President Barack Obama said on Saturday that he will outline a climate change plan on Tuesday centered around reducing pollution from carbon emissions as he attempts to make good on a pledge for his second term.
“This Tuesday, I’ll lay out my vision for where I believe we need to go - a national plan to reduce carbon pollution, prepare our country for the impacts of climate change and lead global efforts to fight it,” he said in a White House video.
Obama made tackling climate change a top priority in his inaugural address in January when he began his second term. His speech will be at Georgetown University, the day before he goes on a three-nation tour of Africa.
In his video message, Obama outlined what would be a major national effort to address climate change. He said scientists will be needed to design new fuels, farmers to grow them, engineers to devise new sources of energy and workers to build the foundation for a clean energy economy.
“There’s no single step that can reverse the effects of climate change. But when it comes to the world we leave our children, we owe it to them to do what we can,” he said.
Sources familiar with his plans have said Obama is likely to roll out a number of measures on climate policy. They may include a strategy to limit greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, which account for roughly 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.
News outlets are reporting that Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, will not return for the second term of the Obama administration.
Jackson will probably be remembered as the point person for the first US attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. It wasn’t necessarily a position that she—or Obama—chose. But partisan gridlock ensured that there would be no legislation addressing emissions, and Jackson inherited a Supreme Court decision from the Bush administration that indicated the Clean Air Act required some sort of action. Within months of the inauguration, Jackson’s EPA used Bush-era research to issue an endangerment finding on greenhouse gasses. Three years later, that finding led to the first limits imposed on carbon dioxide emissions by large sources, limits that would severely curtail the construction of new coal plants.
By the time they were issued, however, a sharp fall in the price of natural gas was already doing more to limit the use of coal than any EPA regulation could. (Fracking, which led to the plunge in prices, was also the subject of some initial EPA oversight.)
Forecast the Facts just sent me this email, and I have to post it in its entirety:
Someone finally said it. It seems like all anyone can talk about lately is the ‘fiscal cliff,’ a manufactured crisis that Congress could end in an instant. Meanwhile, no one has been talking about the real cliff we’re hurtling towards: the threat of unabated fossil fuel pollution to our global climate.
I guess Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) finally decided he’d heard enough. He decried his climate change-denying colleagues in a rousing speech on Wednesday, and you just have to see what he said:
The email goes on to say:
Senator Whitehouse’s words ring true: in the face of deafening climate silence, it’s bizarre and sad to hear our leaders express concern for our children and grandchildren, then watch them ignore the climate crisis. John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and other prominent politicians want us to think the fiscal cliff is about saving future generations from economic ruin, but they never hesitate to push us ever closer to the climate cliff.
Congress created the ‘fiscal cliff’ through a budgetary maneuver last year, and they can avoid it just as easily.
By contrast, we have been hurtling toward the climate cliff for a long time now. Scientists have warned for decades that the rogue fossil fuel industry risks rendering the world hostile to human civilization. If we don’t act immediately, as Senator Whitehouse said, the greatest cost will be on future generations, but the shame will be on us.
The email from Forecast the Facts also included a link to the full text of Sen. Whitehouse’s speech. I’ve pasted that transcript below (emphasis mine):
Mr. President, last week I spoke about our nation’s military and intelligence leaders acknowledging, along with our nation’s scientific leaders, the clear evidence that carbon pollution is changing our climate.
Unfortunately, there is confusion among many Americans regarding this scientific consensus, confusion caused by deliberate and coordinated attempts to mislead the American people.
For more than two decades the climate denial movement has been well organized and funded by the fossil fuel industry and conservative ideologues and foundations. The mission of these paid-for deniers is to ‘manufacture uncertainty,’ to manufacture doubt, so the polluters can keep polluting.
This isn’t new. We’ve seen self-serving strategies like this one before: they questioned the merits of requiring seatbelts; they questioned CFCs causing the deterioration of the ozone layer; they questioned the toxic effects of lead exposure; and they questioned whether tobacco was bad for you—same strategy to manufacture doubt; often the same cast of characters.
While the Congress of the United State has been distracted and deceived by these ploys, climate change marches on. Precious time is wasting. In the balance hang lives and jobs. This nonsense has gone on long enough.
The public is being misled. Special interest dollars pull the strings of sophisticated campaigns to give the public the impression that there is a real scientific debate regarding whether or not climate change is happening. There isn’t. The scientific debate is about how bad the changes will be.
