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Grab a paintbrush and geo-engineer

In addition to planting fake plastic trees, another simple “geo-engineering” measure, suggests Brad Plumer (via Yglesias), is to “paint all our roofs white, reflecting more of the sun’s heat and cooling the Earth.”

This obviously makes sense, and along with other standard home modification measures (solar panels, high-efficiency lighting, etc.), as well as some that are probably more instinctively unpopular — the fetish of having a perfectly green lawn (and not in the environmental sense) is not lying to die out soon — painting roofs while is indeed a “total no-brainer” in terms of reducing our environmental impact. The problem, as Matt recognizes, is that the farther that the geo-engineering scale tips toward the drastic (or the ridiculous), the less vigorously politicians feel compelled to push for costly reductions in carbon emissions.

The point of trying to reclaim the term “geo-engineering” from the province of futuristic tubes pumping sulfur dioxide into the air does seem worthwhile. If it’s about painting houses, everyone can be a “geo-engineer,” and maybe we won’t have to worry as much about those rogue environmentalist billionaires.


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RedState confuses strategy and policy in climate article

RedState commits a major misread of a Bloomberg article yesterday in which UN Foundation President (and former Clinton climate negotiator) Tim Wirth lays out the most salient strategy for passage of a climate bill in the U.S. Congress.  Bending the conversation for his own ideology (and misspelling “Wirth” three times in the process) Caleb Howe suggests — no, repeats in italics — that Senator Wirth thinks the bill is too broad as a matter of policy (not political strategy) and would not support the bill as such.

Presumably Howe knows the difference between when someone in the political sphere is discussing practical strategy (i.e. a “process story”) and when they’re advocating a position, but he doesn’t exhibit that precision here.  Though the Bloomberg piece isn’t very clear, logic would indicate the former in this case, particularly when, in a easily retrievable statement on the UN Foundation website, Wirth clearly says, “[Waxman-Markey] is the first step toward an energy policy for the 21st century. It will lead to technical innovation, good domestic jobs, less use of oil and more protection of the world we live in.” Sounds like support to me.

To be more clear, Wirth sent a letter around today in which he wrote:

Legislation in the Senate is the second step. The Senate will require a different combination to unlock the necessary votes to pass this critical legislation this year.  As noted in the Bloomberg story, I have repeatedly argued that to win passage, legislation must include a number of important elements: very strong efficiency standards, agriculture-related provisions, a package for nuclear power, a carbon emissions standard for new power generation, and a strong natural gas piece.

In other words, because “Senate passage of legislation is absolutely essential for U.S. security, economic and climate interests,” the Senate needs to do whatever it can to get the strongest bill it can passed. Due to the recent developments that Howe mentions in the first few words of the post, that might mean trimming the fat — as Wirth advocates.


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Global warming and an Arctic scramble

Canada, never known as being much of an agressor, is launching military exercises in its far North. They’ll involve land, air, and sea operations in Canada’s portion of the Arctic. This is one more consequence of global warming. Canada’s territory extends into the Arctic, and as ice sheets melt that territory will get more navigable. Canada, pretty clearly, wants to get in there first and claim anything interesting that opens up.

One thing that might open up is an easily navigated Northwest Passage. It’s a sea route through the Arctic Ocean, first pursued by Henry Hudson (–>) in 1610. Right now it’s mostly blocked by ice pack, but global warming might change that.

Looks like Canada wants to be ready, and stake its claim now. Canada’s not the only country that wants a piece of a newly thawed Arctic. Russia, Denmark, the US, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland, are all claiming some level of sovereignty over any hypothetical passage. Resolving this is going to be messy. 

One potential loser in this scramble, though, may be the United States.  So long as the United States remains outside the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, it remains exceedingly difficult for the United States to challenge claims made by other Artic countries. 


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If environmental NGOs wrote the Climate Treaty…

This is what it would look like.    The World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, IndyACT – the League of Independent Activists, Germanwatch, David Suzuki Foundation, National Ecological Centre of Ukraine and “expert individuals from around the world” contributed to the report. 

I’m glad these NGOs offered this up.  It presents something of an idealized form of a climate change treaty that observers can weigh against the actual outcome document.  Some highlights include:

* The annual global carbon budget in 2020 from all sources of greenhouse gases (not counting those controlled by the Montréal Protocol) would be no higher than 36.1 Gt CO2e, bringing emissions down to roughly1990 levels and would need to be reduced to 7.2 Gt CO2e in 2050, in other words by 80 % below 1990 levels.

* A design proposal for a new institution – the Copenhagen Climate Facility – to manage the processes for emissions cuts, adaptation and forest protection under the new global treaty.

