Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Little History

The structure of a piece such as this - Ave Maria - originally by Bach in The Well-Tempered Clavier, was adapted by Charles Gounod. It inspired Gounod to devise an improvisation of a melody over the C major Prelude (BWV 846) from the collection's first book. The structure of these pieces progress through the harmonics in different keys. Each set contains twenty-four pairs of preludes and fugues. The first pair is in C major, the second in C minor, the third in C-sharp major, the fourth in C-sharp minor, and so on. The rising chromatic pattern continues until every key has been represented, finishing with a B-minor fugue. It inspired Gounod to devise an improvisation of a melody over the C major Prelude (BWV 846) from the collection's first book. To this melody, in 1859, Gounod fitted the words of the Ave Maria, resulting in a setting that became world-famous. This exploration of musical structure is grounded in the fundamental scales generated from standing wave functions represented by relative string lengths.

Music has a unique capacity to move us, its harmonics resonating through our emotional centers and releasing the energies of the mind as well as the flesh. This kind of shared experience has the capacity to move us beyond our normal boundaries and engage us in a dynamic flow that becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Maybe this is the kind of experience that precedes and then builds the necessary synergy for reaching consensus on our human issues.

This idea was expressed long ago by William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, 1697:

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I've read, that things inanimate have mov'd,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform'd,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
'Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.
Anselmo sleeps, and is at Peace; last Night
The silent Tomb receiv'd the good Old King;
He and his Sorrows now are safely lodg'd
Within its cold, but hospitable Bosom.
Why am not I at Peace?

Update 11/26/18: Bach - A Passionate Life. This is his story.

Update 4/23/19: A different Ave Maria performance by Kimmy Skota.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Fifth Year, Now Without Rain

We've entered a period of drought here in the Southwest; last year's record dry winter appears to be the new normal. This pattern has been predicted by the climate models, and so here we are. Planning is in place now with appointments at the State level for a drought management team:

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jim Costa (D-16) on Dec. 9 sent a joint letter to Gov. Jerry Brown asking him to declare a statewide drought emergency that would activate the state’s emergency plan and permit some relaxation of state regulations concerning water. Cowin hinted a drought declaration could be coming.

There's more to consider than just the economics and logistical problems of water scarcity. We have forests and an urban biosphere that are severely stressed already. The ecology of forests and their complexity rely upon sufficient water and soil humidity to maintain the forest structure and underground water and nutrients. During droughts, the resiliency of these forests and landscaping are greatly reduced, and the recovery is a slow and complex process, potentially threatening its viability. A video from the University of British Columbia examines the nature of this integration of the living forest.

In this real-life model of forest resilience and regeneration, Professor Suzanne Simard shows that all trees in a forest ecosystem are interconnected, with the largest, oldest, "mother trees" serving as hubs. The underground exchange of nutrients increases the survival of younger trees linked into the network of old trees. Amazingly, we find that in a forest, 1+1 equals more than 2.

Update Dec. 21, 2013: There's a reason for that.
The extraordinary California dry spell continues: 2013 will probably be the driest year on record (from California Weather Blog)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Joy to the World

From NASA's Earth Observatory (where every day is Earth Day) comes images in a new video from film student David Peterson, posted Dec.3, 2013. His goal with this new video is to bring more attention to the station itself, including the humans aboard it, particularly astronaut Don Pettit, who appears in the video's final shot and took many of the sequences used in the video.

Two years ago Peterson posted a time-lapse video montage to his YouTube page that was based on imagery of aurora and night lights captured by NASA astronauts. That video (All Alone in the Night) had racked up more than 6 million views by December 2013.

Isn't it just a damn shame that with all of our tremendous intelligence, ingenuity and perceptiveness, that we're destroying this incredible, beautiful planet with our dirty oil-clogged machines, pollution and radioactive waste? By about 2030  (credit - GCI).

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Threshold of Change

Upon this Advent season, consensus has begun to illuminate the world dialogue on climate change. On the 19th of November UNFCC, IPCC, IGBP, co-posted a short film reprising the Policy Makers Summary of IPCC AR5 WG1. This group comprises the representative scientific global public policy group on 'climate science and policy', and it's unprecedented for them to co-publish any policy statement.The established absolute limit, from scientific research and study, is for perpetuity the most stringent of the carbon-budgets published in IPCC AR5 WG1 in September 2013.

Their film ends with a comment affirming that global contraction budget limit to future emissions is '250 Billion Tonnes', if the 2 degree limit to global warming is to be held. GCI's file compares this limit to the one previously established by the UK Climate Act. The group recognizes that emissions ‘contraction’ should be complete globally by 2050 if, once ‘feedback effects’ are included, we are to give better than 50:50 odds for keeping within the 2° rise. This is a critical, critical illumination of the scope of the world problem that threatens our existence: a total global emissions cap of 250 Gt C, accomplished by 2050.

The challenge to all of us is very simple, very clear, and the time is now.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Boiling Point

The graph above shows the rate of carbon emissions nearly doubling from a decade earlier despite climate negotiations and studies over the last decade that document tremendous climate changes from these carbon emissions. The summary of these changes has been produced as a video produced by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and Globaia and funded by the UN Foundation for the launch of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report. CO2 levels in the atmosphere have risen about 40 percent in the last century. The oceans have absorbed 97 percent of the additional heat from those emissions, raising the levels of the oceans as well as making them more acidic, which is the only reason global temperatures have not risen much faster. However, the oceans will not continue to soak up all the extra heat forever.

Various studies have shown the flaws in current climate modeling that demonstrate that the planet is heating up far faster than the original models predicted, as the arctic ice measurements have shown. A new model in development, RASM, has the potential to greatly alter current global climate models.It provides a better understanding of what's actually happening to planetary systems as they absorb this carbon.

With the conclusion of discussions in Warsaw at COP19, it's now evident that there is an almost complete lack of consensus dividing the poorer countries and the large polluting countries of the north. Warsaw was supposed to be the “Finance COP” to provide promised money promised to poor countries in Copenhagen in 2009, but failed to produce these dollars. Countries like Germany, Switzerland and others in Europe only managed to scrape together promises of 110 million dollars into the Green Climate Fund. Developing countries wanted a guarantee of 70 billion a year by 2016 but were blocked by the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan and others. The groundwork for loss and damages was laid in a last-minute political brokerage in Warsaw.

Climate scientists knew about climate change very significantly by the mid-'80s. It became a major political issue by the time of the Earth Summit in 1992. We're now 21 years later, and we’ve done absolutely nothing about it but watch emissions rise, day in, day out, year in, year out. This has created the tragic trajectory that calls for a radical response. With large-scale impacts of climate change becoming discernable from the background of natural variability, concern is rising over the global community’s failure to control emissions. The International Energy Agency (IEA) captures this pivotal moment in history, when noting that "The current state of affairs is unacceptable … energy-related CO2 emissions are at historic highs” and emission trends are “perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius, which would have devastating consequences for the planet”. In a similar vein PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC), the UK Government chief scientist and a growing body of academics and researchers are allying current emission trends with 4°C to 6°C futures.

Although the IPCC reports appear to be fueling the consensus for future climate agreements around the "low emissions" scenario, it is now evident that these emissions goals are too generous and will result in runaway climate change much faster than anyone had anticipated. So, because of growing global concern and especially panic from the poorer southern countries, a group has decided to stage a conference to explore far deeper carbon reduction than has been on the table in COP19. The Tyndall Centre Radical Emission Reduction Conference will take place on Dec. 10 and 11, and discuss how to implement radical carbon reduction scenarios.

Naomi Klein, author of 'The Shock Doctrine' and 'No Logo', will be the keynote speaker. Based on her article in the New Statesman and the research underpinning her forthcoming book, Naomi Klein argues that the “revolutionary nature of climate science” demands a paradigm shift in our response to climate change.

This portends a grassroots movement which would also drive future climate change agreements and commitments into far deeper carbon reductions than have been currently proposed. Even with the possibility of restructuring economic policies and imposing "wartime mobilization" with these measures, due to the inaction on the part of governments worldwide.

Resource: Summary for Policymakers of the Working Group I contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

UNFCCC Once Again

World leaders are now gathering in Warsaw, Poland on Nov. 11-22 for the 19th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP19. At COP17 two years ago in Durban, South Africa, countries agreed to establish an international climate action agreement by 2015 that would be applicable to all countries, with the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5-2°C above pre-industrial levels. This year’s convening is another step towards that agreement, set for COP21 in Paris.

The devastation just wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan in the Phillippines has cast a pall over U.N. climate talks Monday as the envoy from the Philippines broke down in tears and announced he would fast until a "meaningful outcome is in sight."

The UN conference aims to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere “at a level that will limit dangerous interference with the climate system.” The meeting takes place from now through next Friday at Warsaw’s National Stadium. International delegates are working toward a universal UN-backed treaty to be in force by 2015 and take effect by 2020. To achieve this goal, participating countries must agree on standard limits to future greenhouse gas emissions.

A key negotiating point will be the degree to which emissions must be curtailed, and the necessary timeframe for doing this. The IPCC report issued last month defines four timeline scenarios (Representative Concentration Pathways or RCPs) plotting amounts of carbon burned and resulting global average temperatures, depending on when global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) peak and then decline.

The official schedule and information feed from this session is here.

Update, Nov. 19 from Guardian Environment:

The current goal of the negotiations is to forge an agreement, to be signed in Paris in 2015 and to come into force by 2020, that would involve substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from all the major economies, as well as commitments from poorer countries.

Sizing up Warsaw in Week 2, from Kennedy Graham:

BAU will incur 4.5°C.  Warming to date (since 1750) is 0.8°.  What we see occurring around the world today is caused by 0.8.  We are on track to something between 2.6 and 4.5.

And finally, from Motherboard, a video that covers the IPCC scenarios:

As the video fast-forwards us through time, it illustrates the possible future of our little blue marble as it spins in space: warming temperatures, shrinking sea ice, increasing sea levels, amplifying ocean acidity. It’s as grim as it is beautiful, but all is not necessarily lost yet.
Whether you see it as a disheartening or hopeful proposition, the final takeaway is this: “The scale of change depends on decisions made now… It is up to societies now to decide the future we want.”

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.”

Update 6/7/17: Pacific Coast Collaborative since 2008

Update 6/8/17: We Are Still In

Update 9/30/17: Bioregional awareness from GAIA Education

Update 11/16/17:  Could ‘Ecotopia’ fantasy become a reality?

Update 4/13/20:  Pandemic - Washington, Oregon and California announce Western states pact

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.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Rising Crescendo

On the eve of the release of the first part of the Climate Assessment reports, there are intensive discussions arising from those who have felt disenfranchised from the process of international agreement on climate goals and its impacts in previous climate talks.

The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is being released in four parts between September 2013 and November 2014. It will be the most comprehensive assessment of scientific knowledge on climate change since 2007 when Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) was released. AR5 is made up of the full reports prepared by the Working Groups (I, II and III) and their Summaries for Policymakers (SPM) as well as the Synthesis Report. On September 23 through 26, representatives of the world’s Environment Ministries will meet in Stockholm to agree on the final draft of a key portion of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Summary for Policymakers. This Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is intended to be used by international ministers working to devise a new global treaty by January 2015 to curb “climate change”. On the eve of its first issuance this coming Friday, there are reports on its leaked contents as well as significant global discussion around its impacts and scale.

Leading up to the The 2013 United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Warsaw, Poland from 11 to 22 November 2013, this series of reports on the state of climate change is already being anticipated at a global level by many groups, in particular on 5 September 2013, the Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum adopted the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership, stating that climate change is real and is severely impacting their country.

Leaders from 35+ countries gathered for the drafting of a Women's Climate Action Agenda in Suffern, New York September 20-23rd, 2013 as part of the International Women's Earth and Climate Summit. Their consensus is that climate change disproportionately affects women across the globe.

The Guardian reports on climate change: IPCC issues stark warning over global warming, with a call to 'stop dithering about fossil fuel cuts' as expert panel warns entire globe is affected. "We have to face up to the prospect of weaning ourselves off our addiction to oil and coal," said one report author. "It is as simple as that."

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is addressing world leaders during the week of Sept. 20 in an effort to move climate change response efforts forward. Meanwhile, scientists are becoming more sure of the impact of human activities on the planet's climate, says Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN's climate panel. Moon has made his position clear that it is now time to make the decisions that will address climate change, and that further delay and distraction are no longer acceptable. The session at the table in November will be where the rubber meets the road.

The critical issues with these reports will be the definition of the allowable CO2 emissions in the near future; this will rest upon the determination of science documentation of climate change and its projected impact on planetary life systems. Since science is not an exact benchmark in the real dynamics of nature, the most realistic path will be to negotiate a safe level of GHG's, using the Precautionary Principle as the most likely way of navigating the necessary constraints so as to do no further harm to the planet. Difficult, because it will involve a rapid move off of fossil fuels, but eminently doable.

Update 9/26/13: Last-minute negotiations on the content of the IPCC report in Stockholm  are taking place due to the variability of climate change and the difficulty in establishing cause-and-effect. This demonstrates the necessity of basing emissions policies on precautionary measures.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Regenerate the River

The US Army Corps of Engineers has just issued a restoration plan for the LA River that would punch through the concrete encasement of the 1940's over-engineered channels and provide for restoration of adjacent riverbanks and wetlands.This has become a priority because of the support at the Federal level through the Urban Waters Federal Partnership. The final plan for restoration is modest compared to the original big vision, but it does restore 11 miles of the river from Burbank to downtown LA. An interesting comparison are the photos of sections of the river paired with renderings of the proposed project.

There has been an emerging movement around the restoration of the LA River for decades, and it's grounded in the worldwide regenerative strategy of restoring rivers and their watershed areas and streams. As far back as the 1980's there was much discussion in the local design and arts community as well as local neighborhoods about revitalizing the river and restoring its watershed. This ended up as the LA River Masterplan after years of community planning. This is the kind of engagement with the river that has been happening in urban areas all over the globe, as they integrate with their rivers rather than turning their backs on it.

A patchwork of green parks has moved the Master Plan idea forward in many small projects over the years because of community influence and public policy, including financing for greening projects by the LA Public Works Department. These open spaces and parks have contributed to community engagement of public spaces as well as the regeneration of sustainable habitat.

A site that shows the projects done by North East Trees along the LA River is here.There's also a video from KCET that documents the Revitalization Master Plan. A project by the Council for Watershed Health includes the Elmer Avenue Retrofit.

The comprehensive overview of the LA River restoration plan from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with the City of Los Angeles, announces the availability of a Draft Integrated Feasibility Report, which includes a Draft Feasibility Study and Environmental Impact. This will be available for a public review and comment period beginning this Friday.

Update: 9/19/13 interview with new Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell

Councilman Reyes had the LA River as his priority during his tenure. Is the LA River also one of your areas of interest?

