Environment Forum

A scheme by any other name…

It was a discussion that would have made George Bernard Shaw smile. The British Nobel Prize-winning writer said America and England were separated by their common language.

Such was evident recently during a panel discussion at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills. The panel focused on the effort to limit carbon dioxide emissions by trading carbon credits, commonly called a cap-and-trade scheme, and creating such a system in the United States.

That’s the rub, said Elizabeth Kanna, a marketing professional who said that “scheme” is an awful choice because, for most Americans, it means something sinister.

“Most Americans don’t understand carbon. It’s a confusing subject,” said Kanna. “You can’t convince Americans it’s a good idea by calling it a cap-and-trade ‘scheme’. I know ‘scheme’s’ a bad word. In other countries ‘scheme’ is not a bad word but you cannot create a global market using a word like ‘scheme’ that doesn’t work everywhere.”

To the British, scheme means a plan of action. Scheme is also used often for programs at the United Nations, where its meaning is neutral. But to Americans, it implies a plan of action in an underhanded way.

Hollywood’s greenest stars honor U.S. environmental group

Dozens of the world’s top movie, television and music stars showed off their green cred on Saturday night at a Hollywood-style fundraiser honoring the Natural Resource Defense Council‘s 20 years in Southern California.

The event at Beverly Hills’ Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel was a who’s who of Hollywood environmentalists, including actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Redford, and Laurie David, a global warming activist and producer of the Al Gore movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” All three are trustees of the NRDC’s Southern California office. In 2003, the group even dedicated its new building to Redford.

It’s no secret that the environment and climate change is a hot cause in Hollywood, and it’s hard to imagine another social issue drawing as much star power to one event. The party also raised a hefty $2 million.

Ban gasoline-powered cars from 2015?

Norway’s finance minister wants to ban sales of new gasoline-powered cars from 2015.From then, Kristin Halvorsen (pictured left, in red jacket) says that new cars should be powered by alternative fuels such as electricity, biofuels or hydrogen or at least be hybrids, for instance able to use both gasoline and electricity.I went and spoke to her at the weekend about her proposal (for a story click here) — she reckons that it’s realistic even though it has little chance of becoming law even in a Nordic country that says it is a leader in fighting global warming. She says she’s the only finance minister in the world arguing for such a ban.She says people have grown too fond of cars powered by fossil fuels - treating them “like a member of the family” – and need tougher action to slow climate change.But her Socialist Left Party is only a junior partner in the three-party cabinet and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg does not support her party’s proposal. And some opposition parties accuse her of “climate populism” – latching onto public concern about global warming ahead of elections due in September.So is the ban a good idea?

Biochar backlash tries to bury carbon plan

Last year scientists at Cornell and elsewhere announced that they may have found a new weapon against climate change — in the soils of the Amazon Basin.

Amazon peoples thousands of years ago ploughed charred plants into the ground, perhaps to improve soil fertility or just as an ancient means of waste disposal. 

Plants suck carbon out of the air as they grow and charring them keeps most of that stored carbon in a solid form which can be buried. What scientists found interesting was that the ancient Amazon ”biochar” soils still contained up to 70 times more carbon than the surrounding ground. And so the idea was born of how to trap carbon dioxide and stop it from reaching the atmosphere and cooking the planet. The notion of ploughing into the soil charred organic waste including food, woodchips, straw etc drew favourable reviews in the media .

from FaithWorld:

White U.S. evangelicals most skeptical on climate change

Among U.S. religious groups, white evangelical Protestants are the least likely to believe that human activities are contributing to climate change, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. You can see the numbers, based on a broader 2008 poll, here.


Overall the Pew Forum found that a plurality, or 47 percent, of the adult U.S. population accepts that there is solid evidence that the earth is warming because of human activities. Most scientists have reached the conclusion that the planet's climate is changing because of human-induced factors, notably the emissions from burning of the fossil fuels that drive the global economy.

Among religious groups Pew found that those who said they were unaffiliated with any faith tradition were the most likely to accept that humanity was warming the planet, with 58 percent of them taking that view.

Kyoto Protocol not the economic millstone Russia (and others) feared?

In 2004, an economic adviser to former Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol for reining in global warming would kill off the world economy like “an international Auschwitz”.

Jewish groups deplored the remarks by Andrei Illarionov (left side of photo, with Putin) as trivialising the Holocaust. And his fears seem far from justified — in 2007, the Russian economy grew by 8.1 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by just 0.3 percent. (For a story, click here).

Putin went on to defy his advice — Moscow ratified the Kyoto pact and Russia’s “Yes” gave Kyoto enough international backing weight to enter into force in 2005, setting caps on greenhouse gas emissions for industrialised nations until 2012. In the United States, former President George W. Bush’s administration did not sign up, describing Kyoto as an “economic straitjacket”.

Migratory bird marathons to get longer due climate change

Migratory birds have an amazing ability to grow muscles before their flights by eating a lot but without hard training. Imagine being able to copy that — get in shape by lounging on the sofa gorging yourself for weeks and then run a marathon.

But there are signs that birds will be in trouble in future because climate change will shift their breeding grounds further north in Europe, according to a study of European warblers today. (for a story, click here) Wintering grounds in Africa or southern Europe are unlikely to move so much.

That means, for instance, that whitethroats (above right) that fly from south of the Sahara Desert to Europe and back twice a year may have to travel an extra 400 km (250 miles) towards the end of the century, on top of a one-way trip that can already be up to 6,000 km.

Water! (gasp) California needs water!

The results are in and no surprise — California’s lean snowpack means a third year of drought for the state whose farms supply about half the nation’s fruit and vegetables.

The state’s survey clocks in at 81 percent of normal water content in the snow, with the state fearing early spring heat could melt the white stuff, leaving fewer reserves later in the summer when they are most needed. Plus a National Marine Fisheries Service report, called a biological opinion, may trigger more conservation measures to protect salmon and steelhead, cutting water left for farms and homes.

Things have improved a tinge since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a drought emergency in February, but the state, eyeing climate change,  is preparing for a dry 2010 and says that statewide storage is about 5 million acre feet below average. Since one acre foot is enough for a household or two for a year, that’s a lot.

Is geoengineering the climate a policy option?

The current issue of the American magazine Foreign Affairs has a thought-provoking piece that asks if the geoengineering option shouldn’t be used as a last resort in the battle against climate change. You can see the introduction to the article here (but will need to be a registered user to read all of it online).

 Climate geoengineering is a thinly explored branch of science which to date has seen little in the way of peer-reviewed research. Some of its advocates envision global systems which would launch reflective particles into the atmosphere or position sunshades to cool the earth.

Another approach is to dump iron dust into the sea to spur the growth of algae that absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the air. When algae die, they fall to the seabed and so remove carbon.

New clock ticks at sluggish U.N. climate talks

 A curious thing is happening at a U.N. meeting in Bonn this week on a new climate pact – countries least interested in a deal such as OPEC members are doing more and more of the talking.

Organisers of the talks have set up a new ”Countdown to Copenhagen” clock in the main hall (above left) to try to spur the sluggish negotiations. It shows 248 days left until the talks in the Danish capital in December.

But in many ways it’s misleading because, as U.N. climate change chief Yvo de Boer pointed out at the start of the 11-day meeting on March 29, there are only 6 weeks of formal negotiations left to work out a new global response to climate change.