Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

1 Comment

Sec. Salazar and Solar; More Violent Speech From a CO Con

Two articles from the ProgressNow Daily News Digest caught my eye this morning. The first is about additional clean energy development in Colorado. The other puts violent speech from a Con politician on display.

I’ll start with the clean energy story: potential development in the San Luis Valley that is being looked at by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as part of an effort to build solar power infrastructure on public space in six Western states. Unlike Rep. John Salazar, who would rather condemn the planet to thousands of years of harsh climate than stand up to oil and gas corporations, Sec. Salazar’s Interior Dept. obviously understands the dangers involved. And while Sec. Salazar might have a level of political cover that Rep. Salazar doesn’t enjoy, one need only look at Rep. Markey’s principled vote and courageous stand against Colorado’s most extreme politicians to understand that that political cover isn’t necessary to act.

Some details:

Salazar said he has signed an order setting aside more than 1,000 square miles of public land for two years of study and environmental reviews to determine where solar power stations should be built.

Parcels include 10,000 acres that sit on the east side of U.S. 285 between Antonito and the state line and just under 6,000 acres west of Romeo. A fourth parcel covers 4,000 acres northeast of the intersection of U.S. 160 and Colorado 150.

Salazar vowed to have 13 ‘‘commercial-scale’’ solar projects under construction by the end of 2010 on lands that have what he called excellent solar energy potential and limited conflicts with wildlife, other natural resources and land users. He set a goal for the projects to produce a total of 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity.

More below.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Desertification Affecting Italy

One of the strongest arguments to take aggressive action regarding our greenhouse forcing is the threat of desertification – the process by which arable land that can be farmed or otherwise productively used by people turns into a desert.

Desertification is another process that would otherwise be natural if people didn’t exist.  With people, desertification can be amplified and dampened.  Due to unsustainable farming and water-use practices, desertification is expected to become amplified in the 21st century, absent the action I and other climate activists call for.

Case in point: Italy.  The deserts of Africa are spreading north and south as freshwater from water tables is being used faster than it can be replenished.  Saltwater takes the opportunity to spread in some of the affected places.

[The] Italian environmental protection group Legambiente warns that the livelihoods of 6.5 million people living along its shores could be at risk.

A recent report by Legambiente estimated that 74 million acres of fertile land along the Mediterranean were turning to desert as the result of overexploited land and water resources.

Desertification is one process that adds to political instability, as we’ve seen for decades in Africa already.  Due to the developed world’s lack of concern, primarily because they weren’t personally affected by such events, the process has had the opportunity to reach the shores of Europe.  What will happen when millions of Europeans suddenly can’t eat?  As in Africa, it will cause governments to tumble – there’s nothing special about European politics that would insulate them from massive food riots.

The time to act is now.  Desertification is one reason why European countries have been more proactive about their response to climate change.  They understand the implicit threats to their livlihoods – the short-term costs are much smaller than the long-term costs.  Citizens in the U.S. have become increasingly aware of the similar threats to their livlihood.  They have begun to accept the short-term costs as a hedge against those long-term greater costs.  Passing H.R. 2454 – the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) in the House was one good step toward doing something on a national scale.  The Senate now needs to take up and pass similar legislation so President Obama can sign it into law.  As Italy and the Mediterranean show us, this cannot happen soon enough.

Leave a comment

Atlantic Tropical Weather Update 6/27/09

An area of low pressure has been spinning up convection the past couple of days in the Carribean Sea.  It has slowly become more organized in the process and could become a Tropical Depression in the next day or so.  Here is a look at Invest 93:

Centered approximately near 19.9N, 87.3W; maximum sustained winds of about 30mph; moving NW @11mph.

There is more than enough heat content in the Carribean and the Gulf of Mexico to support a tropical storm/hurricane.  But it has to stay over water to do so.  Given it’s current path and projected motion, Invest 93 could move over the Yucutan Peninsula in the next day before moving back over open water tomorrow.  There is a wide disagreement between models, but the solutions really boil down to two possible paths:  continue moving northwesterly across the Gulf of Mexico and move toward Mexico/Texas or take an eventual turn to the northeast and move toward Florida.

This would be the 2nd tropical depression of the 2009 Atlantic season.  TD1 formed just about one month ago off the east coast of the U.S.


Climate Bill Farming Concessions – Good or Bad?