Councilmember Reyes is a giant in the environmental movement along the river. He passed the baton to me as Chair of Arts, Parks and the River. It’s a great honor, and it’s of enormous importance to me personally. So much incredible work in planning and resource-finding has taken place at the river that we’re poised to become a real river city. There’s a very important feasibility study for which the decision will be announced on December 12. It is the US Army Corps of Engineers funding that we’ll get actually for the first time to remove concrete from the channelized river near the center of the city. We eagerly await that decision. It’s going to be the next and probably most important decision to face the river since the advent of FOLAR, the Ad Hoc River Committee, and the Revitalization Master Plan. It’s a really big deal, and it’s important for myself, my colleagues, and Gil Cedillo, the new councilmember in District 1. It’s important to all of us that we get this right and we’re very excited about this challenge.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Envisioning Future Strategies


The City of Copenhagen, Denmark recently won an INDEX: Award for their Climate Adaptation Plan - which includes all levels of their city's Master plan. The INDEX: Award Design to Improve Life is under the patronage of HRH the Crown Prince of Denmark. This organization is intended to encourage people in designing sustainable solutions to global challenges.

 “Copenhagen is already a world leader for green and sustainable solutions. By implementing the Copenhagen Climate Adaptation Plan, the city can stimulate growth and sustainability at the same time. We believe that a climate proof city is more attractive to live and invest in”, says Frank Jensen Lord Mayor of Copenhagen.

In the Climate Adaptation Plan, experts have assessed which climate change challenges are the biggest and where Copenhagen as a city can derive the greatest benefit by taking action now and in the coming years. At the same time, the city is looking at how such measures – necessary for Copenhagen to adapt to the future climate – can be of pleasure and benefit to the city immediately. Thus, the Copenhagen Climate Adaptation Plan is “designing the city of tomorrow today” as INDEX: Award jury member John Heskett puts it.

 The Copenhagen Climate Adaptation Plan site discusses how the plan is the starting point for incorporating the necessary climate adaptation into the thinking in all areas of the city’s development in good time. So, climate adaptation and the development of an attractive and green major city will become two sides of the same coin.

This kind of "future planning" is critical for the success of cities and suburbs as our planet moves into planetary climate change. The design and planning professionals are in the best place to 'lead' the effort to see the earth as single system and learn to treat it like a 'library of ideas' rather than a 'warehouse of materials'. It's important to work with the natural processes of a place, as well as embed the intelligence to manage the increasingly capricious impact of weather and resources available to human habitation and what remains of the natural world.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sink Failure

There's an intense debate going on right now about something called "sink failure" in the climate models that are being used to determine a true upper limit to the "safe" carbon levels in the atmosphere to avoid runaway climate change. The "sink" is the carbon absorption of forests, undeveloped land areas and the ocean. The ability of these sinks to act as a "carbon sink" has been in decline as the carbon in the atmosphere has increased, thus making the reliance upon the earth's ability to absorb released carbon a less reliable factor in these models.

Back in 2008, the Global Commons Institute issued a paper that reviewed this issue, and it stated:

GCI is committed to on-going research into climate risk assessment.When the IPCC published its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) in 2007, it included for the first time ‘coupled’ modelling for emissions control scenarios alongside the uncoupled modelling that has been shown in its Assessment Reports since 1994.

Coupled Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models (AOGCMs) used by the UK’s Hadley Centre are the most complex climate models in use, consisting of an Atmosphere General Circulation Model (AGCM) coupled to an Ocean General Circulation Model (OGCM). Some recent models include the biosphere, carbon cycle and atmospheric chemistry as well. AOGCM modelling introduces the effects of positive feedbacks from carbon sinks and can be used for the prediction and rate of change of future climate.

Following detailed investigation of the modelling results in IPCC AR4, GCI was able to confirm with IPCC and Hadley that the new evidence points to the need for zero emissions globally by about 2050 to keep below 450ppmv atmospheric CO2 concentration. This level is the most frequently cited maximum within which it may be possible to arrest the rise in global temperature to within a 2°C increase above pre-industrial levels. These results corroborate the risk-analysis previously carried out by the GCI for the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change (APPGCC), shown in summary in Section 8 below.

GCI also produced an online interactive chart that shows how this works in a coupled scenario and an uncoupled scenario.

In slide 2, it shows the difference between these two scenarios and how the coupled emissions model balances sinks and emissions. It shows how this "sink failure" of the oceans and forests can be slowed with faster contraction of carbon emissions, and therefore the interconnection of the model systems is used to calculate the projected atmospheric carbon. This, unfortunately, cannot be a solution to global carbon emissions because of the increasing ocean acidity and the degradation of forests since human habitation began to expand thousands of years ago, and this has rapidly accelerated beginning with the industrial revolution. The only means of keeping the carbon from crossing the tipping point of 450 ppmv is to reduce all carbon emissions to zero by 2050, according to this model and protecting the planet from "sink failure". This point is emphasized by the David Suzuki Foundation, which highlights the nature of the planet's deteriorating carbon sinks.

In addition to this debate, there is now an added factor that has been documented in the northern arctic area, the collapse of the ice shelves and the release of methane as a result of the warming induced by human activities. This is not yet factored into the climate models that have been used as a basis for developing a global agreement about carbon emissions, thus they are completely flawed to this extent. It appears that we are facing a runaway climate change scenario very soon because of this planetary response to escalating warming, which destroys the very "carbon sinks" that we are relying upon.

