Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


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Response from Sen. Salazar & Feedback Info

I wrote to Sen. Salazar a short time back requesting that he take and encourage others to take seriously the threat that climate change poses to the world. Beyond taking it seriously, I encouraged the Senator to push measures now before Congress that could begin the shift toward dealing with this crisis. I got a response back and show part of it below:

The Senate is currently considering several pieces of climate change legislation. I believe a cap-and-trade system is the best and most flexible way of guaranteeing that the lowest cost measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are adopted first. At the same time, we must be careful to design this policy so as not to place our industries at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace and simultaneously encourage other countries to voluntarily reduce their carbon emissions.

Cap-and-trade systems do indeed ensure low cost measures are adopted first. But it’s like buying a little fire extinguisher when your house is already on fire: it’s too little, too late. What Sen. Salazar and other business first, last and always policy-makers aren’t fully recognizing is that other countries will begin working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. If the United States waits for those other countries to establish their methodologies, we’ll be behind the curve and will permanently lose marketplace share – globally. This country should do the heavy lifting and hard work to develop emission reduction strategies now, so that when other countries decide they want to join the process, we can export services and ideas to them at a profit.

Sen. Salazar is under sway of business interests who more or less want to continue under a ‘business as usual’ attitude, one that emphasizes short-term profits. Groups and governments that plan for the long-term with respect to climate change will come out of the 21st century in much better condition that they entered.

Solutions ready for today’s market are being held back by corporate welfare give-aways that unfairly prop up the fossil fuel industry. It might make their balance sheets look good today, but the price to society will be terrible tomorrow. Needless to say, Sen. Salazar’s response is discouraging and unacceptable. We need policy makers that are prepared for 21st century problem-solving, not those who cannot move away from 20th century thinking.

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Global Warming Pollution’s Price Tag

Climate change denyers have in recent months put forth a conspiracy theory that discussion surrounding climate change exists only to undermine the framework of “free-market” economies. Their efforts to continue delaying decisions in the sphere of government is being undermined by decisions from corporations to begin taking risks of global warming pollution into account when lending:

Banks, investment firms, corporations and utilities have begun to price out carbon emissions at $20 per ton. Bank of America, the nation’s second-largest bank, is the latest addition to this list. In a February speech, CEO Ken Lewis stated, “We need a stable and predictable regulatory environment with a bias toward clean energy and the green economy. When innovators and financial backers are confident of government support, risk calculations change and good things happen.”

To help realize that stable market, he announced the bank’s decision to price global warming pollution at $20 to $40 per ton in assessing risks for lending.

This announcement follows an earlier call to action by more than 60 leading investors, asset managers and companies with assets totaling $4 trillion. This group, which includes ALCOA, Sun Microsystems, and Dupont, called on the federal government to tackle global warming and included a call for pricing of global warming pollution.

Denyers arguments were incredibly weak to begin with, but these developments should clarify just how far into the fringe they really are. If the nation’s 2nd largest bank and groups with $4 trillion in assets are pricing in greenhouse gas emissions into risk analyses, it means they can’t seriously want to undermine their own economic foundations. Further, those investors and asset managers aren’t rabid environmentalists, a favorite boogeyman of the radical right.

So what would this mean in the real world? The cost of coal has jumped by 50% in the past seven years and additional coal plants are being considered for construction. Some math from the op-ed:

With an added charge of just $30 per ton, the mid-range of what banks and businesses are already planning for, the cost of power for Coloradans would skyrocket. As a typical coal plant generates 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, this charge would add $111 million per year to the operating cost of a single plant. Multiply that by the 50 years that a typical plant will run and those additional costs run into the billions.

With businesses on board, it is time to ignore the denyers and deal with reality in a responsible fashion. If denyers can see beyond their radical ideology, they’re welcome to join the discussion.


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Government to Release Fuel Economy Rules

The Bush administration released preliminary plans establishing fuel economy standards for vehicles sold within the U.S.  One initial goal would establish a fleet average of 31.6 miles per gallon by 2015.  By 2020, the standard would be 35mpg.  Some details per manufacturer include:

Among individual manufacturers, passenger cars built in 2015 by General Motors will need to average 34.7 mpg, Ford’s cars will need to reach 35.5 mpg and Toyota’s cars will have to achieve 34.6 mpg.

For light trucks, GM will need to reach 27.4 mpg by 2015, while Ford will have to average 28.8 mpg and Toyota will need to hit 28 mpg.