I read an article from yesterday that provides a good place to bring a number of climate and energy related items together.  Controversial deals behind climate bill presents the unfortunate circumstance of some Democrats’ refusal to back the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) unless agriculture intensive areas were largely exempted from paying for the measures included in the legislation.  This concession was won despite the fact that farmers and rural areas get a disproportionate amount of their energy from coal plants – the dirtiest and most polluting energy sources in use today.  Among those Democrats are Rep. John Salazar (CO-03) and Rep. Betsy Markey (CO-04).

I make this point while holding a good deal of respect for farmers – the actual folks who are out on their land far earlier in the morning than I’m up and who work until later than I do every day – often just to survive, both physically and economically.  But the point of any legislation that says it deals with energy and security needs to address the usage of fossil fuels, among many other purposes.  By that, I mean that the legislation needs to reduce our bad habits and encourage good habits.  Burning coal needs to stop – the sooner the better.  By ensuring that rural citizens won’t have to face any temporary cost increases on the way toward phasing out coal burning, Democrats are passing the costs along, which is pretty irresponsible.

Someone, somewhere will eventually have to pay for reducing greenhouse pollution.  Will it be urban citizens today?  Will it be rural citizens in the near future?  Will it be urban and rural citizens at a future date?  The answers to those questions seem very relevant to me – and in my opinion, they’re not being addressed by the corporate media in any regularly meaningful way.  It’s good for me as a blogger that some recent articles were written that get at these details, which I will share and try to tie together below.

H.R. 2454 (ACES) is coming up for a vote this afternoon in the House.  As a quick action item, I’m providing some numbers for Reps. Markey and Salazar, cited as some of the fence-sitting Dems.  Give them a quick call and ask them to vote for H.R. 2454.

Rep. Markey:

  • p. 202.225.4676
  • f. 202.225.5870

Rep. Salazar:

  • p. 202.225.4761
  • f. 202.226.9669

As currently written (to the best of my knowledge), the bill in the House would set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17% of 2005 levels by 2020 and 80%+ by 2050.  As someone who has followed the science surrounding greenhouse gases and climate change pretty closely for a few years now, I want to be clear that I don’t think the 2020 goal goes far enough.  I certainly hope I’m proven wrong as the measures in the bill are enacted and take effect.

Among the many specific details in this legislation, it worries me that the Dept. of Agriculture and not the Environmental Protection Agency will be responsible for deciding how farms will have to curb their emissions.  There is nothing in the Dept. of Ag’s mission that indicates that they have experience with or are interested in monitoring or reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  That’s not a knock against the agency – it is a straightforward observation.  Neither am I saying that the Dept. of Ag won’t seek emissions expertise from other government agencies.  However, something that bedevils all government agencies is a tendency to become insular – robust collaboration across agencies with regard to implementing policy isn’t the first characterization of those agencies that comes to mind.

The Democrats were somewhat justifiably concerned about potential rising energy costs.  I say “somewhat justifiably” for a few reasons.  The easiest is their lack of public concern regarding rising energy prices in the past due to other pieces of legislation or especially corporate greed.  Energy prices outpaced inflation and real-wage increases (which were actually zero) this entire decade, most of which had Bush and the Cons running the country into the ground.  The same Democrats threatening to go home pouting now (not Salazar or Markey, btw) were nowhere to be seen on the energy price front until last summer when they skyrocketed so high so fast that the corporate media’s obsession with infotainment couldn’t mask them anymore.  Their concern doesn’t seem to be morally founded, which is disturbing.

There are trustworthy cost estimates available, more so now than before this Congressional session.  The latest, by the Congressional Budget Office, estimates that the annual cost by 2020 would be $22 billion on the entire economy; or $175 per household on average (note that averages tend to be skewed by outliers).  Cons, as usual, spent yesterday talking about gross costs as well as citing cost estimates that have been thoroughly debunked by climate and energy activists.

As I’ve written about before, groups like the McKinsey Group have shown in a couple of reports that actions taken to reduce our greenhouse forcing can be revenue neutral.  By 2030, McKinsey estimates a 0.6-1.4% cost to the global economy.  By 2050, McKinsey estimates a 1% rise or a 5% decrease in costs are possible.

Might there be a short-term cost involved?  It looks likely.  In contrast, what are the costs incurred by doing nothing?  That’s a subject the Cons don’t want to go near – and nobody in the corporate media is making them answer that easy question.

