Here's a novel idea: Buy up carbon credits by the boat load, never emit any carbon, and thereby help to reduce the worldwide output of greenhouse gases. As the demand for credits soars, the value of individual credits will skyrocket, and carbon-reduction technologies will become more cost-competitive. At least, that's the theory.
Just last month, CO2quota.org set up a foundation to collect funds and purchase carbon credits—credits they plan never to use. In exchange for giving money, donors receive a certificate detailing how many tons of carbon they've kept out of the atmosphere. It costs about $19 to offset one ton of carbon emissions. (That's a bargain: $28 will buy you just one ton of carbon emissions using green tags.) CO2quota.org says that they buy their credits from The Nordic Power Exchange, and that Deloitte watches over their books.
Personally, I'm skeptical. To me, this whole scenario sounds about like ripping up $100 bills to help fight inflation. So far the foundation has offset roughly 185 tons of carbon emissions, which actually isn't much—it's the amount of carbon produced by about twenty average U.S. households in a year. I suspect that similar savings could be achieved if those who bought credits just switched to energy-saving lightbulbs.
But any environmental movement that relies on the generosity of individuals to donate, volunteer, or otherwise sacrifice our way to a greener future will never work, simply because the problem is too big. The only way green technologies will overtake their older counterparts is for the market to deem them to be more profitable.
On top of that, a system as flawed as the Kyoto Protocol can never be the key to solving our climate crisis. The only credits CO2quota is buying up are those issued to companies who cannot meet current CO2 Kyoto targets. Buying the credits will do nothing to help lower the current targets—and it will have no effect on the world's biggest carbon producers, China and the United States, since they don't fall under Kyoto's jurisdiction.
Ultimately, I hope a group like CO2quota proves me wrong. But first they should probably hire a copy editor:
“The more CO2 quotas we buy – the more expensive it gets for the industry to pollute with CO2. Hopefully, this will make them rethink the continued use of fusil fuels. Let’s buy back our climate!”
I'll take a rain check.
Today marks the fifteenth annual World Water Day, first designated by the United Nations in 1992. This year's theme though, "Coping with Water Scarcity," is hardly celebratory, and reflects a growing global concern about the steady drip of bad news for water supplies.
Water scarcity and its implications for global stability is one of the most critical, yet least discussed, issues of our generation. As Sandra Postel and Aaron Wolf reported in FP way back in 2001, more than fifty countries on five continents are facing severe water crises that could spiral into military conflicts. By the time the article was written, the renewable water supply per person had dropped by almost sixty percent since 1950. And it gets worse:
By 2015, nearly three billion people - 40 percent of the projected world population - are expected to live in countries that find it difficult or impossible to mobilize enough water to satisfy the food, industrial, and domestic needs of their citizens. This scarcity will translate into heightened competition for water between cities and farms, between neighboring states and provinces, and at times between nations.
Unlike with oil, there is no substitute for fresh water. Have a nice day.
Why are big U.S. companies lining up to urge new regulations on global warming?
Leading US financial investors joined some of the country’s largest companies on Monday and urged Capitol Hill to follow Europe by setting mandatory targets to reduce US carbon emissions.
It's not because they've suddenly become tree-hugging, granola-eating hippies. It's because big businesses thrive on certainty. Their worst nightmare is dealing with a confusing patchwork of laws in different states, regions, and countries. The writing is on the wall: Carbon caps are coming to the United States. But U.S. companies fear a tsunami of haphazard initiatives that will raise their costs, such as British Columbia's new green alliance with California, or worse, climate policy made sporadically by the courts. Better from their perspective to have one system nationwide that's in tune with the European Union's laws, harsh as they may be.
In 2001, atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen theorized that particles suspended in the atmosphere (dust and soot) were blocking up to 15 percent of the sunlight meant to reach the ground in many parts of Asia. Back then, this was considered to be a bad thing—but today, aerosols are hailed as a potential foil to global warming. The map above is a NASA image generated by two of their Earth-imaging satellites, Terra and Aqua. The dark orange areas represent high concentrations of airborne particles, while the lighter areas depict clearer atmosphere. The grey areas have not been mapped.
