Friday, March 30, 2007

Tories Steamed Over Beefed Up Clean Air Act

Back in September the Conservative's released their much ballyhooed Clean Air Act. Meant to be the centre piece of their so called green plan, the proposed legislation was immediately panned by the media and opposition parties as a piece of industry friendly rhetoric that does nothing to combat global warming or improve air quality.

Today, that bill was sent back to parliament, drastically rewritten by a special committee to include short-term, mid-term and long-term targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; a commitment to a system of international emissions carbon trading; and penalties of $20 per ton for any company that exceeds their emissions target. Harper's rented mule has returned as a thoroughbred that will make substantial progress towards reducing greenhouse gases, holding industry accountable and addressing global warming.

The Conservative response? Hint at elections and release a new set of attack ads.

In a clear demonstration of their environmental leadership, next week the Conservatives will be unveiling their latest run of tabloids criticising Liberal leader Stephen Dion. Unfortunately for Harper and his cronies this is a tired ploy. After more than year in office its time for the Conservative's to demonstrate the environmental leadership they have been promising, and stop painting themselves as the policy victims of the previous government. Real leadership would be in passing the revised Clean Air Act that Harper himself sent to the parliamentary committee for revisions.

That committee has put forward a global warming plan that will create real change. And unless the Conservative ads are actually a set of secret announcements that the government will begin cutting greenhouse gases, Harper and company can boast to being no more than a collection of environmental obstructionists who are failing even to do better than the party they have spent 12 months criticising.

Will you be playing the role of pot or kettle Mr. Harper?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Wal-Mart and the Green Critics

Want to make real progress for the environment? Stop crapping on people who are doing something about it.

Over at the Daily Grist is an article titled Keep Your Eyes on the Size: The Impossibility of a green Wal-Mart. After recognizing Wal-Mart's outstanding commitments to greater efficiency - which include a 20% improvement in energy efficiency of all stores, the doubling of the fuel economy of their truck fleet, and the public reporting of their carbon footprint - the article's author, Stacy Mitchell, glibly dismisses the company's efforts because their carbon footprint does not take into account the SUVs that you, the consumer, drive to their stores.

Here's the key issue. Wal-Mart's carbon estimate omits a massive source of CO2 that is inherent to its operations and amounts to more than all of its other greenhouse-gas emissions combined: the CO2 produced by customers driving to its stores.

Let me be perfectly clear. I am not pro "big box" stores. I avoid all of them whenever possible, and I universally boycott Wal-Mart in particular for precisely the reasons Ms. Mitchell points out. However, credit where credit is due. Wal-Mart is making a more substantial commitment to green improvements than virtually any other major corporation, or government for that matter.

The real distraction taking place is the one occurring in the environmental community itself. While green leaders and publications like Grist continue to hunt their demons and dream of lofty ideals, they utterly fail to grasp the fact that long-term change towards sustainability and environmental responsibility is going to occur step-by-step, not by waving a magic wand and wishing for a perfect world.

Big box stores, oil companies and other destructive industries are with us and won't be disappearing anytime over the next several decades. However, with each year that passes they can be transformed, or slowly eliminated, through voluntary actions like Wal-Mart's and through strong government leadership that provides genuinely green rules and incentives. Wal-Mart's commitment to a 20% improvement in energy efficiency is something to be embraced. With that strong beginning taking place, it is now for governments to step in and get the ball rolling faster.

Want to stop Wal-Mart from transporting goods to heartland America from the far corners of the world? Double fuel taxes, cut taxes for local businesses and products, and levy taxes on imported goods. Want to stop the damage caused by consumers commuting to Wal-Mart? Double the fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, invest in urban planning and public transportation, and raise taxes at the gas pump so people won't burn fuel commuting to big box stores built on asphalt covered farmland. People will no longer go to Wal-Mart for 'cheap' products, because it will no longer be cheap to do so.

The responsibility for those changes is the province of government. To change government inaction we, the voters, need to start speaking up to this guy, and this guy, and insist that they stop denying global warming. We need to start talking to our neighbors who elected them in the first place and show them a better alternative, and for the 45% of you who don't bother going to the polls, you need to take a break from voting for the next American Idol and start making your voice heard in favour of the people who will make these changes.