For starters, the link between climate change and extreme weather events is by now evident.  Extreme weather events such as intense drought and torrential rains when they do come are only going to become more common and intense if action continues to be delayed.  Papers like Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate and the Earth Policy Institute’s Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization give us a clear view of the dangers involved with further delay.  The bottom line: climate change will challenge societies worldwide more than any other issue in the 21st century.  1C warming translates to a 10% reduction in staple crop yields.  With 2C-10C possible warming in select regions, massive crop failures would be the result, especially in the face of populations that continue to rise.  How much would a 10%, 20% or more reduction in yield cost farmers?  More than that it’s a short road from crop failure to political instability.  Falling governments compared to a couple hundred dollars more on an energy bill – the choice seems pretty clear to me.

The problem, of course, is none of this is being communicated to the interested parties.  How many farmers know about the downside of doing nothing about climate?  Even if they knew, would they still not support action if it meant higher costs?

The Denver Post front-paged an article about the bill this morning, citing Salazar and Markey as potential swing votes as the bill comes up in the House today.  It also notes that the Wildlife Action Fund and the League of Conservation Voters are watching Markey’s vote especially close.  I have close to the same sentiment as the LCV – I will have a very hard time supporting a Democrat, no matter the district, if they vote against this bill.  It’s not a progressive vs. con issue.  It’s a moral issue.

Given the reasons to vote for the bill, as I outlined above, it is disheartening to note that political backers of this bill don’t mention the climate change effects a business-as-usual approach would entail.  Economic arguments have taken sway, which is perhaps natural considering the sorry state of the economy.  Unfortunately, Rep. Markey’s spokesman Ben Marter was quoted in the Post article pooh-poohing the environmental angle:

Markey will “ultimately make a decision in the best interest of her district, the state and the country, not for any one group.”

That sounds really good as a soundbite, Ben.  If the Eastern Plains turn into a desert, as is currently predicted under business-as-usual conditions, I don’t think the 4th district will be particularly happy with that outcome.  The environmental ramifications dominate the interests of the district.  I hope such short-sightedness doesn’t derail or stall the necessary actions we all must take.

Here are Rep. Markey‘s Washington contact numbers.  Please take a moment this morning to give her office a quick call and encourage her to vote for H.R. 2454.

  • p. 202.225.4676
  • f. 202.225.5870

Here are Rep. Salazar‘s Washington contact numbers.  Please take a moment this morning to give his office a quick call and encourage him to vote for H.R. 2454.

  • p. 202.225.4761
  • f. 202.226.9669

Cross-posted at SquareState.

1 Comment

State of the Arctic – 6/24/09

After a rather lengthy hiatus for a well deserved vacation, I’m settling back into things.  That includes keeping an eye on the Arctic ice sheet for my monthly post.  The state of the Arctic in June 2009 could be better.  In a continuation of the trend established during May 2009, Arctic areal sea ice extent continues to be characterized as being nearly as sparse as it was in what ended up being the modern-day record low of the 2007 season.  Helping this unfortunate trend along is the lack of multi-year ice, as I’ve detailed before.  One- and two-year old ice is thinner than multi-year ice and is thus more susceptible to fully melting during the Arctic summer.

So to update my last post, here is an ice extent picture (as detected by satellite) and an ice extent graph (note that the picture includes data only through the 20th of June, the most up-to-date on the University of Illinois’ website today):

As can be seen from the time-series graph, ice extent continued to decrease at a very rapid pace from late May through mid-June. Conditions briefly matched those from 2007 before moderating ever so slightly. The areal extent of ice has nearly matched 2007’s for the better part of 3 weeks or so. Late June 2007 produced negative weather conditions for ice, as can be seen by the very rapid drop in extent of a couple of million square kilometers. Will late June 2009 conditions be as severe? Time will tell. The fact that conditions are already so far below climatological norms is unsettling.

The satellite composite shows a large amount of ice that is moving toward 20% or less concentration. The amount of area with next to 100% coverage is steadily decreasing.

Leave a comment

News Roundup 6/4/09

Things that have caught my eye recently:

Rep. John Salazar (D-CO-03) has declined to support this year’s attempt to regulate hydraulic fracturing.  I know he’s feeling the pressure of the oil and gas industry.  My recommendation: do the right thing, Rep. Salazar.  Back the regulation, which isn’t onerous and will become overdue as corporations move forward with it.