The global aerosol patterns in 2006 were similar to previous years. High aerosol concentrations were observed over western and central Africa (a mixture of dust from the Sahara and smoke from agricultural fires), northern India (where urban and industrial pollution concentrates against the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains), and northeastern China (urban and industrial pollution). Aerosol optical depth appeared unusually high in 2006 over Indonesia, probably as a result of increased fire activity there. The image also shows the impact of fires in Russia’s boreal forest, which spread aerosols into the Arctic.
The high res version is splendid.
Canada's former defense minister has a novel suggestion for halting climate change: alien technology.
Paul Hellyer, who has claimed to see a UFO, told the Ottawa Citizen yesterday that governments need to fess up about what alien technology they're keeping at their respective Area 51s because they may unwittingly have the silver-bullet solution to the planet's woes:
Alien spacecrafts would have traveled vast distances to reach Earth, and so must be equipped with advanced propulsion systems or used exceptional fuels, he told the newspaper.
I knew there had to be a reason why aliens are always green.
Yes, it's definitely getting warmer," said Tsawang Dumi, 56, a Tibetan shepherd watching over a flock of 60 sheep and goats amid the winter snows of a Himalayan hillside. "Fewer animals died of the cold this winter." [...]
The glacier that falls from its peak has shrunk by nine per cent in recent years. "I have heard of global warming, though I don't really understand what it means," said Tashi, 30, another shepherd, watching his sheep lower down the mountainside.
"But you can see there is less snow on the mountains. In the old days, all those rocks would be covered. I don't have to take my sheep so far away from the mountain in lambing season now." [...]
The winter in Tibet has been freakishly warm, with monks this week strolling round the monasteries of Lhasa — altitude over 12,000ft — with bare arms warmed by the afternoon sun.
In Qamdo, Eastern Tibet, the mercury hit a record 71 degrees Fahrenheit on the first Friday in January.
Matt Drudge may not believe in global warming, but at least he's recycling. Nico Pitney catches the Internet maven using the same joke he made back in 2004. Basically, it's cold and snowy outside, so therefore the climate isn't warming! Ha, ha, right?
Of course, as Nico points out, weather and climate are different beasts. The overall trend is clear: The planet is warming, and nobody serious argues with that. What the weather is like on any given day is neither here nor there, and in fact extreme weather events could be part of the show.
I wouldn't say that it's indisputable that climate change is caused by humans, however, but we're getting close to that point. Here's the gist of what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in its fourth assessment report (pdf), according to the scientists at RealClimate.org:
[T]he report concludes that human influences on climate are 'very likely' (> 90% chance) already detectable in observational record; increased from 'likely' (> 66% chance) in the [Third Assessment Report of 2001]."
So where's the real debate among climate scientists?
The uncertainties in the science mainly involve the precise nature of the changes to be expected, particularly with respect to sea level rise, El Niño changes and regional hydrological change - drought frequency and snow pack melt, mid-latitude storms, and of course, hurricanes.
That doesn't sound so funny to me.
The above is one of the very cool maps at Worldmapper. It shows the world's countries not by geographical size, but in terms of the number of people affected by disasters caused by insects. As you can see, China's got big problems with bugs, while North Africa and Ethiopia (in pink) have insect issues vastly out of proportion to their populations.
China's big bug problem could get worse due to global warming, Chinese scientists fear, because warm winters are good for worm eggs.
If a great flood ravages the Earth in 2207, we won’t have to worry about losing the key to our food supply.
The Norwegian government is paying for the construction of a Noah's Ark that will house seeds of all the world’s food crops. The seed vault—which will hold up to 3 million seed samples—will be built 364 feet inside a mountain on a remote island near the North Pole. It would protect the seeds from apocalyptic catastrophes such as a nuclear Armageddon, an asteroid collision, and the much-feared consequences of climate change.
The site on Spitsbergen, one of Norway’s Svalbard islands, was chosen because of the long-term stability that it will provide. Designers modeled the worst-case scenario for climate change 200 years in the future and determined that the seed vault would still remain above water if the ice sheets of Greenland and the North and South Poles all melted. The surrounding permafrost will protect the precious seeds if the refrigeration system malfunctions.
My only question is: If humans get wiped out in a global catastrophe, who would take the seeds out of the vault?
What if, before you were allowed to get a driver's license, you had to understand why catalytic converters are good for the environment and where they are located on a car? I'm guessing here in America we'd have a lot fewer people on the roads.
