Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ecotopia Revisited

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed an agreement with Washington, Oregon and British Columbia to align climate change policies and promote clean energy. This represents another attempt, through voluntary means, to set policies across a region. The idea has a long history, famously portrayed in Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia, published in 1975. This concept has been evolving for years, including an earlier attempt when seven Western states and three Canadian provinces created the Western Climate Initiative. One of their proposals was a cap-and-trade system, but the effort fell apart when all the states, except California, eventually pulled out of the coalition, in part because of political opposition.

Naturally the agreement was signed in San Francisco, with Governor Jerry Brown presiding, who also started his original term as Governor in 1975. At that time, Brown held a strong interest in environmental issues. He appointed J. Baldwin to work in the newly created California Office of Appropriate Technology, Sim Van der Ryn as State Architect, Stewart Brand as Special Advisor, and John Bryson as chairman of the California State Water Board.

The Sacramento Bee even noted, "Brown has said this year that California could be a model for Washington not just on governance issues, but in any number of policy areas, including immigration and the environment. State policies addressing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming have been replicated by the federal government and other states for years.

“It just so happens that things are happening in California that are not happening in Washington,” Brown told reporters after an event in San Francisco last month. “It just has dawned on me that we can do a lot of things in California to shift the climate throughout the whole country.”

He compared California to a lever and quoted a Greek mathematician: “Archimedes said, if you give me a place to stand ... I can move the earth.”

It's being called a model for innovaton in policy and in the development of a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. The pact also calls for building a coalition of support to press for an international agreement on climate change in 2015.

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, issued the following statement:

“This agreement will show the world that the Pacific Coast states aren’t waiting for Congress or governments worldwide to tackle climate change. This unprecedented pact between the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington, and the premier of British Columbia, will encompass a population of 53 million in the world’s fifth-largest economic region so it can have a major impact on our climate and clean energy future, providing, of course, that the governors and premier follow up this commitment with action on the ground.

“Forging a clean energy future and taking substantial steps against climate change, which knows no borders, will carve a path for others to follow. We need more regions and governments to get serious and collaborate if we are to stave off the worst effects of global warming. State action to support President Obama’s climate plan is critical to meeting our carbon pollution reduction goals.”

Thursday, October 24, 2013


The Obama administration took a strong position on climate change earlier this year:

“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”
-- President Obama, State of the Union, February 12, 2013.

In summary, from the League of Conservation Voters, "In June 2013, President Obama unveiled a comprehensive Climate Action Plan. The central pillars of this plan are: reducing carbon pollution from the nation’s biggest emitters, coal-fired power plants and cars; reducing energy consumption; expanding clean energy; preparing for global warming’s impacts on our communities and natural resources; and leading international efforts to address climate change. This plan builds on important progress undertaken since President Obama took office. In December 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency made the determination that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases pose a danger to public health and welfare. This science-based endangerment finding, a result of the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, gives the EPA the authority and the responsibility under the Clean Air Act to hold polluters accountable by limiting the carbon pollution they dump into our atmosphere."

This was prior to the just-released IPCC's AR5 report, which established the scientific findings on rising carbon emissions and the impact on climate change. With that, and a ruling by the Supreme Court on Oct. 14 that the EPA may proceed with regulations on vehicle exhaust and power plants, the US government is moving very quickly with an effort to establish these guidelines. U.S Senator Edward Markey has now politically stepped up to bat with an article in The Hill:

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said for the second time that the evidence that the planet is heating up is unequivocal, after they did so first back in 2007. They have also once again charged, tried and convicted the main culprit: carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that conviction. They also reaffirmed that the Environmental Protection Agency has the legal authority to require reductions of dangerous heat-trapping emissions, just as it does for smog, mercury and other harmful pollution.

This has unleashed the programs held in check, and now the ball is in play, which is what the EPA's current rapid outreach and public discussion process is about all over the nation. There are now public dialogues being scheduled by the EPA.

