Left color

Climate Change: The Greening of America

Posted January 30, 2007 by

Jan. 25, 2007, from

The Economist

How America is likely to take over leadership of the fight against climate change; and how it can get it right.

A country with a presidential system tends to get identified with its leader. So, for the rest of the world, America is George Bush’s America right now. It is the country that has mismanaged the Iraq war; holds prisoners without trial at Guantánamo Bay; restricts funding for stem-cell research because of fundamentalist religious beliefs; and destroyed the chance of a global climate-change deal based on the Kyoto protocol.

But to simplify thus is to misunderstand–—especially in the case of huge, federal America. One of its great strengths is the diversity of its political, economic and cultural life. While the White House dug its heels in on global warming, much of the rest of the country was moving (see article). That’s what forced the president’s concession to greens in the state-of-the-union address on January 23rd. His poll ratings sinking under the weight of Iraq, Mr. Bush is grasping for popular issues to keep him afloat; and global warming has evidently become such an issue. Albeit in the context of energy security, a now familiar concern of his, Mr. Bush spoke for the first time to Congress of “the serious challenge of global climate change” and proposed measures designed, in part, to combat it.

Hot for the time of year

It’s the weather, appropriately, that has turned public opinion—–starting with Hurricane Katrina. Scientists had been warning Americans for years that the risk of “extreme weather events” would probably increase as a result of climate change. But scientific papers do not drive messages home as convincingly as the destruction of a city. And the heatwave that torched America’s west coast last year, accompanied by a constant drip of new research on melting glaciers and dying polar bears, has only strengthened the belief that something must be done.

Business is changing its mind too. Five years ago corporate America was solidly against carbon controls. But the threat of a patchwork of state regulations, combined with the opportunity to profit from new technologies, began to shift business attitudes. And that movement has gained momentum, because companies that saw their competitors espouse carbon controls began to fear that, once the government got down to designing regulations, they would be left out of the discussion if they did not jump on the bandwagon. So now the loudest voices are not resisting change but arguing for it.
Support for carbon controls has also grown among some unlikely groups: security hawks (who want to reduce America’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil); farmers (who like subsidies for growing the raw material for ethanol); and evangelicals (who worry that man should be looking after the Earth God gave him a little better). This alliance has helped persuade politicians to move. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California’s Republican governor, has led the advance, with muscular measures legislating Kyoto-style curbs in his state. His popularity has rebounded as a result. And now there is movement too at the federal level, which is where it really matters. Since the Democrats took control of Congress after the November mid-term elections, bills to tackle climate change have proliferated. And three of the serious candidates for the presidency in 2008–—John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama–—are all pushing for federal measures.

Europe’s good, and bad, example

Unfortunately, Mr Bush’s new-found interest in climate change is coupled with, and distorted by, his focus on energy security. Reducing America’s petrol consumption by 20% by 2017, a target he announced in the state-of-the-union address, would certainly diminish the country’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil, but the way he plans to go about it may not be either efficient or clean. Increasing fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks will go part of the way, but for most of the switch America will have to rely on a greater use of alternative fuels. That means ethanol (inefficient because of heavy subsidies and high tariffs on imports of foreign ethanol) or liquefied coal (filthy because of high carbon emissions).

The measure of Mr Bush’s failure to tackle this issue seriously is his continued rejection of the only two clean and efficient solutions to climate change. One is a carbon tax, which this paper has long advocated. The second is a cap-and-trade system of the sort Europe introduced to meet the Kyoto targets. It would limit companies’ emissions while allowing them to buy and sell permits to pollute. Either system should, by setting a price on carbon, discourage its emission; and, in doing so, encourage the development and use of cleaner-energy technologies. Just as America’s adoption of catalytic converters led eventually to the world’s conversion to lead-free petrol, so its drive to clean-energy technologies will ensure that these too spread.