But from September of this year, that's exactly what people seeking drivers licenses in the United Kingdom will be tested on—their knowledge of so-called "eco-driving." The Times of London got a hold of some sample questions, which make up the pop quiz below (answers below the fold):
1. When a roof rack is not in use it should be removed. Why is this?
a) It will affect the suspension
b) It is illegal
c) It will affect your braking
d) It will waste fuel
2. Driving at 70 mph uses more fuel than driving at 50 mph by up to...
a) 10 percent
b) 30 percent
c) 75 percent
d) 100 percent
3. What is most likely to cause high fuel consumption?
a) Poor steering control
b) Accelerating around bends
c) Staying in high gears
d) Harsh braking and accelerating
4. On a vehicle, where would you find a catalytic converter?
a) In the fuel tank
b) In the air filter
c) On the cooling system
d) On the exhaust system
5. Supertrams or Light Rapid Transit (LRT) systems are environmentally friendly because...
a) They use diesel power
b) The use quieter roads
c) They use electric power
d) They do not operate during rush hour
The Financial Times proved conclusively today that the issue of climate change has gone mainstream: investment bankers are now concerned about it. Lehman Brothers and UBS have both published reports on the issue, indicating that business has to stand up and take notice. Writes the FT:
[T]he progress of climate change may be slow and hard to quantify but the impact on business can be sharp and sudden. Already, some houses on low-lying land have become uninsurable and unsellable owing to the increased risk of flooding.
The findings from the reports also suggest that stringent regulations are likely to cause the biggest short-term impact on business in areas such as the auto and energy sectors. On the up-side, though, green technology provides ample investment opportunities:
Wind and solar power are an obvious choice but nuclear energy and clean coal are also likely beneficiaries. More mainstream industrial companies also stand to benefit by making more energy-efficient products.
Green-leaning investors should bear that in mind, particularly with alternative energy stocks enjoying racy valuations.
Politically, too, it seems we have finally reached a point where talking about climate change is no longer considered the "loser" issue that it was just a few short years ago. What's caused this shift? For some answers and new insights, check out FP's Seven Questions this week, featuring Christine Todd Whitman, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States.
What's Global Cool, you ask? It happens to be the latest, splashiest, star-studded global do-gooder campaign. It aims to persuade one billion people around the world to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions every year for the next ten years in order to combat global warming.
And this really is a campaign for the kids. They've enlisted some of the "biggest names in entertainment," like Sienna Miller, Orlando Bloom, and the Scissor Sisters. (Note: If that last sentence confuses you at all, I'm afraid Global Cool might not resonate.) Global Cool is taking the Live 8 route, planning five simultaneous concerts this summer to raise awareness and inspire the kids to really, you know, care about global warming, especially since Live 8 did so much to eradicate global poverty in 2005.
They do have plenty of useful (albeit recycled) suggestions on how to reduce one's personal carbon dioxide emissions: Turn out the lights, turn the heating down, put the computer on standby (good one)—all things that require little effort, but can have a huge impact when done by millions.
The campaign is a bit corny, but Global Cool is trying hard to make sure that they're taken seriously as an environmental player, and not just seen as padding for some starlet's resume. They're aware that a skeptical public might just tune them out, and they recognize how "tiresome a bunch of rock stars and movie actors can appear when trying to tell the public how to run their lives." And so far, it doesn't appear the campaign has gotten quite the media splash it was designed to receive. I have to say, as much as Global Cool hopes to be a influence leader on global warming, I'm just not sure any strategy involving, as theirs does, the use of the term "ecosexual" is one that is going to get a lot of traction.
A kind of popular uprising took place yesterday during the first set of sessions here in Davos around the Forum's theme of global power shifts. Working groups were to meet to discuss different drivers in the global power structure (geopolitics, technology, etc.) and then they were to gather in a plenary to share results and formulate final conclusions. The plenary was to be augmented by wireless polling technology to add a democratic flair to this forum of the world's elites. But as the tables in the plenary stood up to review the findings, several "insurgents" said that they rejected the conclusions being offered to them. Clearly, they said, the world's greatest power-shifting force is global warming.
