Monday, May 23, 2016

California May Day!

"Attempts to encourage journeys to be switched to rail from the more carbon dioxide emitting air and car forms of travel have largely failed as the characteristics and attractions of all carbon-based modes – including those claimed to be justified on the grounds that per passenger-kilometre they are more energy efficient – have simply led to more travel, especially in long-distance journeys."

- Mayer Hillman, Senior Fellow Emeritus since 1992 at the Policy Studies Institute, University of Westminster, UK

The traffic planners all understand this problem of adding highway capacity to existing networks - they simply add to traffic problems because more traffic shows up to clog the network. So planning has started to focus on becoming more efficient with automobile transit design and highway expansions. But it hasn't solved the underlying problem of traffic jams and increased pollution; same story. And sadly that's the fundamental, unidentified problem: carbon emissions. Tinkering around the edges with electric engines and trains doesn't solve it.

By the same token, the switching of the physical issue of transport from air travel to rail, or highway to rail, avoids solving the problem itself, which is that moving bodies and cargo around are the basic drivers of energy consumption. This, of course creates more "value" attributable on accounting spreadsheets as an increase in GDP. But it's obviously a false metric if the environmental damages of this human behavior aren't accounted for. Once all the factors are examined vs. the amounts of money required to build and maintain these massive systems, it doesn't actually pay back or even make much sense. Its only "advantage" is that public dollars are used to offset and conceal the actual impact of these systems. It's the equivalent to the old factory stacks that dumped pollution into the air without accounting for its effects because "the commons" was assumed to be free to all for use. And that's the Tragedy. This problem could use some good economists.

"Impressive though recent efficiency gains are, switching to energy renewables and low-carbon developments makesno contribution to reducing the concentrationof emissions. It can only reduce the rate at which the concentration continues to rise." - Mayer Hillman

Part of the UN-level discussion on GHG emissions includes the analysis by Mayer Hillman, which is a very strong position that supposedly more efficient travel systems leads to MORE travel and more emissions, not less. Especially considering that something like the proposed California High Speed Rail (HSR) is in *ADDITION TO* all the other existing systems of travel, all of which continue to dump GHG's into the atmosphere. It's an appeal to the engineering and large infrastructure industry. Hence the discussion of California's completely inadequate HSR concept which spends billions of dollars to basically no effect, except to create more emissions and higher populations and makes the whole problem worse. The concept was politically designed (not engineered) over a decade ago on outdated policy information, as was cap-and-trade.

We're seeing this in California with Governor Brown's pet project, the HSR, a boondoggle if there ever was one. It doesn't even work at a basic engineering level, but the massive AEC firm (Parsons Brinkerhoff) that is running the project has to "feed the monster" to stay in business. It doesn't actually work as High Speed Rail anymore because of this configuration wandering around the Central Valley instead of directly connecting SF and LA. Its inception was a political deal to link together the small cities in the Central Valley to feed growth, of course, and get millions of "housing units" built in the hottest area of California that is currently agricultural. Its water supplies are diminishing, the aquifers are collapsing from overdrafting, and large areas are ruined for agriculture because irrigation and fertilization has rendered the soil unusable from the accumulated salts, particularly on the west side of the Central Valley. Not to mention that the crops are now almond trees and the product is shipped to China in heavily polluting tankers.

It gets better. Governor Brown is using a good portion of the funds from the Cap and Trade program (!!!) to try to pay for this HSR project, since the Federal Government and private industry won't step up to the plate. It doesn't pencil out, and there is massive public objection to this whole thing (for good reason). The fact that this whole HSR doesn't actually have any demand for travel - we have several highways, a metro train and LOTS of air travel between LA and SF - seems to be irrelevant to the politicos who planned this whole fiasco. It's just about populating the Central Valley and getting more GDP out of it now that agriculture seems to have maxed out. Everybody wants revenue and the real estate industry has always been the answer to that in this state, it's very nineteenth century. California is only about 150 years old in terms of its settlement history; it's not like Europe. The plumbing that makes the Central Valley possible is only about 50 years old, it's all imported from the northern part of the state with giant pumps and aqueducts built since about 1960, and we're seeing the immense problems created by only a half century of re-engineering the state. It's becoming increasingly apparent that the "solutions" to the population explosion in the cities of southern California has drastically amplified the potential damages to the environment and to the huge population of people living here; setting itself up for disaster because none of this is really sustainable in a warming planet that's cutting off the rain.

