Environment Forum

from Tales from the Trail:

What is the cost of staving off climate change?

Republicans in the U.S. Congress say they know how much it is going to cost to save the world from the predicted ravages of climate change. But others say their math is way off.
 
"It would cost every family as much as $3,100 a year in additional energy costs and will drive millions of good-paying American jobs overseas," warned House of Representatives Republican leader John Boehner in response to House Democrats unveiling their climate-change bill on Tuesday.
 
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell offered the same figure. "According to some estimates, this tax could cost every American household up to $3,100 a year just for doing the same things people have always done, like turning on the lights and doing laundry."
 
There's a problem, though. 
 USA/
The Republicans cite a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study as the basis for their cost estimate. But a lead author of that study complained in a letter to Boehner on Wednesday that the calculation is way off.
 
John Reilly, an economist at MIT's Sloan School of Management, said the average annual cost to U.S. families for controlling emissions of carbon and other harmful greenhouse gases is actually $340.
 
In a telephone interview with Reuters, Reilly said updates to his 2007 study that take into account some higher costs could nudge the figure up to around $440 per household per year.
 
Republicans say they simply took a $366 billion revenue estimate from a climate change bill that sputtered in Congress last year and divided by the number of U.S. households to come up with $3,100. The thinking is that the revenues would be collected in pollution permits to industries, a cost that likely could be passed on to consumers.
 
"Taking that number and saying that is the cost is just wrong," Reilly said, adding that many other calculations, including government rebates to consumers, have to be factored in.
 
Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said there are no assurances yet that consumers would get rebates, which the MIT study assumed, and thus the $3,100 figure is accurate and possibly even higher.
 
"If they (Democrats) change their bill to give money back to consumers, the numbers on cost would change (downward)," Stewart said.
 
Eben Burnham-Snyder, a spokesman for Representative Edward Markey, one of Congress' leading advocates of climate control legislation, saw other possibilities.
    
If a range of energy initiatives in coming legislation is factored in -- electric vehicles, improved transmission and other alternative energy steps -- he said that would "significantly cut down the costs and some say would save people money on energy bills."

For more Reuters political news, click here

Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Demonstrators for clean energy hold a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 2) 

Can the Internet save the environment?

Could a constant search of the Internet help protect the environment by picking up early hints about pollution or signs of climate change such as desertification, droughts or heatwaves?

A study issued on Thursday hints that it could.

A scuba diver in the South China Sea off Malaysia (above, picture by David Loh of Reuters News) might write a blog if corals looked damaged by ‘bleaching’ – algae that give reefs their colours can start to die off because of higher sea temperatures. It might just turn out that divers far away in Australia, the Caribbean or elsewhere were starting to notice the same thing — perhaps setting off alarm bells about global warming.

“The Internet has the possibility to link up anecdotes to see if there’s a pattern,” said Tim Daw of the University of East Anglia who was among the authors. All that would be needed is an automated trawl of the Internet to pick up the information.

High and dry on the California farm

At lunchtime in California’s San Joaquin Valley, farmers meet up at Jack’s Prime Time Restaurant, where they can get a good, honest meal … just what one expects from an establishment smack dab in the middle of the most productive farming region in the world.

But the mood at Jack’s is decidely somber. A few days earlier, the farmers in these parts were told not to expect any federally supplied water this year due to a third year of drought and low levels in the reservoirs.  Without water, they can’t plant their lettuce and tomatoes, and they may lose parts of their precious almond and pistachio orchards.  All this land flourished with water brought from hundreds of miles away, snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada.

In reporting for our series on water scarcity in the U.S. West, I was amazed that the top farming region in the nation had not prepared itself better to deal with Mother Nature’s fickle ways with water. But many here feel they would have avoided this predicament were it not for the ”man-made drought” –  new regulations to save endangered fish species by sharply restricting water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. And there’s a lot of anger at environmentalists who want more water for wildlife habitat and less for farming.

Is the U.S. West going the way of parched Australia?

The drought-induced infernos which ravaged parts of Australia earlier this year may be a harbinger of the water challenges coming to the American West.

 ”Think of that (Australia) as California’s future,” water researcher Heather Cooley of California’s Pacific Institute told my colleague Peter Henderson. You can see his report, part one of our series on water scarcity in the U.S. West, here.

Plush green golf courses in the desert, verdant boulevards in Los Angeles and fountains that dance 20 stories high in Las Vegas are very much part of today’s landscape and life in the American West.  As California author James Powell says: “Add water and you have the instant good life.”

Wall Street Journal of Atmospheric Sciences: Reply to Jenkins

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University and a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”; this is a reply to a blog by Holman Jenkins, a Wall Street Journal columnist and member of the WSJ editorial board. Thomson Reuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

Mr. Jenkins replies that the clarification of his perplexing column is reiteration of his original sentence “…We don’t really have the slightest idea how an increase in the atmosphere’s component of CO2 is impacting our climate, though the most plausible indication is that the impact is too small to untangle from natural variability…”

He still doesn’t say where his ‘most plausible indication’ comes from except for his reference to some unnamed : “ … many scientists who have pursued empirical results [that] show the human contribution [has] been …maddeningly elusive or indeterminate.”

from UK News:

UK minister in a spin over climate change doubters

As a top-flight racing driver, Britain's Science Minister Paul Drayson may seem an unlikely critic of the auto industry.

The self-confessed "car nut" owns a motor racing team and competes in a 200mph Aston Martin in competitions around the world.

 But at a news conference in London, he attacked the "significant minority" of auto industry executives who he claims still deny the evidence for climate change.

In Peru, the hills come tumbling down

 It’s summer in Peru and the mudslides are back, eroding barren hillsides on the western slopes of the Andes. The huaicos, as they are known in Peru, create rivers of mud and carry giant boulders with them that knock down everything in their path, from houses to bridges.

On Sunday, on the eastern fringe of Lima, Peru’s capital, three mudslides tore through the towns of Chosica and Chaclacayo. A 15-year-old teenager, Johani Lucero Vasquez, dared to wade across a slide and was swept away. Her body was found 9 kilometers downstream. Debris washed onto the country’s main highway that crosses the Andes, shutting it for six hours in both directions.

For most of the year, almost no precipitation falls on the barren landscape of steep, wrinkled canyons in the rain shadow of the Andes. But in the summer rains arrive and, because there is too little vegetation to absorb them, the hills come tumbling down.

Climate change making U.S. forests quieter?

Add quieter U.S. forests, woods, and backyards to the list of changes our lives could face from climate change. A piece by my colleague Deborah Zabarenko explores the movement of American birds northward, sometimes hundreds of miles into Canada.

An Audubon Society study of citizen observations that took place over 40 years found that 58 percent of 305 bird species found on the continental U.S. shifted significantly to the north as temperatures warmed. Forest and feeders birds, like finches and chickadees, moved deep into the Canadian Boreal Forest.

Besides the loss of chittering and chirps, what else do you think might be lost from climate-related migrations?

California climate chief has global warming plan

California looks ready to get the go-ahead to regulate greenhouse gases from cars, after President Obama on Monday told the EPA to reconsider a Bush administration refusal. California’s top climate official, California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, last week predicted the okay would be ready to go by May. In the attached video, from the interview last week, she talks about California’s grand plans, which are the most aggressive in the United States.

For Reuters full environment coverage, check our stories here.

Will Obama see the forest for the trees?

A Chinese campaigner has urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to prove his green credentials, asking him to offset the emissions generated by his inauguration by funding a forest in China.

A carbon fund named “Obama, future” could invest in increased forest coverage in another country and Obama himself could plant a tree there, Lin Hui said in an open letter, published on www.ditan360.com. Lin hopes that country will be China.

Lin’s appeal is based on estimates by conservative U.S. think-tank, the Institute for Liberty, that people travelling to attend Tuesday’s inauguration would generate 220,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

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