Ethanol is a product that would not exist if Congress didn't create an artificial market for it. No one would be willing to buy it... Yet thanks to agricultural subsidies and ethanol producer subsidies, it is now a very big business - tens of billions of dollars that have enriched a handful of corporate interests - primarily one big corporation, ADM. Ethanol does nothing to reduce fuel consumption, nothing to increase our energy independence, nothing to improve air quality."
-John McCain, November 2003
I support ethanol and I think it is a vital, a vital alternative energy source not only because of our dependency on foreign oil but its greenhouse gas reduction effects.
-John McCain, August 2006, Grinnell, Iowa
The widespread use of ethanol from corn could result in nearly twice the greenhouse gas emissions as the gasoline it would replace because of expected land-use changes, researchers concluded Thursday. The study challenges the rush to biofuels as a response to global warming.
-Associated Press, February 7, 2008
McCain has more often than not spoken against subsidies for corn-based ethanol, and he therefore claims he's been consistent on this issue. Sort of. Here's him trying to explain his ethanol flip-floppery to Tim Russert back in 2006, when he was still planning to contest Iowa. Judge for yourself whether you find it convincing.
As for Barack Obama, winning Iowa was the linchpin of his electoral strategy, and pander he did. And Hillary Clinton? She says she opposed ethanol subsidies on behalf of her New York constituents, but supports them as a presidential candidate—big time.
Nobody, in other words, looks good on this issue right now.
President Bush had this to say about climate change tonight:
To build a future of energy security, we must trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs and empower them to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology. Our security, our prosperity, and our environment all require reducing our dependence on oil. Last year, I asked you to pass legislation to reduce oil consumption over the next decade, and you responded. Together we should take the next steps: Let us fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions. Let us increase the use of renewable power and emissions-free nuclear power. Let us continue investing in advanced battery technology and renewable fuels to power the cars and trucks of the future. Let us create a new international clean technology fund, which will help developing nations like India and China make greater use of clean energy sources. And let us complete an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases. This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride. The United States is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change. And the best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more efficient technology.
It's not clear what Bush means by an "international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases." But nearly everyone I talk to about climate change says that binding emissions targets are the only way it's going to happen. Not only that, but technological innovation of the size and scope needed simply won't happen without those binding caps.
Don't believe me? Consider this graph of patent applications related to the control of sulfur dioxide emissions:
What happened in 1970 and 1971, I wonder? (Disclosure: My father is a coauthor of the paper from which the above graphic was taken.)
Last summer I wrote briefly about the "nuclear renaissance," the widely anticipated shift to nuclear power as oil prices skyrocket and concern about global warming increases. Such anticipation has given rise to comments like this one, from the head of the French nuclear giant Areva:
We are facing a nuclear renaissance. Nuclear's not the devil anymore. The devil is coal."
Earlier this month, predictions of a nuclear renaissance were seemingly borne out in Britain, when the government announced its support for the construction of new nuclear power plants in the country to replace the current, aging fleet of reactors. All but one of Britain's nuclear power plants, which together supply 20 percent of the country's electricity, are slated to close by 2023. Because the lead time for constructing new reactors is so long (due to regulatory and construction requirements), a decision to replace the current fleet must be made soon.
The fine print of the British government's decision, though, highlights just how uncertain the nuclear renaissance still is. Energy companies will almost certainly pay the full costs of building and operating the new plants in the UK, but it remains unclear whether this will be economically feasible for them—especially since the government hasn't determined how nuclear waste will be disposed and who will pay for it. But the British public is warming to the idea of nuclear power, so there may be increasing pressure on policymakers to find solutions to these issues.
Not so in Germany, where opposition to nukes remains deeply entrenched. A program to completely phase out the country's nuclear power generation has been in place for seven years. Politicians and the public remain supportive of eliminating nuclear power, but polls show most Germans have no sense of how much their country currently relies on nuclear energy. This may have something to do with Germany's near-fanatical fondness for solar power. Polls also show that 63 percent of Germans believe solar power can provide most of their energy needs over the next three decades. (In fact, only 0.4 percent of cloudy Germany's electricity is solar-generated.)
With prospects for a global nuclear renaissance still murky, it should not be surprising that the big nuclear energy companies like Areva in France or RWE and E.ON in Germany are casting their sights on Britain for new business opportunities. Within Germany, though, we may soon find out whether other types of low-carbon energy sources are ultimately feasible for large-scale electricity production. If not, technologies like nuclear energy or carbon capture for coal power will need a second look.
