Archive for November, 2009

The past 7 days have produced a slew of climate change news that you might’ve missed while partaking in Thanksgiving celebrations. As world leaders get ready for the climate change summit to begin in Copenhagen next week, the U.S. and China both made announcements on cutting emissions last week.

The U.S. pledged to cut its emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels, according to President Obama. China followed by releasing its own goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Obama also has been meeting with the Indian and Australian leaders to talk about Copenhagen. Some in the world community, however, see the emissions pledges as a smokescreen. Meanwhile, it looks as though the U.N. would like to take the lead on the environment.

As political leaders were stepping up to the plate, scientists ended up dropping the ball last week. Leaked emails of scientists writing about ignoring stats of a plateaued temperatures caused a firestorm in the world among climate change skeptics. The emails could threaten Copenhagen talks – although one of the members of the U.S. envoy disagrees.

Terry should be back next week – and the Copenhagen summit begins Monday and will last through the following Friday. Each day of the summit we’ll provide news and analysis of the day’s events with a blog posting. Keep it here for all the Copenhagen news!!!!!

Eco-kitty litter recipe: Soak and strain shredded newspaper, add baking soda, dry and use.

As the public clamors for some type of agreement between world governments in Copenhagen, it’s worth debating whether government is the answer to halting the devastating effects of climate change or if individuals and businesses can do it on their own.

By now, everyone is familiar with the Cash for Clunkers program. Run by the government, the program gave consumers tax incentives to trade their old cars (bad on mpg) for more fuel-efficient cars. In addition to stimulating the economy, it also helped put cars with better mileage on the road – thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The program worked so well, it needed an infusion of cash and eventually ran out of money and was ended. The bottom line is it worked – consumers saw immediate savings and long-term savings and the environment will be better off because of it.

In California in the middle of this decade, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law allowing drivers of three cars (Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and the Honda Civic Hybrid) to get a sticker that allows them to drive a car solo in the carpool lane. Now, of course, this dissuades people from carpooling, but it also persuaded people to buy hybrids to get the stickers and beat the LA traffic. The program was successful, hybrid cars were bought, the government ran out of stickers and by 2011 the stickers will expire. Now, according to one LA resident, used cars that have these carpool stickers are worth up to $5,000 more than their blue-book value.

In Providence earlier this month, the city introduced a program called Green Up Providence:

GREEN UP PROVIDENCE is a new initiative to double Providence’s recycling rate. Starting November 2, 2009, residents will need to place their recycling bins at the curb on trash day next to their Big Green Can. If the green and blue bins are not placed at the curb, the trash will not be picked up.

It sounds like a good idea, but trash is piling up around the city and people are stealing these bins rather than paying for them. The City Council says the worst is over, but they almost canceled the program. First of all, the city should’ve gone to single-stream recycling (no need to sort paper from plastic or aluminum) before they did this so residents only had to use one bin. But the people were apparently not ready for this. Most city residents interviewed in the above stories expect things to get better, but this is one program that wasn’t exactly smooth. It had its heart in the right place, but the execution was wrong.

Is there anything to be learned from these 3 examples? As it always is in the capitalist American society, the only one that failed offered the consumer no reward – it simply vowed to take away a service that people pay for through taxes. Both the Cash for clunkers and Calif. carpool schemes worked by putting more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road. So, there needs to be an immediate incentive (such as money or no traffic jams) that will cause people to buy in aside from out of a moral obligation to the environment.

Offering rewards is one thing to keep in mind as we throw lots of plans at the wall trying to halt climate change. Whether the government or a business offers the reward seems to make no difference. All Americans care about is the bottom line.

Stepping in for Terry ( a well-deserved break) on the weekly links … Time magazine looks at the relationship between U.S. and China in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit. Meanwhile – according to new data – global warming has been slowed in some parts of the world (although the Arctic is still getting much warmer). Of course, some people think the climate change figures are fishy.

The LA Times takes a look at old manufacturing plants now being used to make parts for solar panels and wind turbines (these are the green jobs often talked about). The NY Times (in a story on water pollution similar to one the AP did a few years ago) looks at how overflowing sewers have left water contaminated. Finally, according to some fools climate change has led to prostitution. That makes all of us who consume energy pimps.

Don’t think of white clover as a weed. It’s an eco-friendly alternative to grass.

The message from Congress these days is that they can only handle one issue at a time and that reforming how much money health insurance companies make off consumers is more important than the public’s long-term health.

Make no mistake: Climate change and setting greenhouse gas reductions has taken a backseat to health insurance “reform.” At a time when the entire world is watching and hoping a Democrat-led Congress and a Democrat in the White House could come together and set actual targets in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it appears we have failed. From the Washington Post:

A senior administration official said any U.S. target would require congressional action. Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) said that would not happen until spring.

Sorry Mr. Reid, but did you hear there’s a huge climate conference coming up next December in Copenhagen? Did it sneak up on you? Let me be clear: Despite moves by the EPA (Obama’s only weapon to get around Congress), the U.S. has again FAILED to how leadership needed to convince the rest of the international world we are serious about climate change. And Obama is to blame as well – using all his political capital on health-insurance reform rather than climate change.

No matter how much the Democrats talk, there is NO action that the U.S. has made that should convince the rest of the world we have changed from our prior position, which had us out of the Kyoto Protocol. While Europe was making cuts, we were increasing emissions. India and China are not fools – they’re not going to agree to something that will hamper their growth if the rest of the world doesn’t.

Think of it this way: A group of friends are standing over a pool and ready to jump in. The first time comes and one guy says “1, 2, 3 … jump” – only he doesn’t jump. This was the U.S. about a decade ago when the last international treaty was signed. Some other people jumped, however. Now, imagine it’s the next day and the same guy says the same thing as everybody is waiting to jump in. Wouldn’t everybody – those who jumped and those who didn’t – wait just a split second to see if the guy jumped first? Some might even stay out just out of spite for the last time.

These are the same types of feelings the U.S. is currently dealing with internationally. Congress needs to act – and they’re not. Health-insurance reform has dragged on and setting a standard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been set aside. This all comes despite increasing evidence that climate change is killing people and will cause massive deaths by the end of this century.

The U.S. has failed and Copenhagen (as Terry reported Monday in the weekly links) will yield no agreement. Don’t worry we’ll still all get wet even if we don’t jump in. The rising sea levels and more powerful storms will take care of that.

After all the buildup, it turns out key climate issues won’t be resolved next month in Copenhagen (New York Times- also see this from the Washington Post and this from the BBC).  These issues include energy, and this past week the International Energy Agency issued a report saying that current levels of consumption are not sustainable (New York Times).  Meanwhile, the Washington Post has this panel of opinions on cap-and-trade.

The l.A. Times takes a look at green careers and how to find them, and notes that Nissan has turned over a new Leaf.

Providence has joined other Rhode Island communities in implementing a no trash pickup without recycling policy, and it caught many by surprise last week (Providence Journal).  And the Wheeler School has used solar panels to take its Seekonk field house off the grid.

A new U.N. study attempts to put a dollar value on nature (Newsweek).  And record high temperatures are occurring twice as often as record lows in the U.S. (MSNBC).

Deforestation is decreasing in the Amazon (BBC), but this Washington Post article notes that there’s still a ways to go in saving the forest.

A Boston-based coalition seeks to have businesses address sustainability (Boston Globe).  The Globe also looks at Senator Kerry’s emergence on climate issues.

And lastly, in an attempted armed robbery, University of Tennessee football players used a Prius as their getaway car (espn.com- the Prius is mentioned briefly at the end of the article).  Like a lot of things, maybe crime is going green too.

The “voluntary simplicity” movement says owning less is the key to green living.

I was just sick of seeing it every day. It was an old laptop that I didn’t know what to do with and it had been sitting in my bedroom for more than 9 months. I wanted to be environmentally friendly in my disposal of it, but nobody knew where I could recycle it. Finally, at the breaking point last month, I turned to my best friend Google.

A quick search landed me at Staples’ Web site. I knew they had recycling for old printer cartridges but I had no idea about electronic recycling. And I was in luck, since my computer was a Dell, it was free to recycle it – allowing me to save the $10 fee Staples otherwise charges for it. I found a store nearby and dumped it all – external hard drive, charger, startup discs – all of it. Eco International handles the actual disposal of the products.

I looked at the sales associate after the transaction took fewer than 2 minutes and smiled – all I needed now was to be able to hit an “Easy” button. By the look of Staples’ page with info on the recycling effort, lots of people are familiar with the ease of the process.

With the Copenhagen climate summit fast approaching, the odds of producing a legally binding treaty are growing longer (MSNBC).

With the Senate still working on a climate bill, the Washington Post notes that environmental groups are split on how much compromise is acceptable.  Meanwhile, energy efficiency projects in the stimulus package are not yet resulting in job gains.

The climate bill did pass a Senate committee last week, but this L.A. Times editorial argues that the bill is in trouble.  Also, the Times reports that California has passed legislation on the state’s water system.

Al Gore supports environmental issues through advocacy and entrepreneurship, says this New York Times article.  The Times also notes that an important Peruvian tree is on the verge of going extinct.

This BBC blog has some analysis of last week’s talks in Barcelona and looks ahead to Copenhagen.

The documentary Tapped will have a free screening tomorrow at Brown University (Providence Journal).