It's imperative that the people of this planet move to zero emissions by the target date of 2050, with a rapid contraction of emissions in place by 2020 for all countries.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Year of Storms

We're seeing a series of massive, deadly storms in the midwest, and it's just the beginning of summer. Tornadoes, floods and hurricanes occurring over and over; the atmosphere is unleashing tremendous energies. Storms in Europe are creating unprecedented flooding. The Nation Institute, via TomDispatch.com, has posted an article by Rebecca Solnit, which is in dialogue with Bill McKibben's writings on planet Eaarth.

Her article at Tom Dispatch makes timely comments about how human civilization responds in the face of large disasters, now bearing down upon us more and more often because of climate change. The consequences of climate change are a lance aimed straight at the heart of our oil-supported structure in the United States and now across the globe:

Cheap oil requires our insanely expensive military whose annual budget amounts to nearly as much as the rest of the world’s militaries put together, a crazy foreign policy, and in the past decade, a lot of death in the Middle East. It also pushes along the destruction of nearly everything via climate-change, a cost so terrible that the word “unaffordable” doesn’t begin to describe it. “Unimaginable” might, except that the point of all the data and data projections is to imagine it clearly enough so that we react to it.

Bill McKibben, writing in the New York Review of Books on Nov.5, 2009 makes his usual succinct comments on her previous book "A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster". They have proven to be prescient.

"Its also time to ask another question, which is what the future will actually feel like once we don't prevent global warming. That is, what will it be like to live not on the relatively stable planet that civilization has known throughout the ten thousand years of the Holocene, but on the amped-up and careening planet we're quickly creating? With her remarkable and singular book, "A Paradise Built in Hell", Rebecca Solnit has thought harder about the answer to that question than anyone else. And she's done it almost entirely with history - she's searched out the analogues to our future in our past, examining the human dynamics of natural disasters from the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 up through Hurricane Katrina...Solnit's argument, at bottom, is that human nature is not necessarily what we imagine it to be, and the even in very extreme cases, people are cooperative."

This challenge that arises to meet us now may perhaps be the very Frankenstein monster that we've created - which will force us into a moral stance on the lifestyle that we've built -  a lifestyle which violates the physics of natural processes on our planet.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Heads Up

Al Gore is back with his Climate Reality Project. Today's e-blast out to the world goes as follows:

Seven years ago, I was honored to have my presentation on climate change turned into a movie called An Inconvenient Truth. To this day, I am consistently gratified when people tell me that the film opened their eyes to the climate crisis, and that it has encouraged and inspired acts of leadership, big and small, around the world.

In honor of the seventh anniversary of the film's release, I'm pleased to invite you to join me for an interactive Google Hangout with my good friend Jeff Skoll tomorrow, June 11, at 2pm EDT. We will talk about some key developments in the climate effort since the film originally came out. Most importantly, I want to invite you to participate in shaping the conversation by submitting your questions and watching the Hangout here.

Also, as part of the anniversary celebration, The Climate Reality Project has helped put together this list of ten actions you can take right now on climate change. I hope that you'll visit the site, share it with your friends, and get inspired!
Sincerely,   Al Gore

And in back of this, the Obama administration is rounding up the troops for a full-court press against the climate-deniers. The organizers' website with the ammo and the targets are at the Organizing for Action site.

There seems to be a concerted effort now with respect to getting climate change on the political table ahead of efforts to participate in global climate negotiations. The recent meeting in Rancho Mirage, CA, between Obama and the Chinese President Xi Jinping (as opposed to the Dec. 2009 unofficial meeting between the two countries) has resulted in serious progress on an agreement to fight climate change that is realistic, and not a result of both nations being triangulated into false positions as anti-emissions-cap players. Both countries' leaders want to control emissions and have put positions on the table only to have them portrayed as globally uncooperative because they don't agree to basically a shakedown by third-world countries for money as a front to corporate protection of profits. The proposed cap-and-trade system is part of that, since it allows continued emissions under the cover of "allowances" that feeds a system of monetary transfer. This is why the math isn't being done right on the emissions caps, they're being set high enough to allow for this game by the European governments, but unfortunately that doesn't bring the carbon levels in the atmosphere down enough to avert the destruction of climate change. It's politics and money again. Still.

The climate negotiations have to based upon a fair and scientific system, otherwise they'll simply collapse. Time is of the essence.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Counting It

How can our system of extreme consumerism be tamed so that we can live within our planetary means? How do we save the trees? One approach is to look at the whole picture and begin to take into account the costs of consumerism.

The Prince of Wales is now ramping up his 20-year charity patronage to emphasize the impact that consumerism is having on the planet's natural resources an forests. He's started up a new initiative called Accounting for Sustainability that frames this problem as an economic crisis as well.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) is a global initiative focused on drawing attention to the economic benefits of biodiversity. It has produced a study that begins to measure the value of the planetary ecosystem. The study, "Natural Capital at Risk: The Top 100 Externalities of Business” was commissioned by the TEEB for Business Coalition to identify the world’s largest natural capital risks and opportunities for business and their investors. The report, authored by Trucost, quantifies environmental externalities such as damages from climate change, pollution, land conversion and depletion of natural resources, across business sectors and at a regional level. It demonstrates that the profits of high impact business sectors would be wiped out if the costs of environmental damage and unsustainable natural resource use are accounted for. This report highlights the urgent need for businesses to manage natural capital assets and reduce liabilities. Businesses and investors can take account of natural capital impacts in decision making to manage risk and gain competitive advantage.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity provides a detailed breakdown of the parts of the ecosystem that provides the life-sustaining sources of water, air and food. This is the kind of accounting that takes place with Natural Capital, which doesn't leave most of the impacts of energy, transportation and production off the books.

