowned Stanford scientists Paul R. Ehrlich and Anne H. Ehrlich believe that intelligently addressing those questions depends on a clear understanding of how we evolved and how and why we’re changing the planet in ways that darken our descendants’ future. The Dominant Animal arms readers with that knowledge, tracing the interplay between environmental change and genetic and cultural evolution since the dawn of humanity. In lucid and engaging prose, they describe how Homo sapiens adapted to their surroundings, eventually developing the vibrant cultures, vast scientific knowledge and technological wizardry we know today.

But the Ehrlichs also explore the flip side of this triumphant story of innovation and conquest. As we clear forests to raise crops and build cities, lace the continents with highways and create chemicals never before seen in nature, we may be undermining our own supremacy. The threats of environmental damage are clear from the daily headlines, but the outcome is far from destined. Humanity can again adapt—if we learn from our evolutionary past.

Those lessons are crystallized in The Dominant Animal. Tackling the fundamental challenge of the human predicament, Paul and Anne Ehrlich offer a vivid and unique exploration of our origins, our evolution and our future.

About the Authors

Paul R. Ehrlich is Bing Professor of Population Studies and professor of biological sciences at Stanford University. The author of Human Natures, The Population Bomb, and many other books, as well as hundreds of papers, he is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a recipient of numerous international honors, including the Crafoord Prize, an explicit substitute for the Nobel Prize in fields of science in which the latter is not given.

Anne H. Ehrlich is affiliated with Stanford’s Department of Biological Sciences and Center for Conservation Biology. She has served on the board of the Sierra Club and other conservation organizations, has coauthored more than ten books with her husband (including One with Nineveh), and is a recipient of the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement and the United Nations Environment Programme\Sasakawa Environment Prize.

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ED PILKINGTON, The Guardian, June 23, 2008

James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.

Hansen will use the symbolically charged 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking speech to the US Congress – in which he was among the first to sound the alarm over the reality of global warming – to argue that radical steps need to be taken immediately if the “perfect storm” of irreversible climate change is not to become inevitable.

Speaking before Congress again, he will accuse the chief executive officers of companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy of being fully aware of the disinformation about climate change they are spreading.

In an interview with the Guardian he said: “When you are in that kind of position, as the CEO of one the primary players who have been putting out misinformation even via organisations that affect what gets into school textbooks, then I think that’s a crime.”

He is also considering personally targeting members of Congress who have a poor track record on climate change in the coming November elections. He will campaign to have several of them unseated. Hansen’s speech to Congress on June 23 1988 is seen as a seminal moment in bringing the threat of global warming to the public’s attention. At a time when most scientists were still hesitant to speak out, he said the evidence of the greenhouse gas effect was 99% certain, adding “it is time to stop waffling”.

He will tell the House select committee on energy independence and global warming this afternoon that he is now 99% certain that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has already risen beyond the safe level.

The current concentration is 385 parts per million and is rising by 2ppm a year. Hansen, who heads Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, says 2009 will be a crucial year, with a new US president and talks on how to follow the Kyoto agreement.

He wants to see a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, coupled with the creation of a huge grid of low-loss electric power lines buried under ground and spread across America, in order to give wind and solar power a chance of competing. “The new US president would have to take the initiative analogous to Kennedy’s decision to go to the moon.”

His sharpest words are reserved for the special interests he blames for public confusion about the nature of the global warming threat. “The problem is not political will, it’s the alligator shoes – the lobbyists. It’s the fact that money talks in Washington, and that democracy is not working the way it’s intended to work.”

A group seeking to increase pressure on international leaders is launching a campaign today called 350.org. It is taking out full-page adverts in papers such as the New York Times and the Swedish Falukuriren calling for the target level of CO2 to be lowered to 350ppm. The advert has been backed by 150 signatories, including Hansen.

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LAURA MANDARO, MarketWatch, June 26, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO – California released a draft plan on Thursday to reduce the state’s projected greenhouse gas emissions by nearly one-third, in part by creating a cap and trade program that could serve as a blueprint for a national carbon emissions market.

The 77-page “climate change draft scoping plan” lays out the framework for California to meet the goals of a 2006 law signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that requires the state to slash its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

This target means electric utilities, industrial users, fuel refiners such as Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips and builders will have to lower their combined output of carbon dioxide by one-tenth from today’s levels and 30% from projected 2020 emissions of the gas thought to contribute to global warming.

The success of California’s efforts to scale back greenhouse gas emissions using a mix of regulations and market mechanisms could provide a roadmap for a national standard, largely thanks to the state’s size and the aggressive goals it has set.

“It certainly paves the way,” said Milo Sjardin, head of the North American division of New Carbon Finance, a carbon emissions research and analysis firm. “Any federal program may take some of California’s experience on board,” he said.

The California plan also seeks to expand the amount of electricity utilities such as PG&E Corp. and Edison International generate from renewable resources to 33% by 2020. Today, just 12% of the state’s electricity comes from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources.

Cap and trade to launch in 2012

The nation’s most populous state says it will achieve these ambitious goals by putting in place strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions, caps that give users of fossil fuel a financial incentive to put in place heavier pollution controls.

A key part of this plan is the establishment of a market to allow companies to trade their carbon allowances with companies from neighboring Western states and Canadian provinces that are producing less than their allowed emissions — or that engage in an activity, such as planting trees, that lowers emissions.

The head of the panel charged with implementing the state’s global warming law said board members are using as a model the cap-and-trade program established by the U.S. government to restrict emissions that cause acid rain, which was part of the 1990 Clean Air Act.

“When industry knew they had to come under a cap, they came up with measures that were much cheaper than anyone thought,” said Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board. “Having a cap out there spurs the innovation,” she said in a conference call with reporters.

California’s cap and trade program, set for launch in 2012, will also present national companies with a second set of standards with which to comply. A group of Northeastern states is planning to launch a smaller cap and trade program next year.

The addition of another set of regulations “puts increasing pressure on the federal government to put something in place to level the playing field,” said New Carbon Finance’s Sjardin.

Sens. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut and John Warner, a Republican from Virginia, last year introduced a national climate bill – which the Senate tabled in June — designed to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 70% by 2050.

Both major-party presumptive presidential candidates, Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama have said they support a national standard for carbon emissions.

Development of a U.S. carbon-trading market is following the rapid growth of the now $50 billion carbon-trading market in Europe, where corporations have been trading emissions-reductions credits as part of meeting the Kyoto Protocol. California’s market will likely start at a much smaller level. New Carbon Finance’s Sjardin estimates it could reach $10 billion by 2015.

If the entire country were to incorporate such a program, the size of the market could hit $1 trillion by 2020, he says.

Bringing to fruition California’s plan, let alone a national version, faces stumbling blocks.

In the state’s Senate, the Republican caucus is pushing for a delay of certain parts of the 2006 bill it says make it too expensive for businesses in a time of economic duress.

Nonetheless, the state’s largest utilities are preparing for the state to push through the caps, which will cover 85% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions.

San Francisco-based utility PG&E says 13% of its power comes from renewable energy sources. By 2012, that level should reach about 22%, said Keely Wachs, a spokesman for the utility, which serves 15 million customers in Northern and Central California.

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Summary:

Audubon strongly supports properly-sited wind power as a clean alternative energy source that reduces the threat of global warming. Wind power facilities should be planned, sited and operated to minimize negative impacts on bird and wildlife populations.

Rationale:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has clearly stated that the impacts of climate change are here now and will get worse. Scientists have found that climate change has already affected half of the world’s wild species’ breeding, distribution, abundance and survival rates. By mid-century, the IPCC predicts that climate change may contribute to the extinction of 20-30% of all species on earth.

In order to prevent species extinctions and other catastrophic impacts of climate change, scientists say we must reduce global warming emissions by at least 80% by 2050. Reducing pollution from fossil fuels to this degree will require rapidly expanding energy and fuel efficiency, renewable energy and alternative fuels, and changes in land use, agriculture, and transportation. To avoid catastrophe, we need to do all of these.

Wind power is an important part of the strategy to combat global warming. Wind power is currently the most economically competitive form of renewable energy. It provides nearly 15,000 megawatts of power in the United States, enough power for more than 3 million households, and could provide up to 20% of the country’s electricity needs. Every megawatt-hour produced by wind energy avoids an average of 1,220 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. If the United States obtains 20% of its electricity from wind power by 2020, it will reduce global warming emissions equivalent to taking 71 million cars off the road or planting 104 million acres of trees. Expanding wind power instead of fossil fuels also avoids the wildlife and human health impacts of oil and gas drilling, coal mining and fossil fuel burning.

Protecting Birds and Wildlife:

While Audubon strongly supports wind power and recognizes it will not be without some impact, production and transmission facilities must be planned, sited and operated in concert with other actions needed to minimize and mitigate their impacts on birds and other wildlife populations. Several federal and state laws require this and the long-term sustainability of the wind industry depends on it. Wind power facilities impact birds from direct collisions with turbines and related facilities, such as power lines. Wind power facilities can also degrade or destroy habitat, cause disturbance and displacement, and disrupt important ecological links. These impacts can be avoided or significantly reduced, however, with proper siting, operation and mitigation.

Audubon supports the adoption of federal and state guidelines on the study, siting, operation and mitigation of wind power. Guidelines should provide developers, permitting agencies and conservation groups with the legal, technical and practical steps needed to minimize impacts on birds and other wildlife. Guidelines should provide the following essential elements:

  • Minimum pre-permitting study requirements and guidance on study methods, frequency and acceptable data sources to ensure that wind power is sited in appropriate locations
  • Clearly delineated siting criteria that designate areas where wind power should not be allowed, such as Important Bird Areas, major migratory corridors, wilderness areas, national parks, wildlife refuges, and other sensitive habitat such as wetlands and riparian corridors
  • Clearly defined monitoring and mitigation requirements in permits, with periodic reviews and requirements for adaptive management if impacts significantly exceed levels allowed by permit
  • Guidance on cumulative population impacts assessment and mitigation.

Audubon also encourages wind developers and permitting agencies to consult with wildlife experts, including Audubon staff and local chapters, to help inform study and siting decisions.

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LINDSAY BECK, Reuters, June 13, 2007

Beijing – The United States hopes the world’s major economies will agree to remove trade barriers on clean energy technologies when they meet alongside the Group of Eight rich nations next month, a senior official said on Friday.

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the World Bank had identified 43 technologies the United States and Europe proposed eliminating tariffs on.

“We think it is one of the most important and immediate signs of seriousness, because climate change is an urgent issue and we can see a very significant increase in the purchases of clean technologies if we eliminate the tariffs,” Connaughton told reporters in Beijing.

Solar panels and wind turbines are among the clean technologies the World Bank identified.

At the July meeting, host Japan is expected to urge G8 nations to agree on a target of slashing greenhouse gases in half by 2050.

The world’s major economies will also hold talks on climate change, aiming to push forward efforts to craft a framework by the end of 2009 to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

The U.N.-led talks in the Danish capital Copenhagen at the end of next year aim to agree on a successor to Kyoto that binds all nations to emissions curbs, depending on their circumstances.

The Kyoto pact, whose first phase expires at the end of 2012, binds only 37 industrialized nations to greenhouse gas cuts between 2008-12.

Connaughton said the World Bank has estimated the elimination of tariffs could result in a 14% increase in the global trade in clean energy technologies.

“That would be a very significant addition to the global uptake in technology transfer of clean technologies,” he said in Beijing, where he is meeting Chinese counterparts to discuss climate change and the G8 talks.

The G8 meeting would also aim to agree means to speed the reduction of greenhouse gases in key industrial sectors, as well as a financing and technology transfer package that would include a new clean technology fund.

SECTORAL APPROACH

Connaughton said an industry-by-industry approach to reducing greenhouse gases was “one of the most effective ways to engage internationally”, indicating U.S. support for a sectoral approach that Japan has strongly backed.

China’s emissions of carbon dioxide are widely considered to have overtaken the United States to make it the world’s top emitter of the main greenhouse gas that scientists say will warm the planet, causing seas to rise, glaciers to melt and trigger more intense storms.

Beijing believes rich countries are responsible for most of the greenhouse gases pumped in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution and they should do more to cut their output and transfer clean technology to poorer nations.

Despite differences, Connaughton said it was important to come to an agreement to ward off a trade sanction-based approach — something he said China and other major developing countries strongly object to.

A U.S. climate bill that was voted down in the Senate earlier this month would have added a carbon tariff on energy-intensive imports from countries such as China by 2020.

The Bush administration opposes such tariffs, but Connaughton said there were bipartisan forces in Congress that would like to see such sanctions.