Now let's add the ports of Los Angeles, San Pedro, San Diego and San Francisco, which are the biggest emitters of pollution from cargo transit on the west coast. Air quality in LA is the worst in the nation because of the shipping which depends on oil, and the dirty trucks that are used on the highways to get the stuff to inland warehouses before it's put on rail to the midwest and east coast. Naturally, China has the dirtiest shipping industry on the planet and a big chunk of it comes here, along with all that stuff that's no longer manufactured in this country but ends up in our landfills. Or actually the cars end up in Mexico and South America for the last third of their useful life; Mexico City is swarming with old Volkswagens and used Japanese Hondas.

So the whole thing feeds on itself because more transit and shipping begats more GDP, and therefore the "demand" is the quantifiable metric but not the energy consumption and pollution because its impact is hidden in "the commons". That's why this emissions framework has got to be tied to the equity of the commons, because that's the only benchmark that accounts for the impacts. The political assumptions driving this destructive development and expansion are actually quite delusional, yet it's the basis for public policy in this country, as well as in China, which has been building empty cities connected with high speed rail (which is counted by China as GDP even though nobody's bought the stuff yet).

We're going to drive ourselves to extinction because of our collective insanity, that's all there is to it. We could stop it tomorrow if we could just wake up and recognize the problem we're creating. So a framework for dramatic change has to be implemented, using the carbon tax as a tool. It's the only way we're going to be able to deal with the reality that carbon emissions must stop almost immediately. By itself a carbon tax doesn't work fast enough, it's just a lever. This approach is now under serious discussion at the World Bank and IMF, so there is yet hope that the world can take the steps needed to address climate change, in spite of our proclivity for "growth" at all cost.

Update 5/24/16: A projection of land-use change in California - urbanization will be the primary cause of greater water demand in the state. Precisely what the HSR is designed to do.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Governor Brown Fail

Our so-called "environmental" governor here in California has shown his true stripes with his loving embrace of the oil and gas industry. In addition to the lax response to the massive Porter Ranch methane leak, Governor Brown has shunned calls to move toward reducing the state’s oil production, and while he has supported strict regulation of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, he has opposed a ban on the technique.

Daily Kos has traced more oil industry connections to Brown. More details on these industry lobbying connections are recorded here. As Governor Jerry Brown reels from a series of scandals involving the capture of the regulatory apparatus in California under his administration, Brown announced the resignation of his head oil regulator, Steven Bohlen, on November 30, 2015. This becomes even more dire as one sees the regulatory capture of public agencies meant to protect the public from destructive industry practices.  Two public agencies have been gutted with implicit support from the Governor's office; there have been damaging coups at these two vital state agencies.

First, the unwarranted dismissal of Charles Lester, the respected head of the California Coastal Commission, was simply about money and power. Subsequently, a coalition of environmental organizations has submitted a resolution asking the state to renew its commitment to comply with these laws. The formal reply to the Director's ouster, from the Governor's office, was that “They made it clear they were very angry about the selection process and the fact that they were not conferred with before we hired Charles Lester,” said Mary K. Shallenberger, who was chairwoman of the commission in 2011. This despite clear moves that indicate that it was Brown's appointees that led the way to Lester's firing. This situation has also prompted a bill from the California State Assembly to enact legislation to require people who lobby the commission to register with the state and disclose their clients with business pending before the powerful land-use agency.

The other takeover, from the Republican side of the industry, involved the ouster of the longtime executive officer of the AQMD under a new Republican majority on the Board. It's a move by the Western States Petroleum Association to undermine regulatory emissions controls over their industry. Again, this has led to legislative efforts by Kevin deLeon in the State Senate to counteract industry encroachment by introducing legislation to add three new members to the South Coast Air Quality Management District board — one public health expert and two environmental justice members — to represent communities suffering from pollution. An objection to the AQMD action was also filed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetii. There is also now a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the environmental law nonprofit Earthjustice against the industry-weakened pollution standards.

All this during a global climate emergency, as California prepares for the extreme effects of climate change that exacerbates the severe 4-year drought that the state is in.

Update 4/16/16: CCC now subject to political manipulation from Sacramento

Update 4/17/16: The Governor's Shocking CEQA Exemption Proposal

Update 4/25/16: CCC and conflict of interest

Update 5/9/16: Environmental Leader or Liar?

Update 5/14/16: The backstory on David Evans (a.k.a. U2 guitarist “The Edge”) vs Coastal Commission

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Aftermath

On January 29, 2016 at IEA Headquarters, Paris, a Big IdEAs panel was held to discuss “Towards decarbonising the global economy: the direction of travel after COP21”. Sir David King is the permanent UK Special Representative for Climate Change and was the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor from 2000 to 2007, during which time he raised awareness of the need for governments to act on climate change and was instrumental in creating the Energy Technologies Institute. He made his presentation on this panel based using the established Key Points developed at COP21 (graphic above). The video of the presentation is here.

