Archive for June, 2011

President Obama might not have a true primary opponent in 2012, but Al Gore is keeping the heat on the president when it comes to climate change.

The former vice president’s essay in Rolling Stone last week put Obama on the hot seat over his administration’s environmental policy:

“President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis. He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community — including our own National Academy — to bring the reality of the science before the public.”

But is Gore correct in his attack on the White House? There is no doubt that the Obama administration hasn’t come through with a major bill that was a cure-all along the lines of health-care reform. However, is the only path to reform actually a big bill? There were lines of thinking in 2009 that health-care would’ve been better reformed one piece at a time. And while there is understandable frustration that the Obama administration took the big bill approach to health care and left climate change policy to be cobbled together, it might not be the worst thing.

The motto from most people who understand we need action on the environment immediately is that the small things will add up. Taking the 11-1 p.m. pledge to turn off lights when you don’t need them. Getting 35 mpg in your car as opposed to 20 mpg. Recycling. Reusing. Using cruise control. Perhaps even getting set-top boxes on your TV to use less energy.

This is the same strategy the Obama administration is using to fight climate change, only on a larger scale. The administration has given incentives to companies that produce electric-car batteries. It has forced higher emissions standards. It has pushed the EPA to begin measuring pollution as a way to eventually regulate it.

The failings of the White House to pass a larger bill have, however, weakened the administration in its international dealings. While the administration might have set an example for the nation that lifestyle changes in energy use can add up to make a difference, all the international community sees is a noncommittal country that has no major policy or goals to cut emissions. With the world believing that the U.S. isn’t stepping up, other countries will be less willing to step up. The global cooperation that is needed to solve climate change will be missing. That is the true cost of there being no larger climate change policy.

In response to Gore’s essay some believe the administration’s climate change policy has been seen as more of a political failure, according to the New York Times.

Paul Bledsoe, a former energy aide in the Clinton White House and now senior adviser at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said: “I entirely disagree with Gore here. Obama has consistently made a compelling case for climate action based on the science and has fought in Congress and internationally for robust policies to cut emissions and promote clean energy. The administration’s failing on climate has in fact been political.”

The political angle extends to international dealings as well. While the White House has pragmatically dealt with climate change, there seems to be no willingness to trumpet this internationally and that is problematic.

The true failing of Obama’s climate change policy is in the articulation of it. The White House seems afraid to group it as a policy, but the minor fixes used to fight climate change can add up – just as all humans should be making minor changes to their lifestyle, which will also add up to make a difference.

We hear plenty about energy-guzzling televisions, but the cable and DVR boxes aren’t so innocent either (NY Times).

North Dakota isn’t out of the woods yet for flooding (Washington Post).

Natural gas may be the next bubble (NY Times).

The UK claims Poland is blocking a deal on carbon dioxide emissions (BBC).

Sand usually isn’t good for water, unless it’s “super sand” (BBC).

A new sewage tank will virtually eliminate Boston Harbor beach closures (Boston Globe).

National Grid’s Massachusetts head defends the Cape Wind deal (Boston Globe).

Enough paper was recycled last year to fill 130 Empire State Buildings.

The Supreme Court tosses a climate change lawsuit (NY Times). Meanwhile, Al Gore isn’t happy with Obama’s climate record thus far (NY Times).

60 million barrels are released from the oil reserves, including 30 million in the U.S. (Washington Post).

The oceans are in bad shape, a panel says (BBC).

A 20-year mining ban is planned for the area around the Grand Canyon (LA Times).

Open space is rare to come by in most cities, so imagine the alarm when a block of it is roped off for the entire summer, but that’s the reality in Boston this year. The city is trying to reverse the effects of time on a block of grass on the Comm Ave Mall from Hereford St. to Mass. Ave. Call it environmental botox.

The soil in the open space has been compacted after more than a century, leaving the trees, grass and other plants looking for ways to take in nutrients. And so the soil underwent air spading, a technique that is expected to revitalize the grass.

Air spading provides high volumes of compressed air that breaks through heavily compacted soils without damaging roots. … After air spading your soil is replaced with highly nutritional and microbial inoculated compost.

Not only is the city doing it, but private property owners can get the procedure done on their own soil.

The health of trees is the most important factor in halting climate change since carbon dioxide can be taken in by trees. So it’s only smart that we go to extremes such as air spading in order to keep those trees healthy. Pictures of the project can be found here.

Americans remain supportive of increased offshore drilling (NY Times).

The drought in Texas has caused water-use conflicts (NY Times). Meanwhile, Chileans oppose a hydropower expansion (NY Times).

A Mass. solar cell maker gets a $150 million loan from the Department of Energy (Boston Globe). The Globe also has a Q&A with the state’s secretary for Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Plans are withdrawn for an LNG facility in Fall River (Boston Globe).

Laptops can save almost 50% more energy than their desktop counterparts.

Forests are vital for mitigating against climate change (BBC).

2/3 of New York City’s rooftops are suitable for solar panels (NY Times).

Record snowpacks out West bring good and bad news (LA Times).

Wind and hydropower are colliding in the Northwest (LA Times).

Perhaps the wholesale changes needed to halt global warming won’t be ushered in by government policy, but will come roaring in thanks to technology giants. They’ve created a world where everyone has a computer in their pocket – a change that has keyed uprisings in the Middle East as well as create an entirely lifestyle atmosphere in developed countries. Could revolutionizing the fight against global warming be next on the docket?

Bill Gates has his nuclear power project. Now Google has its solar energy project. Apple, what do you have up your sleeve?

Google’s move made sense on a couple of levels. The company has already dipped its toes into the water by being part of the smart-energy meters, which allow households to see real-time audits of their energy use. Using its venture funds to finance solar energy is simply an extension of that.

The $280 million Google deal with installer SolarCity is the largest of its kind. SolarCity can use the funds to pay for a solar system that it can offer to residents for no money down. In exchange, customers agree to pay a set price for the power produced by the panels.

Can Steve Jobs beat that? Apple has been criticized for not being the most environmentally friendly company, but its move to withdraw from the Chamber of Commerce due to the business organization’s opposition to cap-and-trade was hailed by environmentalists. Wind energy is still available to have a tech giant fund it. I bet there’s even an app for that.

Warming since 1995 has been statistically significant (BBC).

London may not hit air-quality targets in time for the 2012 Olympics (BBC).

Ford plans a hybrid-only minivan (Boston Globe).

This being graduation season, caps and gowns are another area where you can go green (LA Times).

An LA Time editorial criticizes President Obama’s conservation record. Meanwhile, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has taken a sharp right turn (LA Times).

A report says hedge funds are buying up African land (BBC).

It may take 10 years to learn lessons from Japan’s nuclear meltdown (BBC).