“There is still a temptation to be protectionist and still a temptation to use trade sanctions as a tool, and that’s not a very productive way forward,” he said. “It’s an understandable tendency in the absence of strong commitments.”

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MATT HOME, The Vancouver Sun, June 3, 2008

Just as British Columbia passes the first carbon tax in Canada into law, a new poll by McAllister Opinion Research has revealed that more than 70% of Canadians support British Columbia’s carbon tax as a “positive step” towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A separate poll by Harris/Decima published in The Vancouver Sun last week found that 75% of British Columbians are prepared to significantly alter their behaviour to fight global warming, and 73% believe more government regulation will be necessary to help them do that.

It’s not often a province receives praise for introducing new taxes, but these recent polls confirm that Canadians, and British Columbians in particular, understand the global importance of the climate change issue and want governments to take action.

The provincial government has become a leader on global warming with a carbon tax that is one of the most comprehensive in the world (covering virtually all fossil fuels), and the first in North America to focus directly on reducing greenhouse gas pollution by changing the decisions made by businesses and consumers. The ground-breaking tax is changing the level of debate on carbon taxes in the rest of the country.

The government’s next challenge is to ensure the tax improves over time to significantly reduce future emissions.

The price on greenhouse gases needs to reach at least $75 per tonne by 2020 to reduce national greenhouse gas pollution to 1990 levels, according to the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy. B.C. is committed to reducing its greenhouse gases to 10% below 1990 levels.

Victoria has said the carbon tax will start at $10 per tonne and rise to $30 per tonne by 2012, but has yet to commit to future increases in the tax that will be needed to reach its emission targets.

To ensure the province is on a path to meeting its emissions targets, the government needs to provide a schedule for incremental increases in the carbon tax beyond 2012 .

This schedule should be laid out clearly for British Columbians as soon as possible to help people make good decisions on purchases that will be affected by the carbon tax, such as cars or homes.

For the tax to be effective, the government also needs to make sufficient investments to ensure that there are solutions available to help all British Columbians decrease energy consumption and emissions. The government has already taken steps in this direction with announced increases in public transit investment and new funding for home energy retrofits.

Low-income families will need additional support. While the proposed low income tax credit is a good start and should continue, the focus must be on helping low-income households reduce their energy bills. Examples include creative programs like Warm Front in the U.K., which will spend $1.5 billion to retrofit the homes of 400,000 low-income families between 2008 and 2011.

And finally, the government must aim to include all sources of emissions under a carbon pricing system. The one-third of industrial emissions not covered by the carbon tax could be included in B.C.’s cap and trade system, which is currently being designed. However, if the province’s future cap and trade system does not include these sources, they must be included under the carbon tax — or industry will be given a free ride.

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JOHN VIDAL, The Guardian, June 6, 2008

From a distance the bizarre structures sprouting from the high Alentejo plain in eastern Portugal resemble a field of mechanical sunflowers. Each of the 2,520 giant solar panels is the size of a house and they are as technically sophisticated as a car. Their reflective heads tilt to the sky at a permanent 45 degrees as they track the sun through 240 degrees every day.

The world’s largest solar photovoltaic farm, generating electricity straight from sunlight, is taking shape near Moura, a small town in a thinly populated and impoverished region which boasts the most sunshine per square metre a year in Europe.

When fully commissioned later this year, the £250m farm set on abandoned state-owned land will be twice the size of any other similar project in the world, covering an area nearly twice the size of London’s Hyde park. It is expected to supply 45MW of electricity each year, enough to power 30,000 homes.

Portugal, without its own oil, coal or gas and with no expertise in nuclear power, is pitching to lead Europe’s clean-tech revolution with some of the most ambitious targets and timetables for renewables. Its intention, the economics minister, Manuel Pinho, said, is to wean itself off oil and within a decade set up a low carbon economy in response to high oil prices and climate change.

“We have to reduce our dependence on oil and gas,” said Pinho. “What seemed extravagant in 2004 when we decided to go for renewables now seems to have been a very good decision.”

He expects Portugal to generate 31% of all its energy from clean sources by 2020. This means lifting its renewable electricity share from 20% in 2005 to 60% in 2020, compared with Britain’s target of 15% of all energy by 2020. Having passed its target for 2010 it could soon top the EU renewables league.

In less than three years, Portugal has trebled its hydropower capacity, quadrupled its wind power, and is investing in flagship wave and photovoltaic plants. Encouraged by long-term guarantees of prices by the state, and not delayed by planning laws or government indecision, it has proved a success. Firms are expected to invest £10bn in renewables by 2012 and up to £100bn by 2020.

However, Portugal says it wants to develop a renewables industry to rival Denmark or Japan. When the government invited companies for tenders to supply wind, solar and wave power, it demanded they work with manufacturing companies to establish clusters of industries.

This is a great success, say regional governments. In northern Portugal, where the world’s biggest wind farm, with more than 130 turbines, is now being strung across the mountainous Spanish border, a German firm employs more than 1,200 people building 600 40-metre-long fibreglass wind turbine blades a year.

The turbines are earmarked for Portuguese farms first, but orders are being taken from Britain and other countries. Half the workforce are women who once worked in the declining textile industry.

It is Portuguese plans for wave power that are prompting the most interest in Europe. The world’s first commercial wave farm is being assembled near Porto. Three “sea snakes”, developed by the Edinburgh-based company Pelamis, will shortly be towed out to sea and will start pumping modest amounts of electricity into the grid later this year.

It is the start of a potentially giant global industry with Portuguese firm Enersis planning to invest more than £1bn in a series of farms that together would power 450,000 homes.

Pinho dismisses nuclear power. “When you have a programme like this there is no need for nuclear power. Wind and water are our nuclear power. The relative price of renewables is now much lower, so the incentives are there to invest. My advice to countries like the UK is to move as fast as they can to renewables. With climate change and the increase in oil prices, renewables will become more and more important.

“Countries that do not invest in renewables will pay a high price in future. The cost of inaction is very high indeed. The perception that renewable energy is very expensive is changing every day as the oil price goes up.”

He added: “Energy and environment are the biggest challenge of our generation. We need to develop a low-carbon model for the world economy. The present situation is dangerous.”