Galveston’s recovery from Hurricane Ike last year continues, albeit slowly.  Much like other parts of the Gulf Coast that were ravaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Galveston’s road to recovery will be long.  This raises an important question: as ocean temperatures continue to rise the remainder of this century, the incidence of intense hurricanes (> Category 3) is expected to rise.  Sea levels will continue to rise, putting additional areas at risk.  The combination of these two means that storm surges will be able to penetrate further inland.  As additional cities along the Gulf and East coast are hit, will we stop trying to rebuild or will we continue to sink billions of dollars into cities that will be under increasing threat from additional catastrophe?

Electric co-ops, which primarily serve rural areas, have committed their customers to spend millions of dollars to pay for coal plants, both new and expanded.  By doing so, there is a chance that they have increased the risk to future price hikes, especially as a carbon trading market matures and our energy policies direct attention to clean sources of energy.  Are the co-ops really acting in the best interests of their consumers, or the best interests of the diry coal industry?

Gov. Ritter signed legislation this week that will provide economic incentives for companies dealing with the pine-beetle epidemic, funds for mitigating wildfire danger and planning resources for local emergency responders.

Rep. Fred Upton and Rep. Todd Akin can spew plenty of b.s. talking points.  Neither are willing to deal with the climate and energy crises in an honest way.  The energy and climate legislation Congress is considering is far from hazardous waste.  Similarly, winter changing to spring is a far cry from the climate conditions that serious scientists are predicting.  Once again, changing such a ridiculous opinion will wait until it is too late and Missouri has to deal with climate refugees from the U.S. coast.

Leave a comment

Bought-off Baucus, Health Care & Elections

Sen. Max Baucus has raised the ire of millions of progressives around the country by consistently standing in the way of single-payer health care during discussions of health care reform in the 111th Congress.  He has steadily worked to implement the around-the-edge tweaks that Big Insurance and Big Pharma want – not the deep top-to-bottom revolution that our health care system requires.  He excluded every single-payer advocate from the initial discussions with representatives from every industry interest group and fellow Senators.  He sent a staffer to town-hall meetings in Montana to solicit his constituents’ opinions – which went overwhelmingly against the current system and in which strong majorities expressed interest for a public health care system to at least compete with private insurance.  Not only were his constituents against the system the staffer was sent to talk about, they were justifiably upset that their own Senator didn’t show up for his own town-hall meetings.

These actions are signs that Sen. Max Baucus has been bought off by the health care industry.  He isn’t listening to his constituents – many of whom worked to get him reelected last year – which is even harder to do when he won’t show up to talk with them directly now that his job is safe for the next six years.  And there’s the crux of the problem.  Montanans and other interested citizens need to get in touch with Baucus’ office and make it quite clear that removing options from the table at the beginning of a discussion is bad politics.  I’m sure many Montanans realize, just like I do, that single-payer wouldn’t get passed by Congress this year even if it weren’t preemptively excluded.  That’s beside the point.  The point is Americans are making their demands for real health care reform known and Baucus and other ConservaDems are pointedly ignoring them.  They do so at their own peril.

As I mentioned, Sen. Baucus was reelected last year, so threatening his job is nearly pointless this early in his current term – 2014 is a long way off.  Rest assured, however, that by 2014, we’ll have a very good idea of how well his legislation is working to revolutionize health care in the U.S.  People, including myself, will not easily forget his involvement with whatever happens.  So what’s left?  Well, electing more populist Democrats in Montana would help put pressure on federal level policymaking.  I recognize that that process is slow.  Interested progressives can also keep an eye on the remainder of the Senators on the committee of interest, the Senate Finance Committee.  Their reelection dates will be important, especially if they are in 2010.

Speaking only for myself – I will not only not support Democrats like Max Baucus who prefer to represent industries at the expense of people, I will begin supporting their opponents in the future.*  I don’t care if they’re other Democrats or if they’re Republicans.  Democrats that don’t do the job they were sent to Congress to do, especially when that job is so clearly defined, do not need their jobs.

* I realize the reelect numbers of incumbent Senators – it’s very difficult to get them out of office once they’re in.  Supporting their opponents will only be part of the effort I make in the future to remove them.