Sir King also discussed a risk assessment he conducted for climate change impacts undertaken with China, USA, Britain and India. Each country posed its worst case scenario, and the analysis is that risks go way beyond the impacts assumed in earlier analyses; they increase exponentially as the temperature goes up. The risk assessment was informed by a series of meetings, held at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in November 2014; Tsinghua University in Beijing in January 2015; the Council on Energy, Environment and Water in Delhi in March 2015; and Lancaster House in London in April 2015. These were attended by experts in energy policy, climate science, technology, finance, international security, politics and economics.

He also noted that "A new low-carbon sector is emerging. The fastest-growing sector in our economy outside of the service sector is the new low-carbon sector. The new clean energy sector is going to 30 percent in the last 3 years." He is one of the authors of a white paper, "A Global Apollo Programme To Combat Climate Change". It has subsequently become a Mission Innovation in Paris, led by Obama, Modi, Hollande and Cameron. They have gotten David Attenborough involved with the Apollo Program and its forward mission to rapidly implement clean power systems. A Breakthrough Energy Coalition, organized by Bill Gates, announced contributions of up to $20bn venture capital total over the next 10 years to spin out potential markets facing clean energy solutions. This is targeted for June 16, 2016 implementation because of a meeting for clean energy development at that time in San Francisco, California.

Sir King supported his conclusions with an analysis of the problem under the Contraction and Convergence framework. Further examination and comparison of the numbers offered in Paris clearly shows that the countries and the corporations of the world are responsible for the planet heading for catastrophic climate change if they don't make realistic commitments to bring carbon emissions to zero almost immediately.

The problem right now is that the pledges made by countries ahead of the COP21 talks on how they would reduce their emissions “do not add up to 2 degrees,” said Christina Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Update 3/9/16: It will take at least three decades to completely leave behind fossil fuels. But we can do it. And the first step is to start with the easy stuff.

Update 3/24/16: Shut down fracking ASAP. Bill McKibben's Terrifying New Chemistry

Update 3/28/16: As planet burns hot, new report shows Paris a relic of historic failure

Update 4/13/16:  Avoid misallocated investments

Update 4/19/16: France 24 special debate on climate change:  
                              Turning the Paris agreement into action (part 1)
                              France 24 special debate on climate change:  
                              Turning the Paris agreement into action (part 2)

Update 4/24/16: Carbon pricing under discussion by the World Bank and IMF

Update 5/5/16: Carbon Pricing Panel emerges from the World Bank

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

COP21 The Budget is Zero

The video above, "A Climate Revolution for All: COP21 – An Inside View" Is the first-hand experience of a Canadian writer/librarian who attended the COP21 summit as a citizen observer (45 min). It's a clear presentation of the overviews of the COP21 process, and a dialogue about the carbon emissions driving climate change.

A conclusion resulting from the global agreement at COP21 has been outlined by the World Bank:

It has become immediately and bleakly obvious to global leadership and citizens that we have lost the opportunity to mitigate let alone prevent drastic climate change. Scientific observation of climate events has overridden even the most pessimistic assumptions made in scenarios contained in the AR5 documents. Carbon feedbacks unaccounted for in these models have rendered them basically irrelevant. So now what?

The World Bank then goes on to outline five ways to reduce climate drivers – very succinct and fundamental shifts that we must undertake immediately. Put a price on carbon, end fossil fuel subsidies, build low-carbon, resilient cities, increase energy efficiency and use of renewable energy, and Implement climate-smart agriculture and nurture forest landscapes. The World Bank has already begun an initiative to end wasteful energy subsidies.

The very, very simplest way for countries across the globe to rapidly reduce fossil fuel use is for the UN to pass a resolution that these global government fossil fuel subsidies are to be completely phased out by 2020. This relieves governments from contractual obligations in these subsidies and frees up money which can go to reforestation, protection of the great forests like the Amazon, and development of carbon sink areas in rural and suburban areas (native plantings and water absorption swales). James Hansen's calculations assume a 100 GtC carbon sink INCREASE that is unfunded in his fee-and-dividend scenario, but is absolutely necessary to achieve the required reduction numbers. We have no time to waste, and the money HAS to go towards restoration of the ecosphere. At a local Sierra Club meeting in Pasadena, California on January 6 of this year, climatologist Bill Patzert stood up in response to a summary of the COP21 resolutions and very simply stated that we must plant far more trees.

