Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

A New Mission

May 19, 2010

The time has come to retire this occasional blog, at least for now.

I’m so lucky these days because I get to work on climate change all day long – and I get paid to do it!

I can thank Barack Obama for my new gig. He came to town and gave all federal agencies, including the one I recently started working for, a new and important mandate: Tackle global warming, build an international dialogue, and let the scientists do their jobs.

Remember, the previous president had marched the United States out of the Kyoto Protocol – the only existing global warming treaty enacted thus far – and made it clear to the world the the United States couldn’t care less about greenhouse gas emissions wreaking havoc on Earth.

Well, that’s all water under the bridge now. I’m having a blast writing about species going extinct, a Senate energy bill that just won’t move, climate change nay-sayers — and all the wonderful things that people are doing anyway because they believe in science and want to do the right thing for the environment.

I don’t see so many wannabes anymore. Seems to me, people are either in denial or trying to advance the cause any way they can.

It’s them and us. And right now, we’re in power.


Doing your share, and nothing more

January 15, 2010

A Swedish reader of this blog made an interesting, albeit misguided, observation yesterday. He was responding to a blog entry about Swedes who are opposing the country’s ambitious build-out of wind power.

Because Sweden doesn’t release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when producing electricity, he wrote, “wind mills wouldn’t make a difference in Sweden.”

Indeed, Sweden could serve a poster child in the global warming debate. All, but 4 percent of the nation’s power supply is generated by hydro or nuclear power.

It’s true that Sweden is a leader in clean energy production. Nearly all, 96 percent, of the nation’s power supply is generated by hydro power or nuclear plants. Moreover, the country has switched to become a net exporter of energy. This year, Sweden was projected to export 11.1 tWh of electricity, according to a recent forecast by the Swedish Energy Agency.

Clearly, the country is doing more than its share. Conclusion: No need for Swedes to invest in additional renewable energy – at last not from a global warming perspective. (They still have the headache of nuclear waste to deal with.)

But with all that electricity being exported — by 2030 as much as a quarter of the electricity produced by the Nordic kingdom will be shipped abroad, government forecasters predict — it appears those wind power stations are really doing some good. They might even close down a Polish coal plant or two.

That’s what I call doing smart business while addressing a global problem. Now who’s looking smart?

Who paid the Climategate scientists to lie?

December 10, 2009

We’re  held in suspense as the Copenhagen climate talks continue this week. Will the leaked e-mails from the East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, a leading climate-change research center, undercut and derail the summit? At a minimum, “Climategate” is proving to be a distraction when the world’s leaders meet to try to reach carbon-cutting goals.

Lots of people have been weighing in recent days. Ex-Alaska Governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin called for President Barack Obama to boycott the meeting in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post today.

The leaked Climategate e-mails “reveal that leading climate ‘experts’ deliberately destroyed records, manipulated data to ‘hide the decline’ in global temperatures, and tried to silence their critics by preventing them from publishing in peer-reviewed journals,” Palin wrote. “The last thing America needs is misguided legislation that will raise taxes and cost jobs – particularly when the push for such legislation rests on agenda-driven science.”

And here’s John Lott with FOXNews commenting on the scientists whose private e-mails were hacked and displayed for the world to see:

“They were brazenly discussing the destruction and hiding of data that did not support global warming claims,” Lott reported, adding, “The academics here also worked closely with the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

They were, asserted Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.), “fudging the data.”

Ouch. Seems the world’s leading climate experts may have made it all up and even gotten the United Nations snowed. No wonder the e-mails have been labeled a scandal.

Except, why would the scientists concoct a story about climate change if it wasn’t true? Who paid those professors who spent months and years poring over climate data to cook their numbers?

Why would they conspire to try to fool the world?

We know and understand where the opponents to climate legislation come from. Unlike the professors, they have economic reasons for fighting cap and trade legislation, or any other government effort to curb emissions.

Large corporations that are forced to clean up their act have shareholders to answer to when profits decline. Switching to greener technologies will cause economic upheaval and  job losses. And rising energy prices will hurt – at least until we downsize our homes and cars.

But those scientists? Are climate theories bringing them fame and riches?  Let’s not fool ourselves here.

The great American divide

October 24, 2009

Some sobering news came out of the The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press this week. Fewer and fewer Americans believe in global warming. Only 57 percent of people polled say there’s solid evidence the Earth is warming, down from 71 percent in April of 2008.

With less than two months to go before the big international climate conference in Copenhagen and with historic cap-and-trade bills pending in Congress, only one in three Americans now believe global warming is a serious problem.

What’s going on? Well, just take a spin through those all-American towns and you’ll find out.

JudyAlaska“I think the timing of this bill is an absolute and total disaster,” says Judy from Alaska about the American Clean Energy and Security Act that the U.S. House passed in June. “Our economy is so fragile and is just now starting to show some signs of recovery. If this legislation passed, it’s like taking us out at our knees.”

Richard, owner of a small business in New Mexico, says the historic climate-change legislation will kill his company. “We’ve got to maintain our gasd2146e769e161ca40b9c8394e314aa3e0735ede7 prices where they are, or even lower ’em to be able to maintain our workforce,” he says. “If we don’t stand up…we’re all just going to be in the unemployment line.”

Energy Citizens, an organization funded by industry, chambers of commerce and the likes, uses multimedia and economic scare tactics to try to kill the climate-change legislation. The group’s Web site is crammed with testimonials from regular, hardworking citizens who somehow know that the cap-and-trade provisions will deepen the economic recession.

The propaganda seems to have worked.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have both concluded that the climate-change bills would cost households less than $200 a year, or $16 a month. (Less than a monthly family outing to McDonald’s or a nice bottle of wine.)

Like anybody cares. This is not about science, facts, economics or reason. It’s about the cultural war that has turned the United States into a politically stymied nation that puzzles and frustrates the rest of the world. It’s about the divide between liberals and conservatives, urbanites and rurals,  agnostics and religious, educated and ignorant, intellectuals and mainstream America.

The dad of a girl in my daughter’s dance class told me this morning that well-to-do parents of kids in the conservative Catholic school that his girl attends are openly questioning his work.

He’s an engineering professor on loan from a New York university to conduct climate-related research at a prominent, liberal Washington think tank for a year. He recently got a long letter from one parent who informed him that global warming is just a scientific theory with no basis in reality.

1095169_a_silhouette_of_the_pope_2Why, on Earth, would Catholics oppose the idea of climate change?

It’s simple, the professor told me. It has to do with their anti-abortion platform. There’s a feeling among religious conservatives that environmentalists are pushing population control to reduce human impact on the environment. Population control, in their view, equals abortion which they vehemently oppose.

Well, support for free abortion is waning too, Pew tells us. There’s been  a backlash against our pro-choice president, which makes perfect sense. For in the United States of America, unity is a rare thing.

Wind power? Not in my backyard.

August 26, 2009


Turns out, Swedes may not be as green as I thought. Or perhaps they’re simply no different than the rest of us gasoline-guzzling, environmentally ignorant consumers who care more about our immediate comfort and convenience than the future of coming generations.

Overheard in the kitchen of immediate Swedish family members just the other day:

“I was so angry hearing this farmer on the island talk about the profits he was making from the wind power he was producing,” my mother bristled. “He had gotten together with some neighbors to construct and operate a wind mill in his back yard, and was making a small fortune. I told him, ‘Don’t you realize that you’re profiting from Swedish tax dollars? You’re making money off the backs of all the rest of us who must pay for this expensive wind power!’

“But he just looked at me and said, ‘But the money I make comes from the wind!'” she continued. “It made me so mad that people don’t understand who’s paying for all this construction of wind mills left and right. We are!”

According to the Swedish Energy Agency, wind power cooperatives such as the one formed by this ignorant Swedish farmer will add another 70 gigawatt-hours of electricity to the grid during fiscal year 2009-2010. In all, 24,000 people will be members in such cooperatives and boost their share of Swedish wind power production by 20 percent, the agency estimates

The Swedish government wants to grow total wind power production to 30 terrawatt hours annually – up from 2 tWh today. Wind currently accounts for just 1 percent of the nation’s electricity, compared with neighboring Denmark, which gets 20 percent of its power from wind power. (The U.S., the world’s leading wind power nation in terms of capacity, is at close to 2 percent.)

The Swedish government is using energy certificates subsidized by tax dollars to support the wind energy build-out, investments it says must be made to meet tough European Union carbon-dioxide reduction goals.

But some Swedes believe the cost of wind is just too high, especially when the machines pop up along pristine coast lines and in pastoral landscapes where Swedes want to enjoy their lengthy vacations away from the troubles of global warming and energy crises.

Indeed, in my family, the bad-mouthing of wind power stations began when news broke that the spinning turbine blades would soon obscure views from an island in the Baltic that, in my mom’s opinion, was too beautiful and unique for wind mills. (A section of it was, after all, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.)

A movement is afoot to stop the build-out of wind power in the country praised, over and and over again, for being one of the world’s greenest. Grassroots organizations with names such as “Fair Wind” and “Save the Coast” are sprouting up to protest plans by property owners to take advantage of government incentives and erect new wind turbines.

What does all this mean? That people are people, plain and simple. And that nobody is more green than the other when it comes to their own backyard.


The new eco puritans

April 21, 2009

My husband is reading out loud from the latest issue of Dwell, our favorite home design magazine. The topic of this month’s issue is “Beyond green – from niche to 889156_dirty_laundry1normal.”

“You can make a big impact on your energy and water consumption simply by modifying your laundry practices,” he reads. Tell me about it! I just ordered an Italian-made laundry drying rack, shipped up by truck from a store in North Carolina. It holds a whole load of laundry that is now drying in our sunny back yard.

But here’s the clincher: “Use cold water only,” my husband reads. Wait a minute: Clean our underwear, smelly socks, and the 6-year-old’s stained shirts in cold water? Visions of women standing barelegged in cold northern rivers on laundry day flash through my mind. Has it really come to this?

Apparently, there are many sacrifices we must make as we go green.

The Washington Post has a photo in today’s paper of a couple that grinds their own wheat to make bread because this, somehow, helps combat global warming. It also tells the story of a family in the Washington-area that keeps their home at 54 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius) during winter nights to save energy. “It just feels cold, and then I [went] into my friend’s house and they had the heat on and I was like ‘Oh, my God, that feels so good!” says the family’s 10-year-old, chilled daughter.

The same story quotes a couple that decided not to have a second child because of the high environmental cost. Each person has a carbon footprint, so better to not produce another person, their thinking went.

890649_kneading_dough2Environmentalism, it seems, is becoming just another form of Puritanism, minus the religious context. We need to deny ourselves, in order to gain salvation. That essentially requires rolling the clock back (i.e. grind our own wheat and shiver in our cold homes, like they did before electricity and home insulation was invented.)

A Puritan, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is a person who “practices or preaches a more rigorous or professedly purer moral code than that which prevails.”

As in saying no to delivery pizza, a television in the bedroom, and newly built furniture, according to Dwell.

But aren’t these petty, little feel-good green measures we take to show that we’re holier than our neighbors and relatives a distraction from the real environmental battle – the big policy decisions that will ultimately decide whether or not our energy-wasting society manages to curb greenhouse gas emissions?

That battle is being fought right now in Washington between industry lobbyists and environmental groups over the country’s first emissions cap and trade plan.

A green victory is less than certain, even with a cap-and-trade supporter in the White House. Utility lobbyists and mid-Western politicians call the proposed emissions trading scheme a punitive tax, saying it will hurt poor and middle-class Americans mired in recession.

Their propaganda seems to be rubbing off. A Gallup poll released in March showed that for the first time in the survey’s 25-year history, a majority of Americans feel the economy should be prioritized over environmental protection.

Which brings us back to the cold-water laundry. Congress may not do it for us. So what’s an eco-minded citizen to do? Grinding that flour and showing up at work with a not-so-crispy white shirt, is a little therapeutic, perhaps. Even if it doesn’t do much for Mother Earth.

Where’s my cheap charter flight?

December 2, 2008

“You went to India?” Lisa asks surprised over lunch.
Yes, just like that. And to London, Amsterdam, Tallinn, Prague, Hong Kong and Italy (twice) – in the span of just two years.
How unconscionable of us, considering that air travel has become Europe’s fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases – and even though the region is in a desperate race to meet its Kyoto obligations. (Unlike the United States, which wouldn’t even sign the treaty to halt global warming.) 1055986_clouds_and_shadows4

Indeed, a nation as eco-minded and prominently green as Sweden is breaking all-time records for long-distance air travel thanks to a still-booming charter travel industry. I did my best fueling this trend while living there for two years, thanks to cheap flights and generous vacation benefits.

And here I am, picking on Americans who still drive around in their big SUVs when they just as easily could bike, walk or take public transportation. I can’t feel holier than thou, knowing that by taking one round-trip to Asia, I emitted as much carbon dioxide as I would have if I drove my car 9,000 miles for several years. Which, of course, I don’t. Where’s the logic here?

Well, for one, it sounds a lot more cosmopolitan and global to tell people, “We had to land in Azerbajan so the plane could refuel,” or “We spent two days in Palermo,” than to say “I sat in traffic for an hour on the Beltway trying to get to work,” or “We’ll drive up to New York for the holidays.” A well-traveled person is perceived to be educated, cosmopolitan, experienced, smart…


As for the Swedish charter tourists who flock to far-flung destinations such as Thailand, Brazil or India, traveling is neither about class nor world citizenry. They’re just after cheap beer and sun. Here’s the story I reported for The Christian Science Monitor earlier this year on the globetrotting Swedes.