The evidence from Bangladesh:
One unexpected consequence of the rising water levels in Bangladesh is that river erosion has reduced the number of operable ferry berths, so men wait longer to cross, which in turn increases the demand for prostitution.
The plight of Nauru is as comical as it is sad. Ninety percent of the population is unemployed, and Nauru was recently named the world's fattest country. Now that it's no longer considered a laundromat for Russian mafia cash, the country's only real industry is phosphate mining. But that's dying, too. It's a nasty business that has left a giant crater in the center of the amoeba-like island. One of the government's major sources of income since the phosphate began running out has been hosting Australia's unwanted refugees. And now, that's running out, too. Throw a lack of freshwater and climate change into the mix, and tiny Nauru could be the first nation-state of the modern era to disappear. Nauru's upcoming 40th independence celebration, to be held Jan. 31, is going to be a bittersweet affair.
So, it's especially sad that Taiwan's President Chen Shui-Bian is assiduously wooing Nauru's new president, who just came to power in December after the 18-member Nauruan parliament ousted his predecessor. Nauru is one of only 24 countries that still recognize Taiwan as an independent state. But it's not much of an ally, I'm afraid.
Digerati and creative minds of all stripes and backgrounds are gathered in Maine this week for Pop!Tech, one of the coolest conferences around. (You might call it TED before it got too focused on established celebrities at the expense of bold new ideas.)
This isn't just some talkfest in which smart, important people meet other smart, important people, exchange business cards, and pat each other on the back. Today, Pop!Tech launched a carbon offset initiative with eBay. At a special eBay online store, you can calculate the rough amount of carbon you put into the Earth's atmosphere and then choose between three projects that will not only compensate for your pollution, but also do some good in their own right. Learn more about the initiative here or just head straight to the checkout counter.
James Fallows protests the omnipresent frog-boiling metaphor, often used to describe climate change:
Summary of the undisputed science on this point: If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will either die or else be so badly hurt it will wish that it were dead. If you put it in a pot of tepid water and turn on the heat, the frog will climb out -- if it can -- as soon as it gets uncomfortably warm.
Please! It's mean to the frogs to keep talking about them this way. Plus, it drives me crazy! ("You see, Bobby, here's the real cause of global warming: The earth is attached to the sun by a giant rubber band, and first the band was stretched so now it is snapping back and pulling the sun closer, making us hot.") I will give a reward -- maybe some nice Chinese wine? -- to the person who comes up with the best simple metaphor for the underlying idea: that people get habituated to worsening circumstances that they'd reject if they considered them afresh. Only catch: the metaphor, unlike the frog story, can't violate the known facts. I bet that the whole topic of bad marriages would yield some possibilities.
I spoke today with Jim Rogers, chairman, president, and CEO of Duke Energy, and Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which represents shareholder-owned electrical utilities. Along with leaders of seven other utilities, Rogers announced an initiative "seeking regulatory reform and approvals to increase [the utilities'] investment in energy efficiency by $500 million annually to about $1.5 billion annually." His group's commitment will mean the equivalent of taking nearly 6 million cars off the road, Rogers says, and "avoid the need for 50 500-megawatt peaking power plants."
FP: What is motivating Duke Energy, and why aren't more utilities getting on board?
Jim Rogers: Well, I think the seven utilities who are here today are all very progressive with respect to energy efficiency and addressing the climate issue. And in fact, our entire industry—and Tom Kuhn's here, president of the EEI—as you know, early this year our industry changed our policy position on this and really said, "We support regulation of CO2 consistent with a set of principles." So we are going to work, because we realize our industry has about 35 to 40 percent of all the emissions of CO2, and our assignment is to find a solution. And so we turned our attention to finding the right regulatory framework and finding the right technical solutions so that we can solve the problem.
FP: Does that mean lobbying on Capitol Hill for mandatory emissions caps?
JR: We are now—There's a rich debate going on on the Hill today, and we are very involved.
Tom Kuhn: We're very much in favor of establishing a price for carbon. And I think that we are very strongly behind the whole idea that the only way you're really going to accomplish it ... is also to move these technologies together aggressively. And that means all the technologies, starting with energy efficiency, which is the fifth fuel (but maybe we call it the first fuel, too), but then renewables, moving the transmission that it takes to get the renewables to market; moving nuclear energy forward, which is a zero-emission technology ... We now generate 50 percent of our electricity with coal. If we want to maintain coal as an important option for the future, we've got to move forward aggressively with carbon capture and storage. So, it is the full basket of things that we need to do, the full toolset that we need to make our global climate goals, but we fully agree with the need to get a price for carbon.
JR: President Clinton really said it pretty well today with respect to this whole energy efficiency issue. While we call it the fifth fuel, it's really the number one option right now. And while people and politicians are debating how to move forward with climate regulation and how to develop an international framework, we can go today to work in implementing these energy efficiency regulatory changes and investing in energy efficiency as a way to reduce our carbon footprint right now. And what we need is action right now.
Make no mistake: Self-interest is motivating these guys, who are uneasy about patchwork, state-level regulation and fear the uncertainty that could come from not having a seat at the table. EEI opposes, for instance, a federal renewable portfolio standard that would require a certain percentage of electricity to come from renewable sources. Moreover, it's far from clear what, exactly, the proposed regulatory reforms entail. They certainly deserve scrutiny going forward. Still, the fact that they're seeing the light on energy efficiency is a good thing.
It's not easy defending the Bush administration's delaying tactics on climate change, but U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson made a go of it this morning.
Asked by an aggressive Tom Brokaw about whether Republicans in the U.S. Congress are doing anything on climate change, U.S. Treasury Secretary paused for a second, and conceded dryly that there is a "wide variety of knowledge" on the Hill about the issue.
Asked about a global deal based around binding emissions targets, proposed by Tony Blair, Paulson said, "it just depends on what your expectations are."
Yesterday, I spoke with Reverend Jim Ball, who is president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Movement and a senior advisor to the Evagelical Climate Initiative. Rev. Ball was a panelist here at CGI, and he's a major player in the "creation care" movement, an initiative by some evangelical Christians to influence the climate-change debate:
FP: Where does the evangelical community fit into the U.S. political landscape?
Rev. Jim Ball: Depending on how you define "evangelical," we represent about 25 percent of the population. So, a significant amount. And obviously a good number of us vote and so political leaders tend to take what we do a little seriously. We think we can make an important contribution in terms of getting those who may not listen to other voices. They may not listen to environmentalists or they may not listen to former Vice President Al Gore, but maybe they'll listen to us and give this issue a hearing. We've got Republican governors really taking a lead now. We have Governor Crist [of Florida] and Governor Schwarzenegger [of California]; we have Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who is an evangelical Christian himself, taking bold leadership steps. Governor Pawlenty is now the chair of the National Governor’s Association and he has made energy and climate his issue.
FP: What about President Bush? Have you gotten an audience with him?
JB: Well, no, not literally. He is aware of our work and his senior advisors who deal with the religious community are obviously knowledgeable about what we're doing. But if the president is not ready to take significant action, we're not waiting for him. We're going to continue to move forward. I think the president's getting together of leaders of the 16 large emitters is a positive step. But if all that they agree to do is voluntary measures, we've been doing that for 17 years. We've tried voluntary and it hasn't worked. We need a mandatory approach so that all business decisions that have anything to do with global warming, they understand that there is a bit of a cost there. We believe in the markets. We believe that once you get the price right, that the price really reflects the true cost of what you are doing. The free markets are going to solve this problem, I am totally and utterly confident.
FP: So you think it is doable, that climate change can be stopped?
JB: We say we are going to help solve global warming, with the Lord’s help. It is a huge task to solve global warming and there are going to be serious ramifications throughout this century. But there are so many positive benefits to addressing this issue: reducing pollution that harm’s human health; reducing mercury pollution that impacts the unborn; making our industries more energy efficient; creating the technologies that we can sell to others. There is no way that energy is not going to be a growth industry in this century. Why shouldn't we be the ones selling the technologies to everybody to else? As a Christian, I shouldn't be so biased about who sells it. But United States needs to get in this game, because once we really start to lead, then the world is really going to get seriously engaged and involved in this issue.
FP: The Bali conference in December is shaping up to be a huge deal, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has made it a top priority. What is your organization looking for from President Bush in Bali?
JB: Ideally, we would love for him to go there and say, "We are ready to make a commitment on a mandatory approach." I don’t think that is very likely. But if we can't have that, if what they are doing now with the 16 other nations can be a positive compliment to what they are doing in Bali, then that would be helpful.
It seems that Angelina Jolie and hubby Brad Pitt have taken the advice of FP contributor Rob Long to heart and are deploying their star power in a major way. At a packed press conference at the annual conference of the Clinton Global Initiative this afternoon, Jolie helped launch a "historic education partnership for children of conflict" in partnership with CGI, UNICEF, Save the Children, and a number of other organizations. (Just to give you a sense of the atmosphere in the room, a casual flip of Jolie's hair set off every flash bulb in the room, not to mention a few camera phones.)
As for Brad, introduced earlier today as "the sexiest man alive," he debuted a plan in concert with famed green designer Bill McDonough to build 150 new "affordable and sustainable homes" in New Orleans's devastated Ninth Ward. (For you gossips out there, Angelina and Brad never appeared publicly in the same room today at CGI, as far as I know—though they did show up together last week for the New York premiere of "Darfur Now".)
Back in 2004, NASA sounded the alarm. Recent satellite measurements showed that the great conveyor belt of the Atlantic, the Gulf Stream, had weakened by as much as 30 percent over the previous 12 years—presumably due to global warming. The implications of such a decline, according to NASA, would be catastrophic for northern Europe, as warm waters would no longer feed tropical heat to the area and sustain the temperate climate. In short, it suggested London could be heading for an ice age.
But it appears there's no need to break out the mittens and galoshes just yet. A more recent study published in Science concluded that the Gulf Stream was merely undergoing a cyclical adjustment, and that the full effects of climate change on the behaviors of ocean currents are still too complex to predict.
Today's map was crafted by Benjamin Franklin and Timothy Folger sometime around 1786, and it's credited with being one of the earliest charts of the complete Gulf Stream system. Now in the collection of the Library of Congress, the map contains some great notes by Franklin:
The earliest known record of the current was in a log book kept by Ponce De Leon in 1513. The log noted: "A current such that, although they had great wind, they could not proceed forward, but backward and it seems that they were proceeding well; at the end it was known that the current was more powerful than the wind."
You can explore the Gulf Stream yourself via real-time data collected from buoys stationed in the Atlantic by NOAA. It can tell you the precise temperature of various points of the ocean, as well as wind speed and wave height. Ben and Ponce would have a field day with it.
Ted Turner, a.k.a. the "Mouth of the South," has been pretty interesting today. Speaking on getting the business community more engaged on climate change, he said:
Businessmen, first and foremost, are human beings. They're fathers and grandfathers, too, like all the rest of us ... Since we're fathers and grandfathers first, we care about what happens to the world, particularly as it affects our families and our customers and everybody else. Businessmen are human beings, and that means they're motivated by two different things, like all other people: fear and greed. And global climate change fits right in. It scares the livin' daylights out of you, but it motivates you to do something about it. And that means go green. It's going to be the biggest business opportunity that there's ever been, because the whole world very rapidly is gonna have to move away from fossil fuels.
And here he is rapping about CNN, his creation that is now part of the Time Warner conglomerate, and the decline of news. Like other networks, CNN is no longer about substance, he said:
CHIP SOMODEVILLA/Getty Images News
Ted Turner: CNN is guilty of it now. I made a big mistake letting it get away, but I didn't intend to. I didn't intend to, but I did. Because if there was just one company out there that at least tried to do it, but there are none of them. I don't think any of 'em, of the major companies, are giving us the important news. And they're not giving us the news about the war in Iraq, either. Watch the newscasts for a half an hour and see they won't even mention how many people were killed yesterday. And they never show you a coffin; the government won't let 'em film 'em, you know. We're underinformed, and we're letting it happen at our peril.
Moderator Daniel C. Esty: So, one of the interesting things is the Murdoch family seems to have taken this issue seriously, so we may see a Wall Street Journal with a new spin as soon as the new regime takes over.
