Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy


Hansen Sets CO2 Target; California Sets Aggressive Renewable Target

James Hansen was the lead author of a paper recently, “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?“.  It appears in the latest edition of the Open Atmosphere Science Journal.  I just finished reading the paper when an article on it appeared on CNN’s website.  I will have much more on this paper, and others I’ve read recently, in the future.  In short, the article makes the argument that CO2 concentrations are already too high.  To avoid a return to the early Cenozoic Period climate, humanity must act immediately.  350ppm is the target.  We’re currently at 385ppm, and that’s currently going up by 2-3ppm per year.

In related news, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has issued an executive order calling for a 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard by 2020.  That is significant.  If California were it’s own country, it would have the 7th largest economy in the world.  An aggressive goal like this will lead the way for the remainder of the country to establish and improve upon renewable energy sources.  California is looking at a greenhouse gas reduction goal of 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 1990 emissions levels by 2050 pretty seriously.  Will it be enough?  Certainly not if California acts alone or nearly alone.  The U.S. needs to adopt a similarly aggressive stance.  As Hansen’t paper points out, CO2 concentrations are too high already.  Everything we do today to bring that concentration down is less we have to do tomorrow.

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Waxman vs. Dingell; Drilling and Pollution

In a major shakeup of House Committee Chairs, Rep. Henry Waxman will be the new House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairperson. He took the Chair away from Rep. John Dingell, who had been in the Democratic leadership of the Committee for the past 28 years.  Waxman is a more aggressive politician who isn’t bought by corporate influence.  In fact, Waxman has made it his cause to root out corruption and malfeasance.  Dingell on the other hand has been in the auto industry’s pocket for years.  He’s been one of their bigger supporters of killing universal health coverage and increased fuel efficiency standards, at the industry’s request.  While the auto industry is currently begging for low interest loans from the government, it is instructive to remember why they argued against universal health and higher efficiency standards: it would cost too much and they would fail.  Well, they saved millions upon millions of dollars and they’re failing.  Any loan the government provides should include the removal of these dinosaurs from corporate leadership without compensation.  Back to Waxman, this is very good news on the climate change front.  Waxman realizes the imperative to begin action on the most critical issue facing us this century.  Dingell would have delayed our way past important thresholds, forcing future generations to contend with a much different climate than the one he lived in.

Gas drilling is contaminating water supplies in western Colorado with methane and other compounds.

Thyne, a geology professor consulting for Garfield County, said he thinks evidence is piling up in Colorado and elsewhere in regard to water contamination related to oil and gas development.

There shouldn’t be any surprise, but fluids used to fracture gas formations were exempted by Congress in 2005 from federal clean water regulations.  Huh.  Imagine that – deregulating industries comes back around and affects people’s lives negatively.

Some residents voiced anger Thursday in connection with the study’s second phase, which involved retesting water wells where initial tests raised concerns. Marcia Davis-Durnil said residents shouldn’t have had to wait until now to be told about those concerns and consider water treatment options.

“That could have affected a pregnancy, a special needs child, an autistic child,” she said.

It appears most people aren’t thinking the Con-servative approach to governance through very well.  “You’re on your own” does really mean that you’re on your own.  Nobody and nothing should get in the way of corporations making their money.  Citizens’ interests be damned, they’ve done what they wanted to in the past 8 years.  Will we see change?


Better Place – Introduction

WIRED’s big article in its August issue was about a major effort to make the electric car’s future more robust.  Shai Agassi has launched Project Better Place, a company that is working with governments, car companies and energy companies to birth a system that will support millions of electric vehicles.  Not hybrids: fully electric vehicles.  How does he propose to do this?  By treating car batteries of the future more like the gasoline of today.  In addition to being able to charge a car battery at home, Agassi’s plan is to have battery charging stations as part of a country’s infrastructure.  Okay you say, there’s nothing new about that.  And you’re correct.  So how about this – the plan includes battery replacement centers.  Instead of waiting to charge a battery, you could drive up and have it automatically replaced.  Additionally, Agassi wants recharging stations where people work and shop.  How would the electricity be paid for?  More flexibly than gasoline: it would work more like cell phone plans, actually.  Unlimited electricity, pay as you go, and the like.

Agassi has come up with a fairly robust business plan to date.  He has agreements to develop infrastructure worked out with Israel, Denmark, Australia, and most recently, California’s Bay Area.  He also has agreements worked out with Nissan and Renault to produce the electric vehicles.  Isn’t that interesting: GM, Ford and Chrysler don’t seem to be interested in electric vehicles on a mass scale.  But they sure want sub-market loans from the government, don’t they?

Agassi has developed some financing from the following: VantagePoint Venture Partners, Israel Corporation, Israel Cleantech Ventures, Morgan Stanley, Acorns to Oaks II, Esarbee Investments Canada, GC Investments LLC, Musea Ventures, Ofer Group, Vyikra Partners, Wolfensohn & Co. and Maniv Energy Capital.  Project Better Place has raised over $200 million so far, with the potential for another $1 billion or more in the relatively near future.

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Did John McCain or Sarah Palin Run For President in 2008?

The following is instructive on how schizophrenic the Republicans are right now.  Did John McCain or Sarah Palin run for President this year?  I know Republicans are desperate for any kind of a life preserver following the drubbing Democrats served up this year.  But this is just silly:

Bumper Stickers!

As taxes go up and guns and freedom go away, you can let the world know that you voted Conservative and that you voted American. Get the “Don’t Blame Me! I Voted For Palin” 2-PACK of Bumper Stickers! FREE SHIPPING Included via First Class Mail!

There’s lots of crappy messaging in this advertisement.  The Cons have been anti-investment for years and look where it’s gotten us: Bush more than doubled the deficit in just 8 short years.  The election demonstrated that Americans are tired of failed Con economic policies.  If Cons don’t want to invest in America, they should stop using the commons.  Otherwise, it’s time to pay for what they use.  That’s patriotic.

The Cons have been screaming about having their guns taken away for decades.  Has it happened?  Of course not.  I will point out that it’s probably a bad idea for citizens to own assault rifles and the like.  I will further point out that in most of the recent shooting rampages across the country in the past 8 years (perpetrated predominantly by white people), the weapons used included semi-automatic and full automatic weapons.  After each event, when multiple people died each time, the NRA and others were quick to jump to the defense of a person’s “right to own” those kinds of weapons.  It’s disgusting, but true.  I don’t think U.S. citizens have a right to own AK-47s, TEC-9s and the like.  The Federal Assault Weapons Ban needs to be revived, strengthened and passed.  I have no problem with citizens owning handguns or rifles that are completely non-automatic.

Under Bush’s totalitarian-like government, U.S. citizens had more rights weakened or stripped than at any other time I’m aware of.  Did the Cons raise their voices in anger when habeus corpus was stripped or when the 4th amendment was gutted?  Of course not.  Note also the ad doesn’t mention which rights might “go away” under an Obama administration.  Deception and fear: two tactics that the Cons use every time they want to control their base.  This is the kind of crap that they’ll hurl at Democrats every day while the Cons are in the minority, regardless of how well Democrats govern.

The cowardly ad tries to continue the Cons’ claim on patriotism.  I don’t think so.  Americans overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama.  Democrats voted just as patriotically as Republicans and others did.  The kind of language used in the ad demonstrates why Obama won.

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How the Right’s War Against Investment Hurts Communities

El Paso County [Colorado] will no longer inspect daycare centers or test for diseases such as West Nile Virus because of a sweeping round of layoffs announced Thursday.  I hope that the partisan politics the Cons from Colorado Springs have inflicted on their community does them proud.  This is what happens when investment in the commons is fought.  This is exactly what the Cons want.  Does a citizen want a daycare center inspected?  The Cons want to force that citizen to pay for it themselves.  Does anyone have oversight into the inspector’s business?  The Cons want citizens to pay for that by themselves too.  The amount you pay will determine the quality of the inspection and the quality of the oversight.  Only a few people will actually do well under such a system, which is exactly what the Cons want.  That’s their nirvana.

Testing for diseases?  Sure, I can see how that should be everybody’s personal responsibility.  Here’s how it will work: the uber-responsible Con will certainly make sure the area around his house is tested.  Absolutely, he will.  What about the non-responsible Con or the responsible non-Con who can’t afford to test for West Nile or other diseases?  All it takes is one or two vectors to be established before West Nile infests an entire region.  Another point: does that uber-responsible Con understand how much it costs to test for West Nile or other contagions?  Person by person, we can’t do it.  As a community, we can and should do it.

This is what happens when communities don’t invest in themselves.  On Election Day, El Paso County voters voted against a sales tax measure designed to offset lost revenue for several county departments.

Programs and services to be eliminated include:

• Childcare inspections for the county’s 400 licensed facilities. In addition, the department will no longer respond to complaints against daycare centers, except in cases of high-risk diseases or outbreaks, and it won’t educate centers about food preparation, diapering, containing diseases, or other issues that came with its routine inspections.

•Testing and monitoring of animal-to-human diseases such as West Nile Virus, plague and rabies. Limited investigations into hantavirus and human exposure to rabies will continue.

•Air-quality monitoring, including environmental reviews for planned developments.

•Swimming pool inspections and unincorporated groundwater inspections.

•Fielding health complaints about garbage.

•Monitoring of sexually transmitted diseases or their spread.

Before the latest round of cuts, the health department had eliminated meth lab inspections and a school safety program, and it scaled back disease investigations. It is also performing fewer than half its state-required food-service inspections.

Here’s the quote of the article from one of those uber-responsible anti-investment nuts:

But Daniel Cole, campaign manager for Citizens for Cost Effective Government, the group that pushed for 1A’s defeat, blamed the health department itself, saying it should have done more to earn voters’ trust.

When more El Paso County residents contract E. coli from uninspected pools; when a meth lab or two blows up and kills innocent neighbors; when innocent children suffer at daycare centers that aren’t being inspected, remember what Daniel said: it’s all the health department’s fault.  Will residents think about how cost effective their government is when their communities’ quality of life suffers?

[Update]: I meant to include this earlier, but got sidetracked as I wrote the post.  This is a perfect example of what the Cons are really all about: “You’re on your own.”  That’s the kind of community and country they want to live in.

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Sen. Salazar’s Language About Energy All Wrong

CO Sen. Ken Salazar held a press conference yesterday where he tried to talk up President-elect Obama’s energy plan.  Citing the need for a “comprehensive energy strategy” (sort of like his wishes for “bipartisanship”), Salazar made sure to mention the continued use of conventional fuels (fossil fuels) and “clean coal”.  To be quite frank, Obama’s and Salazar’s use of this kind of language completely undermines any message of a new eneryg policy.  They’re using words that the fossil fuel industry prefers.

As I’ll lay out in a number of upcoming posts, our greenhouse gas emissions must decrease in the very near future if we want to avoid sending our climate system into an equilibrium state that does not include ice at the poles and sea level many meters higher than it is today.  The continued use of fossil fuels does not and can not help us change our path from that future.  “Clean coal” is no more realistic than hydrogen fueled vehicles.  Both technologies are decades away from commercail viability, at the earliest.  Using the term “clean coal” allows the coal industry to continue ripping up the earth and emitting Gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere, which would force the climate system for hundreds of years to come.

Salazar also brought up oil shale as a potential player in our energy portfolio.  I know Salazar is aware that multiple gallons of water and excessive amounts of fossil-fuel powered energy would be required to pump one gallon of oil from shale.  It makes no sense to burn fossil fuels in order to dig up and burn more fossil fuels.  It makes no sense to waste what little water Colorado and other Western states are likely to receive under a changed climate system to push more fossil fuel out of the ground in order to burn it and force the climate system even further from where it was.  It makes no sense for Salazar to push this untested technology while saying things like:

“The time for talk on energy is over and we need to move forward to get to energy independence,” Salazar said.

