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FEATURE

Ways & Means





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The answer to the riddle became clear on the train on the way home. I had puzzled about the continued attraction of Cap&Trade. Empirical evidence shows that Cap&Trade does not have a prayer of phasing out fossil fuel emissions fast enough to save the planet, e.g., allowing us to phase-out coal-fired power plants. Clearly there must be people in the Obama administration who understand that. Yet Cap&Trade is still talked about as if it were something good. One wonders: do they really believe we have "a planet in peril"?

The testimony that I gave to the House Ways & Means Committee is available at

http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2009/20090226_WaysAndMeans.pdf

In my testimony I noted that a "Cap" raises the price of energy, just as does a simple honest carbon tax on oil, gas and coal at the first sale at the mine or port of entry. "Cap" is a pseudonym, disguising the fact that it is a tax, assuming that the public is a bunch of dummies, who will never catch on. With all its hooks and eyes, Cap&Trade will allow a lot of funny business. At least we would get a few Wall Street millionaires back in business, via speculation and gaming the Cap&Trade system (funded by John Q. Public, of course).


On the train I read on politico.com that the number of lobbyists in DC working to influence federal policy on climate change increased in the past few years by 300% to 2,340 lobbyists -- four climate lobbyists for every member of Congress. At least the alligator shoe business is doing well. Not too good for alligators, though.


A Carbon Tax & 100% Dividend would not let Congress enrich their favorites or divine winning technologies. Instead, the winners would be innovators who invent products with improved energy efficiency or develop carbon-free energies, which allow people to reduce their carbon tax. Of course, if you don't trust your innovation skills, it is easier to pay a lobbyist to get Congress to adopt a jury-rigged Cap&Trade system.
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FEATURE

Old? Me? The Politics of Aging





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Last Tuesday when I went to bed I was just thirty three years old. Imagine my astonishment when I woke up Wednesday morning to find myself seventy-seven. I guess we all live out an episode of The Twilight Zone as we get older, finding ourselves adrift in that strange and mysterious land of the aging and not remembering how we arrived there. I've got two sons, one in his mid thirties; the other in his forties, who are now older than I feel myself to be today and I'm no Benjamin Button. It wasn't always this way. More than a decade ago I was diagnosed with a metastasized cancer. I figured that was the end. But with the help of some great doctors, good treatment, and a magnificent wife, I managed to live out the past decade in reasonable health and comfort; a life in remission which is all anyone really has; grateful to have the past ten years to be with my family and do my work writing plays, adding chapters to my never-ending memoir, seeing the birth of grand-children, and dropping some grouchy opinions here and on the Huffington Post from time to time.

Since I did all my serious thinking about death long ago I give it very little thought these days. Sure, I'm going to die, probably sooner than later, but that won't keep me from living every day that's left to me to its limit, sometimes with generosity and more often with an old guy's prerogative to snarl at the stupidity and cruelty he sees. Funny, I don't mind being considered an old man, but in the politics of aging I'll be damned if I let anyone call me a senior citizen. Continued...


FEATURE

The Action Distraction





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The Obama Administration’s early leadership on global warming seems to have stirred up the climate skeptics, cynics and deniers again. Now they’re trying to discredit not only climate science, but the climate scientists President Obama has appointed to advise him.

But when it comes to what President Obama, the Congress and all the rest of us should be doing, none of the squabbling matters. Outside our laboratories and classrooms and scientific journals, the chronic arguments about global warming have very little to do with the fundamental challenge ahead: Making the fastest possible transition to a green economy. Why? Because climate change is an issue where you don’t have to agre
e on the problem to agree on the solutions.

First, some background on the latest media debate. The Washington Post allowed George Will to waste some perfectly good ink to argue that Obama’s science advisors are “dark green doomsayers”. The New York Times followed suit, publishing a column by John Tierney
, who featured a book by Dr. Roger Pielke, a researcher at the University of Colorado who objects that some climate scientists are engaging in “stealth issue advocacy.”

He singles out Obama science advisor John Holdren. Pielke also has blasted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While other critics have said the IPCC is too conservative in its assessment of the seriousness of climate change, Pielke has posted a piece on his web site accusing the IPCC of being more about politics than science. Continued...

FEATURE

The Sword of Damocles





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Over a year ago I wrote to Prime Minister Brown asking him to place a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in Britain. I have asked the same of Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Kevin Rudd and other world leaders. The reason is this – coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet.

Our global climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear, and there is a potential for explosive changes with effects that would be irreversible – if we do not rapidly slow fossil fuel emissions over the next few decades.


Tipping points are fed by amplifying feedbacks. As Arctic sea ice melts, the darker ocean absorbs more sunlight and speeds melting. As tundra melts, methane a strong greenhouse gas, is released, causing more warming. As species are pressured and exterminated by shifting climate zones, ecosystems can collapse, destroying more species.


The public, buffeted by day-to-day weather fluctuations and economic turmoil, has little time or training to analyze decadal changes. How can they be expected to evaluate and filter out advice emanating from special economic interests? How can they distinguish top-notch science and pseudoscience – the words sound the same?