* A recipe for long-term action plans for both developed countries (Zero Carbon Action Plans, ZCAPs) and developing countries (Low Carbon Action Plans, LCAPs).

* Binding targets for Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs) like Singapore, South Korea and Saudi Arabia in line with the Convention principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

 Check out the whole thing, in all 160 pages of legal text glory. 


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Ban: “We have four months to secure the future of the planet”

There was a tinge of urgency in the Secretary General’s remarks to the Global Environment Forum in his native Korea yesterday.  

As we move toward Copenhagen in December, we must “Seal a Deal” on climate change that secures our common future. I’m glad that the Chairman of the forum and many other speakers have used my campaign slogan “Seal the Deal” in Copenhagen. I won’t charge them [r]oyalty. Please use this “Seal the Deal” as widely as possible, as much as you can. We must seal the deal in Copenhagen for the future of humanity.

We have just four months. Four months to secure the future of our planet.


Let me be clear about what we need to do.

There are four points [of] very important key political issues.

First industrialized countries must lead by committing to binding mid-term reduction targets on the order of 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels.

Unfortunately, the mid-term emission targets announced so far are not close enough to this range. This must change. That is why I am urging at this time, that the Korean government should take more ambitious targets.

Second, developing countries need to take nationally appropriate mitigation actions in order to reduce the growth in their emissions substantially below business as usual.

Their actions must be measurable, reportable and verifiable.

Third, developed countries must provide sufficient, measurable, reportable and verifiable financial and technological support to developing countries.

This will allow developing countries to pursue their mitigation efforts as part of their sustainable green growth strategies and to adapt to accelerating climate impacts.

Significant resources will be needed from both public and private sources.

Developing countries, especially the most vulnerable, will collectively need billions of dollars in public financing for adaptation.

I am talking here about new money – not re-packaged Official Development Assistance. This is one of the most important issues which we are going to discuss on September 22nd in New York, and this year again at the G20 Summit Meeting in Pittsburgh on September 24th.

Fourth, we need an equitable and accountable mechanism for distributing these financial and technological resources, taking into account the views of all countries in decision-making.


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Welcome to the new world order

Sean Paul Kelley writes that he visited 20 countries this year.  And in all but two (Singapore and Vietnam) people complained “about massively altered traditional weather patterns” and how that affected their daily life.   In a beautiful post he continues:  

But here’s the whole point of my anecdotes, from an interview of Jared Diamond:

“The average per-person consumption rate in the first world of metal and oil and natural resources is 32 times that of the developing world,” says Diamond. “That means that one American is consuming like 32 Kenyans.” The problem is not the number of Kenyans, the problem is when Kenyans or, more pressingly, big developing countries such as China, gain the ability to consume like Americans.

Can’t humans simply increase the supply of resources as they have done before? “We can change the supply of some things if there is only one limiting resource. If it is food, then we can have a green revolution and produce more crops,” he says. “Unfortunately, we need lots of resources. We need food, we need water. We are already using something like 70 or 80 per cent of the world’s fresh water. So you say, ‘Alright, we’ll get around water by desalinating sea water.’ But then there’s the energy ceiling, and so on.”

That’s the big question. The question no one is willing to voice. Am I, a member of the advanced world willing to forgo some of my standard of living for those in the developing world? And if I do so, do I have the moral and ethical standing to ask those of the developing world to forgo some of their wants?

I don’t have an answer.

I can promise you one thing: we cannot have it all. The Chinese cannot live like Americans and the Americans cannot continue to live as they are. Something will break.

I would argue that we are already begininning to see evidence of that fracture in the form of “climate refugees.”  Indeed, so dire is this issue that the country’s premier refugee focused NGO,  Refugees International, had decided to open an entire new center for the study of climate displaced.    Here is how RI describes the problem:

The most immediate threats from climate change are in the form of storms of increasing intensity, such as Cyclone Nargis in Burma; greater incidence of drought and floods that make traditional livelihoods unsustainable; and increased conflicts over access to limited resources. The war in Darfur derives, in part, from conflict over scarce resources as the desert expands. Other dramatic impacts are also predicted in the long term, such as the disappearance of island states like the Maldives. Estimates of the numbers of people expected to be displaced by climate change range from 50 million to 1 billion over the next 50 years. By comparison, there are currently 41.2 million people displaced by conflict.  [emphasis mine].

It is truly chilling to imagine a world where one in seven people is a climate refugee. But if we do nothing to mitigate and adapt to climate change, that kind of dystopic future will arrive sooner than we think. 


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