March 29, 2008

James Hansen: Practical Moves to Halt Climate Change

James Hansen is one of the most respected scientists on the topic of climate change. His 1988 Congressional testimony (yes, 20 years ago) opened the policy agenda when he testified that he was 99% confident that the globe was warming and that human CO2 emissions were the cause. Despite documented attempts by the current administration to muzzle Mr. Hansen and others with messages inconvenient to what he calls “well oiled” politicians, he has continued to grow in respect and has refused to be silenced. That is largely because facts over the last 20 years have shown his predictions to be consistently and highly reliable.

He has just released a draft paper now available on Columbia University’s website, "Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?" In a short summary of his well-reasoned but technical paper (second link below), NRDC reports on his conclusions that current concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (about 385 ppm) are already in dangerous territory and that we should be aiming to lower concentrations back to 350 ppm, rather than aiming to stabilize them at about 450 ppm, as previously suggested.

In a separate short message, "Rampant Negativity -- No Reason to be so Glum," Hansen dismisses claims that halting climate change is impractical. “What nonsense,” he says in his non-technical message, where Hansen provides his guidance that is directly responsive to the coal plant proposal:

(more after the jump)

(quoting) “In this paper we show that if emissions from coal are phased out linearly between 2020 and 2050 atmospheric CO2 will not exceed ~450 ppm, with the exact peak CO2 depending on the true amount of oil and gas reserves, about which there is some dispute. (Long-term coal use is permitted, but only with carbon capture and storage). The ~450 ppm CO2 peak also depends on the assumption that the world does not turn to unconventional fossil fuels (such as tar shale) as fossil fuels are depleted. Emissions from unconventional fossil fuels so far are negligible (mainly a small bit from tar sands), and that will always be the case if an appropriate price is placed on carbon emissions.” (endquote)

He goes on with some specific advice:
(quote) “People can help assure that maximum CO2 stays close to 400 ppm by vociferously opposing oil drilling in environmentally sensitive regions such as the Arctic and Antarctic, on public land, in off-shore regions where states and other governments can foil the desire of oil companies to extract every last drop of oil, etc. Of course the most effective way to assure that we do not act as desperate addicts, refusing to move to the cleaner world beyond fossil fuels, tearing up the land for every last bit of fossil fuels, is via a significant and gradually rising price on carbon emissions.

Hansen continues:
“The public must take the lead, because there are so many “well-oiled” officials in our governments, and not just in the United States. To summarize the present and prior discussions, important things that the public can do are:
1. Fight for a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants,
2. Oppose extraction of fossil fuels in public and environmentally sensitive regions,
3. Vote for politicians who take the Stewardship pledge
– do not vote for “well-oiled” politicians who accept funding from fossil fuel interests.
” (endquote).

Those who have bet on James Hansen being wrong have usually lost. I am betting that he knows what he is talking about. Defeating domestic addicts seeking to sacrifice our children’s future for current jobs will be manageable. The hard nut to crack will be China, which is building new coal-fired plants every day. But the first step in getting your friend “clean and sober” is to get clean and sober oneself. Jan. 20, 2009 can’t come too soon.

Thanks to NRDC's Switchboard for the heads-up to Hansen's papers.

Posted by dougsimpson at 11:10 AM

March 28, 2008

Study documents hotter, drier American West due to climate change.

Temperature data from eleven western states over five years shows the Colorado River basin was 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the historical average for the past century, more than twice the global average increase during the same period. This is according to a study by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO), a coalition of 17 local governments, Colorado's largest water provider, 17 businesses and 11 nonprofits.

In a press release on March 27, study author Stephen Saunders said: “Since 2000 we have seen $2.7 billion in crop loss claims due to drought. Global warming is harming valuable commercial salmon fisheries, reducing hunting activity and revenues, and threatening shorter and less profitable seasons for ski resorts.
(read more below the break)

Prolonged drought in the Colorado River basin threatens water supplies for the 30 million people in fast-growing western cities such as Denver, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego. Seven of the eleven states (Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington) and two Canadian provinces (British Columbia and Manitoba) have joined the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), agreeing to cut global warming pollution through a market-based system, such as cap-and-trade.

The full report, jointly published by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and RMCO, "Hotter and Drier: The West's Changed Climate," draws on 50 scientific studies, 125 other government and scientific sources, and NRDC-RMCO's own new analyses. It documents the evidence that the West is being affected more by a changed climate than any other part of the United States outside of Alaska.

