Archive for July 23rd, 2010

I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude

July 23, 2010

Here’s writer and activist Alex Steffen commenting on the official death of the carbon cap:

We already know what the next big battleground in this fight will be: the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA, it’s worth remembering, has the right – confirmed by the U.S Supreme Court — to regulate greenhouse gasses as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. That makes it both our next best hope… and the neoconservatives’ next target.

The stakes are high. The EPA has enormous capacity to create change, if the President were to direct it and act boldly. A recent study suggests that better Federal regulations on electricity generation, auto standards, landfills and appliances could spur a 22% reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2030. That figure, however, almost certainly low-balls the Federal government’s total capacity to make change, especially if it ties in policies that impact land use and transportation (not just fuel standards for cars). A climate-focused EPA, backed by a clean energy and smart-growth focused Administration, might actually do significantly more to build a thriving bright green economy than a milquetoast climate bill.

That’s why the minions of coal, oil and car companies are already gunning for the EPA, and we can bet that we have yet to see the full force of their hate machine turned on the EPA and its allies. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that the EPA not only be lobbied and pressured, but defended.

I’ll have to look into Steffen’s numbers. The World Resources Institute published a report this week saying that if federal and state governments really tried, we could get part of the way toward the 17 percent emissions reduction from 2005 levels Obama pledged in Copenhagen last December, and anything less than an ambitious push would bring us far short of that goal.

Here’s a handy chart:

Either way, Steffen’s strategy sounds like a good one: Celebrate the EPA.

There ought to be a nationwide effort to celebrate the EPA and tell memorable stories of its successes. That effort should include strategic communications work in the next few months, pitching magazines and TV shows that have long lead-times to cover the anniversary, and offering helpful resources for telling one of America’s greatest success stories. (One thing in particular that ought to be done immediately is gathering interviews with old-guard Republicans who helped create the EPA; getting it on the record that this was a bi-partisan achievement, and something Americans of all stripes can support.)

So let it be done.

“The average temperature of the planet for the next several thousand years will be determined this century—by those of us living today.”

July 23, 2010

That’s the dire pronouncement of my former Sci Am colleague David Biello in his writeup of a National Research Council report issued last week, which I’ll use as an excuse to take stock of where we stand on climate change. The NRC put a different twist on climate projections by estimating not how much warming we’re in for, but what impacts a given amount of warming will have on the environment.

According to the report, for every degree Celsius of warming, impacts include:

* A 5 to 15 percent lower yield for some crops, including corn in Africa and the U.S., and wheat in India
* A 3 to 10 percent increase in heavy rainfall globally
* A 5 to 10 percent drop in rainfall in southwestern North America, southern Africa and the Mediterranean, among other precipitation changes
* A 5 to 10 percent change (increases in some regions, decreases in others) in stream flow in many river basins globally
* A 15 to 25 percent decrease in the extent of Arctic Ocean sea ice

Here’s what the IPCC projected in 2007:

The average surface temperature of the Earth is likely to increase by 2 to 11.5°F (1.1-6.4°C) by the end of the 21st century, relative to 1980-1990, with a best estimate of 3.2 to 7.2°F (1.8-4.0°C) (see Figure 1). The average rate of warming over each inhabited continent is very likely to be at least twice as large as that experienced during the 20th century.

So, to take heavy rainfall as an example, that’s a best estimate of a 10 to 72 percent increase globally. In case you’ve forgotten, Tennessee experienced a 1,000-year flood in early May (see the red streak below), killing 21 and causing an estimated $1.5 billion-plus in damages.

Climate change was surely a major contributor to the flooding, according to Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who was quoted back in June on Climate Progress (emphasis CP’s):

I find it systematically tends to get underplayed and it often gets underplayed by my fellow scientists. Because one of the opening statements, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard is “Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.” But there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.

For good measure, please keep in mind too that 2010 is on pace to be the warmest year since record keeping began in 1880.

Surely the wise leaders of business and industry who foresaw the implosion of the housing bubble will save us from choking on our own emissions, right? Oh, wait. No. This week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) officially ruled out the possibility of a carbon cap, saying, “we know we don’t have the votes.”

Scroll down this page for a little video on how Obama and his team squandered the opportunity for serious action on climate change.

More in my next post.

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