Kyoto Protocol

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:

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.

The short but interesting (and climate-clobbering) life of methane, that *other* greenhouse gas

rm iwest mugRichard Harris' NPR piece today on methane's climate-clobbering effects jolted me to remember a post I planned but that went by the wayside when I got so busy editing our coverage of last month's big climate conference in Copenhagen.

During the big UNFCCC negotiations, an op-ed of huge import came out but didn't get as much attention as you might think, considering it was co-authored by Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Mohamed El-Ashray, a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is important, they acknowledged, but a big focus in the next few years should be methane, because it traps heat in the Earth's atmosphere much more efficiently than CO2. And methane converts to carbon dioxide after 10 or 12 years -- compared to CO2's residence time in the atmosphere that's measured in hundreds of years.

Methane's quite a bit easier to control, too (for now -- more on that shortly). So, to buy time to invent better ways to reduce CO2 emissions,  focus on methane, Watson and El-Ashray argue:

If we need to suppress temperature quickly in order to preserve glaciers, reducing methane can make an immediate impact. Compared to the massive requirements necessary to reduce CO2, cutting methane requires only modest investment. Where we stop methane emissions, cooling follows within a decade, not centuries. That could make the difference for many fragile systems on the brink.

Both Harris' piece and the op-ed point out that controlling methane also helps fight ground-level ozone, a public health threat.

InvestigateWest Copenhagen climate-treaty coverage points up need for independent journalism

Whew! Fifty-one posts -- all but three in just the last two weeks. Dateline Earth readers got to hear from an Arctic tribal elder, an Indian-turned-American nature photographer, Ethiopian political activists, native-rights campaigners from the Amazon and the grassy plains of Ecuador – as well as the European and American officials who dominate this country’s news diet.
rm iwest mugWe stretched. The InvestigateWest team’s coverage of the global climate treaty negotiations that just wrapped up in Copenhagen was a mammoth undertaking for our small start-up news agency – but one that amply demonstrated the need for independent journalism. It was an effort worth every bleary-eyed late-night hour, every marathon Skype session, every up-before-December’s-dawn morning.

It’s unlikely InvestigateWest will be dashing off to a lot of international meetings. We were fortunate in this case to have the assistance of four able young journalists who raised the funds to get themselves to Denmark. Then they went on to deliver journalism that wasn’t available from many – and in a few cases, any – of the thousands of other journalists who covered the talks.

They did this despite being denied access to the conference center where international delegates were meeting until the last day of the two-week conference.  

[caption id="attachment_7653" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="InvestigateWest photographer Christopher Crow is arrested for the second time. He was held for 10 hours.

Ethiopian activists: PM Zenawi in Copenhagen to collect cash, not fight climate change

By Alexander Kelly and Blair Kelly

COPENHAGEN -- In this, the third and shortest of our video interviews with Ethiopians who traveled to Denmark to protest against their prime minister, Meles Zenawi, a demonstrator hints that climatic conditions are a factor in the unrest in his homeland, the Ethiopian region of Ogaden:

Anti-Zenawi Ethiopian protesters: Why is Obama meeting with murderer?

By Alexander Kelly and Blair Kelly

COPENHAGEN -- This is the second of three parts of our interviews with Ethiopians who traveled 3,600 miles* to Denmark from their home country to denounce Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. He is acting as spokesman for the  African Union in talks to reach a global climate treaty.

Two protesters hold forth here, including one who calls Zenawi a "murderer" and questions President Barack Obama's willingness to deal with Zenawi. We continue to await comment from Ethiopia's consulate in Seattle:

* Due to an editing error, this post initially misstated the distance from Ethiopia to Denmark.

Zenawi protesters at Copenhagen climate talks: Ethiopia raping women, environment, and killing

By Alexander Kelly and Blair Kelly
COPENHAGEN -- This is the first of three videos showing the Ogadenian protests against the Ethiopian government and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. This protester alleges widespread killing and raping by the Ethiopian military, as well as environmental damage.

We heard earlier that the Ogadenians were seeking to set up an autonomous region, like the Kurds in northern Iraq, but these people appear to be calling for full independence.

See our earlier post for details. Our efforts to contact the Ethiopian consultate in Seattle for comment still have not been successful: