Environment Forum

Is a “green revolution” inevitable?

Denmark’s Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard delivers her speech during the Malaysia-Danish Energy & Environmental Forum in Kuala Lumpur January 25, 2007. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad (MALAYSIA)Is a global ”green revolution” unstoppable, even with an economic slowdown?

That’s what Danish Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard (left) predicts, saying that a huge shift to renewable energies, such as solar and wind power, from fossil fuels will survive flagging economic growth.

She has to puzzle over the outlook since she is set to be host of a U.N. meeting in late 2009 in Copenhagen at which the world is meant to agree a new climate deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

Many nations have been reluctant so far to spell out what they are willing to do to slow global warming. It’s a bit of the “you first”, “no, you first” trap.

“The green revolution is going to come anyway,” she told me for a story about how far a gloomier economic outlook may dampen action to fight climate change, and how far high oil prices will help.

U.S. gas prices hit RV enthusiasts, campers

Cranky kids, mosquito bites, burnt marshmallows and soggy sleeping bags – camping in the summer is an American family ritual right up there with baseball and apple pie.

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But like other aspects of American life involving big vehicles it has also been hitting the brakes in the face of  sky-high gas prices.

Statistics released on Thursday by the  Texas Association of Campground Owners showed that the state’s “RVers” — owners of recreational vehicles such as big camper vans – are camping less often and not travelling as far afield.

Hoping for higher energy prices?

A resident refuels his car at a gas station in Valparaiso city, about 75 miles (120km) northwest of Santiago, July 2, 2008. Chilean state oil firm ENAP said on Tuesday it would sharply raise fuel prices to wholesalers from Thursday, with gasoline prices rising 5.0 percent, kerosene up 9.0 percent and diesel up 6.7 percent. REUTERS/Eliseo Fernandez (CHILE) Are gasoline and energy prices too high? What’s high enough? 

It may be a distinct miniority opinion, but if you were to ask me, I’d say I think they’re not high enough — and I sincerely hope they keep rising. It may be the only way the world wakes up to the perils of climate change — hitting people in their pocketbooks where it hurts most.
 
The higher energy costs are truly a blessing in disguise for anyone concerned about climate change and worried about the inability of world leaders to take any tough measures to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With the growing scientific evidence that global warming has been happening, there’s no excuse for this generation’s inaction.

And with the WTO talks ending in abject failure, who could possibly be optimistic about the world ever agreeing on taking the costly, pain-inducing steps necessary to at least slow global warming in our time?
 
So it is the soaring energy prices are filling the void the cowardly political leaders have left. Rising prices for petrol, natural gas and electricity are causing pain and leading to conservation — and reduced emissions of carbon dioxide It’s a good thing.

 Former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan speaks at the Per Jacobsson Foundation Lecture on the Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, pointed out in his excellent book “The Age of Turbulence” that as honourable as the fight against climate change was, he didn’t think there would be any significant reductions until economics figured into the equation. “I fear that a more likely response to global warming will be to quibble until the dangers it poses to national economies become more apparent,” Greenspan wrote. He was criticised by some for that but those “dangers” to economies are now now happening faster than anyone could have imagined. And it’s a good thing.
  A woman knits a traditional Faroese wool sweater in Torshavn June 01, 2007. REUTERS/Tony Gentile (FAROE ISLANDS)
Those who don’t see the light need to feel the heat. The finance minister in Berlin, Thilo Sarazzin, has been criticised this week for his suggestion that people turn down their thermostats and put on sweaters in the winter if they feel cold in their apartments. He said room temperatures of 15 or 16 degrees — with a sweater on — would be the best answer to rising energy prices rather than introducing a new government energy subsidy for low-income households as some other political leaders were clamouring for. Sarazzin has been getting bashed in the German media for his suggestion — but he’s right.   
 
In Britain, the announcement this week that natural gas and electricity prices would be raised sharply in the months ahead got a lot of people upset. But what better way to promote conservation and spur the development of renewable energy — which becomes increasingly attractive with every increase in the price of fossil fuels. In the United States, by far the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, fuel tax revenues are down sharply this year — because people are using less fuel. That’s a good thing.
 
Unfortunately, I’m not sure if the prices are high enough yet to really make a difference. A recent German news broadcast found several motorists who said the higher fuel prices would not change their driving habits and they said they hoped the higher prices would nevertheless force other drivers off the road so the streets would be less congested. So I do hope they keep rising — to the point those smug motorists will think twice about their driving patterns.
 
My personal answer to rising prices? I’m driving a lot less (one 60 litre tank now lasts six weeks instead of three weeks about two years ago), I use wood rather than natural gas for heat as much as possible, have taken a number of energy-saving measures on my house, commute by bicycle and have converted my monthly electric bill into a monthly windfall profit with the help of solar panels. I’m unfortunately still far from zero emissions. But that’s the goal — and an increasingly rewarding one.
 
So no, if you ask me, energy prices are not high enough. And I hope they keep rising.