Leaders have no excuse – they are elected to lead and to protect the public and its best interests. Leaders have at their disposal the best scientific organizations in the world, such as the United Kingdom’s Royal Society and the United States National Academy of Sciences. Only in the past few years did the science crystallize, revealing the urgency – our planet really is in peril. If we do not change course soon, we will hand our children a situation that is out of their control, as amplifying feedbacks drive the dynamics of the global system.


The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has already risen to a dangerous level. The preindustrial carbon dioxide amount was 280 parts per million (ppm). Humans, by burning coal, oil and gas have increased carbon dioxide to 385 ppm, and it continues to grow by about 2 ppm per year.


Earth, with its four kilometer deep ocean, responds only slowly to changes of carbon dioxide. So more climate change will occur, even if we make maximum effort to slow carbon dioxide growth. Arctic sea ice will disappear in the summer season within the next few decades. Mountain glaciers, providing fresh water for rivers that supply hundreds of millions of people, will disappear – practically all of the glaciers could be gone within 50 years, if carbon dioxide continues to increase at current rates. Coral reefs, harboring a quarter of ocean species, are threatened, if carbon dioxide continues to rise.
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FEATURE

Reengaging China on Climate Change - Some Recommendations





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If you've picked up a paper, listened to a radio program, watched a TV program, or read a policy paper on global warming recently you would surely have heard that China and the US are the two biggest sources of global warming pollution -- accounting for over 40% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. And that the path that these two players take to address global warming is one of the keys to either sustainability or catastrophe.

Lack of movement to address global warming in either country has been used as a rationale for lack of action by the other side -- some US policymakers have suggested the US can't move forward if China isn't moving as well and vice versa. Some have even called this a "suicide pact".

The time for excuses and finger point is over. After all, we have 10 months to get a strong international agreement in Copenhagen to move the world away from the brink and towards a sustainable path.

Secretary of State Clinton is going to China later this week and global warming will be on her agenda. This is a great sign that the new Administration is going to make engagement with China on these issues a priority as they didn't get the attention in the US-China dialogue over the last 8 years that they need.

While the issues surrounding US and China on global warming are pretty evident, what to do about this dilemma is less than obvious. What should the US and China engage on after this initial trip from Secretary Clinton? Continued...


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FEATURE

Where to Buy Fair Trade Chocolate





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Given chocolate's status as a conflict substance, it's good to know that ethical (and tasty!) chocolate is readily available. Why is this important? With Fair Trade chocolate:
Forced and abusive child labor practices are prohibited
• Farming families earn a price that is adequate to meet their basic human needs
• Environmentally sustainable production methods are required

Where can you buy Fair Trade chocolate and other Fair Trade goods?

List of Fair Trade and Organic Chocolate
Fair Trade Chocolate (Global Exchange)
Fair Trade Certified
Fair Trade Labeling Organization International
Fair Trade Federation
Fair Trade Resource Network (Fair trade flowers)
Fair Trade Foundation, London

For more information on healthy foods, see: Do we need another Jungle?

FEATURE

The Invasion of the Present Tense





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If you are one of those people who eagerly digest every new scientific report about global climate change, read no farther. If you are one of the other 99.99% of Americans, read on. You may have missed a disturbing development in the march of global warming, revealed in science’s use of the English language.

Not long ago, most climate scientists stuck to the future tense when they talked about the impacts of global warming. Now, they are using the present tense – and using it more and more often. Not long ago, the damages they talked about involved Greenland and the glaciers and the Polar ice caps. Now, they tell us the damages have arrived in the United States.


In other words, climate change isn’t just a problem for our kids anymore. It’s here and now and getting personal.


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FEATURE

Avoiding the Frankenplanet





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I do not plan to make a career out of beating up on geo-engineers, but they were back in the news recently in articles published by the on-line magazine Yale Environment 360 and by The Economist.

For those of us who believe that engineering the Earth’s life-support systems is a wild and dangerous fantasy, there was good news and bad news.


The good news was reported by The Economist: Two new studies conclude that geo-engineering is not as promising an answer to climate change as some in that budding discipline hope.


If you are not yet familiar with geo-engineering, I will attempt to define it in non-technical terms before offering a few observations on the new research:


o Geo-engineering is the practice of messing around with global life-support systems we don’t understand. If we did understand them, we might not be in the pickle we’re in today. Or at least it would be a greener pickle.


o Geo-engineering is a relatively new field based on the outdated and repeatedly discredited assumption that we humans are smart enough and wise enough to rule over the rest of the biosphere. Rather than applied engineering, we might call it “applied conceit”.


o Contrariwise and at the same time, geo-engineering is a symptom of our growing skepticism that we are able to stop climate change with rational solutions such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, carbon pricing and behavioral changes. In other words, interest in geo-engineering is rooted in the idea that although we’re too stupid to do the simple things that would slow climate change, we’re smart enough to do the improbable things.


o Geo-engineering is one outgrowth of our apparent learning disability about the law of unintended consequences. That law would be unleashed full-force once we started manipulating the oceans and atmosphere to create what one environmentalist calls “the Frankenplanet”. Geo-engineering is like a grownup version of whack-a-mole, where hammering down one problem causes others to pop up, to our great surprise.
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Greening your office in a recession





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Cross-posted from The Green Office Blog

When my consulting clients ask me why they should green their office in a recession when monetary pressures are only expected to increase, I remind them that the Chinese use two separate brush strokes to write the word 'crisis':

危機

One character stands for danger; the other for opportunity.

