Sierra Daily: July 2011
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25 posts from July 2011

Jul 20, 2011

Global Warming: BRING IT ON! Part 2

Rust never sleeps, and neither does the Climate Chaos Caucus in Congress. Thanks again to Think Progress, here's a new list of the riders being attached to various must-pass appropriation bills--the apparent aim of which is to speed the onset of calamitous climate change and to frustrate any attempt to remedy the situation:

HIGH-CARBON FUELS: A rider in the Agriculture appropriation (Sec. 749), the Military Construction appropriation (Sec. 417), and the Energy and Water appropriation (Sec. 616) offered by Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) would reverse Section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act and allow the federal government to purchase dirtier fuels for its vehicles. The rider says the government can buy fuels like liquid coal even though current law forbids purchasing alternative fuels that emit more carbon pollution than conventional fuels do. Adopted each time on voice vote.

WEATHERIZATION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: A rider in the Energy and Water appropriation (Sec. 617) offered by Rep. Todd Young (R-IN) would block implementation of the Weatherization Assistance Program. Adopted on voice vote.

LIGHTING STANDARDS: A rider in the Energy and Water appropriation (Sec. 623) offered by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) would prohibit spending to enforce the incandescent lighting efficiency standards in the 2007 energy law signed by President George W. Bush. Adopted on voice vote.

INTERNATIONAL CLEAN ENERGY FUNDING: A rider in the Energy and Water appropriation (Sec. 628) offered by Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) would prohibit spending on international activities at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy of the Department of Energy except for Israel. Approved by a House vote of 236-185.

AGRIBUSINESS CESSPOOL GREENHOUSE POLLUTION: A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 429) offered by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) would prevent the EPA from requiring the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.

POWER PLANT GREENHOUSE POLLUTION: A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 431) offered by Simpson would prevent the EPA from limiting carbon pollution from power plants and other stationary sources.

AUTOMOTIVE GREENHOUSE POLLUTION: A rider in the Interior and Environment appropriation offered by Rep. Steve Austria (R-OH) would block the EPA from setting new mileage standards for cars based on greenhouse pollution and from allowing California to do so. Passed committee by a vote of 27-20.

NOAA CLIMATE SERVICE: In the Commerce, Justice, and Science committee report, “It is the Committee’s intention that no funds shall be used to create a Climate Service at NOAA.”

ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS CLIMATE READINESS: Language in the Energy and Water appropriation committee report offered by Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) prohibits spending on response to climate change in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects, with $4.9 million cut from their budget and transferred to the Spending Reduction Account. Approved by a House vote of 218-191.

AGRICULTURE CLIMATE READINESS: A rider in the Agriculture appropriation (Sec. 755) blocks the Agriculture Department (USDA) from carrying out its Policy Statement on Climate Adaptation. The rider by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) would prevent the USDA from even assessing what impacts climate change might have on farmers, foresters and other landholders. Approved by a House vote of 238-179.

HOMELAND SECURITY CLIMATE READINESS: A provision in the Homeland Security appropriation (H.R. 2017, Sec. 707) offered by Rep. John Carter (R-TX) prevents the Department of Homeland Security from running its Climate Change Adaptation Task Force. Approved by a House vote of 242-180. 

And here's one they missed, courtesy of James Fallows:

    THE ENERGY AND WATER FUNDING BILL FOR 2012: Zeroes out or restricts funding for the US-Chinese Clean Energy Research Center and other Department of Energy international programs (except those with Israel). In particular, it cuts funding for joint US-Chinese research into "clean-coal" technologies, a particular enthusiasm of Fallows. Approved by a House vote of 219-196.

--Paul Rauber

Heat Wave Denialism

We're told here in San Francisco (current temperature 73 degrees) that much of the rest of the country is suffering from a terrible heat wave. As it does with most evidence contrary to its favorite hobby horses, Rupert Murdoch's Fox News is silent on any possible connection to climate change (see Media Matters, "It's Hot! But Fox Only Talks About Global Warming When It's Snowing"). Rush Limbaugh, however, does Fox one better in suggesting that the heat wave is a product of a government conspiracy. Watch:


And here's the Weather Channel's current look at prevailing temperatures:


So who are you gonna believe, Rush or your own lying thermometer?