In terms of climate change and energy security:

The plan is expected to save nearly 55 billion gallons of oil and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 521 million metric tons over the life of the new vehicles built between 2011-2015. It will add an average cost of $650 per passenger car and $979 per truck by 2015.

$650 per car should be easily handled by consumers.  We’re already choosing add-on features that cost that much and more.  If achieved, the 521 million metric tons that wouldn’t be released is good news.

The plans are scheduled to be finalized by the end of Bush’s term later this year.  Let’s hope the final standards are at least this strong.


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Pine Beetle Update

As a resident of the Mountain West, I’ve seen first-hand the effects of mountain pine beetles (Dendroctonus ponderosae) in forests.* Areas of formerly dark green pine trees turned rust red. Those areas have gotten larger quickly over the past few years due to lack of sustained cold temperatures during our winters. Identifying human-influenced climate change as the cause is not a stretch, it’s widely accepted by scientists.

There is now mounting evidence that the hundreds of thousands of acres of dead trees in Colorado, and many more beyond the state’s borders, will cause those forests to change from carbon sinks to carbon sources. A little background: healthy forests act as giant reservoirs (sinks) of carbon dioxide. The trees absorb CO2 during their respiration and production of chlorophyll. The difference now is as these trees die by the millions, all that stored carbon will be released back into the atmosphere. An atmosphere that, as mentioned above, humans have been busy injecting CO2 and other greenhouse gases during the trees’ life spans.

Overall, that situation doesn’t sound very good. It gets a little bit scarier when one realizes that computer climate models haven’t been programmed to take this process into account yet. Activists have been proposing for some time now that high latitude forests could be protected and expanded to help trap some of the atmospheric CO2. It now appears that those forests are falling to the effects of already induced climate change. And let’s be honest: the climate changes we’ve seen so far haven’t been catastrophic. Scientists are noting smaller-scale changes around the world: large ice shelf collapses, record Arctic ice melt, etc. Those forests cannot be counted on as people had hoped in the future, at least not until we control our GHG emissions and decrease the GHG concentrations in the atmosphere.

I began covering this problem with an eye toward some solutions. Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO02) introduced a couple of bills dealing with the mountain pine beetle kill back in January:

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Quick Hits – 4/28/08

Global warming is being recognized as debilitating the health of forests in the mountains of Colorado. This is actually a larger problem in that forests from Canada to Mexico are falling to the mountain pine beetle. Winters are getting progressively warmer because we continue to emit too many greenhouse gases at a breakneck pace. More on this later.

Bush’s disapproval rating is now the worst of any president in 70 years. 69% of the American public doesn’t like the job the President is doing. What a disaster!

HAHAHAHAHA! Bob Schaffer‘s anti-abortion credentials are being questioned. How will the fringe right spin this? Will they continue to patch up the differences that a coalition of corporat-crats and theo-crats contains in the short-term? Their long-term goals are quite different. What kind of bargain will Colorado evangelicals strike to get their ridiculous “an egg is a person” amendment on the ballot? What are they going to get in return? A Republican Senator who would vote for federal judges who want to reverse Roe v. Wade publicly but who supports forced abortions on workers privately. That’s not standing up for any kind of a principle.


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Higher Ed & Ballot Measures

Today’s Rocky Mountain News has a couple of items I wanted to bring attention to (and I’m only scratching the surface). The first:

CU Chief Tepid to Ritter Plan

Let’s start by describing Ritter’s plan, which isn’t done until the last 1/3 of the article (controversy over journalism).

Ritter endorsed a citizens initiative Thursday to eliminate a property tax credit for the oil and gas industry unique to Colorado. Killing the tax credit would bring the state about $200 million more a year.

Under the plan, 60 percent would go toward “Colorado Promise” scholarships to help families pay for college. The other 40 percent would be divided among projects to help communities offset the impacts of the oil and gas industry, set aside wildlife habitat and develop renewable energy sources.

Doesn’t sound that bad. What’s Benson got to say?

But Benson acknowledged that he and Ritter discussed an approach that would have sent the increased oil and gas revenues directly into universities’ operating budgets. Benson said he was never “cool” to the governor’s idea but argued that the oil and gas industry needed something in return – such as easing off on new environmental rules being drafted by state regulators.

Ah, the magical ability of Bruce Benson’s fundraising… no wait, Benson isn’t raising money, he’s telling the Governor that industry needs less regulation in return for directing severance money toward education. Benson won’t get behind any plan that doesn’t proactively neutralize expected opposition from the industry. That’s interesting. What threshold does Benson have in mind, exactly? How far would Gov. Ritter and others have to go before Benson gets aboard?