To manufacture the doubt, skeptics with little training in climate science are promoted as ‘experts.’ Front groups such as the Global Climate Coalition, Information Council for the Environment, Heartland Institute, Annapolis Center, and Cooler Heads Coalition are created or enlisted to propagate the message of doubt. They question the motives and engage in harassment of the real, credentialed climate scientists.
For the record, there has been scientific debate regarding climate change. Ideas have been tested, theories have been ventured, and the evidence keeps coming back to the same conclusion: increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from human-related sources is strengthening the greenhouse effect, adding to recent warming, and acidifying the oceans. Actually, the evidence coming in tends to confirm the worst and most dangerous projections.
Claims that solar activity is causing recent global warming, and about whether the atmosphere is really warming, have been settled.
When the scientific research doesn’t work out for the skeptics, they turn to straw man arguments. One straw man is that extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and droughts, aren’t proof of climate change. Let’s be clear. No credible source is arguing that extreme events are proof that our climate is changing. But they are associated with what has been staring us in the face for years: the average global temperature is increasing; average sea level is rising; and average ocean acidity is increasing. When averages change extremes usually change with them; the warming climate ‘loads the dice’ for extreme weather.
One gimmick they have reverted to is the observation that there has been no warming trend in the last ten years. In 2010 a Republican Senator said ‘I don’t think that anyone disagrees with the fact that we actually are in a cold period that started about nine years ago.’ Let’s look at the facts. [Show chart with fitted trend] The green line is the global surface temperature data. The red line shows the trend. The trend line is the product of basic and undeniable mathematics, by the way. [Show chart with stepped line] But here’s how the deniers manipulate the same data: the last step is the cold period my Republican colleague mentioned.
This is only a recent portion of the temperature record. When skeptics look deeper into the past, they find even more straw men: the earth’s climate always changes; it’s been warmer in the past. Yes, the earth has seen different climates in the past, not ones we’d want to live in necessarily! The reason we know about these climates is because of the excellent work done by scientists, the same scientists who tell us recent climate change can only be explained by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
And then there is this classic: more carbon in the atmosphere is good because it provides more food for plants. Ah, the Plant Food Theory.
The fact is that we have changed the composition of our atmosphere, pushing the concentration of carbon dioxide beyond where it has been for 8000 centuries. To give you a timescale of 8000 centuries: the practice of agriculture has been around for 100 centuries; modern humans began to migrate out of Africa about 600 centuries ago; Homo sapiens have been around about 2000 centuries. 8000 centuries. For all that time, we never reached carbon dioxide concentrations like what we’ve caused now, through human activity.
Deniers tend to ignore facts they can’t explain away. For example, the increasing acidification of the oceans is simple to measure and undeniably, chemically linked to carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. So we hear nothing about ocean acidification from the deniers.
Ocean acidification is possibly the most disastrous consequence of carbon pollution. The rate of change in acidity of our oceans is already thought to be faster than any time in the past 50 million years. A paper published this March in Science concluded that the current rate of carbon dioxide emissions could drive chemical changes in the ocean unparalleled in the last 300 million years. When you consider the implications for food security, biodiversity, and ocean-based industries, we cannot ignore these changes in our oceans. Just last Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposed listing 66 species of coral as endangered or threatened — and cited climate change as driving three key threats: disease, warmer seas and more acidic seas.
Here’s what I think is worth reminding the deniers, in the words of NASA:
On global temperature rise: ‘All three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880. Most of this warming has occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years. Even though the 2000s witnessed a solar output decline resulting in an unusually deep solar minimum in 2007-2009, surface temperatures continue to increase.’
On ocean temperature and sea level rise: ‘The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 2,300 feet… showing warming of 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969. Global sea level rose about 6.7 inches in the last century. The rate in the last decade, however, is nearly double that of the last century.’
On ocean acidification: ‘Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent. This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere… The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.’
NASA scientists put a man on moon and a rover on Mars. They’re not the quacks. Our nation’s best and brightest minds accept the evidence of climate change, and are urging us to act. Yet still for some in this body, the deniers carry the day.
Why? Well, in a weekend editorial titled Flight from Facts, my home-state Providence Journal said: ‘[The] GOP is winning the race to avoid evidence – some of this escapism based on a desire to hold on to what had been comforting, if error-based, traditional beliefs, and some of it to avoid policies that might be economically and otherwise inconvenient.’ And the price of our folly will be very, very high for future generations.