--Paul Rauber

Jul 19, 2011

Taku Very Much

Today the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in northwestern British Columbia signed agreements with the provincial government that protect more than 7 million acres from logging and designate more than 2 million acres as parkland. The effort is the culmination of a land-use planning effort by Utah-based Round River Conservation Studies and the tribe.

Sierra gave readers a look at the little-known Taku River in 1998, when Natives and environmentalists were fighting the reopening of the long shuttered Tulsequah Chief Mine, a source of gold, silver, zinc, lead, copper, and plenty of mine waste. Alas, in a classic case of  “you win some, you lose some,” work to reopen the mine – delayed by an earlier owner’s 2009 bankruptcy -- began this summer.

--Reed McManus

Image: Round River Conservation Studies/Bryan Evans

History's Greatest Monster


Yes, Lambchop. Or rather, lamb chops. According to the Meat Eater's Guide to Climate Change and Health, a new study by our friends at the Environmental Working Group, lamb is the surprise villain when it comes to the climate effects of various foodstuffs.

Lamb has the greatest impact, generating 39.3 kg (86.4 lbs) of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) for each kilo eaten – about 50 percent more than beef. While beef and lamb generate comparable amounts of methane and require similar quantities of feed, lamb generates more emissions per kilo in part because it produces less edible meat relative to the sheep’s live weight. Since just one percent of the meat consumed by Americans is lamb, however, it contributes very little to overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Cows aren't off the hook, though, as beef generates twice the emissions of pork, four times that of chicken, and 13 times as much as beans. Here's the bad news for carnivores in graphic form (click to expand):


Note the other surprise result of the study: Cheese, the standby of many a vegetarian table, comes in right behind beef and ahead of pork, salmon, and poultry. Meatless Monday, here we come!

Jul 18, 2011

Don't You Just Adore Cat Stories?

5_Julie-Larsen-Maher-0271-Grand-Cayman-Blue-Iguana-6-11.568 Back in 2002, reptile researchers realized that the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana, which grows to five feet long and usually lives well into its sixties, was on its last legs. Thanks to feral cats and development of their scrub-land habitat, only about a dozen were surviving. Today, thanks to a captive breeding program (which protects the lizards until they are large enough to fend off marauding pussies), some 500 roam. "They are striking animals, turquoise blue with red eyes, but they were almost a forgotten animal,”  conservation biologist Fred Burton, head of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, told USA Today. "Cats, feral cats, were really the problem. We have them everywhere and these are very hungry animals." Within two years, researchers hope the iguana population will top 1,000.

--Reed McManus

Image: Wildlife Conservation Society/Julie Larsen Maher

Leaf vs. Volt

Following on last year's endearing polar-bear ad, Nissan is now hyping its all-electric Leaf with the clever "Gas Powered Everything":


Sharp viewers will note a subtle dig at 0:44: The car the sadsack gas guy is filling up is a (gas-electric hybrid) Chevy Volt. All-electric is the enviro dream, of course (especially if it's powered by your rooftop solar panels), but if you're short on capital, it's possible that a fuel-efficient conventional automobile might be the right choice--a possibility pondered today by Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard.  

While the Sierra Club isn't taking sides in this groovier-than-thou rivalry, the Club has joined the United Steelworkers, the National Electric Drag Racing Association, Zero Motorcycles and scores of other organizations in calling for greater state and federal support for advanced plug-in vehicles. May the best car win.

--Paul Rauber


Jul 15, 2011

Another Good Reason to Hug a Tree

According to the most comprehensive assessment yet of the role of forests in storing carbon, between 1990 and 2007 the planet’s forests absorbed about 2.4 billion tons of carbon per year, the equivalent of about one-third of the world’s fossil-fuel emissions. Published on July 13 in Science, "A Large and Persistent Carbon Sink in the World’s Forests" also says that the re-growth of trees in previously cleared lands absorbed an additional 1.6 billion tons of carbon. “What this research tells us is that forests play a much larger role as carbon sinks as a result of tree growth and forest expansion,” says Dr. Pep Canadell, Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project and a co-author of the study.

Okay, we can’t publish a Sierra Daily blog item without some disappointing news, now can we? Between 1990 and 2007, deforestation, especially in the tropics, released 2.9 billion tons of carbon annually.


Image: FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010

--Reed McManus

Global Warming: BRING IT ON!

Not content with flirting with economic chaos, the Tea Party crowd in the House of Representatives is actively courting climate chaos as well. How else to explain this series of upcoming votes (courtesy of Think Progress)?

– Rep. Sandy Adams (R-FL) amendment to prohibit websites that teach children about energy efficiency

– Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) amendment to prohibit the Department of Energy from granting loan guarantees to support carbon capture and sequestration practices and technologies, including agricultural and forestry practices that store and sequester carbon (Energy Policy Act of 2005 Sec. 1703(b)(5))

– Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) amendment to prohibit spending on international program activities (except for Israel) at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy of the Department of Energy

– Rep. Todd Young (R-IN) amendment to kill implementation of the Weatherization Assistance Program (Recovery Act of 2009 Sec. 407)

– Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) amendment to kill funding for Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy

– Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) amendment to kill funding for the Advanced Technology Vehicles program of the Department of Energy (Energy Policy Act of 2005 Sec. 505)

– Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) amendment to kill funding for the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy account under the Department of Energy

That's on top of today's voice vote prohibiting funding for enforcement of incandescent-lighting efficiency standards (signed into law in 2007 by George W. Bush!), and yesterday's vote to allow the government to buy super-high carbon fuels like tar-sands oil or liquified coal. And not to mention their stalwart support for giant subsidies to the oil industry! If there were a group of legislators dedicated to bringing on global warming as rapidly as possible, they would follow exactly this legislative agenda.

--Paul Rauber

UPDATE: The House just voted down Adams' proposal to keep kids ignorant about energy efficiency by 181-233.

Jul 14, 2011

The Terrible Ten

Go here for Salon’s entertaining, insightful, and, yes, frustrating story about Southwestern legislators sweating through one of the worst droughts ever recorded while holding fast to their positions that there’s nothing to all that climate-change hocus-pocus. Follow up with the online magazine's earlier analysis of why the media shies away from even mentioning the “c” word when it comes to discrete events like the Southwest’s “dry spell.”

-- Reed McManus

Image: Salon

Giving Up On the Magic Pony Solution


American Electric Power, one of the nation's largest utilities, is giving up on the chimerical project of making coal environmentally acceptable by capturing the carbon dioxide it produces when burned. Today's New York Times reports that AEP is pulling the plug on its plans to build a full scale carbon-capture and sequestration (CCS) plant at an existing coal-fired power plant at Mountaineer, Virginia.

“We are placing the project on hold until economic and policy conditions create a viable path forward,” said Michael G. Morris, chairman of American Electric Power, based in Columbus, Ohio, one of the largest operators of coal-fired generating plants in the United States. He said his company and other coal-burning utilities were caught in a quandary: they need to develop carbon-capture technology to meet any future greenhouse-gas emissions rules, but they cannot afford the projects without federal standards that will require them to act and will persuade the states to allow reimbursement.

So despite the Energy Department's offer to cover half the cost of the pilot plant, Congress' failure to pass a climate bill left AEP with no incentive to spend any money on the project. The Times portrays this as "a severe blow to efforts to rein in emissions responsible for global warming," which is true in a way (Joe Romm at Climate Progress has much more here)--but only if CCS could be shown to work at a price anyone would be willing to pay. Romm cites a 2008 Harvard study that concluded that the cost of electricity produced by CCS plants would be about 20 cents per kWh--a level at which wind and solar would be truly competitive. Why then invest in a Magic Pony to rescue the coal industry? Sounds to me like an invitation to get Beyond Coal.

--Paul Rauber 

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