Tuesday, February 26, 2013

California's Climate Challenge

Ellen Hanak, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California says that the state has taken a leadership role in global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but much remains to be done to reduce the state's vulnerability to climate change. It's building on its previous efforts to develop momentum on climate change issues and carbon reduction standards in concert with UN goals, a policy that is currently missing at the Federal level.

The state is taking this issue very, very seriously, and many resources are emerging that are supported by state and private efforts to forge the way forward in addressing this problem. The Public Policy Institute of California outlines resources and events on climate change policy. The California Energy Commission has resources for climate tools that deal specifically with the impacts of climate change on the state, its geography, its weather and its water supply. Calfornia is also setting up its system for GHG emissons tracking in its emerging Cap-and-Trade model, and this page covers the local regulatory environment that has emerged from years of prior legislation.

It links to California's Climate Change Portal that has the 7-part video series from the NRC. The National Research Council has developed a series of videos that explain how scientists have arrived at the state of knowledge about current climate change and its causes.This information supports the climate change thesis that we've seen playing out over the last 100 years, based upon science and data gathering.

So there's a very strong, emerging effort to focus on ways to deal with this by the state, which is also moving to the Federal level via California Senator Barbara Boxer's joint effort with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont to get bills passed at the Federal level which fully addresses this issue, called the Climate Protection Act and the Sustainable Energy Act. They hope to get the bills on the floor of the Senate in the summer, hopefully with backing from the Obama administration. So it should be an interesting summer on The Hill.

The kicker in all this, as the Grist article linked above points out, is that the bill contains a version of the “fee and dividend” idea that is a favorite of NASA climate scientist James Hansen and climate activist Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. Unfortunately this structure allows the carbon-fuel industries to keep on polluting because the cap-and-trade structure presumes levels of carbon allowances that will not stop the climate change impact. The reason? The funding behind McKibben, that of the Rockefellers and other interests that need to preserve their global investment structures in fossil fuels. That then becomes the deal brought to the table by the USA during global climate negotiations in the future.

That, unfortunately, doesn't reflect science, but rather corporate profits, which will complicate climate negotiations with the rest of the countries on this planet, depending upon how the consensus evolves around the actual science of reducing carbon emissions. There's many ways to achieve consensus on emissions entitlements, but time is of the essence because of the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide that the planet has now.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Inevitable?

The climate rally in Washington, DC on Feb. 17 was moderately successful, with thousands showing up to protest the Keystone Pipeline project which is increasingly backed by governments that initially opposed it on environmental grounds. High-profile arrests were made, particularly Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune – the first time in the group's 120-year history that a club leader was arrested in an act of civil disobedience. The club's board of directors approved the action as a sign of its opposition to the $7 billion pipeline, which would carry oil derived from tar sands in western Canada to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast. Tarsands Action has a summary of the coverage of this protest.

The energy industry payback is difficult to fight. With the US as a major producer of climate change due to carbon fuels it's imperative to put public policy measures into place that deal with this. The Keystone project has become the focus in the battle between the public and the oil industry profits. There is no free enterprise in oil, the US doesn't benefit; it is traded on the international market. All the world's oil and gas are tied up by multi-national corporations. The embedded profit in oil and gas distribution and refining mean that no matter how much is extracted, the price of oil would not go down, it's controlled by a market structure. This market structure will direct income whichever way it is necessary to get its projects put through, hence the influence in government approvals. This is playing out now in the US, with the ratcheting up of domestic oil and gas production as has been touted by the Obama administration.

The realities of this market have been pointed out by Bill McKibben's "do the math" approach that talks about the profits embedded in oil and gas that have not yet been extracted. If you look at how the market is structured and how the industrial players are mapping out their oil development strategies, it's apparent that the industry profit formulas and the way that royalties are distributed are key to the financial health of many governments and companies in North America.

Take a look at how oil and gas exploration and extraction are analyzed for production in the US. The map here (pdf file) is very interesting, it shows key onshore crude oil production basins and their potential for producing oil starting in 2014. It makes note of the maturing existing fields, and the new extraction from areas that have not been under energy production yet:

EIA estimates that total U.S. oil production will increase from 6.89 million bbl/d in November 2012 to 8.15 million bbl/d in December 2014 (Figure 2). In the Lower 48 states, excluding the Gulf of Mexico Federal Offshore region (Federal GOM), production is forecast to rise from 4.97 million bbl/d to 6.10 million bbl/d over the same period, representing most of the increase in U.S. oil production. Oil production from offshore fields is expected to resume an upward trajectory as operators intensify exploration and development efforts in the deepwater portions of the Federal GOM. Federal GOM production increases from 1.37 million bbl/d in November 2012 to 1.55 million bbl/d in December 2014. At the same time, EIA expects that the contribution from Alaska and other mature onshore areas in the Lower 48 states will continue to wane over the next two years.

So, as it has already been pointed out, the emissions from the US will only increase due to oil and gas production, yet the financial benefit will go to the multinational companies that are doing the extraction and refining. Once again, privatize the profits, push the damage into the public sector. Somehow this industry cycle must be broken through public policy and financial tax disincentives, which the US has not yet had the resolve to do. Even the "peak oil" phenomenon has not encouraged a shift to renewable energy sources yet, exploration and expensive extraction still create profit in this market. It's time to support an aggressive market restructuring that favors renewable and non-carbon sources that will do far more to change the game than all the political protests could achieve, which is the Al Gore approach.

It remains to be seen whether this will make a difference in the world's energy picture, and thus the salvaging of planetary resources and natural processes.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Win for the Team

 I can only imagine the feelings of key environmental players last night during President obama's State of the Union speech:

"But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it's true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it's too late.

The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."

While it states a clear position on addressing the issue - taking executive action if Congress does not - it left unsaid some of the key moves that have been made by this administration with respect to addressing climate change globally, a call which has been made by many countries, organizations and people across the globe and in the USA. As I've noted, a Bicameral Climate Change Task Force has been established, immediately after Obama's Inauguration in January as a domestic response. Kerry's appointment as Secretary of State bodes well, due to his background in promoting environmental awareness and his deep experience with world governments, as well as the nod to the McCain Lieberman Climate Stewardship Acts.

Al Gore, the Chairman of the Board of The Climate Reality Project and former US Vice President, remains heavily involved behind the scenes in a movement to bring more factors to bear in the climate change argument, with another book tour in the wings. Public activism in the USA is very much focused on the oil and coal industries, with a major nationwide public protest scheduled for Feb. 17, including the Sierra Club, the NRDC, 350.org (Bill McKibben), League of Conservation Voters and a networked public group through Change.org, the White House mechanism for public engagement. The Climate Action Partnership has been active among the corporations as a means to take climate change seriously, and adapt their business models to sustainable activities and restoration of natural processes.

The science press, as well as NASA, are clearly calling for global response around the substantial reduction of carbon emissions (GHG's) because of the critical nature of current weather events and deteriorating ecosystems and oceans. If anything, the impacts of climate change have been underestimated. Europe's observations on climate change have added to the dataset on climate change due to carbon emissions, most recently from the Cryosat satellite mission, based in University College, London.

All of this is central to a global climate change agreement negotiation, which has possibly passed the critical point of preventing drastic climate change due to the success of the fossil fuel lobby in delaying international agreement on Climate Change, which is without doubt the single most successful campaign in the history of public affairs. To the victor go the spoils - of a devastated planet? Perhaps now some accountability is in order.

It's now time for the necessary course of action to be taken, and a recognition is taking place that all of us are part of this global crisis and its solution.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Recognition Due

Quite a buildup is underway for a major retrospective of the work of Smith and Williams. It's part of an ongoing series, Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., which celebrates the city's modern architectural heritage through exhibitions and programs at arts institutions in and around L.A. starting in April 2013. Supported by grants from the Getty Foundation, Modern Architecture in L.A. is a wide-ranging look at the postwar built environment of the city as a whole, from its famous residential architecture to its vast freeway infrastructure.

UC Santa Barbara is presenting, as part of the Pacific Standard Time Presents series, an exhibition of the work of Smith and Williams. Outside In: the Architecture of Smith and Williams. This collaboration, initiated by the Getty, brings together several local arts institutions for a wide-ranging look at the postwar built environment of the city as a whole, from its famous residential architecture to its vast freeway network, revealing the city’s development and ongoing impact in new ways.

For a brief preview of the upcoming exhibition at UC Santa Barbara and links to the Smith & Williams bibliography and a video of a Shelly Kappe interview of Smith, see John Crosse's "Outside In: The Architecture of Smith and Williams, UC-Santa Barbara Art Museum, April 13 - June 16, 2013 and "Smith & Williams: An Annotated Bibliography".

Debi Howell-Ardila will include an essay on Smith & Williams in the exhibition catalogue. Whitney Smith actually attended USC just as modern reforms were being launched - along with Cal Straub, Conrad Buff, Don Hensman, Pierre Koenig and many other notable architects of the modern period.