A tax is unlikely because of America’s aversion to that three-letter word. Given that, it should go for a tough cap-and-trade system. In doing so, it can usefully learn from Europe’s experience. First, get good data. Europe failed to do so: companies were given too many permits, and emissions have therefore not fallen. Second, auction permits (which are, in effect, money) rather than giving them away free. Europe gave them away, which allowed polluters to make windfall profits. This will be a huge fight; for, if the federal government did what the Europeans did, it would hand out $40 billion-50 billion in permits. Third, set a long time-horizon. Europeans do not know whether carbon emissions will still be constrained after 2012, when Kyoto runs out. Since most clean-energy projects have a payback period of more than five years, the system thus fails to encourage green investment.
One of America’s most admirable characteristics is its belief that it has a duty of moral leadership. At present, however, it’s not doing too well on that score. Global warming could change that. By tackling the issue now it could regain the high moral ground (at the same time as forging ahead in the clean-energy business, which Europe might otherwise dominate). And it looks as though it will; for even if the Toxic Texan continues to evade the issue, his successor will grasp it.

Share:

Some Scientists Protest Draft of Warming Report

Posted January 30, 2007 by

WASHINGTON–January 29, 2007–Later this week, international climate scientists will issue a dire forecast for the planet that warns of slowly rising sea levels and higher temperatures. But that may be the sugarcoated version.

Early drafts of their upcoming report on climate change foresee smaller sea level rises than were projected in 2001 in the last report. Many top US scientists reject these rosier numbers. Those calculations don’t include the recent, and dramatic, melt-off of big ice sheets in two crucial locations:
They “don’t take into account the gorillas–Greenland and Antarctica,” said Ohio State University earth sciences professor Lonnie Thompson, a polar ice specialist. “I think there are unpleasant surprises as we move into the 21st century.”

Michael MacCracken, who until 2001 coordinated the official US government reviews of the international climate report on global warming, has fired off a letter of protest over the omission.
The melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are a fairly recent development that has taken scientists by surprise. They don’t know how to forecast its effects in their computer models. But many fear it means that the world’s coastlines will be swamped much earlier than most predict.
Others believe the ice melt is temporary and won’t play such a dramatic role.

That debate may be the central one as scientists and bureaucrats from around the world gather in Paris to finish the first of four major global warming reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel was created by the United Nations in 1988.

After four days of secret editing, the final report will be issued Friday.

The early versions of the report predict that by 2100 the sea level will rise between 5 and 23 inches. That is far lower than the 20 to 55 inches forecast by 2100 in a study published in the peer review journal Science this month. Other climate scientists, including NASA’s James Hansen, predict a sea level rise that can be measured by feet more than inches.

The report is also expected to include some kind of proviso that says things could be much worse if ice sheets continue to melt.

The prediction being considered this week by the IPCC is “obviously not the full story because ice sheet decay is something we cannot model right now, but we know it’s happening,” said Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate panel lead author from Germany who made the larger prediction of up to 55 inches of sea level rise. “A document like that tends to underestimate the risk,” he said.

“This will dominate their discussion because there’s so much contentiousness about it,” said Bob Corell, chairman of Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, a multinational research effort. “If the IPCC comes out with significantly less than one meter [about 39 inches of sea level rise], there will be people in the science community saying we don’t think that’s a fair reflection of what we know.”

There are questions about how permanent the melting in Greenland and Antarctica are, said panel lead author Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.

Share:

Going Deep to Renew Energy

Posted January 30, 2007 by

QUINCY–Deep-water wind farms will top the agenda when U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., leads a congressional delegation to Germany this spring.

The trip will involve discussions of a variety of energy issues, said Delahunt, chairman of the bipartisan study group that includes current and former members of Congress.
But of particular interest to Delahunt, who represents Cape Cod and the Islands, are German renewable energy companies – including one involved in building a test deep-water wind farm off the German coast in the North Sea.

Some of the companies in this project ”are beginning to talk about a need for American subsidiaries,” Delahunt said. ”What better place than Massachusetts for this kind of foreign investment? Wind is to the Northeast, what oil is to Saudi Arabia,” he said.