Turner: And when I read that I sent Rupert a congratulatory letter [huge laughter]. I did, I mean, I did. [looks around mischievously]
One of the major players pushing the agenda forward on climate change these days is Hilary Benn, Labour MP and environment minister for Gordon Brown's government. In a session for a few of us here in the UK mission's offices, Benn gave this succinct take on Monday's meetings:
Nobody is really arguing about the science. Everybody acknowledges the cost of doing something is a lot less than the cost of doing nothing. Everybody acknowledges that each of us has a part to play. The question is, how do you define that? The commitments that everyone has made to date aren't enough to deal with the scale of the problem, and time is running out. So, in terms of framing where we are, there's actually a lot of agreement.
Benn, and everyone else I talked to, stressed the importance of the December meeting in Bali. "We can't have another gathering where people say, 'Hmmm, yeah, hmmm, I'll think about it.' We've got to get going." Anything less than binding emissions reductions targets would widely be considered a failure, since only binding targets will make a carbon market viable. And it's the holy grail of a working carbon market and the associated prospect that developing countries can sell carbon credits to developed countries that will make a global regime politically workable as well.
I asked Benn what I've been asking a few other people here as well: "How do you get the issue of climate change to the point where a congressman in Ohio needs to worry about losing his seat over it?" Because unless and until the U.S. Congress gets on board, you can forget about meaningful progress on this issue.
Benn stared at me for a second, and then responded:
This is not just an environmental problem. It's an economic, it's a political, it's a migration problem. What are we going to do as a world, I would say, when people start fighting not over politics, but water? What are we going to do when refugees turn up on the shores of your country fleeing not political persecution, but environmental catastrophe? Economically, what are you going to do when the markets that maybe your constituents earn their living making goods to sell into are no longer there because they're too busy swimming for their lives because sea levels have risen? In other words, whichever way you look at it—because, the evidence is clear, in the end it's going to have impacts on all of us in lots of different ways. Now, that makes for a very strong moral and a practical case for doing something about it. And again, it's going to affect all of us wherever we happen to live.
Visions of the future generally reveal more about the time in which they are created than the time they are predicting. Take for example this film of rocket pioneer Werner von Braun describing humanity's space-bound future, made during the early days of the space race. Or this article from the rapidly industrializing America of 1900 predicting that all wild animals would be extinct by 2000 and that Nicaragua and Mexico would join the union after the completion of the Great Nicaragua Canal. (Both of these examples can be found on the fantastic Paleo-Future blog, which specializes in this sort of thing.)
It is with this history in mind that I approach the World Future Society's just released Forecasts for the Next 25 Years. The predictions are quite interesting, and about as plausible as the ones above probably seemed when they were made. Not surprisingly, wariness about the rise of China is prevalent. The WFS predicts that a water shortage in China will cause the price of commodities around the world to increase. They also believe that India's future development is more viable than China's because of its greater political transparency and democratic institutions. All this reflects traditional wisdom in political economy, but I'm not so sure. For the past few years, China has specialized in disproving the traditional wisdom. The WFS also reflects current fears about global warming in forecasting, "The costs of global-warming-related disasters will reach $150 billion per year." As the Times pointed out this week, 20 years ago, the depletion of the ozone layer was leading scientists toward similarly gloomy predictions. Admittedly, global warming will be a much tougher problem to address, but the future may surprise us.
Here's the best prediction, though:
Forecast #4: We’ll incorporate wireless technology into our thought processing by 2030. In the next 25 years, we'll learn how to augment our 100 trillion very slow interneuronal connections with high-speed virtual connections via nanorobotics. This will allow us to greatly boost our pattern-recognition abilities, memories, and overall thinking capacity, as well as to directly interface with powerful forms of computer intelligence and to each other. By the end of the 2030s, we will be able to move beyond the basic architecture of the brain’s neural regions.
As I sit here using this primitive input system to create this post, the thought of being able to use my vastly improved interneuronal connections to research foreign policy and find links for blog posts (I imagine it would look something like the above postcard from 1910) gives me a supremely nerdy glimmer of hope about an otherwise bleak-seeming future. And maybe that's what futurism is really about.
Months ago, Passport highlighted the extent to which the issue of climate change had gone "mainstream," with both Lehman Brothers and UBS investment banks publishing reports on the topic. Other major financial players, such as HSBC and GE, are betting that going green can bring in the greenbacks. Not to be outdone, Morgan Stanley has created a carbon bank "to assist clients seeking to become carbon neutral."
Here's how it works. Morgan Stanley will work with emissions data certifier Det Norske Veritas (DNV) to offer clients a system through which they can buy and sell carbon credits as well as purchase offsets. The credits and offsets can then be verified and certified—"all in accordance with the highest international standards," according to Simon Greenshields, the global head of power, power fuels, and carbon trading at Morgan Stanley.
I'm skeptical. Even the highest international standards are notoriously low, while offset schemes are famously flawed and so far ineffective in producing real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Morgan Stanley will rely on the monitoring standards of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Initiative, the greenhouse gas accounting framework used by the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme. Yes, the scheme that's "widely acknowledged as a failure because governments set the cap above real emissions levels and issued too many permits." Further, the carbon bank, via DNV, will provide clients with "carbon zero" certificates. That's the same DNV that the British House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee found to have questionable accounting practices in projects in Thailand and Brazil (pdf - see pgs 108-117).
True, David Yarnold, Executive Vice President of Environmental Defense, has hailed the idea and praised Morgan Stanley for "supporting a significant, credible and responsible expansion of the carbon market itself." But it's interesting that in January, Environmental Defense hired 20-year Morgan Stanley veteran Jon Anda as its New Environmental Markets Network president. Is this really the most objective assessment?
It's refreshing that the private sector is taking an active interest in climate change. But there are certainly strong reasons to question some of these initiatives. Especially when there are a whole lot of people getting rich out of carbon trading and offset projects, while many more must—by the very structure of the system—remain poor.
As FP has noted in the past, many see the Arctic as the last great frontier for oil and gas exploration. By one prominent estimate, the Arctic region may hold as much as a quarter of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves. The area's remoteness and harsh climate, however, mean that the technology is still not sufficient to access these reserves, and therefore profitable exploitation of them might not be feasible until 2050.
But oil and gas companies may not have to wait that long. In 2007, the extent of Arctic sea ice is likely to have declined further than in any other recorded year—reduced by an area greater than the size of California and Texas combined. This means the Arctic could become an energy center sooner than expected, not to mention one of the most critical sea lanes of communication in the world. The melting of the ice caps, along with improvements in shipping technology, will significantly cut the travel time between Asian manufacturing centers and western consumer markets.
While this may have some companies excited, it's certainly bad news for the Arctic's many inhabitants, including whales, walrus, seals, birds, fish and polar bears, as well as the Inupiat people who have resided in the area for 2,500 years. With their livelihoods already severely affected by global warming, the opening up of the Arctic to energy companies and shippers could ultimately mean the end of the Inupiat way of life.
What if instead of airline miles, cash back or hotel stays, your credit card paid you back in carbon offsets?
That's exactly what GE's new "Earth Rewards" card will do. One percent of your purchases go directly toward buying carbon offsets, which supposedly finance eco-friendly projects around the world designed to limit greenhouse gases and stop climate change.
It's a nice idea, but part of the problem with climate change is that we will never be able to buy our way out of it. Encouraging consumption in order to offset just one percent of that consumption is a futile effort at mitigating environmental issues. Using the GE Earth Rewards card is probably better for the environment than redeeming rewards for carbon-emitting airline flights. Still, the whole concept remains a bit ironic.
Although it would seem a more natural fit for an eco-conscious country like Norway, whose government pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2050, the world's first carbon-free city will actually be built in Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich Gulf emirate.
By 2009, Abu Dhabi hopes to complete construction of Masdar, a 3.7 mile enclosed city devoid of cars and carbon. To produce energy, Masdar will rely on a combination of wind, solar power and geothermal energy. The city—whose name means “source” in Arabic—is slated to be the centerpiece of The Masdar Initiative, which, according to their website, is “a global cooperative platform for open engagement in the search for solutions to some of mankind's most pressing issues: energy security, climate change and truly sustainable human development.”
According to this, some of Masdar’s main investors are automobile manufacturers and oil companies. British Petroleum, Fiat, and Mitsubishi are all involved. Why? Masdar is guaranteed to produce an excess of carbon credits traded on international markets either for profit or for the right to produce more emissions during other activities, such as oil production or auto manufacturing.
While their intentions might not be completely altruistic, the fact that oil and car companies are investing heavily in a project whose very mission is to consume no oil and use no cars means that carbon trading schemes might be having their desired effect. That is, incentivizing investments in carbon-reducing initiatives. Although, not everyone is playing by the rules. There is some evidence that Chinese companies are actually polluting more in order to make a buck (or about 7.5 Renminbi) off carbon credits.