Climate change, it’s snow joke

snowshow1.JPGIt’s summer at the G8 media centre in Hokkaido. Yet underneath the building are tonnes of snow to keep journalists cool as they write about global warming.

Japan budgeted $283 million for security at the summit and $30 million to build a temporary, low-emissions media centre far from where the G8 leaders are meeting in a luxury hotel.

The centre took five months to construct next to a ski resort and the company that built it says 95 percent of the materials will be recycled or reused once the building is torn down in the weeks after the G8 meeting.

Coal growth forecast to reign for decades

eia.jpgRenewable power sources like wind and solar are some of the fastest growing sectors in the energy business.

But this graph forecasts that coal, the dirtiest power source in terms of carbon dioxide and other pollutants, will still dominate global power generation growth for decades into the future.

The forecast, released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the statistics branch of the Department of Energy, shows that global power generated from coal will grow 115 percent to 15.36 trillion kilowatt hours from 2005 to 2030.  It assumes no changes in emissions laws or policy.

Planet sick; do the doctors care?

Children run on a dried lakebed in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad June 5, 2008. The United Nations urged the world on Thursday to kick an all-consuming addiction to carbon dioxide and said everyone must take steps to fight climate change. World Environment Day, conceived in 1972, is the United Nation’s principal day to mark global green issues and aims to give a human face to environmental problems and solutions. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder (INDIA)    The UN’s climate surgery opening hours this week in Bonn, Germany, are 10am-1pm and 3pm-6pm.

    Several times they’ve finished early — lack of demand?

    “That’s good. Often they just go on and on. Next week it may be a bit later,” a UN spokesperson told me.

    Welcome to a new round of talks to find a successor to the UN-administered Kyoto Protocol on global warming. Bonn is the second of eight meetings of 190 countries and 2,000 people or so to agree a new climate pact by December 2009.

Bicycling in New York: room for improvement

A recent trip to bicyle-peppered cities Copenhagen and Amsterdam got me thinking about the pedal possibilities in U.S. cities. Alas, New York, the country’s biggest city, has long way to go make biking easier, and that seems true in many other cities in the world’s largest motor fuel consumer.

As gasolinecope.jpg nears $4.00 a gallon throughout the country one might think that U.S. commuters would be jumping on their bikes. Evidently the prices aren’t high enough yet.

Here in New York, it’s Bike Moamster.jpgnth and though I live just 7 miles from my office in Times Square, I haven’t two-wheeled it in yet, though I did for years. Likely, I won’t any time soon because fighting traffic across the avenues isn’t appealing anymore.

So what happened to global warming?

An enormous iceberg (R) breaks off the Knox Coast in the Australian Antarctic Territory, January 11, 2008. Australia’s CSIRO’s atmospheric research unit has found the world is warming faster than predicted by the United Nations’ top climate change body, with harmful emissions exceeding worst-case estimates. Picture taken January 11, 2008. REUTERS/Torsten Blackwood/Pool (ANTARCTICA)So what happened to global warming?

It’s not just that it’s disappeared from media headlines this year – shoved off by the credit crunch and natural disasters, for example. It can’t be ignored that 2007 came and went as another very warm year – the 7th hottest on record since 1850 according to the World Meteorological Organization.

But it wasn’t a record. In fact that was 1998, a full 10 years ago — the year of an exceptional El Nino, a Pacific weather pattern which heats the whole globe. So is global warming not living up to the hype?

Two weeks ago Leibniz Institute’s Noel Keenlyside stirred an academic hornet’s
nest by saying that we may have to wait longer – a decade or more – for another
peak year, because a natural weakening in ocean currents may be cooling sea
temperatures
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Notice more trees? Campaign aims to plant 7 billion

Nobel prize winner Wangari Maathai, Japanese Ambassador to Kenya Miyamuri and Chairman of Environmental Foundation Okada water a tree in Sabatia forest, Kenya.A worldwide tree planting campaign is aiming to reach a total of 7 billion by the end of 2009 – that means just over one for everyone on the planet.

The United Nations says the campaign has exceeded expectations since it began in late 2006 with a goal of planting one billion within a year: two billion have been planted already. That means another 5 billion by late 2009.

A lot of the plantings so far have been by carried out governments —  including 700 million by Ethiopia, 400 million by Turkey and 250 million by Mexico. That still leaves a lot still to be planted by companies and people like you and me.

Bush’s climate plan: good sense, “Neanderthal”, or both?

A member of Germany’s Alternative Party dressed as a Neanderthal man from 50,000 years ago at an anti-nuclear demonstration in 1996A plan by President George W. Bush to set a distant 2025 ceiling for rising U.S. greenhouse gases has triggered criticisms by Germany that he is coming up with a “Neanderthal” solution to the problem – too little too late.

Most other delegates at 17-nation U.S.-led climate talks in Paris on Thursday and Friday have been far less damning, welcoming the fact that Bush is setting a ceiling for emissions, albeit one that will be a generation after most other rich nations.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel’s office called it a plan for losers rather than leaders and denounced it as ”Neanderthal”.

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