While We Were Hibernating

by Bill Chameides | January 11th, 2010
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 2 comments

The world continued to turn while TheGreenGrok was on holiday. Here is some of what’s been happening.

Green Revolution Meets Green Protection

Environmentalists rarely speak with one voice. Take green energy facilities for example. If they threaten habitat, diversity, even vistas, you can bet your bottom dollar there’ll be a fight between the greens over who the real greenie is.

A case in point is the Mojave Desert where a host of solar plants and wind farms has been proposed. Some environmentalists, fearing the projects will irretrievably damage a unique desert habitat, are opposing the facilities. In late December these “protectionists” won a partial victory: legislation introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (C-DA) would turn parts of the area into national monuments. Some would-be Mojave renewable energy developers have already withdrawn their proposals. (Read a more nuanced take on Feinstein’s bill here.)

In a rather bizarre move, environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, who has vociferously opposed the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound because of the eyesore potential, blasted Senator Feinstein for taking “this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review.”

Speaking of Nantucket Sound, two Indian tribes may have put the kibosh on the Cape Wind project, at least as proposed, because it would disrupt their rituals and burial grounds: the National Parks announced last week that the area is eligible for listing on the historical registry. Final ruling expected in March.

Carbon Price Roller Coaster

Will there be international caps on carbon emissions? It’s not just an environmental issue; it’s an issue for investors. After bouncing around last year, the price of carbon permits in the European Union Emission Trading System tanked after the Copenhagen climate talks failed to establish binding emission targets — permits for delivery in December 2010 were down by almost 9 percent on December 21, 2009. This month those prices rebounded by about six percent.

Was there a change in the political climate? Did the United States and China reach some climate agreement? No. Gas and oil prices went up and that apparently helped make carbon emission permits more valuable. Go figure. (On a related note, though carbon prices fell at the end of last year, the carbon market grew.)

Copenhagen Dust Not Settled

While it might be PC to proclaim Copenhagen a qualified success, clearly a lot of bitterness and disappointment abounds. Britain and China got into it pretty good.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was quoted as saying: “Never again should we let a global deal towards a greener future be held ransom by only a handful of countries.” Wonder which countries was he talking about?

British Energy Minister Ed Miliband bluntly accused China of having “vetoed” proposals for specific emission targets.

China of course took exception. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu accused “an individual British politician” of misrepresenting what really happened in Copenhagen. The real culprit: the developed countries. She said: “We urge them to correct mistakes, fulfill their obligations to developing countries in an earnest way, and stay away from activities that hinder … the international community.”

Green Revolution Polluting China?

China is investing in green energy. Last Sunday, Tom Friedman cogently argued that the entrepreneurial Chinese could leave America behind in the green revolution. Maybe so, but not all green is created equal. The elements essential to new green technologies come primarily from China and the mining of them is causing an environmental disaster, the New York Times recently reported.

Oil Spill Revisited

Lightning might not strike the same place twice, but oil spills are a different story. The same reef that did in the Exxon Valdez 20 years ago, causing the humongous oil spill in Prince William Sound, did it again. This time it was a tugboat that crashed into Bligh Reef, leaving “a three-mile sheen of fuel oil on the water.” Ironically, the tug was part of the Ship Escort Response Vessel System created in response to the Valdez accident to prevent such a spill from ever happening again.

What the Frac

Estimates of recoverable natural gas reserves in the United States have skyrocketed due to the widespread adoption of techniques like “hydraulic fracturing” that allow natural gas extraction from formations that were previously considered too difficult to develop. Hydraulic fracturing liberates natural gas trapped in shale by opening the rock with high-pressure injections of water, sand, and a variety of chemicals (some toxic).

A large reserve of so-called shale gas is found in the Marcellus, a geologic formation stretching from New York to West Virginia underlying the Appalachians. Natural gas companies have been tooling up to exploit the area’s shale, especially in Pennsylvania and upstate New York, buying land, leasing rights, and putting up drilling rigs.

Not so fast, says New York City, which gets all of its drinking water from upstate New York. If some of the polluted water pumped into the shale during fracturing gets into the city’s watershed, the economic consequences could be huge.

New York State developed regulations to preclude such an event, but the unconvinced city folks did their own study. Released on December 22, that study [pdf] concluded that “development of natural gas reserves using current technology … would compromise the City’s ability to protect its watershed and the continued … provision of the high-purity water supply.”

On December 30, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency weighed in with concerns [pdf] “about the potential risks associated with gas drilling activities in the New York City watershed and the reservoirs that collect drinking water for nine million people.”

Tobacco Up in Smoke in the Tar Heel State

In North Carolina tobacco is king. Or was. Much of the state’s wealth and many of it
s institutions, including Duke University, were built on tobacco money. The state, which produces about half of all U.S. tobacco, chipped away at that legacy by banning smoking in all bars and restaurants.

Russians to the Rescue

Forget global warming — colliding with an asteroid would really be bad news. Not to worry. Russia’s Space Agency announced plans for a new project aimed at deflecting an asteroid that is hurtling through space in our direction and could conceivably hit us in a couple of decades. Conceivable? Yes. Serious enough to worry about? You be the judge. The chances are about 1 in 250,000 that the asteroid will strike earth in 2036, just a wee bit smaller than the chances of global warming causing a climate catastrophe. But why worry about a homegrown disaster when you’ve got one from outer space to work on?

EPA Takes Stand for Science

The U.S. EPA proposed a new ambient air quality standard for ground-level ozone, a criteria pollutant. The new limits are tighter than what the Bush administration put in place in 2008. Why a change so quickly? The previous standard ignored the advice of scientific panels. The Obama administration’s proposal corrects that “oversight” by taking into account scientific recommendations.

Whither Weather

Has anyone noticed? It’s been cold out there, even in the Sunshine State, where, speaking of hibernating (see the headline), iguanas are dropping from trees in response to record low temps. The lizards look dead, but really it’s a kind of hibernation, as their bodies shut down when the mercury drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Let’s hope the crops fare better than those cold-blooded reptiles.

filed under: animals, carbon dioxide emissions, faculty, global warming, natural gas, renewable energy
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  1. Bill Chameides
    Jan 22, 2010

    Brook: The evil profit motive, huh? Perhaps we should just get rid of it entirely? Everyone working for the greater good. Oh, they tried that already.

  2. brook
    Jan 18, 2010

    After reading about carbon trade/market, I feel carbon emission is just another commodity that those smart traders on Wall-street or London can trade. When you have to pay for the higher gas price in the cold winter or higher electric bills in the hot summer, you may realize the purpose of those traders are not for saving energy and protecting environment. They are just betting on the price to make more profit. With the extra expense of the high salary and bonus for those traders and more profits for the big entities, we would think Dr. Hansen is right, carbon tax may be better than carbon trade.

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