Using an array of sensitive, sophisticated techniques, scientists have discovered that our rotund planet Earth is a bit smaller than previously thought: a whole 0.1 inches (2.5 mm) smaller from surface to center on average.
Some of the other updated measurements the scientists made after two years of measuring include:
So what? Well, the more accurate measurements give scientists a better baseline against which to measure and track environmental changes such as melting ice caps and evaporation from the Amazon Basin. If the sea level is rising somewhere, it's important to know whether that change is due to a sinking continent, or due to, say, global warming. Regardless of the important implications of the new measurements, we at least now know for sure that it's a smaller world after all.
Perhaps you recall the "Northwest Passage" from your seventh grade social studies class. Until the phrase showed up on the AP newswire and at the center of Canada's aggressive new defense policy, I had almost forgotten about this long-sought-for shortcut to Asia that swallowed up so many European explorers.
Usually frozen, the Passage has historically only been passable for a few days every summer. The onset of global warming has raised its strategic value, since all the ice in the world might be gone soon. In addition to a transcontinental shipping route that's 2,480 miles shorter than going through the Panama Canal, it turns out those northern straits host bountiful fishing stocks, valuable minerals, and—get this—25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves.
In the manner of any self-respecting oil producer (especially given the recent IEA report of an oncoming oil supply crunch), Canada has begun an aggressive campaign to protect what the Canadians say is rightfully theirs. Despite his country's history of turning a blind eye to U.S. usage of the Passage, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has forthrightly asserted Canadian sovereignty over the arctic waterways:
Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic. We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this government intends to use it. It is no exaggeration to say that the need to assert our sovereignty and protect our territorial integrity in the North on our terms have never been more urgent.
What's more, Canada has recently hoisted the maple leaf over Hans island, a small, barren rock less than a thousand miles from the North Pole. Countering Danish claims of sovereignty over the island, which isn't far from Denmark's Greenland, many Canadians have even called for a boycott of Danish pastries.
First PM Harper won't talk to Bono, and now he's on the warpath, hoping to reap the rewards of global warming. Better keep an eye on this fellow.
The bureaucrats of the European Commission have taken a radical step toward reducing their carbon footprint and halting the progress of global warming: Neckties have been declared "optional."
The logic is that tie-free men will tolerate greater heat, and by setting the air conditioners just one Celsius degree higher, they can cut their 56,000 metric tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent. Apparently, the always snappily dressed Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy got the idea on a trip to Japan.
Considering that the high in Brussels today is a balmy 66 F (19 C), I can't say I have much sympathy for the EC's noble civil servants (it's 100 F in Washington). If they really want to make a difference, they could probably turn off the air conditioners altogether.
Greenpeace, the international environmental organization that never met a publicity stunt it didn't like, has built an ark to raise awareness about climate change. Fittingly, Greenpeace chose Turkey's Mt. Ararat, thought by many to be the site of Noah's ark in the Bible. The ark looks great. But if this photograph from Der Spiegel is any guide, it's not so much "all God's creatures, two-by-two" who are seeking shelter from the impending flood thus far, but rather one of His foulest creations, the pigeon:
Full story here.
The scientific and policy communities in Washington and elsewhere are acting as though NASA Administrator Mike Griffin's now notorious interview with NPR yesterday morning was the first time his logic has seemed a bit goofy. Come on, people. The symptoms have been around for years. Here's Griffin in 2005, just a few months after taking office, rationalizing spending hundreds of billions of taxpayers' dollars to fund the building of space camps on the Moon and Mars:
Now, you know, in the sense that a chicken is just an egg's way of laying another egg, one of our purposes is to survive and thrive and spread humankind. I think that's worth doing. There will be another mass-extinction event. If we humans want to survive for hundreds of thousands or millions of years, we must ultimately populate other planets....
I'm talking about that one day, I don't know when that day is, but there will be more human beings who live off the Earth than on it. We may well have people living on the moon. We may have people living on the moons of Jupiter and other planets. We may have people making habitats on asteroids....
And here's the best part:
To me it's important because I like the United States, and because I know -- I don't know the date -- but I know that humans will colonize the solar system and one day go beyond. And it is important for me that humans who carry -- I'll characterize it as Western values -- are there with them. You know, I think we know the kind of society we would get if you, for example, carry Soviet values. That means you want a gulag on Mars. Is that what you're looking for?