”If we can interest them in Massachusetts, in the Northeast region as a whole, we could be talking not only about the development of a renewable energy site, but also of bringing new jobs to this area.”
In December, the German government announced it had joined forces with private energy companies to develop a deep-water wind farm in the North Sea, about 35 miles off the coast. The Germans are looking to build wind turbines in rough waters approximately 100 feet deep.
Germany will invest $65 million in the project Borkum West, with an additional $165 million invested by energy companies.

Deep-water wind farms–turbines installed in water more than 60 feet deep–are often touted as the future of wind energy in part because the ultimate payoff is bigger. Wind on open waters is more consistent and stronger than that closer to shore.

However, this is also one of the pitfalls. Deep-water sites are more expensive to build and maintain than their shallow-water counterparts.

By comparison, the Cape Wind proposal to build 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound would be considered a shallow-water project. Plans call for turbines to be built in water no deeper than 50 feet.
Deep-water turbines must be designed to survive more violent wave action and tougher offshore winds. So while deep-water projects have the potential to produce more energy, the initial investment is costly. And in Europe–where projects are under way to test deep-water technology–national governments have invested money with private developers.

The U.S. has yet to make such a commitment through its national energy policy. One of the challenges, said Delahunt, ”is our true commitment to investing in renewable energies.”

Experts disagree on whether the deep-water technology is viable now. Great Britain is engaged in a deep-water test project off the coast of Scotland, but turbines are just now being installed there in water up to 150 feet deep.

Some say it will be another 10 to 15 years before deep-water turbines will produce energy. Others say it could be just a matter of a few years before the emphasis shifts to deep-water sites because larger, more efficient wind farms can be built in open seas.

Delahunt, whose opposition to the Cape Wind proposal is well documented, said investigating and encouraging deepwater projects is something ”separate and apart from Cape Wind…This has to be part of an overall national energy policy,” he said.

”The Germans are forging ahead of us in the area of renewable energy, particularly in the area of wind energy,” he said. Massachusetts should invite international companies to look at this region for expansion and growth, particularly those companies engaged in renewable energy.”

Mark Rodgers, spokesman for Cape Wind Associates, the private company forging ahead with plans to develop a 130-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound, applauds Delahunt’s trip to Europe and his interest in renewable energy.

”But let’s keep in mind that Cape Wind is not theoretical,” said Rodgers. ”Cape Wind is buildable now.”

Share:

Secretary Bowles Announces Management Team for Energy and Environment

Posted January 23, 2007 by

BOSTON–Friday, January 5, 2007–Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles today announced additions to the management team at the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Bowles has selected as Chief of Staff Jane Corr, who will focus on intergovernmental relations, serve as liaison to the governor’s office and oversee management of the Secretariat. Philip Griffiths will be Undersecretary for Environment and will play a lead role for the Secretariat on management with the state’s four environmental agencies and with implementing the Administration’s environmental agenda. David Cash will be Assistant Secretary for Policy, working on the development of policy initiatives across the environmental and energy domains. And Robert Keough will serve as Assistant Secretary for Communications and Public Affairs, managing strategic communications and overseeing media relations. Bowles had previously selected Ann Berwick, an environmental consultant and lawyer, to be Undersecretary of Energy.

“This management team represents a dynamic mix of agency experience and new perspectives,’ said Secretary Bowles. “I’m confident that this team will be highly effective in assisting me and Governor Patrick as we work to restore Massachusetts’s national leadership role on environmental protection and energy policy.”

Corr 
comes to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs from the Deval Patrick Committee and the Patrick/Murray Transition Committee, where she was Deputy Finance Director, Special Projects Manager for the Field Department, and Deputy Transition Director. Corr practiced law at Lyne, Woodworth and Evarts in Boston and then worked on community and civic projects while raising her family. She holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the College of the Holy Cross and a law degree from Cornell Law School. She lives in Winchester with her husband, Jim Wall, and their three children, Kevin, Colin, and Kate.