The study is an important benchmark for business, but how does it get put into play by the business community and the corporate sector? There needs to be a call to action made by the people who purchase these products and services, who rely on the natural world for their existence, after all is said and done. One person raising awareness of this entire interconnected web of existence is Billy Talen.

In his book, The End of the World, Talen has written sermons to wake people up about the climate crisis, destruction of biodiversity, and catastrophic consumption orchestrated by global capitalism. He is taking the argument to the people, using creative methods in his activism to wake people up to the destructiveness of our modern existence. He has partnered with groups of people to get the message out:

There is a quiet revolution taking place right now. It’s a hell of a challenge. Forestry scientists know that we are experiencing a worldwide die-off of trees. Forests store 40 percent of the CO2 on land. They are the great cleaners of the air because the greenhouse gases are held inside trees. The forests all over the world are dying and the scientists do not know how to tell people they are stuck with that big false beautiful movie of the forest. To reconstitute the forests and the sea we will have to make the big banks back down. They are decimating us by industrial agriculture, financing five massive hydroelectric dams like in Chile near the Pascua and Baker Rivers. That development that destroys the forests and the planet earth must be stopped. Hallelujah. Amen.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dr Hansen Explains It All For You

Dr. Hansen gave a video lecture at NASA on May 21, 2013, in a 45 minute presentation with question and answer. His presentation gave an overview of his approach, and how he got involved in climate change and what his motivation is now for speaking out on a very complex science issue. He's now taking a very public stance on climate change after retiring from his position at NASA in order to speak out with the necessary urgency and clarity. He has developed extensive resources on climate change and developed research papers with his team of scientists. A Ted Talk video from February 2012 documents his reasons for retiring from NASA to raise the climate alarm with the public and US government policymakers.

 What this slide above is showing is that coal and unconventional recovery of oil and gas are not acceptable as future sources of energy, and along with that, methane hydrate processes which add to the forcing of climate change.

There will need to be a very drastic and immediate change in the way that the global economy operates and procures the necessary energy to keep our systems of commerce and trade in place without the destruction of the ecosphere.

Update 2/10/19: Dr. Hansen's website with his papers, maps and publications is here.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Pretty Simple

Sometimes the clarity of very simple strategies for reducing the carbon footprint of the built environment deserve a heads up. An example here is from the new 2030 Palette blog. As you can see from the photo, the roof of this structure is kind of a unique approach to sunshade principles as well as the strategic use of solar insolation for heating purposes.

While this model is not appropriate for high wind areas or those susceptible to hurricane forces, the design of this residence adapts key passive strategies to conserve energy. The roof itself is separate from the much more massive concrete structure, which is oriented facing north. At the same time it shades the heavy concrete structure from the sun (heat of mass), it collects rainwater that runs off into storage barrels on the south side that are exposed to direct sun which heats the water in the barrels. The shade overhang provides outdoor living spaces as well as keeping the direct solar gain from being absorbed by the concrete structure, while providing necessary ventilation space. It's a very elegant and simple solution that integrates the structure into the site and minimizes its energy consumption.

The 2030 Challenge is one that has been adopted by the building industry independently of global agreements and carbon reduction goals, primarily because of the recognition that these agreements are lacking, and are apt to be too little too late.

We can't wait any longer for the endless global negotiations to resolve the many small actions that must take place sooner rather than later, and establish an ethic of living within the natural means and boundaries of the energy in the ecosphere. This energy balance does not include carbon that is extracted from long-buried fossil fuels, which should have stayed entombed in the earth's mantle.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Reinventing Fire in China

The video above is from Chief Scientist Amory Lovins and Manager of the Office of the Chief Scientist Clay Stranger who discuss their project that involves an international energy development project between the Rocky Mountain Institute, located in California's Bay Area, and China. As they put it, any solutions for climate and the global energy economy must flow through China. RMI's international partnership "Reinventing Fire: China" will investigate the economic, environmental, and social implications of rapidly deploying renewables and energy efficiency technologies in China. The project's analysis and recommendations will offer an opportunity to influence—at a national level—arguably the most important energy economy in the world alongside that of the U.S.

This is possible because of the China Trade Agreement established between Sacramento and Beijing, following on the heels of the international agreement with China signed by US Secretary of State John Kerry on April 14 of this year:

The agreement could impact Canada and the growth of the oilsands where companies predict their expansion will triple their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. This expansion is largely dependent on the building of pipelines such as the Keystone XL to Texas, which remains a hotly contested issue in the U.S. where it has become the symbol of the struggle for strong action on climate change. Public hearings on the pipeline open in Nebraska Thursday.

