Saturday, June 30, 2007

The People versus the Oil Companies

Part Four of an interview with George Monbiot (author of Heat: How to Sop the Planet from Burning) hosted by TheRealNews, lays out some thought-provoking ideas about energy efficiency, hydrogen-fueled vehicles, and the difficulty of overcoming the infrastructure welded in place by the oil companies. Good stuff...

I found this part of the interview especially relevant, but I'd also recommend returning to Part One and watching all the segments.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Grassroots Approach

When dealing with a monumental issue, such as global warming, people have a tendency to throw up their hands and say, "Let the government deal with it!" In our current situation, however, where the U.S. government leadership is more interested in maintaining the status quo and finding inventive ways to pretend that global warming is a delusional myth, lasting change originates from the grassroots. The top-down approach isn't working. All the more reason to embrace the bottom-up approach.

This article from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, People look for ways to cut their carbon footprint, highlights the ways in which people concerned with the global warming problem confront it in highly personal ways.

A brief excerpt from this excellent article by Meg McConahey:

"We're not activists. Just two Santa Rosa parents raising two kids. We didn't ever march in anything," said Lisa Ormond, 44, who also was inspired to go on a low-carbon diet after winning tickets to "An Inconvenient Truth" from a local radio station.

Small steps add up

She began bicycling at least two days a week from her subdivision in Bennett Valley to her marketing job at Santa Rosa Junior College. She car pools with girlfriends to soccer games. Husband Randal, an electrical engineer at Alcatel-Lucent, now incorporates most family errands into his commute home from Petaluma rather than making separate trips. She and her son biked together to an after-school class - all dramatic lifestyle changes made in a single year.

"It started a whole avalanche of alternative thinking about some of these issues," Ormond said, from weighing the economic feasibility of getting solar panels to swapping their Honda for an electric car. "These are little ways I know I'm not putting carbon in the air."

In March, the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy called the shift in public opinion a "sea change." It found 83 percent of Americans now believe global warming is a serious problem, and 75 percent of them believe their own behavior can have an impact on climate change. And about 81 percent said it's their responsibility to alter their energy-wasting behavior.

As the article emphasizes: small steps add up...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Race to the Bottom

In the spirited race to become number one in carbon emissions, China has surpassed the United States. As reported by the Environment News Service, the widespread adoption of coal-fired power plants and expanded cement production facilities have driven China from two percent lower in CO2 emissions to eight percent higher than the United States.

Other figures, based on a study by a Netherlands agency, the Environmental Assessment Agency, include:
In 2006, the total of China’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels increased by nine percent.

In the USA in that same year, 2006, emissions decreased by 1.4 percent, compared to 2005.

In the original 15 European Union countries, in that same year, CO2 emissions from fossil fuels remained more or less constant.

In 2005 there was a decrease by 0.8 percent, according to a recent report by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency compiling data from the EU member states.

Globally, in 2006, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use increased by about 2.6 percent, which is less than the 3.3 percent increase in 2005.

China's unprecedented industrial growth poses multiple challenges as pressure to use dirty fuel sources, further boosting carbon emissions, grows.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A New Class of Refugees

The byproducts of global warming--including floods, rising sea levels, desertification, and deforestation--are expected to create massive populations of refugees, as much as one billion by 2050, according to a Reuters article, Global Warming to Multiply the World's Refugee Burden.
"All around the world, predictable patterns are going to result in very long-term and very immediate changes in the ability of people to earn their livelihoods," said Michele Klein Solomon of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM).

"It's pretty overwhelming to see what we might be facing in the next 50 years," she said. "And it's starting now."

People forced to move by climate change, salination, rising sea levels, deforestation or desertification do not fit the classic definition of refugees -- those who leave their homeland to escape persecution or conflict and who need protection.

But the world's welcome even for these people is wearing thin, just as United Nations figures show that an exodus from Iraq has reversed a five-year decline in overall refugee numbers.