EU Renewable League

Top

  • Sweden 2005 39.8%, target by 2020 49%
  • Latvia 34.9%, target 42%
  • Finland 28.5%, target 38%
  • Austria 23.3%, target 34%
  • Portugal 20.5%, target 31%

Bottom

  • Cyprus 2.9%, target by 2020 13%
  • Netherlands 2.4%, target 14%
  • Ireland 3.1%, target 16%
  • Netherlands 2.4%, target 14%
  • Belgium 2.2%, target 13%
  • UK 1.3%, target 15%

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MATTHEW L. WALD, The New York Times, June 8, 2008

Washington — Cutting carbon dioxide emissions is a fine idea, and a lot of companies would be proud to do it. But they would prefer to be second, if not third or fourth.

This is not a good way to get started in fighting global warming.

As efforts to pass a global warming bill collapsed in the Senate last week, companies that burn coal to make electricity were looking for a way to build a plant that would capture its emissions. There is a will and a way — several ways, in fact — to do just that.

Capturing carbon from these plants may become a lot more important soon. Emissions from coal-fired power plants already account for about 27% of American greenhouse emissions, but as prices for other fuels rise, along with power demand, utilities will burn more coal. And if cars someday run on batteries, a trend that $4-a-gallon gasoline will accelerate, then the utilities will burn even more fuel to generate the electricity to recharge those batteries.

This could be good news, because controlling emissions from a few hundred power plants is easier than controlling them from tens of millions of house chimneys, or hundreds of millions of tailpipes. And in the laboratory, at least, there are three very promising systems for capturing carbon dioxide before pumping it underground.

But supplying electricity is not like most other businesses. Unlike the companies that make microchips, clothing for teenagers or snack foods, the companies that make electricity can see no advantage in going first. This is true for the traditionally regulated utilities that can charge everything to a captive class of customers (if regulators approve), and it is also true for the “merchant generators,” who build power plants and sell their output on the open market.

“No one wants to go into the new world,” said Armond Cohen, executive director of the Clean Air Task Force, a nonprofit group that favors stringent controls on power plant emissions. “We have very few takers because of the price premium.”

By price premium, Mr. Cohen meant not only the costs of going first, with the high probability of mistakes that others can learn from, but the costs of the new technology itself. The problem is, the premium is of unknown size, which makes everyone in the industry especially wary.

The point was illustrated by a recent decision by the Virginia State Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, to turn down an application by the Appalachian Power Company to build a plant that would have captured 90% of its carbon and deposited it nearly two miles underground, at a well that it dug in 2003. The applicant’s parent was American Electric Power, one of the nation’s largest coal users, and perhaps the most technically able. But the company is a regulated utility and spends money only when it can be reimbursed.

The Virginia commission said that it was “neither reasonable nor prudent” for the company to build the plant, and the risks for ratepayers were too great, because costs were uncertain, perhaps double that of a standard coal plant. And in a Catch-22 that plagues the whole effort, the commission said A.E.P. should not build a commercial-scale plant because no one had demonstrated the technology on a commercial scale.

Thus an approach that makes collective sense — trying out technologies that could be helpful over the long term — is unattractive to individual participants.

That is not the only where-to-get-started problem. Another is that building a plant might make sense to a utility regulator, or to a company that builds power plants on speculation, if it generated pollution credits that the company could then sell to other polluters, for instance, or could help the plant meet emissions quotas. But there are, as yet, no credits to buy or sell and no quota to meet.

When Congress debates the idea, one of the drawbacks is that no one is sure where to set the caps on emissions, because no one is sure what the carbon regulation would cost. So there is no regulation, no plant built to meet the regulation, and thus no plant for lawmakers to look at to determine how strict a regulation to pass.

Carbon capture is not the only field in which nobody wants to go first; another is nuclear power. Builders in that industry also recognize that the first to build a next-generation reactor (the last one ordered that was actually built was in 1973) will pay a lot more than the builders who follow. But Congress has tried, at least, to solve that problem by offering generous loan guarantees and risk insurance for the first few reactors. There was a plan to heavily subsidize a single capture-and-storage coal plant, but when the estimated construction price nearly doubled, to $1.8 billion, the Energy Department dropped the plan.

And without full-scale tests, nobody knows what all this would cost.

“The estimates are accurate to within plus 20% to plus 100%,” said John Rowe, the chief executive of Exelon, which burns coal and also operates nuclear reactors, and leans toward the latter for new projects. “These are very complicated projects, with a great deal of both science and engineering and of public acceptability tests that have simply not happened yet,” he said. In contrast, he argued, nuclear is easier.

While others differ, or argue that solar or wind would be a better bet, the failure to get started does have a certain circularity to it. Companies will not run to build plants that sequester their carbon because Congress has not set a price for emitting the pollutant. Without the early plants, Congress has little clue how many tons the economy can afford to capture and sequester.

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The Economist, June 5, 2008

You only have to look at waves pounding a beach, inexorably wearing cliffs into rubble and pounding stones into sand, to appreciate the power of the ocean. As soaring oil prices and concern over climate change give added urgency to the search for new, renewable sources of energy, the sea is an obvious place to look. In theory the world’s electricity needs could be met with just a tiny fraction of the energy sloshing around in the oceans.

Alas, harnessing it has proved to be unexpectedly difficult. In recent years wind farms have sprouted on plains and hilltops, and solar panels have been sprinkled across rooftops and deserts. But where the technology of wind and solar power is established and steadily improving, that of wave power is still in its infancy. The world had to wait until October 2007 for the first commercial wave farm, consisting of three snakelike tubes undulating with the Atlantic swell off the coast of Portugal.

In December Pacific Gas & Electric, an American utility, signed an agreement to buy electricity from a wave farm that is to be built off the coast of California and is due to open in 2012. Across the world many other wave-power schemes are on the drawing board. The story of wave power, however, has been one of trials and tests followed by disappointment and delays. Of the many devices developed to capture wave energy, none has ever been deployed on a large scale. Given wave power’s potential, why has it been so hard to get the technology to work—and may things now be about to change?

The first patents for wave-power devices were issued in the 18th century. But nothing much happened until the mid-1970s, when the oil crisis inspired Stephen Salter, an engineer at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, to develop a wave generator known as Salter’s Duck. His design contained curved, floating canisters, each the size of a house, that would be strung together and then tethered to the ocean floor. As the canisters, known as Ducks, were tossed about by the waves, each one would rock back and forth. Hydraulics would convert the rocking motion to rotational motion, which would in turn drive a generator. A single Duck was calculated to be capable of generating 6 megawatts (MW) of electricity—enough to power around 4,000 homes. The plan was to install them in groups of several dozen.