Or are those even the correct questions? What about: What is Benson’s first priority as CU President? Is it identifying sources of income for the state’s colleges and working to secure those funds? Or is it to fight for the interests of the industry where he made his millions? This is but one example why Benson shouldn’t have been the only choice to be CU’s President. His long-time loyalties seem to be in direct conflict with his current duties.

Benson is quoted in the article as not wanting to part of Custer’s Last Stand, citing the tens of millions of dollars the oil and gas industry would spend to defeat Ritter’s proposal, which would be presented to voters later this year. Benson also said that he needs operating money while warning the Referendum C will expire in 2 years.

Perhaps Benson should utilize his vaunted leadership skills and begin working to extend the effects of Ref C or do away with conflicting constitutional spending limits. Everybody knows higher education is in a bad spot financially in Colorado. Whining isn’t going to make it better.

*****

The second item I saw was fourteen proposed ballot initiatives were submitted to the Legislative Council yesterday. Are you ready for this? There could be 127 ballot measures this November. The good news: only one so far has been approved for the ballot. This is getting ridiculous. I consider myself somewhat of an issue junkie, but even I blanch at the thought of researching 127 measures, some of which are designed to compete with one another.

X-posted @ SquareState


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Randomness 4/25/08

A report by the Genographic Project details how a natural, localized, long-term drought 70,000 years ago might have nearly wiped out our species. For the curious, global CO2 concentration levels jumped between 280 and 300ppm in these dry years. Today’s concentration: 380ppm and increasing. Long-term droughts of yesteryear that were localized could become global unless we stop forcing the climate system with our greenhouse gas emissions.

***

John McCain showed what an imbecile and hypocrite he is yesterday with the following:

John McCain tured still hurricane-damaged areas of New Orleans and declared that if the disaster had happened on his watch, he would have immediately landed his plane at the nearest Air Force base.

He offered a pledge Thursday to New Orleans residents that their situation will not be forgotten and that such a botched disaster response will never happen again.

I’m not sure what having John McCain at a nearby Air Force base would have done for hurricane survivors. In any event, it doesn’t matter. Anybody that was actually paying attention the day Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast will remember that McCain and Bush were celebrating McCain’s birthday in Arizona. Neither Bush nor McCain cared one iota what misery Gulf Coast residents were going through. That’s because they’re elitist snobs. Bottom line: McCain is in no way fit to lead this nation to anything but more disaster.

***

With oil flirting with $120 per barrel and gas threatening $4.00 per gallon, what kind of vehicles were sold last month? Smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles, that’s what. Truck and SUV sales suffered.

***

Democrats are trying to tamp down public expectations for health care reform starting next year, even if they retake the White House this year. I have news for them: the health care crisis this country is facing is not going to go away. Too many people are being screwed by an immoral, profit-or-nothing system that only benefits executives. Too many people are not getting care. Senior Democrats are under the mistaken impression that they’re leading on this issue, when the reality couldn’t be more different. Senior Democrats love their cushy, guaranteed jobs (where they receive stellar health care paid for by taxpayers) first and foremost. What the people want gets considered well after their own petty wishes are granted. Exacerbating the problem is the perception that the Democratic nominees are guaranteeing major overhaul of the system. If that doesn’t occur quickly, I expect huge blowback. Something has got to give in this tug-of-war and I know the American people are tired of being shafted.


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A Revolutionary Mind Leaves Us

Edward Lorenz passed away last Wednesday. He was a meteorologist that introduced the world to numerical weather prediction back in the 1960’s. He discovered deterministic chaos and in doing so, revolutionized the way science dealt with natural processes.

I highly recommend the book “Chaos“, written by James Gleick, as a down-to-earth explanation of nonlinear mathematics. This book was instrumental in stoking my curiosity of the natural world and trying to understand explanations of the things we experience every day.

I have done simple numerical experiments much like the one Dr. Lorenz performed in 1961, the results of which were published in his seminal paper, Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow. It remains fascinating to this day that extremely minute changes in initial conditions can have such a large effect on future system states.

The New York Times article I link to above has another good tidbit: Henri Poincaré showed that the gravitational dance of as few as three heavenly bodies was hopelessly complex to calculate, even though the underlying equations of motion seemed simple.