Until that happens, Wal-Mart is making some of the world's biggest improvements towards greener operations. If you're criticizing that, then try planting some trees instead of barking up the wrong one. You'll be doing the environmental movement way more good.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Gore's Return to Washington


In addition to this weeks highlights, a quick recap of last week's return to Congress by Al Gore is in order. Visiting Capitol Hill for the first time since overseeing the Senate during Bush's inauguration in 2001, Al Gore completed a celebrity return and made the case before key panels in the US government for sweeping federal action on global warming. His ten key recommendations were:

1. An immediate "carbon freeze" that would cap U.S. CO2 emissions at current levels, followed by a program to generate 90% reductions by 2050.

2. Start a long-term tax shift to reduce payroll taxes and increase taxes on CO2 emissions.

3. Put aside a portion of carbon tax revenues to help low-income people make the transition.

4. Create a strong international treaty by working toward "de facto compliance with Kyoto" and moving up the start date for Kyoto's successor from 2012 to 2010.

5. Implement a moratorium on construction of new coal-fired power plants that are not compatible with carbon capture and sequestration.

6. Create an "ELECTRANET" -- a smart electricity grid that allows individuals and businesses to feed power back in at prevailing market rates.

7. Raise CAFE (auto emissions) standards
.

8. Set a date for a ban on incandescent light bulbs.

9. Create "Connie Mae," a carbon-neutral mortgage association, to help defray the upfront costs of energy-efficient building.

10. Have the SEC require disclosure of carbon emissions in corporate reporting, as a relevant "material risk."

Despite wrong doings in 2001 that led to George Bush taking office, the course of history may look back to consider Al Gore's thwarted presidential bid an unlikely moment of good fortune. Free from the shackles of campaign management and the political tight rope, Gore has been able to champion an undiluted and passionate campaign for solving global warming. His uncompromising testimony in Washington further reinforces that commitment, while silencing critics who have dismissed his high profile environmental message as lead in to another run at the presidency.

Maybe one day Gore will run again, but his growing international leadership in this single issue will keep him on the international stage and drive change far more effectively than the special interests of Washington would ever allow.

Let Hillary have the White House. Gore has more important work to do....for now.

Inhofe Swallows the Gavel

Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, an energy funded climate change denier made famous for saying that global warming is "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people", was put in his place by the new Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Barbara Boxer, during Al Gore's testimony last week.

After Inhofe attempted to turn the proceedings into a PR spectacle, Ms. Boxer kindly reminded him of what his job is. Film clip below.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Clean Energy Wants Level Playing Field

The clean energy industry, whose combined revenue jumped 39% last year, is calling on governments to implement three simple steps to ensure the greater use of responsible energy and that the US economy remains strong in the face of the coming low carbon economy. The recommendations are:

• A market-based national policy that will achieve a 60% to 90% long-term decrease of greenhouse gas emissions.

• A realignment of national incentives to stimulate new clean technologies.

• A clarification of company disclosure requirements from the SEC.


There call not only represents responsible policy, but also shows the untapped areas of economic growth available through addressing climate change. Oil companies in both the United States and Canada continue to receive billions of dollars in subsidies to help fuel their bottom line. If the clean energy industry is growing by almost 40% per year without a similar infusion of tax dollars, then there is more than an ethical reason for government to invest in reduced greenhouse gases and clearer skies - it's also business case no-brainer.

Link via DeSmogBlog

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Belated Budget Breakdown

First and foremost, my apologies to readers for this late posting on the Canadian federal budget. The Conscious Earth has spent the last week flu ridden and away from the terminal.

On Monday, the Conservatives handed down the 2007 federal budget. To little surprise, the Tory platform continued to side step the issue of climate change despite the increasingly urgent calls of the world community, environmentalists, scientists, economists and Canadians.

The Green Budget Coalition, a representative group of 20 top environmental organizations, also panned the Conservative's lack of climate change commitment. They did however, highlight the following positive announcements for the environment:

  • $110 million for more effective protection of species at risk
  • $10 million for protected areas in the Northwest Territories
  • $225 million for conserving ecologically sensitive private lands
  • The creation of nine new marine protected areas
  • $300 million for administering the Canadian Environmental Protection Act

Also of note is that the Conservatives announced an end to federal subsidies in the tar sands (but not until 2015), and they are encouraging fuel-efficient vehicles by charging a carbon tax on new gas-guzzling automobiles and providing a rebate on highly efficient cars. Good steps, but meanwhile they're strategy on global warming still hinges on intensity based targets that allow industry greenhouse gas emissions to continue to rise into the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Harper and company continue to ignore the ongoing threat of global warming, and the fact that it is this single issue that is gavlanizing public attention and a rising environmental awareness among Canadians.

A stronger proposal came before the weekend from Liberal Leader Stephane Dion. Dion proposes hard caps on greenhouse gases and fines for all sectors of Canadian industry in a plan custom tailored to bring Canadian greenhouse gas emissions down to responsible levels. Most importantly, it highlighted what are in fact the small costs associated with doing this - just a $1/barrel cost increase for the oil sands in particular. In a market that sees oil prices range between the $50 - $70, this is no cost to pay for protecting the Earth's climate.

That is a message voters need to remember come next election.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Bush Administration Opposes BC Coal

Proving that politicians are concerned with self interest and not principles, the Bush Administration is opposing a proposed coal mine on the Canadian side of the BC - Montana border, citing potential downstream environmental impacts in the US.

Federal officials chose not to address the inherent hypocrisy of shouting down a coal mine affecting Montana's environment, while endorsing mountain top removal mining that is destroying entire valleys in the Appalachian states.

For those not familiar with the process, mountain top removal is essentially sawing the top off a mountain and dumping the refuse into neighbouring valleys in order to cheaply access coal seems lying underneath - for the apparent purpose of boosting mercury levels in water and and destroying global climate.

The main difference between the case in BC and mountain top removal in the US being that the latter is far more destructive, and more importantly, that the coal companies working in the Appalachians had the had the good sense to contribute to Bush's campaign, whereas the one in BC did not.

Having said that, BC citizens will take whatever help they can get in ensuring environmentally responsible industry at home.

UK Proposes Legally Binding Climate Change Bill

Great Britain is poised to leap into the international lead in addressing global warming in the coming months. The UK's Environment Secretary David Miliband has unveiled a new draft Climate Change Bill that calls for legally binding carbon reduction targets as a prime part of a strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions 60% by 2050.

Unlike the debate on this side of the Atlantic, the proposed legislation is being welcomed by opposition parties, with the major criticism being that it does not go far enough in ensuring government accountability. Miliband's plan calls for an independent panel to set ministers a "carbon budget" every five years. However, opposition parties and environmentalists are calling for yearly reduction targets to ensure success and accountability.

As posted here a couple months back, both timelines are likely extreme. Yearly targets do not allow proper flexibility in the cases of extreme weather events, and could unduly restrict policy, whereas 5 year targets place the deadlines outside of single election terms, and will leave new governments holding the baggage for previous party's mistakes. Targets of two to three years would better serve both aims.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Rhino Birth Via Webcam

Last week, a rhino at the UK's Devon Zoo gave birth in what is believed to be the first such event broadcast live over the internet via webcam. Sita, a black rhino, gave birth to her female calf at 2010 GMT on Monday, March 5th.

The black rhino, though far less endangered than the northern white rhino that made news last week, is still critically endangered with less than 4,000 remaining worldwide.

Below is the video clip, courtesy the BBC.





Montreal To Cut Emissions by 20%

Montreal is has unveiled a new plan to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 per cent over the next five years. The city's government plans to take the lead by rolling out new energy conservation and efficiency standards for municipal business that is expected to save $12.5 million annually.

Friday, March 09, 2007

In Case You Forgot it Was Hot Last Year...

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today announced that 2006 was the warmest year on record in the United States, nearly identical to the previous record set in 1998.


EU Agrees to Bold New Emissions Deal

Overcoming opposition from France and several eastern bloc countries, the European Union has agreed to bold new deal on global warming that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20% lower than 1990 levels by 2020 and to see the EU producing a fifth of its energy via renewable sources by the same date.

The tough work in now ahead. A major stumbling block was overcome when member countries conceded to France's demand that nuclear should remain an energy option. Now countries will need to determine what reduction targets each nation should be responsible for. Eastern nations are looking for less aggressive targets than their more economically advanced western neighbours.

However, the ground work is now in place for Europe. They will take their reduction targets with them to the G8 summit in early June where other industrialized countries and emerging economies, such as China, will be pressed to agree a 30% global cut to succeed the Kyoto protocol. Europe will follow suit with a 30% commitment if other key nations agree.

House Approves $1.7 Billion for Sewer Upgrades

By a margin of 367-58, the Democrat led US House passed new legislation that would fund the upgrade and modernization of the sewage systems affecting 40 million Americans to the tune of $1.7 billion over five years.

The legislation would target combined sewer systems - older systems that collect rainwater runoff, domestic sewage and industrial wastewater in one pipe - which become overloaded during heavy rainfall and are currently responsible for the release of 850 billion gallons of untreated sewage into the environment each year.

The new bill would also go a long way in addressing sewage pollution in the Great Lakes. Earlier this year, Sierra Legal released the first ever analysis of sewage pollution in the Lakes, and found that combined sewage systems were one of the biggest reasons why 93 billion litres of raw sewage enters the lakes each year.

The fate of the spending, however, will likely fall to the president. Bush has already said that he opposes the bill, as he is committed to funding the destruction of water system infrastructure in Iraq to the tune of $275 million per day.

You'd think they could take a week off from Iraq and fund some basic water improvements on the home front.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Stop Global Warming with Windows Live Messenger

Many global warming initiatives are all talk and no action. But now you can turn your online chatting into dollars to help fight the climate crisis.

Microsoft has launched a new initiative that will send a portion of ad revenues from Windows Live Messenger to your cause of choice. You can ensure that revenue goes towards the fight against global warming by selecting StopGlobalWarming.org as your cause.

To join visit im.live.com - it's open to new and existing Messenger users. Once you register, Microsoft shares a portion of the program's advertising revenue with the organization of your choice. The more you chat, the more money they'll receive.

At the moment the offer is only available to those living in the United States.

StopGlobalWarming.org is the sponsor of the Stop Global Warming Virtual March. - a nonpartisan effort to bring citizens together in an online grassroots movement to declare that global warming is here now and that it's time to demand solutions. To date, over 650,000 people have joined the march, including Governor Schwarzenegger, Leonardo DiCaprio, The Barenaked Ladies, Sheryl Crow, Tony Hawk, Robert Kennedy Jr., Deion Sanders and a host of other prominent celebrities including my favorite Tenacious D.

Click here to start chatting for global warming solutions.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Two Females Hold White Rhino's Last Hope

Three weeks ago the first ever northern white rhino was born in captivity. Buoyed by this success, scientists are planning to launch one of the most high tech and aggressive breeding programs in history to save the rhino - the world's most endangered large mammal - from extinction. Just 2 fertile females remain of a once mighty population that roamed over large areas of central Africa.

Now a team of researchers in Budapest are planning to use artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and sex-selection of embryos to boost the numbers of northern whites as quickly as possible while there is still time.

If this team succeed(s), they will have pulled off one of the most extraordinary feats in wildlife conservation. Most experts assume the northern white is doomed and will join the dodo, passenger pigeon, quagga and Tasmanian wolf as victims of the predations of modern humans.

Since 1960, South African conservation efforts have helped the southern white rhino (the near cousin to the northern) rebound to a healthy population 11,000. However, ongoing political unrest and poaching throughout the northern white's natural range in Uganda, Sudan and Congo have led to the decimation of the species. Just 4 animals are believed to remain in the wild, combined with an additional 10 in zoos. The two females who hold the last hope for the species - Najin and her daughter Fatu - both reside at Dvur Kralove in the Czech Republic.

Tories Told to Scrap Tax Breaks for Oil

A special committee of the House of Commons will table a report telling the Conservatives to end of federal tax breaks to oil sands development and implement hard caps on the sectors greenhouse gas emissions.

"The mounting environmental and social costs associated with oil sands activities ... make it increasingly clear that it would be irresponsible to continue on a `business-as-usual' course. It is time to being the transition toward a clean energy future," says the report, dated Feb. 28 and marked "Confidential."

The opposition dominated natural resources committee drafted the report calling for an end to the $1.4 billion in tax subsidies that go to the oil industry and asserts that for every dollar the government invests in the oil sands, the private sector kicks in just $1.18 - a ratio the committee says should be roughly 3:1 on the side of private investment.

However, the report was delayed in being released, and now that MPs are to begin their two week spring break it risks coming too late. The Conservatives will soon be announcing their emission reduction target for the sector, which is expected to be an intensity based target. This means that reduction targets are based on per unit production, not overall pollution. With Canada's rapidly expanding oil production, this will likely mean huge increases in greenhouse gases.