Sen. Salazar, talking about “conventional fossil fuel”, “clean coal” and oil shale is not moving us forward toward a new energy policy.  It is more of the same – it prevents a new energy policy from being formed, let alone enacted.  Using the fossil fuel industry’s talking points puts Sen. Salazar, and President-elect Obama, closer to the climate change denier/delayer camp.

An additional non-related example can be found below.

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Pollution in Parks, Governors & Global Warming, Arctic Sea Ice

An EPA plan would allow coal power plants and oil refineries to be built closer to National Parks.  The EPA is being run by pro-corporate hacks appointed by Bush.  The way in which pollution levels in the parks would change under the EPA plan.  Instead of monitoring three- and 24-hour results, pollution will be averaged over an entire year before action is taken to control it.  Republicans’ plans to foul our public lands comes closer every day.  How patriotic.

12 governors signed a pledge yesterday to work against global warming forcing.  The document was signed at the end of a two-day international conference hosted by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The meeting was held in advance of the U.N.-sponsored climate change treaty negotiations being held in Poland next month.  Among the realistic assessments, here is a quote from Sabine Miltner, a director at Deutsche Bank:

She said sufficiently reducing emissions will require capital investments of roughly $500 billion a year between 2010 and 2030. Miltner suggested the U.S. and other governments weighing economic stimulus packages invest some of the money in energy efficiency projects, transmission lines for renewable power sources and public transportation systems.

It’s always nice to see more realists address the environment and the economy at the same time.  My Governor, Bill Ritter, was among the signees.  His New Energy Economy plan is well under way.  Seeing as how it will end up costing more later if we do nothing now, I’m glad Ritter and others are taking action, despite the science-haters in Bush’s government.

Arctic sea ice reformed quickly during October, as expected.  It’s not hard for a small layer of ice to form with sub-freezing atmospheric temperatures and 24-hour darkness.  The areal extent at the end of the month was still well below the 1979-2000 climatological average.  It should be noted that the rate of ice formation slowed noticeably by the end of the month.  Also of note is the large anomaly of high atmospheric temperatures in a deep layer above the Arctic Ocean.  As the warm water gave off its heat once the Sun retreated from the sky and prior to ice formation, massive amounts of energy in the form of heat was transferred from the Ocean to the atmosphere above it.  The NSIDC notes:

In the past five years, the Arctic has shown a pattern of strong low-level atmospheric warming over the Arctic Ocean in autumn because of heat loss from the ocean back to the atmosphere. Climate models project that this atmospheric warming, known as Arctic amplification, will become more prominent in coming decades and extend into the winter season. As larger expanses of open water are left at the end of each melt season, the ocean will continue to hand off heat to the atmosphere.

As I’ve written before, the total area of ice that melted this year set a record: 10.58 million square kilometers (4.08 million square miles).

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And the Bad Economic News Just Keeps Piling Up

I’m so glad the Cons got to show us how magical their economic theories could be in real-life!  Americans are making so much more money than they were 8 years ago, they’re so much happier, everyone is employed, and ….  Okay, the snark is going to be put away.  I do need a dose of it every now and then, especially with economic numbers that get worse by the week.  And did the morons running things ever blow their perpetually rosy forecasts, or what?  Let’s make the rounds and see what records are being broken, shall we?

Jobless claims totaled the high last seen 16 years ago.  Let’s see – that would be … 1992.  Oh, the end of the Bush I presidency, when we were leaving yet another Con-serative recession.  Could it be coincidence that the number was matched by his son?  I don’t think so.  The historical basis has been laid.  What was the magical number?  542,000.  So between last week and this week … that’s over 1,000,000 jobless claims.  Unemployment insurance claims jumped to 4,000,000 last week.  That’s the highest since 1982, when St. Ronnie was happily enacting Con economic policies.  October’s unemployment rate (under-calculated) was 6.5%  Does anybody want to guess what November’s will be?  7%?  7.5%?  8%?