When it is a question of putting the cost on our children and grandchildren of taking care of their grandparents, how the Republican crocodile tears of intergenerational equity flow! In one of their attacks on Medicare and Social Security, which the Republicans like to call ‘entitlements,’ we heard this: ‘We have got a serious spending problem here… And we need to have an impact on entitlements…If we’re going to have entitlements for our children and grandchildren when they reach retirement age, we have got to change the trajectory.’
The Minority Leader has also spoken about what appears to be the health care bill, and worried about it ‘creating a more precarious future for our children.’
He’s said about the stimulus effort to get our economy back on its feet: ‘This needs to stop for the future of our country and for our children and for our grandchildren.’
When it’s the deficit, he’s urged us ‘to make sure that we have the same kind of country for our children and our grandchildren that our parents left for us.’ He’s even talked about, and I quote, ‘the Europeanization of America,’ and as a result of that Europeanization of America ‘our children and grandchildren could no longer expect to have the same opportunities that we’ve had.’
On virtually every traditional anti-Obama Republican Tea Party bugbear – Medicare, Obamacare, the stimulus, the deficit – even this Europeanization of America – out come the children and grandchildren. Let’s assume they are sincere; let’s assume they have a sincere concern for what is left for our children and grandchildren.
So, when it comes to big corporate polluters of today leaving our children and grandchildren a damaged and more dangerous world, where then is the concern for those children and grandchildren? To have children and grandchildren pay for the care of their grandparents through Medicare and Social Security is a sin and an outrage. To force on them the untold costs and consequences of the harms done by today’s corporate polluters? For that, the future generations’ interests receive nothing from the Republicans but stony silence, or phony and calculated denial.
But the cost will be on them; and the shame will be on us.
I yield the floor.
While participants at last year’s climate meeting in Durban, South Africa, agreed on an extension of the troubled Kyoto Protocol, it is at this year’s meeting in Doha, Qatar, that policy makers have to agree on the pesky details, including long-term emission reduction goals.
As my colleague John Broder reported last week, the outlook is not entirely rosy. And the stakes have grown even greater as scientists report a record level of carbon dioxide emissions in 2011, a level that is growing so rapidly that an international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet, established three years ago, is on the verge of becoming unattainable.
Some of the major industrial players — and heaviest polluters — such as Russia, Canada and Japan have already made it known that they will not sign on again to the climate deal. The United States never ratified the protocol, and China — currently holding the title as world’s number one climate polluter — is listed as a developing country and therefore not yet subject to binding emission caps. (Our colleagues at India Ink reported on India’s role in current and the Kyoto Protocol negotiations).
But activists and some green business people are calling attention to an oft-forgotten mechanism that allows emission-reducing development projects in non-Kyoto compliant countries to earn carbon credits.
Rising acidity is eating away the shells of tiny snails, known as “sea butterflies”, that live in the seas around Antarctica, leaving them vulnerable to predators and disease, scientists said Sunday.
The study presents rare evidence of living creatures suffering the results of ocean acidification caused by rising carbon dioxide levels from fossil fuel burning, the British Antarctic Survey said in a statement.
“The finding supports predictions that the impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and food webs may be significant.”
The tiny snail, named for two wing-like appendices, does not necessarily die as a result of losing its shell, but it becomes an easier target for fish and bird predators, as well as infection.
This may have a follow-through effect on other parts of the food chain, of which they form a core element.
The world’s oceans absorb more than a quarter of man-made carbon dioxide emissions, which lower the sea water pH.
Since the beginning of the industrial era, our oceans have become 30 percent more acidic, reaching an acidity peak not seen in at least 55 million years, scientists say.
Scientists discovered the effects of acidification on the sea butterflies from samples taken around the Scotia Sea region of the Southern Ocean in February 2008.
Geoengineering: A whiter sky
Washington, D.C. — One idea for fighting global warming is to increase the amount of aerosols in the atmosphere, scattering incoming solar energy away from the Earth’s surface. But scientists theorize that this solar geoengineering could have a side effect of whitening the sky during the day. New research from Carnegie’s Ben Kravitz and Ken Caldeira indicates that blocking 2% of the sun’s light would make the sky three-to-five times brighter, as well as whiter. Their work is published June 1st in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.
Carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of coal, oil, and gas have been increasing over the past decades, causing the Earth to get hotter and hotter. Large volcanic eruptions cool the planet by creating lots of small particles in the stratosphere, but the particles fall out within a couple of years, and the planet heats back up. The idea behind solar geoengineering is to constantly replenish a layer of small particles in the stratosphere, mimicking this volcanic aftermath and scattering sunlight back to space.
Copper — the stuff of pennies and tea kettles — is also one of the few metals that can turn carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuels with relatively little energy. When fashioned into an electrode and stimulated with voltage, copper acts as a strong catalyst, setting off an electrochemical reaction with carbon dioxide that reduces the greenhouse gas to methane or methanol.
Various researchers around the world have studied copper’s potential as an energy-efficient means of recycling carbon dioxide emissions in powerplants: Instead of being released into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide would be circulated through a copper catalyst and turned into methane — which could then power the rest of the plant. Such a self-energizing system could vastly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired and natural-gas-powered plants.
But copper is temperamental: easily oxidized, as when an old penny turns green. As a result, the metal is unstable, which can significantly slow its reaction with carbon dioxide and produce unwanted byproducts such as carbon monoxide and formic acid.
Now researchers at MIT have come up with a solution that may further reduce the energy needed for copper to convert carbon dioxide, while also making the metal much more stable. The group has engineered tiny nanoparticles of copper mixed with gold, which is resistant to corrosion and oxidation. The researchers observed that just a touch of gold makes copper much more stable. In experiments, they coated electrodes with the hybrid nanoparticles and found that much less energy was needed for these engineered nanoparticles to react with carbon dioxide, compared to nanoparticles of pure copper.
A paper detailing the results will appear in the journal Chemical Communications; the research was funded by the National Science Foundation. Co-author Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli of MIT says the findings point to a potentially energy-efficient means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from powerplants.
“You normally have to put a lot of energy into converting carbon dioxide into something useful,” says Hamad-Schifferli, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and biological engineering. “We demonstrated hybrid copper-gold nanoparticles are much more stable, and have the potential to lower the energy you need for the reaction.”
The team chose to engineer particles at the nanoscale in order to “get more bang for their buck,” Hamad-Schifferli says: The smaller the particles, the larger the surface area available for interaction with carbon dioxide molecules. “You could have more sites for the CO2 to come and stick down and get turned into something else,” she says.
Hamad-Schifferli worked with Yang Shao-Horn, the Gail E. Kendall Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, postdoc Zhichuan Xu and Erica Lai ‘14. The team settled on gold as a suitable metal to combine with copper mainly because of its known properties. (Researchers have previously combined gold and copper at much larger scales, noting that the combination prevented copper from oxidizing.)
To make the nanoparticles, Hamad-Schifferli and her colleagues mixed salts containing gold into a solution of copper salts. They heated the solution, creating nanoparticles that fused copper with gold. Xu then put the nanoparticles through a series of reactions, turning the solution into a powder that was used to coat a small electrode.
To test the nanoparticles’ reactivity, Xu placed the electrode in a beaker of solution and bubbled carbon dioxide into it. He applied a small voltage to the electrode, and measured the resulting current in the solution. The team reasoned that the resulting current would indicate how efficiently the nanoparticles were reacting with the gas: If CO2 molecules were reacting with sites on the electrode — and then releasing to allow other CO2 molecules to react with the same sites — the current would appear as a certain potential was reached, indicating regular “turnover.” If the molecules monopolized sites on the electrode, the reaction would slow down, delaying the appearance of the current at the same potential.
The team ultimately found that the potential applied to reach a steady current was much smaller for hybrid copper-gold nanoparticles than for pure copper and gold — an indication that the amount of energy required to run the reaction was much lower than that required when using nanoparticles made of pure copper.
Going forward, Hamad-Schifferli says she hopes to look more closely at the structure of the gold-copper nanoparticles to find an optimal configuration for converting carbon dioxide. So far, the team has demonstrated the effectiveness of nanoparticles composed of one-third gold and two-thirds copper, as well as two-thirds gold and one-third copper.
Hamad-Schifferli acknowledges that coating industrial-scale electrodes partly with gold can get expensive. However, she says, the energy savings and the reuse potential for such electrodes may balance the initial costs.
“It’s a tradeoff,” Hamad-Schifferli says. “Gold is obviously more expensive than copper. But if it helps you get a product that’s more attractive like methane instead of carbon dioxide, and at a lower energy consumption, then it may be worth it. If you could reuse it over and over again, and the durability is higher because of the gold, that’s a check in the plus column.”
Emissions trading, the European Union hoped, would limit the release of harmful greenhouse gases. But it isn’t working. The price for emissions certificates has plunged, a development that is actually making coal more attractive than renewable energy.
In the perfect world of economic liberals, every commodity has its price. Limited supply makes goods more expensive and vice versa. That’s how markets work — at least in theory.