If the U.S. and China significantly ratchet up the level of climate action, “that would give the lie to the Harper government’s claims that its policies are in line with those of other developed countries,” Meyer said. “We’ll have to see how this plays out, of course.  Talk is cheap, but the US-China statement, in particular, heightens expectations for something significant later this year.”

This is happening because, as a Scientific American article points out:

Speaking at a clean energy seminar in Beijing, Kerry warned that climate change is happening at a faster rate than scientists predicted 20 years ago and said the United States and China have a particular responsibility to rein in greenhouse gases.

"China and the United States represent the world's two biggest economies, we represent the world's two largest consumers of energy, and we represent the two largest emitters of global greenhouse gases. So if any two nations come to this table with an imperative for action, it is us," Kerry said.

Update: China's legal and cultural systems may prove to be problematic in these agreements. The culture is above the law.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Climate Negotiations in Bonn

UNFCCC International negotiations on climate change strategies concluded last week in Bonn. Writing ahead of the conference, the WRI.org reported on the main issues of concern for the structure of a future international climate agreement in 2015.

The final decision by all countries at COP 17 in Durban recognized that current GHG-reduction pledges are not adequate to keep global average temperature below 2 degrees C (the limit science says is necessary to prevent climate change’s most disastrous impacts). In Bonn, experts will put forth new ideas on how to ratchet up ambition in the short-term. Country representatives will also highlight best practices and success stories, in particular, the role that land use could play for enhanced mitigation and adaptation policies.

The April Bonn session is scheduled to discuss more specifically the core elements for establishing an international climate action agreement by 2015. We’ll be looking for clarity and answers across five key elements:

“Spectrum of commitments”
Ratchet mechanism
Architecture of the Agreement

Legal form

This negotiation session did not provide big breakthroughs, but fleshed out possible approaches to the final agreement structure. Fairness and equity are prime concerns. The Daily Kos reported that "the rare focus on a single track of negotiations (as opposed to multiple tracks going on at once) seems to have allowed countries to hold more productive conversations about the issues at hand without getting stymied by how various pieces will fit together." The UNFCCC's May 3 press briefing is here.

Business Green has reported that one concrete development from Bonn was the launch of a new prototype registry, managed by the UNFCCC, which will provide a central database for recording all the "Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions" taken by governments:

The searchable database is intended to make it easier for countries to track each others' progress towards cutting emissions and share policy best practices. "I am proud that the UNFCCC Secretariat has delivered this registry tool for Parties, which is designed specifically to empower developing countries and providers of support to identify greater partnership opportunities for mitigation," said Figueres. "They can then implement greater action together." The database could also prove a useful resource for businesses, providing them with a snapshot of how different countries are promoting climate action and clean technologies through policies and investment.

A Global Call for Climate Action is being undertaken by TckTckTck on their website, and their project with respect to the Bonn conference is the "Adopt a Negotiator" project, which represents the voice of the younger generation left out of the negotiations:

So why do we leave the most important decisions in the world to a few hundred people? Why doesn’t everyone know about it? Why aren’t we all having our say? And what can we do about it? These are the questions we asked ourselves. And we came up with an answer: Adopt a Negotiator. We thought it was time to let our leaders know we are here and we are watching them and we are going to take our future into our own hands.

It's an excellent place to track the issues and the dialog around the Climate Change negotiations. They're linked to another great site, RTCC, which banners the consensus that the world is on track to break the 2 degree Celsius temperature change barrier, which leads us all into irreversible climate change if carbon emissions are not drastically reduced.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Closer Look at Pork

It's so bad it's painful to look at. I've deconstructed it before, but now it's worse, with our Governor now backing the California High Speed Rail (HSR) as part of his legacy. "Moonbeam" is appropriate for this one as well, it won't give him a "re-do".

The California HSR project is a conceptually flawed design that's basically laid out by "let's make a deal" strategies. Let's look at the pit stops on the first leg, starting at a San Francisco terminus:

Palo Alto
San Jose
Los Angeles

This is not a high speed rail design, it's a Metrolink system (choo-choo train) at best; perhaps 4 hours transit under good conditions. This is a gerrymandered design by politicians, not engineers, which won't comply with the bond requirement to make the transit in 2.5 hours. HSR doesn't make pit stops, it's a very large machine that requires intensive engineering and very high maintenance on straight routes. Needless to say, it can't safely share tracks with regular rail, as is now proposed. The land has not been purchased yet, and many lawsuits are brewing over the "taking" of farmland, among many other issues, because the route cuts across acres of farmland, rather than paralleling the I-5.

The bids are questionable and costs are not reliable. The low bidder has not been found to perform on previous projects. Newspaper editorials recommend scuttling the project for these reasons. The Reason Foundation has issued a report for this design citing ballooning subsidies that haven't been financially thought through. It is, overall, a sad example of patronage.

The solution for an HSR system is to build out regional transit in SF area and LA area with light rail and busses, which can be accommodated with existing facilities, stations and routes. This is the more appropriate development of urban transportation systems. They all need to work together at the right scale, and the connection to the big HSR system can happen at the two end points, just as they do in European systems. The route should run adjacent to the I-5 highway which already has clear right-of-ways and grading.

Spare the taxpayers from this pork, the state's already broke.

Update 3/15/16:  Calif. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband wins CA rail contract

Update 10/3/16:  Jerry Brown’s Train Wreck

Update 11/22/17: Another setback for the bullet train

Update 11/24/18: Cost overruns caused by poor planning, contract mismanagement 

Update 9/9/20: Newsom's bullet train faces rising costs, sinking funding

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day 2013

In the face of the shenanigans around the climate change issue, it has become critical for action as more voices speak out about our unstable global climate, the dying natural world and the lack of potable water and fresh air as global resources.

Disturbing is the fact that those who are working through the process of negotiation and goal-setting on human emissions limits have abandoned any position that creates backlash that they don't know how to address.  I can see why it's turned into acting like politicians with endless justifications for that, but I think that's fatal in the case of establishing bounds on carbon emissions - which is the whole point of the global exercise! Someone has to forge leadership under the hardest problem the human race has ever inflicted on itself.

It makes me think of the nuclear brinksmanship of the '60's. How can any kid forget the "dive under the desk" drills that were pathetically useless but made people think that somehow they were taking effective action? That was just crowd control. This is starting to look like the same kind of an exercise, but the stakes are far, far higher and it can't go on like this. We are looking at a future of resource shocks and global conflict over diminishing worldwide resources that were initially exacerbated by global trade and cheap oil.

Where is the leadership, the intelligence and the solution-making consensus? Somebody over there at UNFCCC has got to get a grip. There are models out there for the  Precautionary Principle, even entire adopted practices and regulations, it's not that hard and is a very effective "standard of care" that would tamp down a lot of criticism. It's like the Hippocratic Oath, "do no harm" - which is where professional standards of care come from. The UNFCCC doesn't even know it exists, apparently.

What folks are failing to understand is that decisions and policies forged under the Precautionary Principle can always shift as the science and understanding of all the complex factors become more clear, because there's room to maneuver and accommodate more information. This kind of a position is on solid ground. The way they're operating now, it's already too late because they're ignoring scientific reality to accommodate politics.

That's why the US is going its own way, but that doesn't work on a global basis, as has been abundantly made clear; a consensus is required for this to work as a solution to a global problem. Maybe a General Eisenhower or MacArthur will emerge out of all this before too much longer and drag everybody in that direction.

For example, there's a call to action in Orion magazine. California is facing definite climate changes that require dealing with emissions. Gorbachev is now urging global action because of the failure to address climate change:

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says that among his top hopes for 2013 is reaching a new agreement on climate change. Two-decade-old U.N. climate talks have so far failed in their goal of reducing the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions that a vast majority of scientists says are warming the planet.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Trade Leverages Carbon Caps

The recent China Trade agreement by the newly-established California China Trade Office in Shanghai illustrates why California's progress in dealing with carbon emissions - in concert with our huge Chinese business trading population in Southern California that lives part-time in China - is creating a situation where carbon emission reduction is OK with Wall Street and Main Street and an "economic formula" embedded in climate agreements is unnecessary. It's already going ahead without any of that, and the US Government is looking to California for this leadership, as my blog post from the other day talks about - using the REDD program for carbon offsets in foreign countries.

An LA Times article goes down a little further into the dynamics of this emerging relationship:

China is more open to help from California than from elsewhere, experts say.

"California is perceived in China as a leader in cleaning up the environment without any ulterior motive," said Yunshi Wang, director of the China Center for Energy and Transportation at UC Davis. "If these requests or demands come from Washington or Brussels, there's some attitude in China that it's some kind of effort to slow them down economically."

This, coming from the largest emitter of carbon dioxide on the planet.

Positioning California to attract a growing share of China’s massive foreign investment pool and bolstering California-China trade, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., the Bay Area Council and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) opened the California-China Office of Trade and Investment. This is the official public-private program  between the State of California and China, and it follows more than a year of significant diplomatic and business exchanges between the two entities. China has been investing in California businesses and properties for years, and this agreement is a formalization of that relationship.

Outlined in the California Newswire are some of the specifics of the intent to establish non-binding carbon reduction goals:

To enhance cooperation in the area of low carbon development and based on the Memorandum of Understanding to Enhance Cooperation on Climate Change, Energy and Environment between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the United States of America signed in July 2009, the Government of Guangdong Province and the Government of the State of California have reached the following understandings:

1. Purpose
This purpose of this Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is to support efforts between the Parties to help each achieve its low carbon development goals. This MOU establishes a fundamental framework for the Participants to carry out pragmatic exchange and cooperation based on the principles of equality and mutual benefits and is not intended to give rise to legal binding rights or obligations.

This unique carbon-trade aspect of the trade agreement is meant to provide the means by which China can develop its clean technologies and infrastructure via a transfer of trade with the USA. The NRDC has been involved with developing this interlinked strategy for many years.

George Skelton takes issue with this relationship in The Capitol Journal, citing corruption and lack of accountability with infrastructure project in China. He doesn't feel that California should adopt their practices of steamroller development without citizen participation. I'd say we're already seeing that kind of thing here with development on the upswing and the economy in recovery. It remains to be seen how this relationship plays out.