Initial estimates put the cost of generating electricity in this way at nearly $1 per kilowatt hour (kWh), far more than nuclear power, the most expensive electricity at the time. But as Dr Salter and his team improved their design, they managed to bring the cost-per-kWh down to the cost of nuclear power. Even so, the research programme was shut down by the British government in 1982. The reasons for this were not made public, but it is widely believed to have happened after lobbying by the nuclear industry. In testimony to a House of Lords committee in 1988, Dr Salter said that an accurate evaluation of the potential of new energy sources would be possible only when “the control of renewable energy projects is completely removed from nuclear influences.”

Salter’s Duck never took to the seas, but it sparked interest in the idea of wave power and eventually helped to inspire other designs. One example is the Pelamis device, designed by some of Dr Salter’s former students, who now work at Pelamis Wave Power, a firm based in Scotland. Three such devices, each capable of generating up to 750kW, have been deployed off the coast of Portugal, and dozens more are due to be installed by 2009. There are also plans for installations off Orkney in Scotland and Cornwall in England.

As waves travel along the 140-metre length of the snakelike Pelamis, its hinged joints bend both up and down, and from side to side. This causes hydraulic rams at the joints to pump hydraulic fluid through turbines, turning generators to produce electricity. Pelamis generators present only a small cross-section to incoming waves, and absorb less and less energy as the waves get bigger. This might seem odd, but most of the time the devices will not be operating in stormy seas—and when a storm does occur, their survival is more important than their power output.

Oh Buoy

The Aquabuoy, designed by Finavera Renewables of Vancouver, takes a different approach. (This is the device that Pacific Gas & Electric hopes to deploy off the California coast.) Each Aquabuoy is a tube, 25-metres long, that floats vertically in the water and is tethered to the sea floor. Its up-and-down bobbing motion is used to pressurise water stored in the tube below the surface. Once the pressure reaches a certain level, the water is released, spinning a turbine and generating electricity.

The design is deliberately simple, with few moving parts. In theory, at least, there is very little to go wrong. But a prototype device failed last year when it sprang a leak and its bilge-pump malfunctioned, causing it to sink just as it was due to be collected at the end of a trial. Finavera has not released the results of the trial, which was intended to measure the Aquabuoy’s power output, among other things. The company has said, however, that Aquabuoy will be profitable only if each device can generate at least 250kW, and that it has yet to reach this threshold.

Similar bobbing buoys are also being worked on by AWS Ocean Energy, based in Scotland, and Ocean Power Technologies, based in Pennington, New Jersey, among others. The AWS design is unusual because the buoys are entirely submerged; the Ocean Power device, called the PowerBuoy, is being tested off the coast of Spain by Iberdrola, a Spanish utility.

The Oyster, a wave-power device from Aquamarine Power, another Scottish firm, works in an entirely different way. It is an oscillating metal flap, 12 metres tall and 18 metres wide, installed close to shore. As the waves roll over it, the flap flexes backwards and forwards. This motion drives pistons that pump seawater at high pressure through a pipe to a hydroelectric generator. The generator is onshore, and can be connected to lots of Oyster devices, each of which is expected to generate up to 600kW. The idea is to make the parts that go in the sea simple and robust, and to keep the complicated and delicate bits out of the water. Testing of a prototype off the Orkney coast is due to start this summer.

The logical conclusion of this is to put everything onshore—and that is the idea behind the Limpet. It is the work of Wavegen, a Scottish firm which is a subsidiary of Voith Siemens Hydro, a German hydropower firm. A prototype has been in action on the island of Islay, off the Scottish coast, since 2000. The Limpet is a chamber that sits on the shoreline. The bottom of the chamber is open to the sea, and on top is a turbine that always spins in the same direction, regardless of the direction of the airflow through it.

As waves slam into the shore, water is pushed into the chamber and this in turn displaces the air, driving it through the turbine. As the water recedes, air is sucked back into the chamber, driving the same turbine again. The Limpet on Islay has three chambers which generate an average of 100kW between them, but larger devices could potentially generate three times this amount, according to Wavegen. Limpets may be built into harbour breakwaters in Scotland and Spain.

Dozens of wave-energy technologies are being developed around the world: ideas, in other words, are not what has held the field back. So what has? Tom Thorpe of Oxford Oceanics, a consultancy, blames several overlapping causes. For a start, wave energy has lagged behind wind and solar, because the technology is much younger and still faces some big technical obstacles. “This is a completely new energy technology, whereas wind and photovoltaics have been around for a long time—so they have been developed, rather than invented,” says Mr Thorpe.

The British government’s decision to shut its wave-energy research programme, which had been the world’s biggest during the 1970s, set the field back nearly two decades. Since Britain is particularly well placed to exploit wave energy (which is why so many wave-energy companies come from there), its decision not to pursue the technology affected wave-energy research everywhere, says Mr Thorpe. “If we couldn’t do it, who could?” he says.

Once interest in wave power revived earlier this decade, practical problems arose. A recurring problem, ironically enough, is that new devices underestimate the power of the sea, and are unable to withstand its assault. Installing wave-energy devices is also expensive; special vessels are needed to tow equipment out to sea, and it can be difficult to get hold of them. “Vessels that could potentially do the job are all booked up by companies collecting offshore oil,” says Trevor Whittaker, an engineer at Queen’s University in Belfast who has been part of both the Limpet and Oyster projects. “Wave-generator installation is forced to compete with the high prices the oil industry can pay.”

Another practical problem is the lack of infrastructure to connect wave-energy generators to the power grid. The cost of establishing this infrastructure makes small-scale wave-energy generation and testing unfeasible; but large-scale projects are hugely expensive. One way around this is to build a “Wave Hub”, like the one due to be installed off the coast of Cornwall in 2010 that will provide infrastructure to connect up wave-energy arrays for testing.

Expect Flotations

But at last there are signs of change. Big utilities are taking the technology seriously, and are teaming up with wave-energy companies. Venture-capitalists are piling in too, as they look for new opportunities. Several wave-energy companies are thought to be planning stockmarket flotations in the coming months. Indeed, such is investors’ enthusiasm that Mr Thorpe worries that things might have gone too far. A big failure could tarnish the whole field, just as its prospects look more promising than ever.