It's worth remembering that Griffin was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate in April of 2005. So not one U.S. senator voted against his nomination. Why are his views on global warming just coming to light now?
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg just hosted 40 mayors from around the globe (and Bill Clinton) for a climate conference in New York. The chattering classes are all atwitter that Bloomberg is unveiling what might be important environmental positions for a possible presidential run.
And I, for one, think the mayors in attendance are doing a great deal of good, serious work on the issue—encouraging smart ideas on more efficient energy use, greener businesses, less traffic—and getting the private sector involved in a big way. These local actors have certainly been far more innovative and proactive in advancing these issues than most national leaders around the world.
But my favorite moment from the conference, which was all about encouraging cities to be more energy conscious: During Bloomberg's speech in Central Park, all the street lights were left on. In the middle of the afternoon.
This map from France's Centre International de Recherche sur l'Environnement et le Développement and Ecole Nationale de la Météorologie projects what the weather might be like in a few European cities come 2071. Note that Londoners will be treated to a climate generally experienced in western Portugal. Barcelona will be not unlike Rabat.
(Hat tip: The Guardian)
Global climate change will create one billion refugees by 2050, according to a report released today. The paper, written by charity organization Christian Aid, assumes that the world will heat up by between 1.8 and 3.0 degrees Celsius over that time, giving rise to apocalyptic floods and famines that will starve and displace millions. The result? "A world of many more Darfurs," as refugees are caught between devastated homes and hostile populations elsewhere who have no desire to share precious resources.
These internally displaced persons, or IDPs, have no rights under international law and no official voice .... Their living conditions are likely to be desperate and in many cases their lives will be in danger."
The prospect of multiple Darfurs is horrifying. But if Christian Aid think this is a call to action, they're dreaming. We all know what's happening in Darfur. Thus far the response from the West has been precisely zero. And no matter what you multiply zero by, the answer is always the same. The sad fact is that for all the hot air exhaled about climate change, it is little more today than global debt relief was two years ago—a platform to help politicians appear sensitive. Only when the consequences of global warming pinch the world's middle classes will action be taken. By then, I'm sorry to say, it could be too late for the IDPs.
If "Green" is the next Red White and Blue, then Texas and California have an early lead in the race to redecorate. The American Wind Energy Association just released its 2006 status report, which includes a ranking of U.S. states by how much wind energy they generate. Last year, 2,400 new megawatts (MW) of wind energy came online in the United States. The 34 wind energy-producing states churn out a total of 11,603 MW. (For reference, the Three Mile Island Nuclear power plant is rated at 816 MW.)
The top five states for wind energy are:
These states are moving aggressively on wind, but I'm disappointed to see that North Dakota, which ranks as highest in wind-energy potential, still lags at number 14 (although that may be due to change soon). See the full list, as well as the 16 states with no wind power after the jump.
There are ominous signs that the Earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now.
Another ominous warning about one of the many evils to befall mankind thanks to global warming? Not quite. The quote comes from a now-famous 1975 Newsweek article warning about the dangers of a cooling world. Oops.
This was neither the first nor the last example of out of control predictions that failed to materialize. Sure, global warming is probably already happening, and sure, China is probably going to assume a super-sized role in the world in the future. But the experts have been wrong before. This week's List takes a look at just how wrong they've been, from visions of an icy globe to fantasies about nearly free nuclear energy. Just a reminder that, when talking about the future, humility is always in order.
Here's a bizarre science experiment: Researchers at the U.K.'s Birmingham University are fitting 50 wild penguins with heart monitors to measure the effects of climate change on their habits:
The 'guinea pig' penguins live on the Crozet Islands, in the southern Indian Ocean, about 1,500 miles north of the Antarctic.
The monitors record each penguin's heart rate, location, the surrounding pressure and hence water depth, and the temperature at the back of its throat, telling the scientists when it has swallowed a cold fish.
The birds, famously awkward and ungainly on land, are released back into the wild to go on their usual diving expeditions and caught again a few months later when they return to land to breed.
The scientists expect to find that the flightless birds are swimming and waddling further afield to find food. They'll compare these results to data from the control group, ten penguins that were run through their paces on treadmills while their vital stats were recorded.
So, what does a penguin on a treadmill look like? Click on the video below to find out:(Hat tip: Neatorama)
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