In a crisis, be aware of the danger-but recognize the opportunity.

Never has that been more accurate than now, for with the green approach business can not only help the planet to forestall long term danger (for which they themselves will have to pay in increased costs as resources becom
e scarce and as business becomes impacted by inclement weather), but they also reduce their bottom line while improving morale and productivity of their workforce.

How is this done?
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FEATURE

Leadership Needed to Address Deforestation Emissions





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Today, NRDC joined a diverse group of environmental, conservation, and development organizations; businesses; and leading academics in a "Call for Leadership" to address deforestation (available here and a list of partners here). Frances Beinecke, our President, helped launch this "Call" with a speech to leading US policymakers from Congress and elsewhere at an event hosted by the group Avoided Deforestation Partners (that I wrote about here). She was joined by a high-level group of leading policymakers, including Senator's Kerry and Lugar and Nobel-Prize winner Wangari Maathai.

The US and the world need to simultaneously cut all sources of global warming pollution - from both the energy sector and tropical deforestation. With deforestation accounting for about 20% of the world's global warming pollution, addressing deforestation is a critical component of the world's efforts to combat global warming. So that is why we came together to launch this "Call for Leadership"...to focus US attention on helping to get a solution to this challenge.

Time is not on our side. Without a significant change, much of the world's forests will be lost in the span of decades, not centuries. And we need to mobilize resources and political will immediately to ensure that a sound strategy for deforestation's global warming pollution is integrated into the new international agreement to be reached in Copenhagen -- in just around 10 months -- and in the key tropical forest countries.

The US must take a leadership role in helping combat these emissions, just as we must take an overall leadership role in combating global warming. The good news is that the US has a long record of bi-partisan support for efforts to address the loss of the world's native forests, including the adoption of an amendment to the US law which helps developing countries address illegal logging.

Leadership needs to come both by ensuring that significant financial resources and other support is effectively integrated into the US climate legislative and that the US plays a strong role in ensuring that the new international global warming agreement also includes these tools. Continued...

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FEATURE

Climate Bill: Principle Draws Interest





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It appears that momentum may be building in Congress for another attempt to put a price on U.S. carbon emissions before the international community convenes in Copenhagen this December.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced last week that she hopes to have a cap-and-trade bill blessed by her committee by the end of the year.


Her announcement left room for criticism. Action advocates wished Boxer had been more specific about goals for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. The Wall Street Journal posted a piece suggesting the Senator’s new principles were vague and stale.

Moreover, if we want Uncle Sam to wow the world with new-found religion on climate action and to do so in time for the U.S. to take its seat at Copenhagen in a morally upright position, then a committee vote by year’s end will be too little too late. A better goal would be affirmative votes by the House and Senate well before Copenhagen, along with aggressive, progressive energy legislation and continuing bold action by the Obama Administration this spring and summer.

Still, if we want principled action, then principles are a good p
lace to start. Continued...


FEATURE

Tell President Obama About Coal River Mountain





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Coal River Mountain and the Heathrow Airport runway remind me how important it is to keep our eye on the ball.

Coal River Mountain is the site of an absurdity. I learned about Coal River Mountain from students at Virginia Tech last fall. They were concerned about Coal River Mountain, but at that time most of them were working to support Barack Obama. They assumed Barack Obama would not allow such outrages to continue.


The issue at Coal River Mountain is whether the top of the mountain will be blown up, so that coal can be dredged out of it, or whether the mountain will be allowed to stand. It has been shown that more energy can be obtained from a proposed wind farm, if Coal River Mountain continues to stand. More jobs would be created. More tax revenue would flow, locally and to the state, and the revenue flow would continue indefinitely. Clean water and the environment would be preserved. But if planned mountaintop removal proceeds, the mountain loses its potential to be a useful wind source (
http://www.coalriverwind.org/; http://www.crmw.net/).

There are two major requirements for solving the global warming problem:


(1) rapid phase-out of coal emissions, and (2) a substantial, rising price on carbon emissions.


Election night euphoria is subsiding. Now we are in a tricky situation. The President faces enormous tasks, so he must be given time. But directions, once set, are hard to change. Clarity about what is needed is important. Young people (who deserve a large share of credit for helping Obama get the nomination and win the election) had better ask what is happening. The answer, or so it seems: not much. If that impression is right, there had better be a hue and cry soon, or the opportunity for fundamental change may be missed.
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