I was fortunate enough to attend a symposium honoring Dr. Lorenz a few years back. I was stunned to learn I was sitting in the same room, only a couple of rows back, from this great man. Hearing from a long line of former students and colleagues, learning how Dr. Lorenz sparked their subsequently successful careers, was very moving.

I’ll leave you with the Lorenz strange attractor. Rest in peace, Dr. Lorenz.


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Some Space-Related News

NASA, Europe Explore Joint Mission to Outer Planets. Currently, the Cassini spacecraft continues to examine the Saturnian system. NASA and the European Space Agency are considering a probe to either Jupiter or Saturn. The Jupiter mission would also send a secondary probe to Europa. The Saturn mission would send a secondary probe to Titan. Both Europa and Titan are interesting targets in the quest to understand solar system formation dynamics as well as potential sites where life might exist. Russia has expressed interest in joining the Jupiter mission.

Space Station Commander Sets New U.S. Record. Peggy Whitson has set the U.S. record for most cumulative time spent in orbit: 377 days over two spaceflights. She landed back on Earth this past Saturday. She also holds the world record for most spacewalking time by a female astronaut. The 377 days in orbit places her 20th on the world-wide list of most experienced spaceflyers. The all-time leader? Sergei Krikalev has spent over 803 days in space!

Spaceship Prototype Flown in New Mexico. A new type of automated and reusable spaceship is a step closer to being able to transport payloads into space in the near future. Lockheed Martin, the designer and operator, recently inked a Memo of Understanding with the New Mexico Spaceport Authority to carry out future testing at the spaceport. It is high time for private companies to develop and deploy space payload delivery systems.

Earth to Mars Missions Continue Development. Just over one month from now (May 25th), the Phoenix Lander will land at the north pole of Mars. The next probe being readied for launch is NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory. It should arrive in 2010. The European Space Agency is getting in on the act with their ExoMars mission scheduled for touchdown in 2014. When Spirit and Opportunity landed at Mars, I went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. They had set up live feeds from NASA as the landings occurred. In an incredible display of support for science, the two original rooms were filled beyond capacity hours before the official landing even occurred. Museum officials were scrambling to set up people in other rooms across the museum with additional TVs and such. I can’t wait to see the crowds for Phoenix!


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The Responsible Caucus

Jared Polis, one of three candidates running to represent CO-02 in the U.S. Congress, announced a plan to end the occupation of Iraq almost one month ago. He joined with a group of candidates around the country also running for House seats. A total of 55 Democratic challengers have signed onto The Responsible Plan.

I read a post at OpenLeft last week that talked about other “caucuses” within the House. From that post:

In Congress, there are 48 members of the Blue Dog caucus. There are 64 members of the New Democratic coalition. There are 72 members of the Progressive Caucus. And now, 55 Democratic challengers have signed onto the Responsible Plan to End the War In Iraq. Given its increasing size, a full-fledged “Responsible Caucus” is emerging in the Democratic Party, of roughly equal size to the three other ideological congressional caucuses.

The Blue Dogs have supported more than their fair share of right-wing Republican policies and legislation. I await the day when their numbers are merely single digits. That’s my goal of Better Democrats. The New Democratic coalition is slightly more progressive than the Blue Dogs. Their focus is on business and are frequently described as “moderate”. That moderate stance has been aggressively moved to the right over the past 30 years. So more progressive is very relative. The Progressive Caucus is pretty much just that: more progressive than the first two. This group has defined itself by standing up for social and constitutional issues in the past few years.

Now, not all 55 signers of the Responsible Plan will be elected this November. But if a high proportion of them are, they would definitively add to the strength of the Progressive Caucus. Along with a progressive President, some of the worst abuses that President Bush and his band of right-wingers have perpetrated could be reversed.

But that’s a ways off. There is a Democratic primary in August that Jared Polis must win to be on the November ballot. Two other candidates want the seat: Joan Fitz-Gerald and Will Shafroth. When the Responsible Plan first came out, a number of folks on the internet said the Plan wouldn’t end our involvement in Iraq. No challenging plan was offered, of course. It’s easy to criticize from the sidelines.

So here is my question: what caucus will Joan Fitz-Gerald join? what caucus will Will Shafroth join? Joan has released statements saying she wants our military to leave Iraq, but there’s no substance to back up that statement. How would she propose or support doing it? Whose lead would she follow if elected? Right now, there is no indication and that’s unacceptable. We shouldn’t have to wait until she’s elected to find out which strategy she supports.

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