global warming

Bill Gates: Boost federal funds for energy research to fight climate change

There’s an urgent need – recognized by leaders of such venerable corporate giants as Xerox, GE and Lockheed Martin – for the American government to inject a lot of cash in a big hurry into alternative energy research, Microsoft founder Bill Gates told 1,200 climate activists and business people in Seattle on Tuesday.

To head off climate catastrophe, “the innovation piece is so important,” Gates said at a fundraising breakfast for the Seattle-based non-profit Climate Solutions. “The lip service that has been paid to energy innovation over the last few decades is disappointing.”

Gates and others from the upper echelons of the corporate world banded together as the American Energy Innovation Council and pushed hard for a boost in federal energy research spending from $5 billion to $16 billion annually.

“President Obama did see us. He said nice things, and I think he meant them,” Gates joked during an on-stage interview by Jabe Blumenthal, a former Microsoft executive who is co-president of Climate Solutions.

Nevertheless, the CEOs’ bid ultimately was shot down. Gates said that at a less dire time financially, it’s likely the group would have succeeded, and that the executives must keep trying.

Gates advocated research into many different energy sources, including nuclear, solar and wind power, that do not produce the gases scientists say are unnaturally heating the earth’s atmosphere, chiefly carbon dioxide. Many research projects won’t get very far but lots of them should be tried, said Gates, who is known widely for his philanthropy as well as his success at Redmond-based Microsoft.


Global Warming Triggers Unprecedented Epidemics March


Consider that as the earth heats up, different parts of the world experienced as many as 398 outbreaks of different diseases over the last 10 years, and diseases typically confined to the tropics are on a consistent march to the more temperate lands, according to findings reported at the Global Health Conference held at the University of Washington this week.

This poses significant risks to people in the United States and their counterparts in other countries in the West.

Changes in climate are steadily gnawing into the earth’s ability to keep billions of people fed and their thirsts quenched, researchers reported. This is because rise in temperatures has led to a decline in the supply of billions of gallons of water needed to quench our thirst and keep crops watered. At the same time, the lowering in quality of air we breathe is adding its own load of serious ailments to an already disease-burdened world.

Making the chilling presentation were five experts drawn from diverse academic backgrounds and institutions. As Kristie Ebi of Carnegie Institution for Science gave an overview on climate change and health, she delivered data which pointed to the fact that rate of climate change is now faster than it ever was over the last 10,000 years. On  average, global temperatures have risen by more than one degree Fahrenheit (0.7 degrees C)  since 1880s and that if this trend was to hold by 2025, as many as 1.8 billion people will be living in places without enough water for their needs.

It appears that rising temperatures are encouraging the spread of such tropical diseases including malaria and dengue fever -a virus spread by mosquitoes. The World Health Organization estimates that each year as many as 150,000 deaths occur due to health complications created by global warming.

Obama's offshore-drilling OK may not be a flip-flop but it's sure Bush-like -- except the Alaska part

Did President Obama do a flip-flop when he opened up vast swaths of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil drilling? It depends on how far back you want to go in the President's record. In the Senate he supported efforts to limit offshore drilling. But as a presidential candidate he came around to accepting at least some offshore drilling as a way to build consensus on the energy issue.

Catharine Richert brings us this analysis for the worthwhile website run by the St. Pete Times. Her post is worth a read.

Flip-flop or no, though, it's one of what seem like increasingly more common Obama decisions on the environment that could easily have been made by the George W. Bush administration (but probably not  by the George H.W. Bush team.) Example: On Monday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it was going with a Bush-era interpretation of the Clean Air Act that delays a crackdown on regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources such as power plants. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, this will allow construction of another 50 coal-fired plants.

Other thoughts in the aftermath of Obama's drilling decision:

+ I couldn't resist retweeting David Roberts of

"Imagine Obama banning offshore drilling in the vague hope that environmental groups might some day support his bill."


VP Biden: Health care's a big bleepin' deal. Obama: Don't look for D.C to tackle climate change

It was hard not to chuckle when I learned that blooper-prone Vice President Joe Biden, thinking he was out of earshot of the cameras when President Obama signed the heath-care legislation today, told the prez: "This is a big f--king deal!"

But crying is more in order if you listen to what Obama said at the bill-signing in remarks about what's next. Why? Because it ain't climate legislation. Here's what our surpreme commander had to say about how he's going to use the health-care win to push Congress on other fronts (italics are mine):

  "We all know our journey is far from over.  There’s still the work to do to rebuild this economy.  There’s still work to do to spur on hiring.  There’s work to do to improve our schools and make sure every child has a decent education.  There’s still work to do to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  There’s more work to do to provide greater economic security to a middle class that has been struggling for a decade."

Notice the emphasis not on what would surely be a hard fight to pass climate legislation, but rather on something (almost) everyone can agree on: Escaping this precipice where countries that hate America control something so vital to our well-being.

No, Obama doesn't risk offending anyone with that sentiment.

Here's how the situation was sized up in a note to clients and other contacts by Capitol Hill veteran Frank Maisano of the lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani (yes, that Giuliani!), whose clients include a number in the energy business:

Logging forests after they're chewed up by bark beetles won't cut fire risks, new report says

An interesting study out today (PDF) concludes that logging in Western forests ravaged by pine beetles not only doesn’t do much to prevent wildfires – it also wastes precious government dough that could be used instead to actually protect the homes of those folks foolish enough to build in fire-prone forests.

This particular study comes out of Colorado, which is described as the “epicenter” of the pine-beetle outbreak, although I think I wouldn’t have a lot of trouble finding folks in British Columbia who would dispute that characterization.

 And it’s reminiscent of the findings in Oregon following massive fires there a few years ago: That coming in and “salvaging timber” actually disrupts the natural processes that govern forests the way God made them.

This newest report, spearheaded by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, points out that insect outbreaks have been a part of forest ecology in the West for millennia. It also details how it’s climate, high temperatures and the sparse amount of water in our changing Western climate that are primarily responsible for the beetle outbreaks. Harvesting beetle-mauled trees does not head off climate change. Perhaps even the opposite is true? 

It's particularly damaging to do this kind of post-beetle tree-cutting in roadless areas, sacrificing longterm ecological integrity for short-term profits and roads that pierce into formerly intact wilderness areas, the report argues.

Consumers really can affect global warming -- particularly if they live in the United States

I've always been just a hair skeptical about all those admonitions to consumers to save the world -- you know, the "Live simply, that others may simply live"-type instructions. They felt a little too much like guilt-tripping to me, with perhaps not enough corresponding actual environmental good being done. It seems like a way for consumers who are feeling guilty about something -- say, those SUVs they drive -- to assuage their guilt by doing something that doesn't really hurt, like turning off the lights when leaving a room. And of course, we've seen how this mindset can backfire:

Climate change's cost in Arctic could chill future economy worldwide, study finds

rm iwest mugIn what its authors admit is almost certainly an underestimate, a new study says the catastrophic climate changes coming to the Arctic will cost at least $2.4 trillion by mid-century. (To put that into perspective, President Obama just proposed a $3.8 trillion federal government budget for next year.)

The true cost is likely to be a whole lot more -- probably in the range of the combined gross domestic products of Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom, says the report, which was financed by the Pew Environment Group.

A melting Arctic heats the climate in two basic ways: First, when all the white snow and ice on the land and in the ocean melts, the darker colors underneath absorb more heat instead of reflecting it.

The second thing that happens is that as the permafrost melts, it releases methane -- remember methane, that other greenhouse gas, the one we fingered not long ago for its powerful greenhouse punch?

The researchers came up with estimates of how much both of these effects will have and converted those numbers into carbon dioxide equivalents -- i.e., how much of that better-known greenhouse you'd have to release to create this much climate warming.

Those figures are sobering: The amount of warming to be wrought this year alone by Arctic melting will equal about 42 percent of all the emissions from the United States! That's the equivalent of building 500 new coal-burning power plants.

Yale Study: Earth's climate appears more sensitive to CO2 than previously thought

 rm iwest mugRichard Harris' NPR story this week exploring how global temperatures stayed pretty constant over the last decade even as greenhouse gas concentrations increased reminded me of another important piece of research overlooked during last month's global climate negotiations in Copenhagen:

Yale University researchers studying past warming episodes that didn't get any help from the Industrial Revolution say the climate may be more sensitive to carbon dioxide than we previously understood.

The study by Yale's Climate and Energy Institute found that about 4.5 million years ago, when the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was roughly what it is today, global temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Centigrade higher. This is a pretty big deal, recall, because we're talking about global average temps. The extremes are higher and the effects are more far-reaching than, say, a simple bump in the mercury on a summer day of 2 to 3 degrees might suggest.

The big message is sobering.