Environment Forum

The Case Of The Forged Letters – a cap-and-trade mystery


A half-dozen fake letters, signed by people who don’t seem to exist and who work at made-up jobs, are causing a bit of buzz in the environmental world — mostly because the letters urged a Virginia congressman to vote against a cap-and-trade system to curb climate change.

The Sierra Club calls it “dirty tricks.” The Union of Concerned Scientists points out that the PR firm said to be behind the fake-letter lobbying effort has a history of working against climate legislation. Rep. Ed Markey, who chairs a House committee on energy independence and global warming, said the committee will investigate. The Daily Progress newspaper in Charlottesville published a detailed story.

The congressman, Tom Perriello, voted for the cap-and-trade bill anyway. It passed by a slim margin and the Senate is expected to take up this matter in September.

The alleged forgeries came in letters made to look as if they were sent from two civil rights organizations: the local branch of the NAACP and Creciendo Juntos, a network for Charlottesville’s Hispanic community — neither of which oppose cap-and-trade. The Daily Progress tracked the letters to a Washington lobbying firm, Bonner & Associates. A partner at the Bonner firm apologized to Creciendo Juntos, but that probably won’t be the end of the matter.

Jack Bonner, the president of Bonner & Associates, responded to a call for comment by e-mail: “We take our business very seriously. A temporary employee—lied to us—and contrary to our policies sent these letters. We—no one else—we on our own found this out. We immediately fired the person. We then, called those effected, explained what happened and apologized. In the case of the group in the story—we did it in person and by letter. This should not have happened—we had a bad employee—but through our internal checks, we found the problem, and on our own initiative took the step to notify the affected group.”

Bike commuting = less CO2 + cost savings + good mood

I wish I could report that “environmental reasons” were behind my decision to start commuting by bike. But the real motivation was much simpler: I’m a cheapskate and biking saves money.

Yet three years and some 24,000 kilometres after switching from the train to the bike, I’ve discovered a number of useful fringe benefits beyond being frugal and reducing greenhouse gas: the daily exercise from the 40-km round trip each day puts me in a good mood, makes me healthier, liberates me from the hassles of semi-reliable train timetables and makes me a bit lighter as well.

No matter how lousy or stressful or full of irritations the work day might have been, by the time I’ve arrived home on the western fringe of Berlin from the city centre after an almost always enjoyable 50-minute bike ride, I feel transformed back into a happy human being. It’s magic.

Futurist says dollars mean bright future for solar energy

   Solar power may bring us cleaner air and clearer skies. Nice, yes. But it’s money — not saving Mother Earth — that will catapult solar energy past dirty coal-fueled power plants.

That’s the theory of Ray Kurzweil, a futurist and inventor. At a technology conference on Friday, Kurzweil said billions are being invested into solar power and new advances in the technology are driving down the cost of powering by the sun. 
    “As a result, the amount of solar energy is doubling every year two years,” Kurzweil said. “But ultimately it will be very inexpensive. So what’s motivating (its adoption) is economics.
    “It has the side effect that it’s environmentally much friendlier,” Kurzweil said at the Fortune Brainstorm: TECH conference in Pasadena, California.
    The inventor is far from the first to predict the success of solar power. Some may give more weight to his words: Kurzweil has predicted the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of wireless technology.
    He has his critics as well. Kurzweil, who wrote “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology,” envisions a future where we can download memory and reverse-engineer the brain.
    (Reporting and writing by Laura Isensee)

      (Picture: Inventor Raymond Kurzweil speaks at the Fortune Brainstorm TECH conference in Pasadena, California July 24, 2009. REUTERS/Fred Prouser)

Between Bangkok, Barcelona and a big bang (with one eye on Capitol Hill)

For those keeping track, there are five months left before the December meeting in Copenhagen where the world is supposed to agree on how to tackle climate change after crucial aspects of the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol expire. Before they can agree on anything, they have to have a document to work from, and that’s where people like Michael Zammit Cutajar come in.

He and other diplomats at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will get together next month in Bonn to whittle down a 200-page text to something more manageable. On a visit to Washington, he said he didn’t expect any big breakthroughs at that meeting because “people don’t like to work much in August.” So far, he himself hasn’t read through the whole draft and admits it’s likely to be a tough thing to read: “You pick it up, you look at it, you see three pages, you say ‘interesting,’ you put it down again. It’s not meant to be read top to bottom.”

Zammit Cutajar figures the “crunch issues” are more likely to emerge at a meeting in Bangkok over 10 days in September and October, and at another gathering in Barcelona in November, before the main event in Copenhagen.

Is Bill Clinton’s climate legacy a problem for Obama?

Who was president when U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose most sharply since 1990, the U.N. benchmark year for action to fight climate change?
– George W. Bush (2001-2007)
– Bill Clinton (1993-2000)
– George H.W. Bush (1990-1992)
(I’m giving presidents responsibility for the full calendar year of their inauguration in January; official U.S. data are only available until 2007)

Answer — Bill Clinton (by a long way).

Many people might have thought the worst scorecard was by George W. Bush, who gave up plans to implement the 1997 Kyoto Protocol for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, signed by the Clinton administration but never submitted to a hostile Senate for ratification.

But emissions rose by more than twice as much in the Clinton years, when climate campaigner Al Gore was vice president, as during the combined years when two Bush presidents, father and son, were in the White House since 1990.

Tuvalu turns to solar energy – against rising seas

With a highest point 4.5 metres above sea level, the Pacific island state of Tuvalu plans to shift to generate all electricity from renewable energies by 2020, hoping to push other countries to follow suit to fight global warming.

These solar panels (left) on the main soccer stadium in Funafuti, the capital, are the first step in the plan to end dependence on fossil fuels and slow climate change blamed for pushing up world sea levels. Tuvalu’s goal is to generate all electricity from wind, solar and other green sources.

By contrast, European Union nations have among the most ambitious goals among developed countries, aiming to get 20 percent of all energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Countering the contrarians on global warming

Just how hot is it going to get?

That’s what everyone wants to know, and the focus of a lot of research. But parsing through the science can present some problems, with plenty of opportunity for mischief.

Aaron Huertas has been in this game for a while, so he figured there might be problems as soon as he saw the headline on the release from Rice University: “Global warming: Our best guess is likely wrong.”

The text of the release, which was promoting a paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience, noted that climate models can’t explain all of the heating indicated in the geologic record of a warm period some 55 million years ago. And one of the scientists who did the research told Reuters that this could mean current forecasts are underestimating how hot Earth’s atmosphere will get in the future.

Pakistanis set tree planting record: 1,800 each a day

If you feel proud about having planted a tree sometime to help protect the environment, you may have to think again.

Pakistan has apparently set a record for tree plantings, with volunteers planting about 1,800 mangroves each in a day in mud and temperatures of up to 37 Celsius, according to the WWF International conservation group. 

Maybe such competitions will catch on if a new U.N. climate treaty due to be agreed in Copenhagen in December includes measures to combat deforestation. Trees soak up greenhouse gases as they grow and release them when they burn or rot.

Sarah Palin’s new focus

Admit it: we all wondered just what Sarah Palin would turn her time and talents to after she announced her resignation from the Alaska governor’s job, and now she’s given what looks like an answer. In an op-ed column in The Washington Post, Palin took a swipe at Washington insiders and the mainstream media for ignoring the economy, and then tipped her hand.

“Unfortunately, many in the national media would rather focus on the personality-driven political gossip of the day than on the gravity of these challenges,” she wrote. “So, at risk of disappointing the chattering class, let me make clear what is foremost on my mind and where my focus will be: I am deeply concerned about President Obama’s cap-and-trade energy plan, and I believe it is an enormous threat to our economy. It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage.”

In a brief story about this, we noted that Palin’s plans for spurring the U.S. economy include offshore drilling, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and exploring the possibility of nuclear power in every state.

How much would you pay?

What’s the real cost of global warming? More to the point, how much would you — the person reading this blog — be comfortable paying to stave off the worse ravages of climate change? A hundred bucks to keep the rising seas out of your back yard? A thousand to replenish mountain snowpack? Maybe a few dollars to put more trees back in the rainforest?

Luckily, there’s no shortage of estimates of how much each individual in the United States might have to pay to curb the greenhouse emissions that spur climate change. One particularly pertinent estimate was delivered on Capitol Hill by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at a Senate hearing geared to send the message that, yes, the United States Congress is getting serious about tackling the problem.

As Reuters’ Jasmin Melvin wrote in this story, Jackson said it would cost the average U.S. household about 50 cents a day to fight global warming, though wealthier households would probably pay more. Even if this cost doubled, Jackson told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, that would only be a dollar a day. Who wouldn’t pay that?

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