One more angle to consider in a problem that is already extremely complex...

The Solar-Powered Google

With the click of a switch on Sunday, June 17th, Google launched the largest solar installation on a corporate campus in the U.S.--with nearly 9,000 solar panels producing 7,795 kilowatt hours of electricity. The company is also working hard to help commercialize fully electric cars.

"One of's core missions is to address climate change, said Dan Reicher, director of Climate and Energy Initiatives with

Read more at the Environment News Service.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Vanishing Glaciers, Receding Rivers

Global warming is quickly shifting from something that people can pretend isn't happening to something that intrudes dramatically on everyday life. The Himalayan glaciers that are the source of the Ganges River may disappear by 2030, turning the Ganges into a seasonal river.

As reported by Emily Wax in The Washington Post, and reposted at, short-term economic interests are taking precedence over long-term environmental concerns.

"There has never been a greater threat for the Ganges," said Mahesh Mehta, an environmental lawyer who has been filing lawsuits against corporations dumping toxins in the Ganges. He is now redirecting his energies toward the melting glaciers. "If humans don't change their interference, our very religion, our livelihoods are under threat."

Mehta and other environmentalists want to see the Indian government here enforce strict reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, the primary cause of climate change.

But during this month's Group of Eight conference of the major industrialized nations, both India and China, eager to protect their market growth, joined the United States in refusing to support mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. President Bush has instead pushed a plan for nonbinding goals to reduce emissions.

"It is a fact that more and not less development is the best way for developing countries to address themselves to the issues of preserving the environment," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a public statement before leaving for the G-8 summit in Germany.

While India is one of the world's top producers of greenhouse gas emissions - along with the United States, China, Russia and Japan - it argues that the United States and other developed countries should reduce their own emissions before expecting developing nations to follow suit.

Short-sighted politicians and unimaginative government officials still don't seem to understand that market growth will be a distant memory if global warming continues to transform the world in powerful ways.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Greatest Gas Guzzler of All

When it comes to burning oil in volumes that stagger the imagination, the United States Pentagon garners top honors, giving new meanings to terms like waste and inefficiency. As reported in, putting a wrapper around the words of Michael Klare, future wars may be fought just to fuel the machines that fight them. A quick excerpt:
Sixteen gallons of oil. That's how much the average American soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan consumes on a daily basis -- either directly, through the use of Humvees, tanks, trucks, and helicopters, or indirectly, by calling in air strikes. Multiply this figure by 162,000 soldiers in Iraq, 24,000 in Afghanistan, and 30,000 in the surrounding region (including sailors aboard U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf) and you arrive at approximately 3.5 million gallons of oil: the daily petroleum tab for U.S. combat operations in the Middle East war zone.

Multiply that daily tab by 365 and you get 1.3 billion gallons: the estimated annual oil expenditure for U.S. combat operations in Southwest Asia. That's greater than the total annual oil usage of Bangladesh, population 150 million -- and yet it's a gross underestimate of the Pentagon's wartime consumption.

It's hard not to grind your molars to dust at the absurdity of this equation.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Nuclear Misinformation

The best insights about the future of nuclear power usually come from those in the thick of the debate. John Abbotts, a research scientist and member of the Hanford Task Force of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, offered these thoughts in an opinion piece published in the Seattle Times.
As their supporters have noted, atomic energy plants do not directly produce greenhouse gases during their operation. But they do produce prodigious amounts of radioactive waste, along with material that can be fashioned into atomic bombs.

Keeping the radioactive materials under control requires a complicated regulatory infrastructure; thus, it would be at least 10 years before new reactors could be designed, licensed, constructed and begin operation. By then, their capacity and energy demands could be a mismatch.

Not only would reactor plants take too long to have a significant impact on global warming, but they are expensive, multibillion-dollar facilities. It is faster and much more economical to save energy through efficiency improvements than to generate it through new power plants.

It's well worth reading the full column for the additional perspective.