greenhouse gases

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 politifact.com 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 Grist.org:

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

:>)

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:

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.

Obama's State of the Union punts on climate change... but what did you expect?

rm iwest mugWell, President Obama certainly did go on at some length tonight in his just-concluded State of the Union address. But he once again failed to elevate the climate issue to urgency. I have to agree with David Roberts over at Grist.org: "Pretty weak tea." (Hat tip to Roberts for posting the transcript of that part of the speech before Obama was even done talking.)

Now, some of our faithful correspondents and even some friends thought it curious that Dateline Earth faulted Obama for falling short on the climate and energy issue in his inaugural address a year ago, after which we held forth thusly:

 That is not the speech of a man who intends to launch a World War II-style domestic campaign -- think Rosie the Riveter and the Manahattan Project. And that's what scientists are saying we'll need.

He did it again tonight. The president -- wisely -- started out talking about jobs or, as we've put it before, "Fighting climate change = ending the recession." He was clearly aware that Americans are saying in polls now that climate is pretty low on their list of concerns. And just a day before the talk, Republican Lindsey Graham caved on Cap'n Trade, provoking Roberts, for one, to accept that we probably won't be going down that road this year, if ever in Obama's presidency.

But the sheer brevity of what Obama had to say tonight portrays a president so pummeled by problems that on climate, he punted.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Greenhouse gases are amping ocean acidification, 15-year study shows

If there is any doubt that greenhouse gas emissions have extensive, far-reaching effects on our planet, the newly released results of a careful, long-term study should put any remaining confusion to rest. New research shows the Pacific Ocean is becoming more acidic, weakening shellfish and other marine life at a scarily fast clip - resulting in a 6 percent jump in ocean water acidity over the past 15 years in the top 300 feet of the ocean.

rita_hibbardwebOcean acidification is caused by carbon dioxide from cars, factories and power plants that causes global greenhouse effects and also dissolves in the ocean, writes Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton.

The process makes seawater slightly more acidic, and also gobbles up carbonate, a basic building block of seashells. The higher acid environment dissolves shells, and kills plankton, marine snails and other small creatures that supply food for the rest of the marine ecosystem. Highly acidic water also kills fish eggs.

The result:

The most extensive survey of pH levels in the Pacific Ocean confirms what spot measurements have suggested: From Hawaii to Alaska, the upper reaches of the sea are becoming more acidic in concert with rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"The fact that we saw this very significant change over the last 15 years is a reminder of how mankind is affecting the oceans at an ever-increasing rate," said report co-author Richard Feely, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.

The research teams measured acidity along 2,800 miles of ocean between Oahu and Kodiak in 1991, and returned in 2006 aboard a University of Washington research vessel, analyzing nearly 1,500 water samples over two months.

InvestigateWest photographer again arrested at United Nations climate talks

COPENHAGEN -- For the second time in a week, an InvestigateWest photographer trying to cover protests against the United Nations climate treaty negotiations here has been arrested.

Christopher Crow was taken into custody along with a number of protesters attempting to get inside the Bella Center, where the international summit is being held, InvestigateWest correspondent Alexander Kelly reports.

Kelly will have a more detailed dispatch forthcoming.

Crow was also arrested on Sunday while covering demonstrators who were on their way to shut down Copenhagen harbor in protest of the "cap  and trade" policies international negotiators are haggling over.

Those policies, critics say, are misguided because they allow corporations to buy and sell the right to emit planet-warming gases such as carbon dioxide.  Proponents of the system point to the way it has helped ratchet down sulfur dioxide levels in the United States, lessening the impact of acid rain.

-- Robert McClure

"No borders" protest outside Copenhagen climate talks escalates to vandalism

Editor's note: InvestigateWest videographer Blair Kelly captured the scene as activists attending the so-called "No Borders" protest outside the United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen tore up a big prop meant to illustrate the size of a ton of carbon dioxide.

Lester Brown lays out how to solve the climate mess, and how we'll suffer if we don't (Hungry? Just wait)

You listen to Lester Brown, and you have to wonder what the big fuss is all about at the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen. I mean, the guy is saying we don't really have to fight over this, because the technologies available right now could cut greenhouse gas emissions by ... drumroll, please... 80 percent by 2020. Yes! (It really puts into perspective President Obama's pledge today to cut emissions 17 percent over the same time period, eh?)  

[caption id="attachment_6332" align="alignright" width="226" caption="Lester Brown "]Lester Brown [/caption]

Now, we've written about Brown before, and we may be guilty of featuring him entirely too much, but the man is talking sense. Today he was doing that right here in Rain City on KUOW's Weekday with Steve Scher, revealing how this seemingly magical transformation can happen. A couple of quick examples from his latest tome*, the unassumingly named Plan B 4.0 --  Mobilizing to Save Civilization

  • You want energy efficiency? We got energy efficiency. Replace the world's incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescents and you get a 75 percent reduction in energy use. Replace them with Light Emitting Diode, or LED, lights and combine that with smart technology that, for instance, turns lights out when a room is empty. Then the savings is 90 percent. (Los Angeles is replacing its 130,000 streetlights with LEDs at a savings of $11 million a year.