Environment Forum

from UK News:

‘Green’ expert sees red over UK climate pledges

Professor Sir David King, the British government's former top scientific adviser, is no stranger to controversy.

 

He ruffled feathers on both sides of the Atlantic in 2004 when he described climate change as a more serious threat to the world than terrorism.

 

Earlier this year, he said the Iraq war may come to be seen as the world first’s “resource war”, based on oil rather than weapons of mass destruction.

 

Now the South African-born academic risks putting more politicians' noses out of joint.

 

In a speech in Oxford this week, King accused Gordon Brown of talking tough on climate change, but failing to follow his words up with action, mainly due to a lack of public money.

The rich are different from you and me: they spew more carbon

Yachts do it. Limousines do it. Even air-conditioned mansions by the sea do it. The trappings of wealth tend to emit lots of climate-warming carbon dioxide. Which is sort of the idea behind a new strategy for sharing the burden of fighting climate change. Take a look at the Reuters story on this here.

Instead of the two-tier world envisioned by the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol — where developed countries have the lion’s share of responsibility for cutting emissions, while developing countries including China and India have few requirements — environmental strategists from Princeton, Harvard, the Netherlands and Italy say it might be better to track the wealthy, who live in every country.

On the grounds that individual rich people emit more carbon dioxide than most other people, these strategists suggest setting an international individual cap on the emissions that spur global warming. Rich people in rich countries are likely to hit this cap sooner than rich people in poor countries, so rich countries are likely to have to do something about their emissions before poor countries do. But eventually, every country that emits more than its share will have to take action, under this scenario.

“taking cars off the road”, or climate tokenism?

There’s no shortage of references these days in corporate and government reports to earnest, new steps to fight climate change. Often they promise to make carbon emissions cuts equivalent to taking millions of cars off the road…

For example, take Europe’s fourth biggest single source of carbon emissions, Britain’s Drax coal plant. It said in March that as a result of efficiency improvements it had cut carbon emissions equivalent to taking 195,000 cars off the road.  But of course that was a cut against a theoretical projection of rising emissions — not an absolute cut.

Take a similar announcement from Canada this week. The oil industry in Alberta is busy trying to extract oil from tar sands. That is a far more polluting, energy-intensive way than just sucking the stuff out of oil wells, because steam must first be injected into the sand to make the oil flow. Now Alberta is experimenting with a technology, called carbon capture and storage, with three test projects which by 2015 would “achieve annual carbon dioxide reductions equivalent to taking about a million vehicles off the road”, the province says.

Ex-GOP diplomacy machine talking green

Unfairly or not, any discussion of the Republican party’s environmental record by clean energy advocates often includes a mention of the White House solar panels ditched under Ronald Reagan. Green-minded members of the Grand Old Party, on the other hand, would rather point to the birth of the Environmental Protection Agency under Richard Nixon. Either way, in what’s clearly a sign of the times, renewables featured high on the minds of three former GOP secretaries of state who popped up at various energy conferences in the San Francisco Bay Area this past week (One can only assume the timing was a coincidence).

George Schultz, who served under Reagan, probably surprised at least a few people when he counted himself as among those EV1 owners still regretting GM’s controversial scrapping of the electric car earlier this decade.  A Stanford professor and Hoover Institution fellow for the past two decades, Schultz had enjoyed driving it around campus. “I could even drive it up to San Francisco. I couldn’t go too many other places, but it’s a very useful car,” he said. “I was sorry to see that car taken off the market, it worked just fine.” Speaking at a meeting of energy economists last week alongside Chevron’s David O’Reilly, Schultz went on to join the oil company CEO in endorsing a carbon tax as more efficient than the cap-and-trade system favored by Congress.

On Monday, Condoleezza Rice also favored a carbon tax when she addressed the Silicon Valley Energy Summit at Stanford, where she too is a professor and Hoover fellow, while stressing the importance of not picking winners in the push for greener energy. “At this stage, we need to have an open field for all renewable alternatives to change the energy mix,” she said.

Google Green Energy Czar geeks out on solar thermal

Google Green Energy Czar (real title) Bill Weihl sat down with Reuters to talk about Renewable Energy Less Than Coal – the company’s plan to make affordable clean energy. Google started off trying to green up its own computer operations and then launched this save-the-world effort, which includes some investment in renewable energy startups and the work by a Google team.

Weihl describes that work in the video below, saying that the chances of successfully creating clean energy at less than coal prices – or about 3 cents per kilowatt — had risen from long shot to roughly even odds in about three years’ time.

This is an overview of Google efforts (that’s me asking questions):

And here is Weihl giving a bit more detail of solar thermal work for you wonks (like me):

Missing the solar show?

By now, the message that solar power will become a major source of electricity should have reached most parts of the world.

Huge proposed spending packages by the Obama administration as well as the Chinese government also highlight the political and economic relevance of the sector as a job creator.

When I visited Intersolar in Munich last week — the world’s biggest trade fair in the solar industry — it surprised me, however, that Germany – expected to become the world’s biggest solar market in 2009 in new installation — seemed to have missed that fact as no government politican turned up to the event. Not even the mayor of Munich stopped by.

Human “Message from the North” to climate negotiators

If you want to send a message, the old Hollywood saying goes, call Western Union. But environmental activists chose a different medium to get through to climate change negotiators: they put their bodies on the line — in this case, the Alaskan tundra — to spell out “Save The Arctic” and sketch the outline of a caribou.

Members of the Gwich’in Nation gathered last weekend near Arctic Village, Alaska, to send what they called a “Message from the North” to environmental diplomats gathering this week in Bonn, Germany.

The Alaskan activists want permanent protection from oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, on the far northern edge of Alaska where caribou roam, along with urgent action to address climate change.

Polar bears and a cactus urge climate action in Bonn

 U.N. climate talks started in Bonn on Monday with demonstrators dressed as camels, birds, trees, a cactus and several polar bears urging delegates to do more to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The cactus costume with the sign “water me” was my favourite (left).

Too many  protesters at U.N. meetings dress up as polar bears — the bears’ icy habitat is coming under threat from receding ice. So to get the polar-bear-weary delegates’ attention, a bit of variety is a good idea, even though it’s probably harder to make people feel sorry for a prickly plant than an iconic Arctic predator.

U.S. cities take lead on environmental action

“Green Cities,” a new report by a thinktank called Living Cities, examines how American cities have taken the lead on environmental issues in the absence of strong federal action. 

Based on a survey of 40 of the largest U.S. cities, the report points to progress in mandating more efficient city buildings and promoting recycling but notes that talk of creating “green jobs” has been more talk than action.  

Among the main findings:

* Four in five big cities say sustainability is among their top five priorities. Only about one in six says it is not.

Chevron CEO sees smoke and mirrors in cap and trade

“If you liked credit derivatives swaps, you’re going to love cap-and-trade.”

One can presume that Chevron Chief Executive David O’Reilly is not a fan of the current deep worldwide recession — which was worsened by a credit-market lockup blamed in part on hard-to-value securities.

And, he made it very clear on Thursday that he is not enamored of the system the Obama administration hopes to use to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, which are produced through the burning of fossil fuels sold by the No. 2 U.S. oil and gas company.

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