See this handy equation for further explanation of intensity based targets.

Regardless of the delay, the report will add further fuel to this ongoing fire. Most recently before these announcements we saw the Pembina Institute report that stated the oil sands could be carbon neutral by 2012 with a cost increase of just $1 per barrel.

Here's a thought. If you need $1.4 billion dollars to get a business off the ground, maybe you're the wrong businessman for the job.

Friday, March 02, 2007

$300 Extra for an Eco-Friendly Car

Acting where the US auto industry has failed to, the Union for Concerned Scientists have unveiled a minivan design that confirms automakers can build vehicles that would meet or exceed global warming pollution standards adopted by California and 10 other states using existing technology - without placing huge costs on the consumer.

Dubbed the UCS Vanguard, their mini van would cut global warming pollution by more than 40 percent, with a cost increase of just $300. However, that extra cost would result in more than $1,300 in lifetime consumer savings, with a payback time of less than two years.

Specific design features include:
  • variable valve timing, currently used in most Toyota and Honda models as well as many Ford vehicles, which better controls the flow of air and fuel into the engine, leading to more efficient combustion and improved performance.

  • a six-cylinder engine that can deactivate two cylinders when it requires less power, a feature currently found in 20 vehicle models.

  • a "automatic manual" transmission that electronically adjusts its six gears to increase performance and efficiency.

  • stronger hoses and tighter connections in the air conditioning system reduce the amount of concentrated global warming pollutants, called hydrofluorocarbons, which leak into the air. The minivan also uses a less-polluting refrigerant.

  • capability to run on either pure gasoline or a mixture of gasoline and as much as 85-percent ethanol. Using 85-percent corn-based ethanol can reduce global warming pollution from 10 percent to 30 percent. Using "cellulosic" ethanol could cut global warming pollution by as much as 90 percent. There are currently 32 types of flex-fuel vehicles on the road.

Coming to an autoshow near you?

Gore Rebuttals

The Guardian has posted an excellent editorial related to the Al Gore utility bill issue that falls nicely in line with The Conscious Earth's response from earlier this week.

Hands up anyone who isn't a hypocrite. Come on, own up. Who out there actually lives by every one of the principles they profess to uphold? And why has it suddenly gone so quiet? When it comes to ourselves, we are quick to realise that life is full of grey areas and being pure and virtuous is never as easy - nor even as desirable - as it might appear. That does not stop us sitting in judgment of others, however, particularly those whose message we are unwilling to hear, and who, deep down, we would dearly love to see exposed as two-faced and, well, hypocritical.

In other words accountability is important, but if we're going to wait for the return of Christ himself to flawlessly lead every cause we face, it's going to be a long, sorry road ahead. More the to the point....

The charge of hypocrisy against environmentalists may also be illegitimate as well as irrelevant. In my view, Gore was right to rack up thousands of air miles in his campaign to raise awareness of climate change: the political shift he has helped to engineer, particularly in America, has been truly profound, and is one of the few real causes for optimism on climate change today. If he had stayed at home in Tennessee with the lights and heating off, wearing organic woolly jumpers and feeling generally good about himself, we would have a lot further to travel in terms of awareness-raising than we do now. Being a purist may be comforting, but it is unlikely to change the world.

But even that gives too much credit to the the allegations Gore faced. To date, the most succinct response printed is from a discussion thread at MNSpeak:

I mean, the other side of this is that it's a classic straw man argument, pretending the Al Gore is arguing for one thing, when, in fact, he is arguing for another, and then calling him a hypocrite for not living up to the argument he is not making. Gore has always said that our objective should be to individually reduce our carbon fingerprint to zero, which he has done. He's never said that rich people who own ranches shouldn't use more power than poor people who don't. Maybe you think they shouldn't, and it's a fair criticism, but it doesn't make him a hypocrite.
»» Submitted by »»» msparber at 10:21 AM on March 1

Al Gore's motivation is to push leaders and political will towards a global warming solution. The media that picked up on the Tennessee Center for Policy Research press release is motivated to derail that issue and discredit those who would solve it. For anyone genuinely concerned about the fate of the planet, the choice as to who to listen to is a simple one.

And with that, this so called issue can be put to bed.