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.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The New Beginning

The season of Advent is a quiet Christian meditation on the event of the dawning light of 2000 years ago, symbolized by the lighting of candles on a wreath. Most consider lighting of the first candle to symbolize expectation, while the second symbolizes hope, the third joy and the fourth purity. A central candle is lit on the 25th of December in a moment of reverence.

This season is unquiet, with the negotiations at COP21 in Paris moving full tilt with dialogues at the UNFCCC about adoption of a global framework for carbon emissions reductions. The California contingent is moving ahead rapidly with Governor Brown's presence in the U.S. ambassador's residence on Sunday to commemorate an international agreement he's promoted between states, provinces and cities. The governor has nearly two dozen events scheduled over five days.

Will this unprecedented meeting of the world's representatives and corporations finally reach a consensus?
Will the knowing of the true dangers that face our planet finally bring us to the light of reason?

This critical threshold has been recognized for many years, and we must now act.

Update 12/6/15: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was in Paris on Dec 4 to speak with world leaders about the pLAn Climate Action for the city of Los Angeles.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Paris in the Crosshairs

As COP21 in Paris gets underway, Jim Hansen has come out of his corner punching, publishing in an editorial on November 28 that Obama had stonewalled his attempts to have a discussion about the crucial factors creating climate change. The problem, as Hansen sees it, is that the pervasive optimism in the lead up to the climate talks is only so much hot air, the desired result of spinsters in Washington who are promising change while hedging their bets on ineffectual climate policies, in other words, bullshit:

"Hansen, a NASA alum who put global warming on the map in a big way with his congressional testimony in 1988, is no stranger to controversy: he’s called out NASA for censoring his data on climate change, he’s been arrested twice at the White house for protesting the Keystone pipeline, and he’s called for a trial of the CEO of ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel magnates for “high crimes against humanity and nature.” While his latest foray into pot-stirring is less flamboyant, it doesn’t mean the issues at hand are any less pressing."

Hansen is correct that the cap-and-trade mechanism is a failure, Europe's experience with the market has shown this. His argument is for a straightforward carbon tax, which can work as a mechanism but unfortunately will never reduce the carbon emissions sufficiently unless it's tied to some kind of framework agreement that is stringent in principle yet flexible enough to accommodate the changing emissions structures over time. This is the heart of the problem since Kyoto: asking nations to commit to some kind of specific number has resulted in the failure of a global agreement. For this reason, the negotiations are starting "bottom up" this time around, which unfortunately has fallen far short of the necessary reductions in carbon.

In September of this year, a letter sent to Obama, signed by climate leaders, major organizations and individuals (it carries my signature as well), called for him to take leadership on strong emission reduction targets. It cites "Laudato Si" from the Pope as a moral imperative and emphasizes the call for urgent action by the USA.

Politically Obama's options are limited. The USA has long been the monkey wrench in earlier climate negotiations, which have proven to be dialoguing at cross-purposes. Much of it had to do with the demands by third-world countries for financial support in the transition to carbon-free energy sources, embedded in the Kyoto agreement in a way that would have been impossible for the USA to comply with. There were pie-in-the-sky requirements that would have generated immense failures in attempting to extract money from the northern countries in lieu of unobtainable negative carbon goals (below zero!!).

At this conference, Obama is attended by a California state delegation that includes Governor Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, and Senate President pro Tem Kevin de Leon among others. This group is funded by corporate money, and is proposing a cap-and-trade scheme that is already in place, including Canada, China and India. California has been building this trade agreement structure for several years now. Thus Brown has taken the lead on this trade agreement structure, with the assistance of former Secretary of Commerce John Bryson in cooperation with the Obama administration. Brown has shown great capability in forging this collective approach, but the local citizenry has begun to take a dim view of some of his policies. As he is in his second two-term governorship in California, and his tactics have worn thin for many people.

The New York Times goes into a summary of the potential options for "deep decarbonization", realizing that it will be difficult to achieve the necessary reductions in time to stave off the worst effects of global warming, especially since the planet has already hit the 1C degree temperature increase which is halfway to the absolute 2C maximum goal of these talks. Unfortunately it fails to note that the success of these efforts, and the agreements that underlie them, rely on a framework structure that can equitably balance the emissions measurements against global benchmarks in an internally consistent manner that is also transparent. I can only hope that the Contraction and Convergence structure will ultimately be engaged as the means to that end in a global partnership. It's flexible and incorporates feedback emissions as well as real-time reduction efforts and the critically necessary reforestation that acts as a carbon sink. It is able to calculate and verify the various scenarios under discussion. And the online CBAT is here for public use.

Let it be so.

Update 12/1/15: 'Whole System' Approach Needed to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Experts Say at Climate Meeting 

Update 12/2/15: Jerry Brown - a little history

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Searching for Unicorns in India

Throughout history, the ancient legend that unicorn horns could counteract poison and purify water led to a frenzy of counterfeit potions. At its height, “unicorn horn” was literally worth 10 times its weight in gold. In 1560, German merchants sold a unicorn horn for an astronomical 90,000 scudi—then about £18,000—to the pope. Pharmacies in London sold powdered unicorn horn as late as 1741.