This approach is vastly simpler than trying to impose a global carbon tax in the immediate future. Since subsidies are the exact inverse of carbon taxes, it doesn't require a complex regulatory infrastructure, it simply ceases feeding the problem in the very immediate short term. It's a first step to the carbon tax regulatory structure.

There are organizations attempting to formalize this as global policy and implement its necessary criteria. The Global Subsidies Initiative reviews an agreement currently in place. For decades, fossil-fuel subsidies have encouraged wasteful spending and harmful emissions.  In September 2009, the G-20 agreed to phase them out. GSI research uncovers the characteristics of fossil-fuel subsidies and lessons for reform. The GSI has developed a broad range of case studies of fossil-fuel subsidy reform. This includes a review of subsidies and reform attempts across APEC economies and case studies on Brazil, France, Ghana, North Sudan, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Poland and Senegal. Set up in June 2010, Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform (the “Friends”) is an informal group of non-G20 countries aiming to build political consensus on the importance of fossil fuel subsidy reform. Current members of the Friends group are Costa Rica, Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

From the Subsidy Watch Blog on COP21:

Fossil fuel subsidies, which are costing governments around US$600 billion every year, and driving the world towards high carbon development, will require greater attention and resources to deliver pre-2020 or early action on the ground. The broader decision from COP21 does include reference to "domestic policies and carbon pricing" in relation to non-party stakeholders (rather than governments) but this falls outside of the Paris Agreement itself. Specific inclusion of the issue of fossil fuel subsidy reform within the agreement was a missed opportunity.

Update 2/10/16: IFC and the World Bank Group:  What’s next for the private sector?

Update 2/14/16: The Door is Closing Fast - Dr. Katharine Hayhoe

Update 3/22/16: World Bank - Negotiations to Action

Update 3/28/16:  The largest impacts go almost unmentioned - On Hansen Et Al 

Update 4/5/16: A Guide to COP21 Purpose and Structure

Update 4/13/16: RCP scenario budgets fail to constrain temperature rise

Update 5/5/16: What Happens Now and the CAIT Paris Agreement Tracker

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

State of the State and the World

From Maven's Notebook, a portion of the transcript of Governor Brown's State of the State address 1/21/16:

Besides the immediacy of the drought, there is the overarching threat of a warming climate. Incredibly – though last year was the hottest on record – there are still those, particularly in Washington, who are in denial. But even the deniers can’t deny the carbon pollution that exists all over the world. It is causing serious injury and respiratory disease to people of all ages, but especially the young and very old.Thankfully the rest of the world has heard the message: Humankind must change its ways and radically decarbonize the economy.

The Paris climate agreement was a breakthrough and California was there leading the way. Over 100 states, provinces and regions have now signed on to our "Under 2 MOU". The goal is to bring per capita greenhouse gases down to two tons per person. This will take decades and vast innovation. But with SB 350, we’re on our way.

Prior to this on October 7, 2015, the Office of the Governor had announced the signing of SB 350, which codifies goals Governor Brown laid out in his January 2015 inaugural address to double the rate of energy efficiency savings in California buildings and generate half of the state's electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

The Pacific Coast Collaborative, headed by Governor Brown, attended COP21 on December 9, 2015 as an association of governments acting under a collaborative trade agreement started in 2008 under Governor Schwarzenegger. It brings with it a cap-and-trade market that is already functioning in California and on the west coast.

At the UN Climate Conference in Paris, Governor Brown and the German Government Announce 43 New Signatories to the "Under 2 MOU Climate Pact". The Climate Group, which will serve as the Under 2 MOU’s secretariat, is an international nonprofit that works with business, state and regional leaders to promote a prosperous, low carbon future. Last year, with the backing of the United Nations, it helped to create the Compact of States and Regions, a complementary initiative to the Under 2 MOU that works with governments to measure and report progress toward their emission reduction goals and ensure accountability.

With support from Kevin De Leon, SB 350 pushes decarbonization of California's economy, in particular renewable energy and efficiency goals, along with other changes to boost clean power.It begins laying the groundwork for a regional electricity grid powered by renewables, solar and wind power.

What these various news reports gloss over is that the Pacific Coast Collaborative exists basically to set up a cap-and-trade market that is favored by corporate interests, which is probably why COP21 did not produce a full framework agreement, aside from the fact that Republicans in the Senate would never ratify a carbon tax or a commitment to a framework. Here's some background on these historic agreements which includes Governor Brown's efforts in Sacramento since he was elected in November 2010.

It began to gather speed in 2011 under California's AB 32, which established the cap-and-trade structure. A couple of years later, this diplomatic and business exchange expands to a China Trade agreement. California formalizes these bilateral agreements in October of 2013 and establishes leadership in global trade using the cap-and-trade model, which moves forward as 2MOU. Note that these are not formal binding contracts, or treaties, between governments, but rather the establishment of a type of carbon trading market. An example of a formal treaty is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, the Kyoto Protocol, which was not signed by the US or China.

Ultimately, California and the Climate Group agreement presented at COP21 didn't fly. There remains the uncompleted Kyoto Protocol that undergirds the intent of COP21 which did agree to set the 2C goal of temperature increase since preindustrial times, with the understanding that 1.5C was actually the more realistic target to preserve planetary ecosystems intact.

Update 2/3/2016: California examines its post-Paris climate agenda

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Shift

Taking a different approach to a classic hymn, exemplified by Franz Schubert's German version of Ave Maria, reveals another variation of the holiday song, of which there are many versions not originating from Gounod's 1859 melody. Originally Schubert didn't even use the traditional Catholic prayer in Latin, but a German translation of some lines in Sir Walter Scott's "The Lady of the Lake" (1825). Traditional words were added later by those who wanted to make it more appropriate for religious occasions, but it doesn't include the Hail Mary prayer.

A shift in the interpretation, phrasing and musical form within a theme is universal in the expression of song and meaning throughout the history of music. In Principles of musical form:

Music exists in time; as an aesthetician, Susanne K. Langer, put it in Feeling and Form, “music is time made audible.” The proper perception of a musical work depends in the main on the ability to associate what is happening in the present with what has happened in the past and with what one expects will happen in the future. The frustration or fulfillment of such expectations and the resulting tensions and releases are basic to most musical works.

This evolution of tension and change over history in time is happening now with our global dialogue - over how we're changing our climate and impacting our planet. The dialogue at the moment is a cacophony of technologies, trade, history, politics, science and the recent evolution of global finance. We don't currently have the tools to resolve these issues; old climate plans are outdated in the wake of COP21 in Paris.

We're also dealing with the end game of destructive resource extraction through wars and political dominance that have given rise to the military-industrial complex that leads to endless conflict for profit, power and planetary destruction. Yet now we seem to recognize that our higher responsibilities lie in organizing our societies and our laws so that we can fully face this issue, and deal with it constructively or we'll be ending our world as we know it. Each country, the United States in particular, will need to revise its laws accordingly to face this unprecedented situation and craft frameworks that respond effectively to our situation. There are many, many ways that these solutions will impact the global system of policies of energy and trade, and there's no way to predict how they will play out.

It's no longer limited to simple statecraft, a single treaty or one melody. The decision has been made that it must all point to one outcome:  the explicit goal to keep the global temperature rise well below 2°C by 2100, pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C, and aim for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Lacking a framework at the moment, our challenge is to craft our human orchestral response in harmony with the natural world as it is able to support our existence.


Friday, December 18, 2015

A Seventh Year, Rain to Come?

This year is supposed to be a big one for rain in Southern California; up in the Pacific Northwest the El Nino is beginning to hit with full force. The North Coast Mountain ranges are now covered in a good snowpack with more on the way. This is a relief, but not a reprieve from the serious drought plaguing the US Pacific Southwest. Everything has changed this year, with the water allowances cut back by 25% and the lawns turning brown and now disappearing. The Los Angeles region is a major urban center that now relies too much on the rains of an earlier generation, and can no longer pull the vast amounts of distant water from the the three big aqueducts that were built in the early to mid 1900's.

We don't know yet how our climate issues will play out. With the culmination of the COP21 Paris climate agreement on Saturday December 12, we're now faced with a necessarily rapid turnabout in our carbon emissions.

To quote Michael Mann:

Finally, global energy policy is beginning to reflect the clear message of climate change research. We have only one atmosphere, shared by developed and developing countries. We have only one planet, and the steady upward march in greenhouse gas concentrations and the consequent warming of the planet and attendant rise in sea level, expansion of drought and increase in destructive extreme weather events will spare none from its impacts. With the Paris summit, we finally have an agreement that holds all countries accountable for taking action on climate.

This means that many, many things will have to happen across the globe and at home in our myriad countries. This is summarized in an article from the World Bank.This is simply a beginning that will encompass every sector of life in all countries.

This means that hope for our common planetary future, while faint now, is still alive for us.