Tales from the Trail

from Environment Forum:

Stern, in center of climate pessimism, hopeful about U.S.

Nicholas Stern, the British economist who warned five years ago that global warming could cost the world's GDP as much as 20 percent a year by 2050, hasn’t given up on the United States  taking action on climate even though he’s down on Washington for not passing a bill that would do just that.

“If you look around the world, of all places to sit and wonder where (climate policy is) going, this is probably the most pessimistic place -- this city,” he told a small gathering of reporters at the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. late this week.

But all one has to do is travel out of the U.S. capital to see enormous potential for taking action, he said. Stern is optimistic about U.S. companies in Silicon Valley and Boston and other places developing low-carbon technologies such as batteries for electric cars, or new biofuels that aren’t made out of food crops.

“There are so many technological ideas on the table that you don’t need all of them to work, just some,” he said.

 He also takes heart in state level mandates for renewable energy and the reelection of Jerry Brown, the pro-solar governor of California, who wants to set the bar even higher for renewable energy.

from Environment Forum:

As if 2007 never happened?

If four years is a lifetime in politics, it's an eternity in climate change politics. Events in Washington this week might make climate policy watchers wonder if 2007 really happened.

At issue is the decision by American Electric Power to put its plans for carbon capture and storage on hold, due to the weak economy and the lack of a U.S. plan to limit emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide. Read the Reuters story about it here.

Carbon capture and storage, or CCS for short, has been promoted as a way to make electricity from domestic coal without unduly raising the level of carbon in the atmosphere. Instead of sending the carbon dioxide that results from burning coal up a smokestack and into the air, the plan was to bury it underground. But that costs money and requires regulatory guarantees, and neither are imminent in the United States. Legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions bogged down on Capitol Hill a year ago and has not been re-introduced.

from Environment Forum:

Cows, climate change and the high court

FRANCE/If you took all the cows in the United States and figured out how much greenhouse gas they emit, would you be able to sue all the farmers who own them?

That interesting legal question came from Justice Antonin Scalia during Supreme Court oral arguments about whether an environmental case against five big U.S. power companies can go forward.

At issue is whether six states can sue the country's biggest coal-fired electric utilities to make them cut down on the climate-warming carbon dioxide they emit. One lower court said they couldn't, an appeals court said they could and now the high court will consider where the case will go next. A ruling should come by the end of June.

from Environment Forum:

John Kerry has had it up to HERE with “The Flat Earth Caucus”

ISRAEL/You remember John Kerry, right? Tall, silver-haired, urbane enough to be accused of being French. But there's a feisty side to the senior senator from Massachusetts, and it was on display at a forum on energy and economic growth, where Kerry teed off on congressional Republicans and others who doubt the seriousness of the challenge of climate change.

"After a while you get exasperated and jaded and frustrated about it all," Kerry told The New Republic forum at the National Press Club. "I've had it just about up to here with America's indifference to the realities of this crisis ... the United States is like an ostrich putting its head in the sand."

How do you feel about the U.S. political establishment, Senator Kerry? "I don't know what's happened to us in the body politic of this country where facts and science seem to be so easily shunted aside and disposed of in favor of simple sloganeering, pure ideology and little bromides of politics that are offered up, that offer no solution to anything but might get you through an election."

No more Mr. Nice Guy, Republican sets sights on Obama’s energy czar

Michigan Republican Fred Upton is known as a moderate who disappointed many conservatives by voting with the Democratic majority on some major issues including the taxpayer bailout of U.S. automobile manufacturers.USA/

But expect no more Mr. Nice Guy if Republicans win big on November 2 and he becomes chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Upton has a hit list of White House policy czars he plans to investigate starting with White House energy adviser Carol Browner. 

from Environment Forum:

The World Bank’s $6 billion man on climate change

BIRDFLU INDONESIAAs the special envoy on climate change for the World Bank, Andrew Steer might be thought of as the $6 billion man of environmental finance. He oversees more than that amount for projects to fight the effects of global warming.

"More funds flow through us to help adaptation and mitigation than anyone else," Steer said in a conversation at the bank's Washington headquarters. Named to the newly created position in June, Steer said one of his priorities is to marshall more than $6 billion in the organization's Climate Investment Funds to move from smaller pilot projects to large-scale efforts.