Unicorns are not found in Greek mythology, but rather in the accounts of natural history, for Greek writers of natural history were convinced of the reality of unicorns, which they located in India, a distant and fabulous realm for them. The earliest description is from Ctesias (5th Century BC) who, in his book Indika ("On India"), described them as wild asses, fleet of foot, having a horn a cubit and a half (700 mm, 28 inches) in length, and colored white, red and black.

This rare legend existed for two thousand years; the magical properties for which we now have technologies to filter and purify the elements are no longer sought out in powders and salves derived of unfortunate animals such as narwhals and rhinos.

The collapse in oil prices this year has upended the fossil fuel business, which has inverted the calculus on the investment in this sector. Countries like China and India have previously insisted on being able to pollute their economies into development and growth. How can these processes be purified and cleaned of carbon? What magic can be wrought that rapidly brings down the lethal emissions that threaten our global future? The elixir may be that of of the diminishing value of carbon fuels, and how that is turned on its head.

From OilPrice.com: India has actually removed subsidies on fuel and transitioned into taxing them since 2014. Citing research from the World Bank, Mr. Subramanian says that India is essentially taxing carbon somewhere on the order of $60 per ton of CO2 for petrol and $42 per ton for diesel, “substantially above what is now considered a reasonable initial tax on CO2 emissions” of $25 to $35 per ton.

That provides India with a lot to brag about heading into the international climate negotiations later this year in Paris. Or as Mr. Subramanian puts it, “India – especially with a new PM – can credibly repudiate its past perceived image as a recalcitrant negotiator, focused on asking others to contribute without offering contributions of its own.”

This shifting global economic picture will have a significant impact on the discussions in Paris at the COP 21 negotiations later this year. In addition to the possibility of removing subsidies from all fossil fuel industries, this also allows the true pricing of carbon to take place alongside that of the clean technologies and renewable energy sources. Once the tipping point is reached in the pricing structure, the downward slope of carbon use can become very steep very rapidly as a matter of economics as well as of necessity for our survival. This then becomes a natural process of moving from old industries to new industries, just as the horse and buggy almost completely faded from urban life in the space of about 50 years from the invention of the automobile. An even more rapid transition is entirely possible and profitable with the current state of clean technologies.

This diagram from Aubrey Meyer shows the nature of this necessary reduction, and the immediate shift that requires either the magical properties of a unicorn or the simple very rapid transition in the economic calculus to reflect the actual values of these purified energy sources. The unicorn does appear to be in India.

Update 10/23/15:   Getting to Zero Emissions - Paul Allen on where dreams meet reality. Speaking at the UN climate talks in Bonn, Paul Allen of the Center for Alternative Technology talks about developments in modelling and innovation that show we can make a speedy transition to clean energy world by 2050.

Update 10/24/15: How The Petrodollar Quietly Died, And Nobody Noticed

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Measure of Drought

Our one-degree warmed planet is deteriorating rapidly. That's a .85C temperature increase since 1880, following the impact of the industrial revolution. We're on the path to 4C right now. Oceans are rising, and the sea is becoming too acidic to support abundant sea life.

Along with the rapid ice melt in the Arctic and Antarctic including the scientific studies of the ice shelf collapses, there is much documentation now of the rapid impact of drought conditions in the recent past and now-imminent future. A summary of data is updated at the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. There's no question that the man-made climate change from fossil fuel use has triggered the collapse of the global ecosphere and set off the runaway climate change that is fueled by natural processes of carbon and methane emissions. NASA is comprehensively compiling the data that will allow us to watch our planet extinguish its life processes.

Drought Global Information System
Water tables dropping worldwide per a NASA study
Scientists warn of unprecedented damage to forests across the world
Mother Jones on the fate of global forests
World Resources Institute examines the impact of local water supplies

Looking down into some of the regional biospheres and how they're enduring under the global heating of the planet from carbon emissions turns up many articles examining local conditions in 2015:

Sao Paulo drought
South America drought
California drought
Arizona drought
Nevada drought
Oregon drought
Washington drought
Mexico City drought
India drought
China drought
North Korea drought
South Africa drought
Ethiopia drought 
Zimbabwwe drought
Indochina drought
European drought 
Spain drought
Peru drought
Australia drought
Australia climate
Papua New Guinea drought
Middle East drought
Yemen drought
Cuba drought

All of this so that these destructive fossil fuel companies can continue to make their profits, enabled by the worldwide governmental subsidies of fossil fuels at their disposal. The drastic impact on a universal by-right resource is simply expendable to these entities. As Bill McKibben posits in his summary of Laudato Si:

Take water, which the pope addresses at length. We probably should not need his words to know that “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival.” We all know it should not be wasted, and yet we continue to waste it because doing so is beneficial to the rich and powerful: for instance, insurance companies have planted enormous almond groves across California in recent years even as water supplies have started to shrink, and agribusiness planters have drawn down the aquifers of the Midwest.

The global water crisis has triggered a conference on this issue. World leaders, water experts and development professionals have gathered in Stockholm to discuss and jointly find solutions to the world's several escalating water crises.The 2015 World Water Week, themed Water for Development, welcomes over 3,000 participants from more than 120 countries to the Swedish capital, representing governments, academia, international organizations, civil society, the corporate sector, and many others.

Update 9/17/15: Bloomberg article: Tracking the Curse of Global Drought