This left some of the people that I spoke to somewhat baffled, because while all acknowledged the importance of the issue, none felt it would reshape global power any time soon. No matter. Perhaps the insurgents own considerable waterfront property, but whatever the reason for their revolt, they succeeded in placing global warming high atop the list of drivers of change. (more after the jump)
The world has moved closer to doomsday, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
We stand at the brink of a second nuclear age. Not since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the world faced such perilous choices. North Korea’s recent test of a nuclear weapon, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, a renewed U.S. emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons, the failure to adequately secure nuclear materials, and the continued presence of some 26,000 nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia are symptomatic of a larger failure to solve the problems posed by the most destructive technology on Earth.
As in past deliberations, we have examined other human-made threats to civilization. We have concluded that the dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons. The effects may be less dramatic in the short term than the destruction that could be wrought by nuclear explosions, but over the next three to four decades climate change could cause drastic harm to the habitats upon which human societies depend for survival.
As a result, the Bulletin has moved its iconic Doomsday Clock two ticks clockwise, to 5 minutes before midnight. Midnight, of course, being when we all die.
The clock was started in 1947 by the organization as a way to dramatize the dangers in the nuclear arms race. It debuted at 11:53, and has been adjusted 18 times. Total annihilation was deemed closest in 1953 following the detonation of the first thermonuclear explosives; after the Soviet Union's fall in 1991, mankind was a full 17 minutes away from destruction.
The Bulletin may be losing some historical perspective here. It's hard to believe that we're actually closer to Armageddon now than we were for more than half of the Cold War. And as scary as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il may be, the world is actually a more peaceful place than it ever has been.
Last week, the Economonitor noted that the European market for CO2 emissions had gone from a high of €31 per tonne in April to just €4.75. These prices are for the emissions trading scheme that allows countries and firms to trade their carbon emission allowances on the free market. Firms will invest to reduce their emissions, the theory goes, not only to avoid penalties for exceeding their allowance, but also to sell credits to others who can't easily afford a reduction. Similar cap and trade schemes have worked brilliantly elsewhere.
So, what's with the price plunge? A glut of credits on the market. Too many credits were allocated when the scheme began in 2005, so countries and firms are easily meeting their allowances with the credits available. Hence they have little need to buy extra credits on the open market, and the price keeps falling. Firms thus can't profit by lowering their emissions, either. With European countries already objecting to plans to cut credits in the next phase of trading slated to begin in 2008, the system looks unlikely to be the silver bullet it was intended to be.
That's why the EU's latest announcement calling for an "industrial revolution" to cut greenhouse gases should be viewed with extreme skepticism. If they can't get the economics right, the reductions in emissions won't follow.
Even if you missed the WSJ's take this week about the announcement that the big fuzzy white predators will be classified as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, you can probably guess they weren't so enthusiastic. They borrowed the global warming camp's classic charge that politics wrongly trumps science in the American debate, citing a growing polar bear population over the last few decades as evidence that the threat to the "majestic" carnivore isn't real. It's all political manipulation, they cried, and it could lead us down the dangerous road to (gasp!) federally mandated reductions in greenhouse gases.
It's interesting that the WSJ took such umbrage at the possibility that a species could be considered "threatened" based on future projections of the quality (or existence) of its habitat. We're already seeing evidence that the bears' polar habitat is retreating and breaking up. To back up its claim that the bears are better off than ever, the WSJ notes that some Canadians consider the bears overabundant, a fact the rest of us may "have difficulty grasping." But that sense of overabundance likely stems from the fact that bears are pushing into areas populated by humans in order to forage for food because the ice shelves on which they hunt are rapidly retreating.
I asked Bill Stanley, director of the Global Climate Change Initiative at the Nature Conservancy, if he had any reaction to the WSJ's argument. He had this to say:
There are generally numerous threats to species, some are more immediate and some are more chronic or farther off into the future. Even though some populations may be bouncing back now because of reduction or removal of some immediate threats, the looming threat of climate change is likely to undermine much of that progress.
This debate shouldn't just be about the size of the polar bear population. They're not the only wildlife that will be put at risk by warming temperatures. According to peer-reviewed scientific studies, fully one-fourth of Earth's species may be headed for extinction by 2050 if the emissions and associated warming continues at its current rate. Wouldn't our time and efforts be better spent debating how best to protect them -and us - from the the disastrous consequences of climate change?