Executive Summary
Chapter 1: The West Is Getting Hotter
Chapter 2: The West is Getting Drier
Chapter 3: The Colorado River: Hotter and Drier
Chapter 4: Disruption of Ecosystems
Chapter 5: Global Warming Harms Business, Recreation, and Tourism
Chapter 6: Immediate Action Can Curb Global Warming
Chapter 7: Policy Conclusions and Recommendations
Appendix: A State-by-State Analysis of Warming in the West

Posted by dougsimpson at 11:06 AM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2008

DOT quietly releases report showing impact of climate change on transport infrastructure

Impacts of Climate Change and Variability on Transportation Systems and Infrastructure: Gulf Coast Study, analyzes how Gulf Coast roads and highways, transit services, oil and gas pipelines, freight handling ports, transcontinental railroad networks, waterway systems, and airports are likely to be harmed by heat waves, extreme precipitation events, sea level rise, increased hurricane intensity, and storm surge damage associated with climate change. The report outlines why changes must be incorporated in transportation planning now in order to avoid serious future problems.

From the report: "While further study is needed to examine in more detail the impacts on specific transportation facilities, such as individual airports or rail terminals, this preliminary assessment finds that the potential impacts on infrastructure are so important that transportation decision makers should begin immediately to assess them in the development of transportation investment strategies."

Click here to read the full Gulf Coast report:

Click here to read Climate Science Watch’s full analysis of the situation:

Click here to link to the DOT press release:

Posted by dougsimpson at 08:45 PM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2008

"Is It Easy Being Green?: Sustainable Development and the Law"

Notes on the 15th Gallivan Conference, "Is It Easy Being Green?: Sustainable Development and the Law," held at the University of Connecticut School of Law on February 29, 2008.
(read more below the fold)

First Session: "Going Green: The What and the Why"

Moderator Greg Sharp (Murtha Cullina)
* opened with a definition of "sustainable development" as that which meets the needs of the present generation, without compromising the needs of future generations.

Panelist Bharat Patel (Architectural firm HOK), Chair of the U.S.Green Building Council, L.A. Chapter
* reviewed history of UNFCCC 92, Kyoto 97, and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that created a cap-and-trade market in carbon
* California leads the way with A.B. 32 legislation
* Deforestation contributes 1.5 billion tons of CO2 annually (~20% of GHG emissions)
* Bali meeting featured the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility encouraged by the World Bank, based on principle that more money is to be made buying and preserving forest than by clearing and developing it.

Mr. Patel told a "Tale of Two Worlds,"
* North and South hemispheres have dramatic income and resource disparity
* 3 billion people live on less than $2/day;
* When the very poor cannot live on the land, they go to the city, where populations are exploding
* "Adaptation" is possible, but requires money that is not available in the South
* Pre-fabrication and central design of shelter enables efficiency in green building
* Microloans (e.g. Kiva) being used to invest in solar PV installs in the "off the grid" Bangladesh, enabling shops to stay open after dark, kids to study and reduced indoor air pollution from traditional light sources
* Growing number of "climate refugees" have nowhere to go, and no money to get there.

Panelist Prof. Daniel C. Esty, (Yale Forestry & Environmental Studies)
* Spoke of change in business and government, shifting from a "command and control" model of regulation based on mandates to a "market based" model based on charges for exceeding standards.
* Government does not have the resources to generate the technological innovation needed;
* Essential to shift innovation from government to private sector;
* Sea change in the view of business; a market-based view requires a constant element of strategy in business; environment and sustainability now an essential part of business success;
* Industrial sector (e.g. GE and UTC) sees big profit and market in providing solutions to the alternative energy and sustainable building challenges.

Prof. Esty focused on the response of Wall Street and corporate boardrooms
* Many companies are facing new exposure to climate change and political response as the set of stakeholders grows and communities become more unified.
* Capital markets are responding and asking which companies are "carbon exposed."
* Carbon Disclosure Project is an international non-profit that is pushing for more corporate disclosure of carbon exposure by business.
* Jeff Emmelt (GE) and George David (United Technologies) investing billions in environmental goods and services, out of expectation of profit, not altruism.
* Others (e.g. Ford Motor) still producing gas guzzlers and failing to take a strategic approach to carbon exposure, while Toyota succeeding in making its whole fleet smarter and more efficient.
* This is not a fad that will go away; the pressure will increase over time.

Prof. Esty is co-author with Andrew S. Winston of "Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage" Other material and the author's blog is at

In response to an audience question, Mr. Patel said that while the capital cost of PV solar panels has dropped from $98/watt to $2/watt, the price of installed systems is still high because of a shortage of skilled labor. Training roofers to be certified "solar installers" will bring new money into the working and middle class and lower costs of installed PV systems.

The Second Panel: "Economics of Green Building"

Moderator Prof. Sara Bronin (U.Conn. Law)

Panelist Brian Garcia, (Yale Center for Business and the Environment)
* Invited all to Yale's Carbon Finance speaker series "The Business of Climate Change" on May 8 & 9 at Yale University.
* Studies show building professionals significantly underestimate the GHG emissions from buildings, and overestimate the additional costs to "build green"
* Described Yale's commitment to GHG reductions on its campus and new construction, using the Barnard Environmental Magnet School as a model
* Solar finance very much alive (commercial building owner leases a solar roof from financier that pays for install and gets repaid by building owner over 20 years) Citizenre about to attempt to apply this financing to residences.
* Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are regulatory requirements that utilities include renewable energy sources in their production mix.