With that, there is also a turning point in the public dialogue, because responsible publications are now refusing to print unscientific disinformation that has shut down the open dialogue about moving off of fossil fuels.The Los Angeles Times stepped into the forefront of the public dialogue with its refusal to print unsubstantiated climate denials.Other news outlets have followed suit, as noted by an article in Mother Jones. Bernie Sanders, the U.S. Senator from Vermont, has even taken his platform to Playboy magazine, tying the climate issue to national security issues.

Perhaps now the long dark night of pollution is finally coming to an end, and hope for effective action is in sight.

Update 10/27/13: A Stanford professor, Mark Jacobson, explains to David Letterman how energy sources are being transitioned to phase out fossil fuels entirely by 2050.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

From Whence We Come

And whither we go...where does California stand now that the The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is being released by the IPCC? California's climate change portal links to a very brief summary of the initial findings in the IPCC report for policymakers, which states, among other things, that human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.

The solution is also embedded in the IPCC report:

"Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions...Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2".

Essentially that means that a WWII-style, massive mobilization of capital and efforts to cut carbon emissions will need to come into play, most likely with the kind of rationing that went into that war effort. Which is appropriate, considering that the country's - and the planet's - survival will depend upon unequivocal action. But, as in WWII, once this huge effort plays out, there's a probability that the science of addressing carbon emissions will come into full bloom, with the accompanying prosperity resulting in a planetary future that's sustainable and regenerative. It won't be about physical growth, but about a directed miniaturization that comes from new technologies and fewer demands on the environment.

California's Climate Change Portal emphasizes that local governments have important roles to play in these efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and they are at the forefront of efforts to adapt to the ongoing and anticipated impacts of climate change.This becomes the basis for action in policy and regulation in the state. The interesting part of this picture is that there's no Federal policy to base this upon, because it remains, as always, silent on climate change, with the exception of position statements from the Obama Administration.

California's Office of Planning and Research cites the IPCC findings and has issued a discussion draft, called "California at 50 Million, The Governor's Environmental Goals and Policy Report" for public review.The report considers the state’s future in the context of a changing climate and a population that is projected to grow to 50 million residents by middle of this century. The goals in this document are linked to a set of indicators that will help track progress toward meeting long-term environmental goals.

It opens with this statement:
“By the time today’s children reach middle age, itis extremely likely that Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence will be irretrievably damaged by the magnitude, global extent, and combination of these human-caused environmental stressors, unless we take concrete, immediate actions to ensure a sustainable, high-quality future.”
Scientists’ Consensus on Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems for the 21st Century, May 2013

It goes on to say that it also considers growth in the context of climate change – "undoubtedly the biggest environmental challenge of our time" - in a very broad-brush policy document. Climate change and the state’s efforts to confront it will involve nearly every aspect of the state’s planning and investment for the future, and that the state will address these issues:
Meet AB 32 Emission Reduction Target
Reduce GHG Emissions 80% Below 1990 Levels by 2050
(note that this is not sufficient to meet climate change targets in the IPCC report)
Establish a Mid-Term Emission Reduction Target
Invest in Climate Readiness and Adaptation to Safeguard California

It also briefly outlines methods to decarbonize Energy and Transportation, and then goes on to address the importance of preserving natural lands and resources. It very briefly mentions a key, issue, water, along with a statement about the Bay Delta Plan.

Among California's other efforts, there have been many emergent strategies to grapple with the scope of this problem, summarized in this article. Essentially where California stands at the moment is an attempt to grasp the enormity of the problem and begin the hard work of realizing what it will actually take to deal with it. Of a scope and scale never seen before on this earth.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Scale of It

From the Arctic Ice Sea Blog

Rebecca Solnit, in her reporting in Tom Dispatch, writes an article about the critical need for people across the globe to undertake the movement in dealing with the enormous impact of climate change, for which we are responsible:

As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune put it last week, “Here's the single most important thing you need to know about the IPCC report: It's not too late. We still have time to do something about climate disruption. The best estimate from the best science is that we can limit warming from human-caused carbon pollution to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit -- if we act now. Bottom line: Our house is on fire. Rather than argue about how fast it's burning, we need to start throwing buckets of water.”

There are buckets and bucket brigades. For example, the movement to get universities, cities, churches, and other entities to divest their holdings of the top 200 fossil-fuel stocks could have major consequences. If it works, it will be achieved through dedicated groups on this campus or in that city competing in a difficult sport: budging bureaucrats. It’s already succeeded in some key places, from the city of Seattle to the national United Church of Christ, and hundreds of campaigns are underway across the United States and in some other countries.

My heroes are now people who can remain engaged with climate change’s complex and daunting facts and still believe that we have some leeway to determine what happens. They insist on looking directly at the black wall of water, and they focus on what we can do about the peril we face, and then they do it. They do their best to understand scale and science, and their dedication and clarity comes from connecting their hearts to their minds.

It's the only constructive response in the face of the corporate intransigence on this monstrous issue, which amounts to "Let Them Eat Cake", in spite of the massive costs of the arctic melting and the destructive climate change impacts all over the world.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Let Them Eat Cake

The snapshot above is from an excellent little infographic from the Guardian, in response to the new IPCC report released last Friday. A summary of the problem outlined by the IPCC Report produced for policy makers shows the terrifying range of climate possibilities in the future.

As you can see, the last step in the charts basically says that no matter what the prediction is, it's "infeasible" to cut carbon emissions enough to keep temperature change below 2C. I see. The grandkids can just fry, no food and no water, tough luck.

Not only is this a despicable position to take, and remember that Marie Antoinette got her head handed to her for it, it's not even true. Not only is it fairly straightforward to severely cut carbon emissions and allow the earth to regenerate its forests and natural wetlands, it's even profitable. Unfortunately the big fossil fuel conglomerates are more in love with their profits than with their families, and are standing in the way of a tremendous green revolution driven by social media. But not for long; I think when people understand that it's entirely possible to change this scenario quite rapidly, then it will happen. To hell with these corporations and their damn money at the price of life across the globe. Climatologist and former NASA scientist Jim Hansen has even testified on the feasibility of this:

According to a paper he will soon release, “simple economic modeling shows that if you put a moderate rising price on carbon — $10 a ton, going up $10 a ton for 10 years — by the end of 10 years you would reduce United States emissions by 30 percent. And that’s 10 times or 11 times more than the volume of the Keystone pipeline. So there are much more effective ways of assuring our energy independence and contributing to stabilizing climate than trying to develop more fossil fuel sources.”

This and other strategies, such as lawsuits against governments that fail to protect their citizens, are part of his agenda.

The money therefore goes to a different place and into different pockets. Instead of coal and oil, we have decarbonization by 2030, and we have no need to start wars for oil, especially if the energy comes from distributed local sources, avoiding global shipping.There are many feasible approaches, and the politicians are wrong - 100% renewable energy is entirely possible.

The Rocky Mountain Institute, headed up by Amory Lovins, is fully taking on the challenge of getting to 100% renewable energy systems by implementing their program called "Reinventing Fire". This thinktank has examined the methodology used by Germany to severely reduce their emissions in the energy sector, providing a robust example for other countries to follow. An initiative undertaken by the architects in the USA and the American Institute of Architects is called the 2030 Challenge which intends to arrive at zero carbon in construction in 2030, in the US building sector - which consumes more energy than any other sector. This is being implemented ahead of any regulatory requirements by the building industry.

Many strategies, in concert with global cooperation and implemented by regulation, are capable of moving us all rapidly off of the dirty fossil fuels and into a sustainable form of existence for the sake of life on this planet. I am not buying this "inconvenience" argument for one damn minute. It's now time to take the necessary action. It can be as simple as Wangari Maathai's Hummingbird, and it can also be about "coming unstuck" and using planetary levers.