In practice, things often look different, and this is especially true when it comes to emissions trading, a business subject to a very different mechanism: laws dictated by the European Union.
Economists have generally praised the trading scheme as a nearly ideal instrument for reducing harmful carbon dioxide emissions. In this system, businesses purchase pollution permits, with prices determined according to supply and demand, in an efficient and self-regulating process. Companies that invest in environmentally friendly technology need to buy fewer certificates, or may even have some left over to sell.
But for the last half year, prices for CO2 certificates have dropped almost continuously, decreasing by about half, to around €8 ($10.60) per metric ton. Not even the closure of eight German nuclear power plants in 2011, and the resulting increase in demand for coal power, has done much to lastingly reverse the trend.
Michael Kröhnert, an emissions trader in Berlin, refers to the plunging prices as a slaughter. And he fully expects it to continue. “The spiral is spinning downward,” he says.
‘The System Isn’t Working’
Analysts at Swiss bank UBS even go so far as to warn that this creeping decline could escalate into a true crash. “The trading system isn’t working,” is their scathing conclusion. The emissions trading system, once so highly acclaimed, seems to be producing nothing more than hot air.
The EU is alarmed. The European Parliament’s Industry Committee plans to vote later this month on whether Brussels should reduce the number of carbon certificates it provides. A vote in favor would see the EU auctioning off 1.4 billion fewer credits than planned during the next trading period from 2013 to 2020. The cut of roughly 8 percent, it is hoped, will push prices back up.
Yet this type of market intervention reveals the system’s central design flaw: Politicians determine the total amount of CO2 that industry in the EU may emit, a limit that applies years into the future, without any way to know how the economy — and thus the demand for trading certificates — will develop during that period.
Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning jumped by the largest amount on record last year, upending the notion that the brief decline during the recession might persist through the recovery.
Emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010, according to an analysis released Sunday by the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists tracking the numbers. Scientists with the group said the increase, a half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air, was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.
The increase solidified a trend of ever-rising emissions that scientists fear will make it difficult, if not impossible, to forestall severe climate change in coming decades.
The researchers said the high growth rate reflected a bounce-back from the 1.4 percent drop in emissions in 2009, the year the recession had its biggest impact.
They do not expect the extraordinary growth to persist, but do expect emissions to return to something closer to the 3 percent yearly growth of the last decade, still a worrisome figure that signifies little progress in limiting greenhouse gases. The growth rate in the 1990s was closer to 1 percent yearly.
The combustion of coal represented more than half of the growth in emissions, the report found.
In the United States, emissions dropped by a remarkable 7 percent in the recession year of 2009, but rose by just over 4 percent last year, the new analysis shows. This country is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, pumping 1.5 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere last year.
The United States was surpassed several years ago by China, where emissions grew 10.4 percent in 2010, with that country injecting 2.2 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide emissions are usually measured by the weight of carbon they contain.
The new figures come as delegates from 191 countries meet in Durban, South Africa, for yet another negotiating session in a global control effort that has been going on, with minimal success, for the better part of two decades.
“To boost support for a US pipeline for its oil sands crude, Canada claims it’s more ethical than the Middle East. Is there such a thing as ethical oil?”
In a word, no:
“There are ways to make oil production more ethical, but it will never be an ethical industry,” Ms. Alpern says. “It’s an inherently dirty way of making money.”
Critics say the ethical oil campaign is simplistic and disingenuous. “Canadians are good people, therefore we make good oil? It’s a kindergarten argument,” says Andrew Nikiforuk, an environmental journalist based in Calgary, Alberta, and author of “Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent.”
The heavy crude from the Alberta oil sands got its “dirty” environmental reputation because of the massive amounts of toxic waste water and carbon emissions produced during mining and the process to separate the crude from the sand, not to mention the clear-cutting of vast swaths of boreal forest necessary to extract the oil sands. Oil sands production has been estimated to create up to 20 percent more carbon dioxide emissions than conventional drilling, prompting a group of US mayors in 2008 to pass a resolution urging American cities to stop using fuel from oil sands.
In two words, hell no:
The whole notion of ethical oil sets up a false dilemma because the very viscous Canadian crude needs to be cut with lighter oils from places like Saudi Arabia in order to be transported down a pipeline, says Chris MacDonald, a visiting scholar for the Clarkson Centre for Business Ethics at the University of Toronto. “So what’s the point of having ethical oil if you are mixing it with this ‘conflict oil’?”
Response from Stephen Harper and ever-faithful shills?