Griffiths 
is a Department of Environmental Protection career professional and currently serves as Acting Chief of Staff for the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. In 10 years at DEP he held a variety of positions, including Assistant Commissioner and Chief of Staff. He holds a master’s degree in city and regional planning from the University of California at Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in history from Tufts University. Griffiths lives with his wife, Maura Smith, in Watertown.

Cash 
most recently served as Director of Air, Energy & Waste Policy at the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. Prior to EOEA he taught Environmental Science and Public Policy at Harvard and was a Research Associate at the Kennedy School of Government, where he earned a Ph.D. in public policy. He received an MAT in science education from Lewis and Clark College and a BS in biology from Yale University. Cash lives in Newton with his wife, Annie Weiss, a psychotherapist, and daughters Sophie and Eliza.

Keough 
is currently editor of CommonWealth, the quarterly magazine of politics, ideas, and civic life in Massachusetts published by MassINC, of which Bowles was formerly publisher. A veteran journalist, he has been news editor of the Worcester Phoenix, the Providence Phoenix, and state government reporter for the Boston Business Journal. His articles have appeared in The Boston GlobeGoverning magazine, The New Republic OnlineEducation Week, and other publications. Keough is a graduate of Brown University. He lives in Brookline with his wife, Susan Goldberger. They have two daughters, Nina and Emma.

Secretary Bowles has also named three agency professionals to serve as acting commissioners for environmental departments under EOEEA.

Priscilla Geigis will be acting commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, where she is currently Director of the Division of State Parks and Recreation. Since 1992, Geigis has served in a variety of positions in the state’s environmental agencies, including Deputy General Counsel and Director of Community Preservation at the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and Deputy General Counsel at the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Environmental Law Enforcement (now the Department of Fish and Game). She holds a master’s degree in government administration and a juris doctor degree.

Scott Soares will be acting commissioner of the Department of Agricultural Resources. A marine biologist by training, he has served in a variety of positions at DAR since 1996, beginning as the state’s first Aquaculture Director.

Thomas French will serve as acting commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game, where he is currently Director of the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. A 12-year veteran of the department, French holds degrees in biology and zoology, as well as a Ph.D. in ecology and systematics.

In addition, Arleen O’Donnell, who is currently acting commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, will continue to serve as acting commissioner.

Share:

Developing a Strategic Plan for GIS in Massachusetts

Posted January 22, 2007 by

Whether you are a user of GIS software, a manager, a planner or anyone else who benefits from GIS, we need your input. How do we ensure that all GIS stakeholders have access to the basic information that they need? MassGIS and the Massachusetts Geographic Information Council invite you to participate in a series of workshops across the state to be facilitated by Applied Geographics of Boston. At these workshops we will solicit your ideas and suggestions on how best to develop and maintain four categories of spatial data on which many of you rely:

  • Standardized property boundaries as shown on municipal tax maps,
  • Color orthoimagery (including infrared band) and associated elevation data,
  • Standardized road centerline network with address ranges, and
  • Critical infrastructure locations (mapped via address to the parcel/building level).

At each workshop we will:

  1. Review the status of key data layers listed above,
  2. Assess common interests and needs relative to these layers,
  3. Determine what needs are not being met,
  4. Seek consensus on a strategy for meeting those needs.

The next workshop is scheduled for Boston, January 24, 8:30-12:30

McCormick Building, 21st Flr., One Ashburton Place

This project is part of the Fifty States Initiative being implemented by the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) of which MassGIS is a member.

For more information on this project and workshops please visit www.mass.gov/mgis/stratplan.html.

Directions
 for each workshop.

We know you are busy. But we need to hear from you. Please come to one of these workshops, and RSVP to Paul.Nutting (at) state.ma.us if you think you can attend. Also, please pass this invitation along to anyone that you work with who might be interested.

Share: