US tells plan to drill off California coast

SF Gate
U.S. tells plan to drill off California coast
Jane Kay, Chronicle Environment Writer
Saturday, January 17, 2009

The U.S. Interior Department, acting in President Bush’s final days in office, proposed on Friday opening up 130 million acres off of California’s coast to drilling for oil and natural gas, including areas off Humboldt and Mendocino counties and from San Luis Obispo south to San Diego.

After a hands-off policy for a quarter-century, the administration submitted plans to sell oil and gas leases for most of the U.S. coast, from the Gulf of Maine to Chesapeake Bay and the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Coast.

New drilling also was proposed in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, one of the nation’s most plentiful sources of fish, and the Arctic Ocean.

Washington, Oregon and protected parts of Florida were excluded along with waters off San Francisco Bay that lie within national marine sanctuaries. Read the rest of this entry »

Climate changes now “irreversible,” U.N. report warns

By Alan Zarembo and Thomas H. Maugh II

The Seattle Times

The United Nations’ Nobel Prize-winning panel on climate change approved the final installment of its landmark report on global warming Friday, concluding that even the best efforts at reducing carbon-dioxide levels will not be enough. The world, the report says, also must focus on adapting to “abrupt and irreversible” climate changes.

New and stronger evidence developed in the past year also suggests that many risks cited in the panel’s first three reports this year actually will be larger than projected and will occur at lower temperatures, according to a draft of the report.

The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) summarizes thousands of pages of research produced over six years by delegates from 140 countries and is expected to serve as a “how-to” guide for governments meeting in Bali, Indonesia, beginning Dec. 3 to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire in five years.

The panel and former Vice President Al Gore were awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their global-warming work.

The report — the fourth this year — says governments will have to spend billions of dollars every year to mitigate the effects of increased temperatures, but even that will not be adequate, and many countries simply will have to learn to live with the changes.

Failure to act will leave nearly 1 billion people at risk from water and food shortages, droughts, coastal flooding and severe storms, concluded the delegates, who have been meeting in Valencia, Spain.

The report emphasizes that global warming is “unequivocal” and that there is high confidence that humans are responsible. Global temperatures have risen about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century.

The panel estimates that temperatures could increase by an additional 3.2 degrees to 7.8 degrees by 2100. Sea level could rise seven to 23 inches over that period.

As the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continues to rise, more attention is being placed on how the world will cope.

“People are recognizing a lot of near-term impacts of climate change are already locked in,” said Shardul Agrawala, an IPCC author and principal economist for climate at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris. “The importance of adaptation has been growing in the IPCC reports.”

Advocating for adaptation once was viewed as defeatism, especially among environmentalists.

“It was seen a potential smoke screen behind which high-emission countries could hide so they wouldn’t have to make binding agreements to reduce,” said Nathan Hultman, a professor of science, technology and international affairs at Georgetown University.

But the panel stressed that adaptation is now as important as reducing carbon dioxide.

In its most basic sense, adaptation is the construction of walls to protect coastlines from rising sea levels or draining glacier-fed lakes in the Himalayas to prevent flooding of villages below.

But it is also smarter development — building bridges higher, planting drought-resistant crops or replacing dirt roads with paved ones to prepared for increased rainfall. It also could be the relocation of entire communities.

For some places, adaptation is the only option.

“These low-lying countries, the Maldives, Palau, the small island states, they can change their emissions all they want,” Hultman said. “It’s going to have zero effect on the climate. But they are on the front line of the receiving end.”

Even with increased attention to adaptation, it remains a poor cousin to mitigation.

International funds for mitigation total $19 billion, according to estimates. Adaptation funds for developing nations so far amount to a few hundred million dollars — primarily in aid from rich countries.

In 2001, the United Nations set up an adaptation fund that relies on a 2 percent tax levied on some carbon-reduction transactions made by European countries under Kyoto.

It expects to generate up to $1.5 billion by 2012. But the fund has no administrative body, and no money has been given out.

The developed world will have far less trouble adapting, because it has the money and the technology. But even rich countries will face problems such as drought.

The new report was scheduled to be formally released today. Experts who participated in drafting the document said its conclusions are not as strong as scientists would have preferred, but that it went beyond what the U.S. delegation and others would have preferred.

The final document does not commit participating governments to mitigation efforts, but its adoption by consensus indicates those governments will not disavow its conclusions.

A small minority have rejected the IPCC reports, arguing that the world has gone through previous natural shifts in temperature and that society and industry should not be put to the difficult task of curbing emissions. President Bush, until recently, questioned the validity of global warming.

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said Friday night that the IPCC report “lays out a wide variety of mandatory and nonmandatory controls that deal with carbon emissions. These tools have effectiveness that varies from country to country. We have been careful not to prefer one tool over another, but to ensure that we are using the right tool.”

Online database provides a global glance at warming gases

By The Washington Post and The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Developing countries — China, South Africa and India — host the world’s five dirtiest utility companies in terms of global-warming pollution, according to the first worldwide database of power plants’ carbon-dioxide emissions, while a single Southern Co. plant in Juliet, Ga., emits more annually than Brazil’s entire power sector.

The database was unveiled Wednesday by the Washington-based Center for Global Development, a policy and research organization. It provides a detailed inventory of power plants’ greenhouse-gas emissions by region across the globe.

The interactive online database shows the United States as the world’s biggest carbon dioxide (CO{-2}) emitter and how quickly it will be outpaced by rapidly industrializing nations.

While the United States produces the most carbon dioxide from electricity generation, releasing 2.8 billion tons of CO{-2} a year, China is close to overtaking it, with its 2.7 billion tons. Moreover, China plans to build or expand 199 coal-fired facilities in the next decade, compared with the United States’ 83.

The Web site containing the Carbon Monitoring for Action database, or CARMA (www.carma.org), proclaims itself “the world’s best place for power-plant voyeurism.”

It includes information from 4,000 utilities and 50,000 plants, shows the biggest CO{-2} emitters and the facilities and companies that are most green, releasing little if any carbon.

“We’re trying to provide complete, balanced information. It’s an open site,” said David Wheeler, a senior researcher at the Center for Global Development, where he directed creation of the database.

Using an array of information filters, a database user can find out how much carbon dioxide comes from electricity plants in a particular city or county, in a congressional district, from a specific company or an individual plant.

Frank O’Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, called the new analysis “pretty shocking.” “If we’re serious about dealing with global warming, we are going to have to get a handle on coal-burning electric power in this country,” he said.

Duke Energy Chairman and President James Rogers — whose company is the third-largest carbon-dioxide-emitting utility in the country and 12th in the world — agreed with that assessment.

“I have a special responsibility to work on this issue because my company’s carbon footprint is so big,” he said. But Rogers added that the fact that certain regions are more dependent on coal than others means he would oppose any effort to auction off carbon allowances, as envisioned in a new bill authored by Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and John Warner, R-Va.

That could raise rates for Duke’s Indiana customers by 35 percent by 2012, Rogers said, and amounts to a tax.

“The whole point of cap-and-trade is to put a price on carbon so we can make good economic decisions in the future,” he said. “It’s not about punishing people for making decisions 40 years ago.”

Southern Co. spokesman Mike Tyndall said his company’s emissions were high “simply because of the size of the plants” and because “we’re serving a ever-larger population.” While the company opposes a mandatory cap on emissions, Tyndall said, “we’re at the forefront of developing new technology to address CO{-2} emissions.”

The Ohio River Valley, the Southeast and Texas rank as the dirtiest U.S. regions in terms of greenhouse gas-emitting power plants.

Wheeler, a former World Bank economist, said his research highlights the extent to which industrialized and developing nations need to cut their carbon-dioxide emissions to avert drastic climate change.

“It’s a question of mutual survival,” Wheeler said. “Each side is emitting enough to sink everything.”

Climate changing faster than predicted

UPI

Melbourne, Australia – Temperatures and greenhouse gas pollution are rising faster in the world than previously forecast, a report in Australia said.

The Melbourne University study, commissioned by The Climate Institute, said carbon dioxide emissions are increasing faster than expected, and if the trend continues it will lead to a temperature rise of about 3 degrees C by the end of the century.

Greenhouse gas emissions have increased from 1.1 percent per year for 1990-1999 to more than 3 percent per year for 2000-2004, exceeding the fossil fuel emissions scenarios used by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change.

The rapid decrease in sea ice in the Arctic Ocean showed that an ice-free Arctic could occur much earlier than 2050-2100 as previously thought, the study said.

Climate Institute spokesman John Connor told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. the prediction of dangerous temperature rises were alarming for Australia.

“It will see increased droughts, wildfires affecting our capital cities and it will also put at risk the Greenland ice sheet and some of the Antarctic ice sheets which are the real ‘biggies’ in terms of sea-level rises if they slip into the oceans,” he said.