The Big 3 American auto manufacturer CEO’s went to Washington D.C. this week to “beg” Congress for a loan.  How did they get to D.C.?  Aboard multi-million dollar private jets.  I have an idea where they can get some money….  The Democratic-led Congress wisely didn’t buy into their cock-and-bull story.  It seems they want more assurance that the auto corporations will viably restructure for 21st century business.  I have another idea – how about requiring the dismissal of said executives with no compensation.  They ran their businesses into the ground – they shouldn’t get to walk away with a golden parachute at taxpayer expense.  GM shares sank to their lowest value since the Great Depression.

Wall St. almost found a consolidation point in the past few weeks.  The Dow broke through the 8,000 level yesterday and continued it’s rapid descent again today by closing at 7,552.  The S&P 500 closed at an 11.5 year low of 752.  The S&P has lost 52% from its all-time high last Oct 9th.  The Dow has lost 47% since then.  The NASDAQ has lost 54% from its all-time high since last Oct 31st.

Inflation fell by a record 1% in October from September.  The Consumer Price Index fell to 3.8% year over year, down from 4.8% the previous month.  The drop is the largest since seasonal records were started in 1947.  While inflation easing would normally be considered a good thing, it could portend very, very bad things moving forward.  The problem?  Deflation.  Consumers will likely continue holding off making purchases, as they expect future prices to be lower than today’s prices.  That reduces overall economic activity.  Capacity idles, investment falls, and aggregate demand falls in a cyclical fashion.  Deflation is incredibly difficult to battle, as 1990s Japan can attest.  The current state of government actions make it even more difficult: the Fed can’t cut rates more than they are since their effective interest rate is nearly 0%.  A negative interest rate doesn’t make sense.  So far, we’re only seeing disinflation.  We’d better hope that’s all we see.

Those aren’t the only numbers out there, but the bottom line is this: the Bush recession is well underway.  When will it end?  Your guess would probably be as good as mine.  I’m thinking sometime in the first half of next year.  A lot of interconnected gears have to change directions for it to happen.  Meanwhile, the Cons are running around the country (and world) telling anyone who will listen that unregulated capitalism is still the preferred path to be on.  Just like their refusal to look in the mirror when considering why they lost so many 2008 elections, their refusal to look at their failed economic policies threatens to doom the country to a longer, deeper recession.

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Water Shortages, Al Gore’s Goals, Waxman vs. Dingell

Global water shortages could occur by 2080. As the effects of climate change make themselves known, don’t be surprised to see that date moved up.  3.2 billion people without access to clean water will cause massive geopolitical problems.

Check out these cool cartograms.

Gore outlined a 5-point plan he sees as necessary to work toward in the early 21st century to transition to a renewable energy economy [h/t Joe Romm]. 1) Large concentrated solar thermal plants in the southwest. 2) National smart grid.  3) Plug-in hybrid car development. 4) Retrofit existing buildings with better insulation and energy-efficient windows and lighting.  5) Put a price on carbon that reflects its actual total costs.

More on Waxman vs. Dingell. Who will win the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chair?  The older Dingell who has protected the foot-dragging auto industry from mean-old government regulations, or the younger Waxman who would usher in much needed envrionmental regulations and an overhaul of U.S. auto manufacturing.  My vote would go to Waxman.  Dingell has held this country back for too many decades.  I think I read an inital vote today put Waxman on top.  I’ll have to check.  A second vote with a larger caucus could come tomorrow.

A significant record was set during the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season: 2008 is the only year when a major hurricane formed in five different months [2nd h/t to Joe Romm].  Also, 2008 is second on the list of damage during one year: $52 billion.  Remember that a number of storms weakened prior to U.S. landfall this year.  Remember further that those landfalling hurricanes barely missed a number of very large U.S. cities.  If those storms had maintained their strength longer or their tracks were just slightly adjusted, that damage total would have been much higher.  We can’t keep dodging bullets forever.


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