Whether one wave-energy device will dominate, or different devices will suit different conditions, remains to be seen. But wave energy’s fortunes have changed. “We have to be prepared for some spectacular failures,” says Mr Thorpe, “but equally some spectacular successes.”

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ANDREW LEONARD, How the World Works at Salon.com, June 6, 2008

Portugal lacks oil and gas resources, has no nuclear power expertise, but has abundant wind, wave and solar energy. Making a commitment to turn from expensive, polluting fossil fuel to abundant renewable power, Portugal’s leaders foresaw tightening energy markets and made huge investments to develop renewable power.

Says Manuel Pinho, Portugal’s Economics Minister about Portugal’s renewable energy program, “When you have a program like this there is no need for nuclear power. Wind and water are our nuclear power. The relative price of renewables is now much lower, so the incentives are there to invest. My advice to countries like the U.K. is to move as fast as they can to renewables. With climate change and the increase in oil prices, renewables will become more and more important.”

Portugal’s goal is to produce 30% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Here’s a handy listing of how selected European countries are currently faring on their environmental goals provided by The Guardian.

The Top Performers:

  • Sweden 2005 39.8%, target by 2020 48%
  • Latvia 34.9%, target 42%
  • Finland 28.5%, target 38%
  • Austria 23.3%, target 34%
  • Portugal 20.5%, target 31%

The Bottom Dwellers:

  • Cyprus 2.9%, target by 2020 13%
  • Netherlands 2.4%, target 14%
  • Ireland 3.1%, target 16%
  • Netherlands 2.4%, target 14%
  • Belgium 2.2%, target 13%
  • UK 1.3%, target 15%

For comparison purposes, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration statistics for the year 2006, the U.S. gets about 7 percent of its power from renewable energy generation.

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From Green Wombat, May 1, 2008

“Years ago we came to the conclusion that global warming was a problem, it was an urgent problem and the need for action is now. The problem appears to be worse and more imminent today, and the need to take action sooner and take more significant action is greater than ever before” – PG&E Chairman and CEO Peter Darbee

The head of one of the nation’s largest utilities seemed to be channeling Al Gore when he met with a half-dozen environmental business writers in the PG&E boardroom in downtown San Francisco. While a lot of top executives talk green these days, for Darbee green has become the business model, one that represents the future of the utility industry in a carbon-constrained age.

As Katherine Ellison wrote in a feature story on PG&E that appeared in the final issue of Business 2.0 magazine last September, California’s large utilities — including Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — are uniquely positioned to make the transition to renewable energy and profit from green power.

First of all, they have no choice. State regulators have mandated that California’s investor-owned utilities obtain 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010 with a 33 percent target by 2020. Regulators have also prohibited the utilities from signing long-term contracts for dirty power – i.e. with the out-of-state coal-fired plants that currently supply 20 percent of California’s electricity. Second, PG&E and other California utilities profit when they sells less energy and thus emit fewer greenhouse gases. That’s because California regulators “decouple” utility profits from sales, setting their rate of return based on things like how well they encourage energy efficiency or promote green power.

Still, few utility CEOs have made green a corporate crusade like Darbee has since taking the top job in 2005. And the idea of a staid regulated monopoly embracing technological change and collaborating with the likes of Google and electric car company Tesla Motors on green tech initiatives still seems strange, if not slightly suspicious, to some Northern Californians, especially in left-leaning San Francisco where PG&E-bashing is local sport.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Darbee, 54, sketched a future where being a successful utility is less about building big centralized power plants that sit idle until demand spikes and more about data management – tapping diverse sources of energy — from solar, wind and waves to electric cars — and balancing supply and demand through a smart grid that monitors everything from your home appliances to where you plugged in your car. “I love change, I love innovation,” says Darbee, who came to PG&E after a career in telecommunications and investment banking.

Renewable Energy

“On renewable energy what we’ve seen is the market is thin,” says Darbee. “Demand just from ourselves is greater than supply in terms of reliable, well-funded companies that can provide the service.”

PG&E so far has signed power purchase agreements with three solar startups — Ausra, BrightSource Energy and Solel — for up to 1.6 gigawatts of electricity to be produced by massive solar power plants. Each company is deploying a different solar thermal technology and uncertainty over whether the billion-dollar solar power stations will ultimately be built has prompted PG&E to consider jumping into the Big Solar game itself.

“We’re looking hard at the question of whether we can get into the business ourselves in order to do solar and other forms of renewables on a larger scale,” Darbee says. “Let’s take some of the work that’s been done around solar thermal and see if we can partner with one of the vendors and own larger solar installations on a farm rather than on a rooftop.”

“I like the idea of bringing the balance sheet of a utility, $35 billion in assets, to bear on this problem,” he adds.

It’s an approach taken by the renewable energy arm of Florida-based utility FPL, which has applied to build a 250-megawatt solar power plant on the edge of the Mojave Desert in California.

For now, PG&E is placing its biggest green bets on solar and wind. The utility has also signed a 2-megawatt deal with Finavera Renewables for a pilot wave energy project off the Northern California coast. Given the power unleashed by the ocean 24/7, wave energy holds great promise, Darbee noted, but the technology is in its infancy. “How does this technology hold up against the tremendous power of the of the Pacific Ocean?”

Electric Cars

Darbee is an auto enthusiast and is especially enthusiastic about electric vehicles and their potential to change the business models of both the utility and car industries. (At Fortune’s recent Brainstorm Green conference, Darbee took Think Global’s all-electric Think City Coupe for a spin and participated in panels on solar energy and the electric car.)

California utilities look at electric cars and plug-in hybrids as mobile generators whose batteries can be tapped to supply electricity during peak demand to avoid firing up expensive and carbon-spewing power plants. If thousands of electric cars are charged at night they also offer a possible solution to the conundrum of wind power in California, where the breeze blows most strongly in the late evenings when electricity demand falls, leaving electrons twisting in the wind as it were.

“If these cars are plugged in we would be able to shift the load from wind at night to using wind energy during the day through batteries in the car,” Darbee says.

The car owner, in other words, uses wind power to “fill up” at night and then plugs back into the grid during the day at work so PG&E can tap the battery when temperatures rise and everyone cranks up their air conditioners.

Darbee envisions an electricity auction market emerging when demand spikes. “You might plug your car in and say, ‘I’m available and I’m watching the market and you bid me on the spot-market and I’ll punch in I’m ready to sell at 17 cents a kilowatt-hour,” he says. “PG&E would take all the information into its computers and then as temperatures come up there would be a type of Dutch auction and we start to draw upon the power that is most economical.”

That presents a tremendous data management challenge, of course, as every car would need a unique ID so it can be tracked and the driver appropriately charged or credited wherever the vehicle is plugged in. Which is one reason PG&E is working with Google on vehicle-to-grid technology.

“One of the beneficiaries of really having substantial numbers of plug-in hybrid cars is that the cost for electric utility users could go down,” says Darbee. “We have a lot of plants out there standing by for much of the year, sort of like the Maytag repairman, waiting to be called on for those super peak days. And so it’s a large investment of fixed capital not being utilized.” In other words, more electric and plug-in cars on the road mean fewer fossil-fuel peaking power plants would need to be built. (And to answer a question that always comes up, studies show that California currently has electric generating capacity to charge millions of electric cars.)

Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is one of the hotter hot-button issues in the global warming debate. Left for dead following the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters, the nuclear power industry got a new lease on life as proponents pushed its ability to produce huge amounts of carbon-free electricity.

“The most pressing problem that we have in the United States and across the globe is global warming and I think for the United States as a whole, nuclear needs to be on the table to be evaluated,” says Darbee.

That’s unlikely to happen, however in California. The state in the late 1970s banned new nuclear power plant construction until a solution to the disposal of radioactive waste is found. PG&E operates the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, a project that was mired in controversy for years in the ’70s as the anti-nuke movement protested its location near several earthquake faults.

“It’s a treasure for the state of California – It’s producing electricity at about 4 cents a kilowatt hour,” Darbee says of Diablo Canyon. “I have concerns about the lack of consensus in California around nuclear and therefore even if the California Energy Commission said, `Okay, we feel nuclear should play a role,’ I’m not sure we ought to move ahead. I’d rather push on energy efficiency and renewables in California.”

The Utility Industry

No surprise that Darbee’s peers among coal-dependent utilities haven’t quite embraced the green way. “I spent Saturday in Chicago meeting with utility executives from around the country and we’re trying to see if we can come to consensus on this very issue,” he says diplomatically. “There’s a genuine concern on the part of the industry about this issue but there are undoubtedly different views about how to proceed and what time frames to proceed on.”

For Darbee one of the keys to reducing utility carbon emissions is not so much green technology as green policy that replicates the California approach of decoupling utility profits from sales. “If you’re a utility CEO you’ve got to deliver earnings per share and you’ve got to grow them,” he says. “But if selling less energy is contradictory to that you’re not going to get a lot of performance on energy efficiency out of utilities.”

“This is a war,” Darbee adds, “In fact, some people describe [global warming] as the greatest challenge mankind has ever faced — therefore what we ought to do is look at what are the most cost-effective solutions.”

Thanks to Green Wombat for this post!

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EDWARD J. DODSON, E/The Environmental Magazine, March/April 2008

The debate over whether our global climate system is experiencing changes at an accelerated rate seems to be over, even if the extent to which human activity is a primary cause remains in dispute. Climatologists are not yet able to model the full scope of changes we will be experiencing; however, with even modest increases in sea levels will come the increased probability of destructive storms and flooding along the coastal regions of every continent.

Almost one-half of us live within a few hundred kilometers of a coastline, and many of the world’s most densely populated regions are right on the coast. With little thought to the long-term consequences, we have established these enormous centers of population where the risk of disaster is ever-present.

It now seems clear that the engines of climate change will not be reversed or even slowed before we experience ever-worsening storms, rising tides and destruction of many cities and communities constructed at sea level. Evacuation of these low-lying regions around the globe or the construction of sophisticated flood prevention systems (as exist in the Netherlands) are not under serious consideration anywhere in the world.

What we need is what we do not have—time for debate, consensus-building, and citizen pressure on governments to act.

There is only one practical step that can be taken by governments around the globe, with direction from the scientific community. This is to determine where the additional water can be safely channeled to form inland seas where deserts now dominate the landscape, or where there are deep depressions capable to storing water that will otherwise flood our coasts. An immediate priority ought to be to develop computer models that identify the best locations and routes by which to channel water inland from the coasts.

I do not suggest this is an ideal course of action. However, after much consideration of the challenges we face and the high probability of coastal destruction over the next few decades, this strategy must be considered and thoroughly studied to identify the potential environmental consequences of converting large areas of the earth’s surface to inland saltwater seas. Paying for these types of projects is certainly an issue for governments. Inasmuch as the protection of the coastal regions also preserves land values, the most obvious means of paying for the construction of inland canals, dams and other necessary public improvement projects is to impose a national surtax on land values (which are almost universally left untapped by local governments as the most legitimate source of revenue for public infrastructure).

The rationale for imposing a national surtax on land values is that the creation of inland seas will surely create monetary land values where currently they are very low or nonexistent. More than one economist, including Nobel Prize winner William Vickrey, has argued the case for capturing land values as public revenue. In 1977, Professor Vickrey offered both advice and a warning to us:

“Use of land rents, or, at least, of a major fraction of them, for public purposes is … not merely an ethical imperative, derived from categorisation of these rents as an unearned income derived from private appropriation of publicly created values, but is, even more importantly, a fundamental requirement for economic efficiency. Cities that take the lead in such public use of land rents may find that in the long run the subsidy is self-financing through the enhancement in land values that results…There will, of course, be many an agonising slip between abstract economic analysis and cold political and economic reality. Lack of comprehension, political intervention, strategic recalcitrance, and the inertia associated with heavy commitments of fixed capital … may slow the processes involved to a glacial pace. But the fundamental tendencies and requirements inherent in the very nature of the city can be ignored only at great peril to its economic health.”

His analysis applies as well to our capacity to respond to rising sea levels and other environmental threats. For example, in the global arena, this principle must be applied under the Law of the Sea. Licenses awarded to private interests permitting exploitation the world’s commons must be allocated by competitive bidding under strict regulations to prevent environmental degradation. The licensing fees collected could then be utilized as a global fund to remediate the most pressing environmental disasters.

In those countries where the new inland seas are formed, governments should retain public stewardship over the land and, to the extent development along the new shores is warranted, offer access to these locations under leaseholds awarded by competitive bidding (with periodic adjustments in the annual ground rent charges consistent with current market conditions). Hopefully, these measures will yield enough time and public revenue for us to agree upon and implement solutions to the many environmental, economic, social and political problems pulling us toward a rather dismal future.

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GERALD WYNN, Reuters UK, April 16, 2008

LONDON – Climate change expert Nicholas Stern says he under-estimated the threat from global warming in a major report 18 months ago when he compared the economic risk to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Latest climate science showed global emissions of planet-heating gases were rising faster and upsetting the climate more than previously thought, Stern said in a Reuters interview on Wednesday.

For example, evidence was growing that the planet’s oceans — an important “sink” — were increasingly saturated and couldn’t absorb as much as previously of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2), he said.

“Emissions are growing much faster than we’d thought, the absorptive capacity of the planet is less than we’d thought, the risks of greenhouse gases are potentially bigger than more cautious estimates, and the speed of climate change seems to be faster,” he told Reuters at a conference in London.

Stern said that increasing commitments from some countries such as the European Union to curb greenhouse gases now needed to be translated into action. Policymakers, businesses and environmental pressure groups frequently cite the Stern Review as a blueprint for urgent climate action.

The report predicted that, on current trends, average global temperatures will rise by 2-3 degrees centigrade in the next 50 years or so and could reduce global consumption per head by up to 20 percent, with the poorest nations feeling the most pain.

Some academics said he had over-played the costs of potential future damage from global warming at up to twenty times the cost of fighting the problem now, such as by replacing fossil fuels with more costly renewable power.

Stern said on Wednesday that increasing evidence of the threat from climate change had vindicated his report, published in October 2006.

“People who said I was scaremongering were profoundly wrong,” he told the climate change conference organised by industry information provider IHS.

IPCC

A U.N. panel of scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), writes regular summaries on climate science and last year shared the Nobel Peace prize with former U.S. vice president Al Gore for raising awareness.

Its latest report in 2007 had not taken detailed account of some dangerous threats, including the falling ability of the world’s oceans to absorb CO2, because scientists had to be cautious and that evidence was just emerging, the former World Bank chief economist added.

“The IPCC has done a tremendous job but things are moving on,” he told Reuters.

“The IPCC’s (cautious) approach to this is entirely understandable and sensible, but if you’re looking ahead and asking about the risk then you do have to go beyond.”

Stern said that to minimise the risks of dangerous climate change global greenhouse gas emissions should halve by mid-century. He said the United States should cut its emissions by up to 90 percent by then.

He was speaking before a senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said U.S. President George W. Bush planned on Wednesday to call for a halting of growth in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

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San Francisco, California, RenewableEnergyAccess.com, December 28, 2007

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) announced that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has approved its four new renewable energy power purchase agreements (PPA). The four projects — three utility-scale solar and one geothermal — will generate approximately 585 megawatts (MW) of electricity for PG&E’s customers in northern and central California.

“We’re thrilled the CPUC has approved these renewable contracts and look forward to partnering with them as we continue to deliver more clean energy to our customers.” — Fong Wan, V.P. of Energy Procurement, PG&E

The first of PG&E’s four contracts is with Solel for a 553-MW solar thermal project to be located in California’s Mojave Desert. PG&E also announced two utility-scale photovoltaic solar power projects with Cleantech America, Inc. and GreenVolts, Inc. respectively. These two projects combined will deliver up to 7 MW of energy and will be completed in 2009. The fourth approved contract is with Western GeoPower Corp. for approximately 25 MW of geothermal energy from The Geysers Geothermal Field.

“As we look toward a carbon constrained future, we recognize the need to utilize a variety of renewable energy sources to meet our climate goals,” said Fong Wan, vice president of energy procurement at PG&E. “We’re thrilled the CPUC has approved these renewable contracts and look forward to partnering with them as we continue to deliver more clean energy to our customers.”

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Press Release from November 2007

The EU-15 can meet, and may even over-shoot, its 2012 Kyoto target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 8% below 1990 levels if Member States implement now all additional policies being planned, according to a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA), released today in Copenhagen.

The report, Greenhouse gas emission trends and projections in Europe 2007, presents an evaluation of data between 1990 and 2005. More importantly, the report evaluates Member State projections of future greenhouse gas emissions and provides a good indication of progress towards Kyoto targets. The report is of particular relevance in the context of the rapidly approaching ‘first commitment period’ of the Kyoto Protocol which runs from 2008 to 2012.

EU-15 Emissions in 2005 — According to the new report:

  • EU-15 emissions decreased by 0% between 2004 and 2005
  • EU-15 emissions reached a level 2% below the Kyoto base year
  • ‘On New Year’s Day 2008 the serious business of Kyoto begins for real. All available measures should now be implemented. Significant emission reductions will take place through the emissions trading scheme, the EU’s ‘cap and trade’ programme for carbon. As the scheme matures and expands we will see it establishing itself as a blueprint for a global carbon market — an important part of any post-Kyoto agreement,’ said Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA.

    Within the shared Kyoto target, each EU-15 Member State has a differentiated emissions target, which can be achieved by a variety of means. The 12 new EU Member States are not part of the joint EU-15 target but all, except Cyprus and Malta, have individual targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

    Looking ahead — the Road to Kyoto: Based on Member State projections, the report says that existing domestic policies and measures will reduce EU-15 greenhouse gas emissions by a net effect of 4% below base-year levels. When additional domestic policies and measures (i.e. those planned but not yet implemented) are taken into account, the EU-15 could reduce emissions by an additional 3.9%.

    The projected use of Kyoto mechanisms by ten of the EU-15 will reduce emissions by a further 2.5%. These governments have set aside EUR 2.9 billion to pay for this. The use of carbon sinks, such as planting forests to remove CO 2, will reduce emissions by an additional 0.9%. As a result, the EU could even achieve an 11.4% reduction, the report says. All new Member States with a target expect to meet their target.

    Key instrument: The EU emissions trading scheme will bring significant emission reductions between 2008 and 2012, according to the report. It is expected to contribute a reduction of at least 3.4%, part of which is already reflected in some Member States projections. This would represent a further reduction of at least 1.3% to the total of 11.4% from base-year emissions in the EU-15.

    Background to the report
    The report, prepared by the EEA and its European Topic Centre on Air and Climate Change (ETC/ACC), complements the annual evaluation report of the European Commission to the Council and European Parliament. For more information see the Commission website
    .

    The EEA report covers 33 countries including:

    • EU-15 Member States: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.
    • New Member States: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia.
    • Acceding countries: Croatia, Turkey.
    • Other EEA member countries: Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway, Switzerland.

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