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W2 (@SenWhitehouse and @WaxmanClimate) school @SenJohnMcCain and @newtgingrich re #ClimateChange & national security

February 20th, 2014 · No Comments

Secretary of State John Kerry made strong statements about climate change over the weekend, including equating climate change impacts and risks with those from weapons of mass destruction.

Several Republicans, who in the past had made strong statements about the risks from climate change, came out with strong statements condemning Secretary Kerry. Earlier today, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Henry Waxman released a letter to Senator John McCain and former Representative Newt Gingrich that is worth reading in entirety (with footnotes here, without after the fold).

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Pres. Obama’s Truck Efficiency is a W6+ solution: Win-Win-Win-Win-Win-Win+

February 18th, 2014 · No Comments

When it comes to climate mitigation opportunities, there is a simple reality:

Benefits outweigh costs …  enormously.

And, when it comes to climate mitigation and adaptation investments, we should be striving to achieve multiple wins from the same action wherever and whenever possible.

When looking at President Obama’s announcement, this morning, of new truck energy efficiency standards, it is clear that the measure meets the criteria of multiple wins.  The fact sheet (see after the fold) title clearly points to this:

Opportunity For All: Improving the Fuel Efficiency of American Trucks – Bolstering Energy Security, Cutting Carbon Pollution, Saving Money and Supporting Manufacturing Innovation

And, President Obama emphasized that this was a ‘win-win-win’ opportunity in his speech this morning in Maryland.

improving gas mileage for these trucks are going to drive down our oil imports even further.  That reduces carbon pollution even more, cuts down on businesses’ fuel costs, which should pay off in lower prices for consumers.  So it’s not just a win-win, it’s a win-win-win.  You’ve got three wins.

Looking at the fact sheet, there is a quadruple win space laid out:

  • Energy efficient vehicles lower the nation’s vulnerability to unstable global oil markets ;
  • Reduced fuel use, by definition, will contributing to lowering greenhouse gas emissions (compared to a business-as-usual case);
  • The upfront investment in more efficient vehicles will be more than compensated for in reduced fuel costs; and,
  • The drive for more efficient trucks, as is happening with automobiles, will spur innovation and increase American competitiveness.

This sounds tremendous … however … as is the case far too often, the proponents of action are yet again understating the full value of action.

This quadruple win actually significantly understates the full value streams as this move is actually a W6: a Win to the Sixth Power climate mitigation action.

As we strive to stop digging the holes deeper and climb our way out, we can seek to deal with these challenges in a stove-piped manner or address them with W6 solutions that have wins across multiple arenas:

  • Support energy independence
  • Create and protect jobs
  • Foster economic activity (cost effectively)
  • Strengthen long-term economic prospects
  • Address negative environmental impacts (from local pollution to acidification of the oceans)
  • Help mitigate climate change

As some are wont to say, crises create opportunities. One good piece of news, amid all the serious concerns that that list above should create for all of us, is the reality that many Win-Win-Win-Win-Win-Win (Win to the Sixth) opportunities lie before us, if we choose to seize them.

Let’s look at just a few additional value streams from the move for more fuel-efficient vehicles:

  • Improved health and reduced health care costs:
    • Diesel fumes are directly linked to numerous health problems from irritated eyes, to asthma, to cancer, to …
      • Health studies show that exposure to diesel exhaust primarily affects the respiratory system and worsens asthma, allergies, bronchitis, and lung function. There is some evidence that diesel exhaust exposure can increase the risk of heart problems, premature death, and lung cancer.”
      • About 70 percent of the cancer risk that the average Californian faces from breathing toxic air pollutants stems from diesel exhaust particles”.  One California study found that “diesel-particle levels measured in California’s air in 2000 could cause 540 “excess” cancers (beyond what would occur if there were no diesel particles in the air) in a population of 1 million people over a 70-year lifetime.”
    • The National Academy of Sciences estimated in the range of $0.16 per gallon of liquid fuel burnt in health care costs (which includes, by the way, gasoline which has lower health care implications).
      • The White House is estimating 530 million barrels of total fuel savings. Working with the NAS figure, $0.16 per gallon, this translates to $6.72 per barrel or roughly $3.6 billion in health care benefits.
  • Job creation
    • The improved fuel efficiency is an investment — an investment in ‘capital’ value.  That additional upfront investment translates into work in design facilities to get to the improved vehicles and in factory jobs to build better trucks.
  • Reduced fuel prices
    • Very basic economic principle: the law of supply and demand.  Reduced demand leads to lower prices.  Lowering US oil demand by 1 million barrels per day will, by definition, foster lower prices than what might have been the case with greater demand. If this is $2.50 per barrel and total US oil use were  15 million barrels per day, then this would have roughly $10 billion in reduced crude oil costs.
  • Economic strength
    • Even amid booming U.S. oil production, there is a simple reality: the United States imports oil.  Reduced oil demand translates directly to an improved balance-of-payments as every barrel of oil saved is, nowadays, roughly $100 less of import costs.
  • Improved trucking efficiency
    • Simply put, keeping all other factors the same, a more energy efficient system will have other efficiency benefits that build on the fuel efficiency. For truckers, this will mean greater flexibility as to when and where to refuel as they will not have to refuel as often.
  • And …