Scientists suggest cutting calories and carbon dioxide could help save lives and the planet

By Seth Borenstein
The Seattle Times

WASHINGTON — America’s obesity epidemic and global warming might not seem to have much in common. But public health experts suggest people can attack them both by cutting calories and carbon dioxide at the same time.

How? Get out of your car and walk or bike half an hour a day instead of driving. And while you’re at it, eat less red meat. That’s how Americans can simultaneously save the planet and their health, say doctors and climate scientists.

The payoffs are huge, although unlikely to happen. One numbers-crunching scientist calculates that if all Americans between 10 and 74 walked just half an hour a day instead of driving, they would cut the annual U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas, by 64 million tons.

About 6.5 billion gallons of gasoline would be saved. And Americans would also shed more than 3 billion pounds overall, according to these calculations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering public promotion of the “co-benefits” of fighting global warming and obesity-related illnesses through everyday exercise, like walking to school or work, said Dr. Howard Frumkin, director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health.

“A simple intervention like walking to school is a climate change intervention, an obesity intervention, a diabetes intervention, a safety intervention,” Frumkin told The Associated Press. “That’s the sweet spot.”

Climate change is a deadly and worsening public health issue, said Frumkin and other experts. The World Health Organization estimated that 160,000 people died in 2000 from malaria, diarrhea, malnutrition and drownings from floods — problems that public health and climate scientists contend were worsened by global warming. Officials predict that in the future those numbers will be higher.

The American Public Health Association, which will highlight the health problems of global warming in April, is seeking to connect obesity and climate change solutions, said executive director Dr. Georges Benjamin.

“This may present the greatest public health opportunity that we’ve had in a century,” said University of Wisconsin health sciences professor Dr. Jonathan Patz, president of the International Association for Ecology and Health.

The key is getting people out of the car, Patz and Frumkin told the public health association at its annual convention. Reducing car travel in favor of biking or walking would not only cut obesity and greenhouse gases, they said, it would also mean less smog, fewer deaths from car crashes, less osteoporosis, and even less depression since exercise helps beat the blues.

In a little-noticed scientific paper in 2005, Paul Higgins, a scientist and policy fellow with the American Meteorological Society, calculated specific savings from adopting federal government recommendations for half an hour a day of exercise instead of driving.

The average person walking half an hour a day would lose about 13 pounds a year. And if everyone did that instead of driving the same distance, the nation would burn a total of 10.5 trillion calories, according to the scientist, formerly with the University of California at Berkeley. At the same time, that would cut carbon dioxide emissions by about the same amount New Mexico produces, he said.

“The real bang for the buck in reducing greenhouse gas emissions was from the avoided health expenses of a sedentary lifestyle,” said Higgins.

But it’s not just getting out of the car that’s needed, said Dr. Robert Lawrence of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. A diet shift away from heavy meat consumption would also go far, he said, because it takes much more energy and land to produce meat than fruits, vegetables and grains.

Recent studies support that argument. Last year the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that the meat sector of the global economy is responsible for 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Much of that is indirect, including the fertilizer needed to grow massive amounts of feed for livestock, energy use in the whole growing process, methane released from fertilizer and animal manure, and transportation of the cattle and meat products.

Similar calculations were made in a study in September in the medical journal Lancet.

The average American man eats 1.6 times as much meat as the government recommends, Lawrence said. Some studies have shown eating a lot of red meat is linked to a higher risk for colon cancer.

As for fighting obesity and global warming by walking and cycling, don’t expect people to do it easily, said Kristie Ebi. She’s a Virginia public health consultant and one of the lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Citing the decades-long effort to curb smoking, she said, “It turns out changing people’s habits is very hard.”

California sues EPA over emissions

By Samantha Young
The Seattle Times

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California sued the federal government Thursday to force a decision about whether the state can impose the nation’s first greenhouse-gas emission standards for cars and light trucks.

Washington and more than a dozen other states are poised to follow California’s lead if it is granted the waiver from federal law, presenting a challenge to automakers who would have to adapt to a patchwork of regulations.

The state’s lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., was expected after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed last spring to take legal action.

“Our future depends on us taking action on global warming right now,” Schwarzenegger said Thursday. “There’s no legal basis for Washington to stand in our way.”

At issue is California’s nearly two-year-old request for a waiver under the federal Clean Air Act allowing it to implement a 2002 state anti-pollution law regulating greenhouse gases.

Eleven other states, including Washington, have adopted California’s standard as a way to combat global warming and five others are considering it.

Schwarzenegger and other state officials say implementing the law is crucial for California’s ability to meet the provisions of a separate global-warming law that passed last year. That law seeks to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions statewide 25 percent by 2020.