Panelist Bruce Becker, AIA, AICP (Becker & Becker)

* Provided cost/benefit numbers from two case studies from his architectural and development firm's portfolio
* "The Octogon" on Roosevelt Island in Manhattan recycled a hospital into 500 apartments, retail space, underground parking and green roof, designed to be 35% more efficient than required by the NY Code and to meet LEED Silver standard. Its 50kw PV roof is the largest in Manhattan.
* 745 Chapel Street, New Haven (proposed) that will put an LEED Silver high-rise on a one-acre vacant lot, adding 460 apartments (50 affordable) plus retail space, child care facilities and covered parking at no public cost. The parcel is across the street from the New Haven Metro North intercity rail station and one block from New Haven Green.
* Mr. Becker emphasized that state legislation is needed to get tax credits for some features, or capital constraints will make them unavailable. Depreciation benefits are not useful because developers need capital upfront. Tax credits can be monetized into capital for building features.

Luncheon Speaker Doug Foy (Founding Partner of Serrafix and former Secretary of Commonwealth Development in Massachusetts)

* Climate change is the environmental issue of our age; he is confident that it can be fixed, but our children will pay for what has already been done. "This is the scariest environmental problem I have ever seen."
* Our society is very bad with generational issues, with making change now to benefit our grandkids
* Buildings are the first and most important part of doing something about it.
* Must fix existing buildings at a scale never before attempted. For example, New York City is the more energy efficient city in the U.S. It has ~980 thousand buildings, only one thousand will be LEED certified once existing projects are done. 1/980 is a small number.
* Building code ENFORCEMENT is a key challenge ... cheaters are undercutting good players
* Cities are the most interesting platform for energy conservation; they are incredibly location-efficient in energy, water and social support structures.

As head of Commonwealth Development, Mr. Foy found siting decisions have significant cost in energy/climate effects. For example, siting schools at the edge of town instead of in town center adds significant transportation costs not factored in by traditional C.B.A. Every auto owned by a family equates to $100,000 increment in mortgage that could be obtained with the cash flow otherwise spent on the car. Historically, miles driven per capita in the U.S. is increasing three times as fast as population.

China is building multiple 10 million person cities from scratch, is pushing millions of people into cities. China is building 8,000 miles of intercity rail transit. China is building energy efficiency into its new infrastructure, giving it a competitive advantage over those that do not.

States can influence local zoning by conditioning state funding on funded municipalities meeting goals for sustainability and siting standards that reflect external transportation costs.

Third Panel: "Green Building in Connecticut"

Moderator Atty. Jennifer Jenelle (Shipman & Goodwin)
Connecticut is "bleeding green" but not green energy ... greenbacks. It has the second highest energy costs in the U.S. (second only to Hawaii), high growth in demand and an an energy transit problem aggravated by a "BNNA" ("Build Nothing Near Anyone") problem.

Panelist Amey Marrella (Dep. Comm. Department of Environmental Protection)
* 2006 legislation put green requirements on new state-supported construction, exempting schools
* 2007 legislation added schools to the scope of the 2006 requirements, set standard of 20% above current code requirements for energy efficiency, and required revisions of state's building code to conform to legislative requirements. (See P.A. 07-242, 07-213 and 07-242).
* A Task Force developed definitions of "Responsible Growth," to include redevelopment of brownfields rather than development of greenfields
* 2008 proposed legislation includes a Green Collar Jobs program (S.B.23 Sec. 6) now before the legislature.

Panelist William Leahy (Eastern Conn. State Univ.- Institute for Sustainable Energy)
* Recent studies based on sample of Connecticut schools showed that they scored only 26/100 on an Average Energy Star Benchmark Score
* 90% of schools in Connecticut are over 30 years old, built in an era when energy was cheap and conservation not an issue.
* "High Performance Building" (HPB) costs a little more (~5%) to build, but has a lower life cycle cost due to 40-50% energy savings and produces better performance outcomes from students, faculty and staff.
* A study by Greg Kats, "Greening America's Schools: Costs and Benefits," found net positive benefits of greening schools
* Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems a high pay-off item for institutions like schools.
* More information at

Panelist Prof. Curt Johnson (Conn. Fund for the Environment)
* Connecticut has an old stock of existing buildings and much economic disparity
* "Absolutely essential to support green collar jobs"
* For small builders, price increment of 3-5% for green building eats their entire profit margin
* Business tax credit bill is needed, to provide tradeable tax credits that small builders can capitalize into funds for green features.

This conference was the 15th Gallivan Conference, offered by the University of Connecticut School of Law on February 29, 2008.

Posted by dougsimpson at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)