In his speech today, President Obama highlighted that this is a “win-win-win” opportunity.  In fact, the President and the White House press release left out many wins from the discussion.

Truck Fuel Savings Benefits

PS: As an aside, far better would be to invest in Steel Interstates and to reduce the need for trucking. See, for example,

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Suppose the State Department Assumed that the United States Ought to Continue? #NoKXL

February 2nd, 2014 · 1 Comment

This guest post comes from BruceMcF.

For those who have been following the process, the conclusions of the updated Department of State Environmental Impact Statement “analysis” are of little surprise, since they basically repeat the previous conclusion before the analysts ~ analysts connected to the oil industry, since, of course, they would know about this kind of stuff ~ were told to repeat the analysis. That is, to quote part of the Think Progress Coverage:

The newly-released report admits to the obvious: that â??the total direct and indirect emissionsâ? of the project â??would contribute to cumulative global GHG emissions.â? But in its final analysis, it says the proposed pipeline is â??unlikely to significantly affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas,â? and does not look at the overall greenhouse gas emissions of the tar sands oil that would flow through it.

The underlying, unstated, premise of the entire environmental and economic impact is that we will in any event produce a large portion of the tar sands that are in the ground. And that implies, of course, that we are screwed: we have to adopt policies keep 80% of existing reserves of carbon based fossil fuels in the ground in order to have a prospect of keeping global warming under about three and a half degrees Fahrenheit and have at least some chance of avoiding the kind of catastrophic climate change that will eliminate the United States as a single national society and economy.So the analysis, including unstated premise, is: “Assuming that the nations of the world do not impose adequate policies to avoid a catastrophe with costs that dwarf the entire presumed value of the tar sands deposits, this is the impact of building or not building the Keystone XL pipeline.”

But, what is the impact of building or not building the Keystone XL pipeline presuming that we doadopt policies that are adequate to keep 80% or more of current existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground? The analysis avoids that question entirely, even though the analysis delivers the numbers that allows use to evaluate those costs.

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Tom Steyer to SecState John Kerry: Investigate … Keystone XL has a fishy smell

February 2nd, 2014 · No Comments

Earlier today, multi-billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer called on Secretary of State John Kerry to apply climate realism and good government oversight when it comes to the State Department’s late Friday, pre-Super Bowl climate bombshell release of a tainted environmental impact statement (EIS) as to the Keystone XL pipeline.

In the letter (in entirety after the fold), Steyer calls for an “independent and transparent review” of the EIS.  As a prominent example, one has to wonder how the ‘business savvy’ analysts writing the EIS come to such a radically different conclusion about the pipeline’s importance to enabling increased tar sands exploitation compared to the CEOs of the very Tar Sands-invested Corporations.

Of particular concern are FEIS conclusions that conflict with and are contradicted by tar sands industry executives who confirm that they need the pipeline in order to continue to develop the tar sands and to reach international markets. The FEIS fails to consider that construction of the KXL pipeline is a necessity to fully maximize extraction of tar sands.

While the State Department report essentially calls the pipeline irrelevant for investment decisions as to tar sands production, industry executive after industry executive have called it critically important.

While the report has assertion after conclusion after assertion for which there are significant and serious reasons for disagreement (and seems to dismiss and/or ignore reasons why the Keystone XL pipeline is NOT in U.S. national interest), there remains a fundamental challenge that Steyer calls on the Secretary of State to investigate and address: the entire process was tainted in such a way that makes wonder how the report could ever have been released.

ACTION:

Monday, 3 February, there will be #NoKXL vigils around the nation. Find an Anti-Keystone vigil near you.

And, somewhat big time … if your state isn’t represented (and 43 are, already, just from Friday), create a vigil in your state. Pretty amazing if, the business day after the late Friday release, all 50 states (plus DC) have vigils.

PS: And, there is another issue — amid a raft of contractor controversies and failures (Snowden, Affordable Health Care Act debut, Navy criminal investigations, etc …), what does the Keystone EIS say about the Department of State’s ability to contract effectively? ….

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Will the SEC investigate State Department’s Climate Bomb?

January 31st, 2014 · 1 Comment

A typical Washington ploy — release late on Friday afternoon material that you hope disappears into the dustbin of weekend inattention to serious matters. The State Department’s release, earlier today, of a flawed look at the Keystone XL pipeline’s climate impact derived from a highly questionable (highly questioned with Inspector General investigations ongoing) process is a classic example. The world, however, is changed.  The movement of information has changed. And, this is not something watched solely by people locked to their M-F, 9-5 jobs.

To start with, based on a quick initial read, here are a few examples of how this looks to be a flawed report?

  • It essentially assumes away the possibility that not building the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to reduce production of Tar Sands dilbit.
    • This is highly questionable.
      • The reason for the pipeline: to get the oil to Gulf Coast refineries so that it can be sold into Chinese and European markets at world prices, rather than depressed Midwest US prices. Taking the oil out of the US market and sending to China would create roughly $20 per barrel greater profit for the producers. (This is, of course, the absolute core reason for building the pipeline — to maximize profits for those devastating Alberta digging up tar sands.) Hmmm … according to the State Department, against the logic of basically every single economic textbook ever written, more or less profit is irrelevant for (dis)incentivizing more or less aggressive efforts to expand production.  Harvard MBAs watch out — everything you learned is, evidently, wrong.
      • Even with rapid growth in rail transport capacity, the issue is not just price but capacity for moving dilbit out of Alberta.  Keystone XL would be like opening a valve to release pressure, giving confidence to those considering Tar Sands extraction investments that they would be able to send their product to market for higher prices.
        • The oil industry knows and even, when honest, admits this. As per one oil industry executive“If there were no more pipeline expansions, I would have to slow down.”
    • If you assume that the Dilbit will get produced and burnt no matter what you decide to do, of course the pipeline construction will not “significantly” impact climate change. The carbon will be pumped, according to this assumption, no matter what.
  • The report is at odds, in essence, with stated US policy on climate change.
    • It, in essence, uses a “business as usual” case for examining the KXL impact rather than “business as necessary”.  This choice is a policy one and was not, as far as I can tell, ordained by law.
  • For additional flaws, see, for example, 7 Facts Not in State Department KXL EIS.

These examples of flawed (if not biased, skewed, questionable, ….) analysis are not, however, perfectly relevant for this posts’ title.

In Washington DC, information is currency. On Wall Street, information translates into massive currency.

For the past few days, key oil interests and players with, evidently, insider knowledge – such as the American Petroleum Institute’s Jack Gerard — created a buzz, telling reporters and who knows who else, that the State Department review of Keystone XL would come out Friday and that it would be favorable to the project.  Hmmmm … their creation of buzz seems to have, clearly, been based on some real information.

Who in the Department of State (or elsewhere) provided this information to Gerard?

Let’s be clear — the Keystone XL pipeline is a multi-billion dollar project with tens of billions of dollars of impacts for the Tar Sands industry and other business interests.  Many — probably most — of these are publicly traded firms whose business prospects and, more specifically, stock prices can be impacted (if not driven) by major government reports and decisions.  Those with  insider knowledge of Government decisions — able to place trades minutes, hours, or days before anyone else with that information in hand — have an unfair (hmmm, might one say illegal) advantage on Wall Street.

Consider, for a moment, some other scenarios:

  • Someone gained information from a source that a government report was going to recommend  FDA approval of a drug with $10s of billions of potential revenue.  Would they be in an advantageous — illegally advantageous — position for trading that stock?
  • Company executives began telling reporters, days beforehand and accurately it turns out, that the Pentagon was going to announce that their company won a major project that would double their revenue.  Would it make sense for the SEC to take a look at seeing whether there was any unusual trading in the stock in the week(s) before the announcement and to look into how the company executives knew (and were stupid enough to tell people what they knew) that they had won the project prior to the announcement?

Again, in Washington, DC, information is currency.  On Wall Street, information is massive currency.

Doesn’t it seem reasonable to wonder how petroleum interests had an inside track on this currency this week?

NOTE: There are a wide range of reasons why Keystone XL is not in US interest.

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The Solar Photovoltaic Price Evolution Revolution

January 29th, 2014 · 1 Comment

This guest post comes from BruceMcF.

In early December, the Guardian covered ALEC’s latest corporate-written attack on freedom, an effort to penalize households that place solar panels on their roof:

An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilising to penalise homeowners who install their own solar panels – casting them as “freeriders” – in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy, the Guardian has learned. …

For 2014, Alec plans to promote a suite of model bills and resolutions aimed at blocking Barack Obama from cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and state governments from promoting the expansion of wind and solar power through regulations known as Renewable Portfolio Standards.

[Director of the Energy and Policy Institute Gabe] Elsner argued that after its bruising state battles in 2013, Alec was now focused on weakening – rather than seeking outright repeal – of the clean energy standards. “What we saw in 2013 was an attempt to repeal RPS laws, and when that failed … what we are seeing now is a strategy that appears to be pro- clean energy but would actually weaken those pro- clean energy laws by retreating to the lowest common denominator,” he said.

So, is there a particular reason why ALEC going after rooftop solar photo-voltaic installations now, after having to beat a retreat on its 2013 effort to win wholesale repeals of Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards? Why yes, there does appear to be a particular reason for going after the economics of rooftop solar PV.

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Governor Bill Richardson powerfully opens “Building Climate Solutions Conference”

January 28th, 2014 · No Comments

Governor Bill Richardson and Professor Richard Alley powerfully opened The National Council on Science and the Environment’s three-day conference Building Climate Solutions. This is a rich environment, tens of interesting panels with over 1000 attendees. Governor Richardson’s message to this science-heavy audience:

Scientists have to become more engaged.

You are so respected by media, leaders, and society.

It is critically important that your input through personal visits, social media, opeds, must be stronger.

This is the one message that I would like to deliver to you.

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EDF’s Climate Corps at State of the Union

January 28th, 2014 · No Comments

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) program to put people impassioned about clean energy within major Corporations and institutions to help drive energy efficiency and clean energy projects that will save money while reducing pollution is about to get a lot better known.

This evening, sitting alongside the First Lady of the United States, will be:

Tyrone Davis (Winston-Salem, NC)

Fellow with the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps

Tyrone Davis, from Winston-Salem, NC, has been legally blind since the age of nine. Despite his vision loss, he ran cross-country and track in high school, and received a political science degree and Masters of Public Administration from North Carolina State University.

He developed an interest in environmental issues during his time as an undergraduate, which led to a fellowship with the Environmental Defense Fund in 2010, placing him at Elizabeth City State University, a historically black university. His recommendations showed the school how to achieve savings of more than $31,000 a year, resulting in nearly 200 tons of carbon emissions reductions annually.

Tyrone’s father owns and operates a small office cleaning service, while his mother is a cost clerk for the county’s school transportation department. He has one younger brother currently attending North Carolina A&T State University. Now in his third year at Elon University School of Law, Tyrone hopes to use his skills to benefit the environment and make communities safer

What Davis achieved at Elizabeth State is the sort of energy efficiency payoff that is being seen at university after college after university.

Tip of the hat to Davis for his achievements, to EDF for the Climate Corps program, and to the White House for giving visibility to it.

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China solves smog problem: See no evil

December 13th, 2013 · 1 Comment

Yes, it’s true that China’s air pollution can be seen from space (NASA photo).

NASA satellite observes intense air pollution and fog over eastern China on 7 December 2013.

attribution: NASA Earth Observatory

NASA satellite observes intense air pollution and fog over eastern China on 7 December 2013.

A new study funded by Greenpeace shows that a quarter of a million Chinese people died of air pollution from coal fired power plants in 2011. And the smog is worse this year.

The analysis traced the chemicals which are made airborne from burning coal and found a number of health damages were caused as a result. It estimates that coal burning in China was responsible for reducing the lives of 260,000 people in 2011. It also found that in the same year it led to 320,000 children and 61,000 adults suffering from asthma, 36,000 babies being born with low weight and was responsible for 340,000 hospital visits and 141 million days of sick leave.

NOAA model tracks smog from coal plant sources to Shanghai.

attribution: Greenpeace via Think Progress

NOAA model tracks smog from coal plant sources to Shanghai & eastern China cities.

“This study provides an unprecedentedly detailed picture of the health fallout from China’s coal burning,” said Dr Andrew Gray, a US-based expert on air pollution, who conducted the research. Using computer simulations, Gray said he was able to “draw a clear map tracing the trail of health damages left by the coal fumes released by every power plant in China, untangling the contribution of individual companies, provinces and power stations to the air pollution crisis gripping the country.”

Smog levels in Shanghai this December have been the worst in China’s long history. Many residents avoid going outside and many of those who do are wearing masks to try to filter out the dangerous small particulates in the air that came from coal fired power plants.

The smog was so thick it was visible indoors at the Shanghai airport on December 5.

“Heavy smog seeps into Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport on the evening of Dec 5, 2013. Air Quality Index (AQI), which measure PM2.5 particulates, topped 400 on Friday morning in Shanghai, meaning the city was “severely polluted”- the highest level on the air pollution scale - for the second time in a week. [Photo/icpress.cn]“

[This guest post comes from a scientist who feels like a FishOutOfWater contemplating the gap between scientific knowledge and understanding of environmental (especially climate change) issues and the societal/political community understanding of and action on them.]

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Don’t worry, be happy: “5 Reasons Why 2013 Was The Best Year In Human History”

December 12th, 2013 · No Comments

According to Think Progress blogger Zack Beauchamp, “2013 was the best year in human history”. As an institution with “Progress” in the title, we should expect that there should be serious discussions by the Center for American Progress (CAP) not just about problems requiring solutions but also on the reality that across a wide range of domains, humanity has made and is making serious progress.

Beauchamp, however, takes this further (as per the title) to assert that this has been the best year that ever was and that essentially everything is rosy looking out into the future.

Contrary to what you might have heard, virtually all of the most important forces that determine what make people’s lives good — the things that determine how long they live, and whether they live happily and freely — are trending in an extremely happy direction. While it’s possible that this progress could be reversed by something like runaway climate change, the effects will have to be dramatic to overcome the extraordinary and growing progress we’ve made in making the world a better place.

To be clear, there is much of value in Beauchamp’s post. Beauchamp’s discussions of his five ‘reasons’/'trends’ are interesting and worthwhile material to consider. There are real positive developments across the planet that often get overlooked, there is real progress, and there is a great deal of truth to Beauchamp’s conclusion,

the reason humanity is getting better is because humans have decided to make the world a better place. We consciously chose to develop lifesaving medicine and build freer political systems; we’ve passed laws against workplace discrimination and poisoning children’s minds with lead.

So far, these choices have more than paid off. It’s up to us to make sure they continue to.

That value, however, comes within the shadow of Buzzfeed-type structuring designed to gain eyeballs and traffic. Strawmans and truthiness are great for getting eyeballs but not for advancing truthful discussion. Imagine if the title had been along the lines of:

Lots of things are going right … and we can make things even better: Five mega-trends that are going the right way

Or course, this isn’t just about differing concepts of how a post should be titled. Beauchamp (the material cited above (”possible … runaway climate change … effects will have to be dramatic”)) clearly implies a dismissal of the risks of catastrophic climate chaos (or, even more simply, a dismissal of the baseline predictions as to unmitigated climate change impacts or even what is already happening).  A more honest and more in line with Center for Progress work (such as at Climate Progress) emphasis would have been that “unchecked climate change threatens all of these …”

Hmmm … with such a muted title, it seems reasonable to think that there would be fewer eyeballs to the post and fewer reaction posts like this one.

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