While the World Bank is not a party to global climate talks set for Cancun, Mexico, later this year, it is deeply engaged in this issue, Steer said. Acknowledging that an international agreement on climate change is a long shot this year, he said there are still opportunities to make changes to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that spur climate change.

from Environment Forum:

Campaign ad equating global warming with weather gets “pants-on-fire” rating

MILKEN/By now, almost everybody -- with the possible exception of Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina -- realizes there's a difference between climate and weather. Fiorina, running in the California primary and ultimately aiming to unseat Democrat Barbara Boxer, paid for and appeared in a campaign ad slamming the sitting senator for being "worried about the weather" when there are serious concerns like terrorism to deal with.

Take a look here:

A few problems with this ad earned it the not-so-coveted beyond-false "Pants on Fire" rating from Politifact, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalism website that checks on the truthfulness of political advertising. First off, Boxer didn't say she was worried about the weather. She said that climate change was "one of the very important national security issues" -- a position in line with the Pentagon and the CIA. The site also found that it's not an either/or thing, that focusing on climate change doesn't necessarily mean neglecting national security. They took a look at Boxer's record and found she has supported at least six bills against terrorism.

"Fiorina casts climate change as something you need to pack an umbrella for, or that prompts you to curse at the TV weatherman -- which strikes us as not only a trivialization of climate change but also a failure to distinguish between two well-established scientific specialties," Politifact said. "She also ignores Boxer's lengthy record supporting bills against terrorism. So we have to light up the meter (the site's Truth-o-Meter): Pants on Fire!"

from Environment Forum:

Washington math: oil spill + climate bill = new environmental polls

OIL-RIG/LEAKWith BP's spilled oil shimmering off the U.S. Gulf Coast, and a re-tooled bill to curb climate change expected to be unveiled this week in the U.S. Senate, what could be more appropriate than a bouquet of new environmental polls? Conducted on behalf of groups that want less fossil fuel use, the polls show hefty majorities favoring legislation to limit emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide.

In the kind of harmonic convergence that sometimes happens inside the Capital Beltway, a new poll released on Monday by the Clean Energy Works campaign showed "overwhelming public support for comprehensive clean energy legislation," with 61 percent of 2010 voters saying they want to limit pollution, invest in clean energy and make energy companies pay for emitting the carbon that contributes to climate change. A healthy majority -- 54 percent -- of respondents said they'd be more likely to re-elect a senator who votes for the bill.

Last Friday, the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been pushing for climate change legislation for years, released its own poll numbers. NRDC's pollsters found seven in 10 Americans want to see fast-tracked clean energy legislation in the wake of the BP oil spill, and two-thirds say they want to postpone new offshore drilling until the Gulf oil spill is investigated and new safeguards are put in place.

Honk! Wheeze! Atchoo! It’s getting hot in Washington, and it’s not just the weather

USA/Spring in Washington means cherry blossoms, azaleas and a collective wet sneeze from the hundreds of thousands of allergy sufferers in the region. This year, a long snow-covered winter may actually have protected plants while an early burst of summer-like temperatures called forth the blossoms, creating what felt to many like a pollen bomb.

Plants that would usually have bloomed in an orderly sequence — forsythia, daffodils, tulips, cherry blossoms, dogwood, azaleas and lilacs — are all flowering together. Cars, streets, pets and other plants are covered with a gritty yellow-green sneeze-inducing residue. Allergy symptoms are the common result, and they cost a bundle.

It doesn’t help that Washington is part of a U.S. trend spurred by climate change, with the signs of spring coming about 10 days earlier than they did two decades ago. That means some missed connections in the natural world, as some plants and animals adapt better than others to the early onset of spring.

Has U.S. “missed the boat” on long-range renewable energy planning?

OBAMA/There was President Barack Obama, working a friendly crowd in Henderson, Nevada, not far from Las Vegas. And then a sympathetic comment from a French businessman who wants to see U.S. regulation of climate-warming greenhouse emissions seemed to get the president all wound up.

After noting that the weather has been particularly wild lately — five feet of snow in Washington DC, rain at the Vancouver Olympics — Obama said the best way to “unleash” dynamism in the energy market is to set fuel efficiency standards, notably for cars.

“If you’ve got a fuel-efficiency standard in place that says your car needs to get 20 miles a gallon or 30 miles a gallon, suddenly all these engineers are thinking, well, how do we do that?  And all these companies start coming up with new technologies that make your cars more fuel-efficient.  Ultimately, you end up seeing jobs and businesses thriving in response to the regulation that’s been put there,” Obama told the town hall meeting.