Seattle reports milestone in cutting emissions

By Warren Cornwall
Seattle Times environment reporter

Seattle is one of the first major U.S. cities to claim it has cut greenhouse-gas emissions enough to meet the targets of the international Kyoto treaty aimed at combating global warming.

The achievement, at a time when the city has enjoyed a boom in population and jobs, sets Seattle apart both from the nation as a whole and other cities that have seen greenhouse gases soar in recent years.

But keeping a lid on such emissions in the future means confronting one of the city’s most intractable problems: how to get people out of their cars and driving less.

While overall greenhouse-gas emissions fell by 8 percent between 1990 and 2005 — the most recent data available — the amount attributed to transportation rose 3 percent, due largely to more gas slurped up by cars, according to a draft report issued by the city on Monday.

“This is a remarkable milestone that shows how cities can lead the way in the fight against global warming,” Mayor Greg Nickels said. “But it is just the start of our work.”

Although critics say trying to meet the Kyoto targets nationwide would hurt the economy without solving global warming, supporters call it a critical first step toward much deeper reductions needed to slow or even reverse the warming.

Seattle’s reductions were largely the result of energy conservation by households and businesses, and changes in power production at Seattle City Light, the report said.

The announcement was a triumph for Nickels, who has made climate change a cornerstone of his administration and hosts a global-warming conference of U.S. mayors this week.

Nickels has lobbied the nation’s mayors to sign a pledge promising to meet the Kyoto Protocol’s target of cutting greenhouse gases to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. More than 650 mayors have joined the movement, which is aimed partly at pressuring the federal government to join the international treaty.

The Bush administration has opposed the treaty, which doesn’t restrict emissions from developing countries such as China and India that are among major sources of greenhouse gases. In 1999, the U.S. Senate voted 95-0 against the treaty.

The reductions in emissions from homes, cars and factories in Seattle can’t be credited to the citywide climate-change plan, which Nickels unveiled in 2006.

The City Council first passed a resolution adopting the Kyoto goals in 2001, before Nickels took office.

Part of the cuts are due to changes in power production at Seattle City Light, which provides clean-running hydropower to homes and businesses.

“We have the good fortune of owning our own utility,” said Steve Nicholas, head of the city’s Office of Sustainability and Environment.

City Light says its operations now produce no net greenhouse gases. Since 1990, the utility sold its part-ownership in a coal-fired power plant in Centralia and stopped buying power from a natural-gas plant in Klamath Falls, Ore. Both plants produce greenhouse gases.

City Light also has embarked on more aggressive conservation measures and bought greenhouse-gas offsets — essentially paying someone else to stop polluting as much — to make up for emissions from sources such as its utility trucks.

Another share of the drop came from homeowners and businesses switching from fuel oil to cleaner-burning natural gas to heat buildings, something city officials attributed largely to market forces rather than city policies.

The city was helped temporarily by a drop in 2005 emissions from the two cement plants along the Duwamish River. Those plants account for almost a seventh of the city’s greenhouse gases, and their emissions fell by more than 160,000 metric tons.

But that reduction could evaporate, since those plants were expected to boost production after 2005, Nicholas said.

For now, Monday’s report puts Seattle ahead of other U.S. cities leading the push to curb greenhouse gases — notably Portland, which has been working on the issue since 1993.

Portland and Multnomah County have seen a gradual drop in greenhouse-gas emissions since 2000, and levels are hovering near 1990 levels.

Unlike Seattle, Portland gets power from two investor-owned utilities that generate greenhouse gases. The city also doesn’t count offsets, which are controversial because some people question whether the claimed pollution reductions are real.

But Portland has shown more progress on the transportation front, where emissions are at almost the same level as 1990, and have been dropping in recent years.

Seattle has started trying to lure people from their cars. Two tax measures approved by voters in 2006 are aimed at improving bus service, bike lanes and sidewalks.

The city also has passed development rules to encourage people to move downtown, where they will drive less, said Nicholas, with the Office of Sustainability and Environment.

But Nicholas said the city will need to do more if it wants to keep greenhouse gases from creeping up, particularly as Seattle’s population grows.

Outgoing City Councilman Peter Steinbrueck said Monday’s report is welcome news.

But he said the city also needs to take more aggressive steps to stem the growth of car traffic.

He mentioned the proposed replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a similar structure, or an underground roadway, as an example of continued emphasis on cars.

“My concern here is that while the news is good, it shouldn’t put us at ease in any way. We are working against time,” he said.