Is China getting serious about the environment, albeit out of concern for its continued economic growth? Seed magazine (via AFP) picks up two telling stories: First, China has just released its first official report on global climate change. The report concludes that greenhouse gases from human activity are leading to climate change, and that economic growth could be hindered if global warming continued. The report warns that temperatures could rise in the Middle Kingdom by 1.3-2.1 degrees Celsius by 2020, and by as many as 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Given that 2006 was China's hottest year in half a century and thousands died from widespread droughts, the new report no doubt reflects a concerned Beijing.
The government may also be cracking down on false reporting of pollution data. Chinese state media reported last week that although regional governments reported meeting pollution-reduction targets, the country's top environmental watchdog says pollution as increasing.
The figures on pollution control reported by local governments dropped remarkably this year, while the real environmental situation continues to deteriorate," said the unnamed official with the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).
"The inaccurate figures were caused by insufficient supervision of the local governments and possible fabrication."
Neither story means China is going full-on green anytime soon, but the environment may finally be on the radar. On Monday, the Chinese government announced that it will "preferentially purchase environmentally-friendly products." Whatever that means, it's a start.
Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India's part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true. [...]
Eight years ago, as exclusively reported in The Independent on Sunday, the first uninhabited islands - in the Pacific atoll nation of Kiribati - vanished beneath the waves. The people of low-lying islands in Vanuatu, also in the Pacific, have been evacuated as a precaution, but the land still juts above the sea. The disappearance of Lohachara, once home to 10,000 people, is unprecedented.
I don’t understand global warming and peak oil skeptics. What is their incentive to disprove global warming? Warming alarmists feel that they’re protecting the future of the planet—a pretty good incentive. But the skeptics don’t really get much payoff, unless they're energy majors, besides the opportunity to make fun of Al Gore. And yet people like Michael Crichton still get more press than Tyrell Owens on Monday Sportscenter.
If I were a scientist, and I knew that global warming and the oil crisis were only flukes, I’d keep my mouth shut. Why? Because there is money to be made when you know something to be true that no one else believes. Here’s my three step plan for getting wealthy fast, if you think that global warming is a hoax.
If global warming and peak oil are not true, but thought to be true:
|World's reaction||->||Financial Opportunity|
|1. Energy prices skyrocket as the world assumes the supply is dwindling||->||Buy oil stock and a make a fortune until the oil runs out. Which according to you, is never.|
|2. Coastal real estate prices drop out of fear that the oceans will soon rise and flood low-lying land||->||First buy up as much arid, high-altitude land as you can afford. Then, sell it at a premium to the throngs evacuating the coasts, convinced that their property is about to get swamped. Then grab that ocean-front villa you’ve always wanted at a government auction for abandoned property.|
|3. Costs of large, inefficient technologies drop as public clamours for eco-friendly products||->||Buy that big luxury SUV for $19,000 and no money down. Pick up a 72” diesel yacht on Ebay for just a little bit more.|
But above all, never reveal the secret that global warming is just a hoax, invented by Al Gore.
While nobody's happy about rising sea levels and temperatures in hotter parts of the world, the warming of the Arctic is a different story. The melting of the sea ice during the summer months has at last made the dream of 15th-century explorers—the Northwest Passage—a reality. The new Arctic passage will dramatically reduce shipping times. But as The Economist points out, the shipping industry is not the only one that will benefit from climate change:
The biggest beneficiary is likely to be Russia itself, which encircles almost half the Arctic Ocean. Currently uninhabitable areas will become more hospitable; currently inaccessible energy resources will become more exploitable.
According to the United States Geological Service, about one-quarter of the world’s undiscovered energy reserves may be in the Arctic. [...]
Russia has claimed half the Arctic Ocean, including the North Pole, as its territory. It submitted the claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, but had it rejected. The convention decrees that who owns what is determined partly by the extent of a country’s continental shelf, and Russia did not have enough geological data to back up its claim. Russia is now mapping energetically, as are America, Canada, Denmark and Norway, which also border the Arctic Ocean.
Ironically, major oil producers who have invested thousands of dollars promoting "research" suggesting that global warming is a hoax are also beneficiaries of melting Arctic ice. They may find, however, that the Arctic's treasures aren't quite as rich as originally thought.
A team of scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research has developed this animated scenario of diminishing Arctic summer ice through 2049. And guess what? If greenhouse gas emissions continue to build up at the current rate, it's likely that the Arctic won't have any summer ice at all in just a few decades. Check it out.
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