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The Week in Carbon (2/25/07)
Gil Friend, 25 Feb 07
Article Photo

The Globies
Environmental Defense announced its Globies awards this week.

The winners: Seattle mayor Greg Nickels, the US Climate Action Partnership, and Al Gores' film, An Inconvenient Truth.

The losers: Exxon-Mobil, for "its decade-long and multi-million dollar public relations campaign to undermine the scientific consensus on global warming," and Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who notably called global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on humankind."

Honorable mention: California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and former state Assemblywoman Fran Pavley for jointly authoring and helping to pass AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act.

Awareness
Mark Morford, my other favorite Chronicle columnist, ranted this week (in "Global warming? Never heard of it, not my fault") off the ACNielsen study on international global warming awareness:

13 percent of the American population, if this recent 46-nation poll is to be believed... have never heard of global warming....
[F]ully 95% of Latin America has heard of global warming, and 75% think it's a "very serious" issue....
Despite how the United States pumps more pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than China or India or Russia, a scant 42% of us see the problem as "very serious." Even China and India, those mega-polluters of the developing world we like to scoff at for their flagrant industrial waste, are far more concerned and more universally informed.
[W]hile willful, greedy ignorance is relatively easy to explain, this weird hunk of gaping blindness, this intellectual black hole, isn't quite so easy to figure out.
Except for this: Maybe it's the result of the great, chronic dumbing down on the American mind. Possible?

Oh, by the way:

13% of congressional republicans see global warming as a human caused issue, compared with 85% of Dems.

The policy debate
The policy debate is underway in Congress. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) offered the first of five global warming bill she plans to introduce. The bill

would force the country's electricity companies to cap greenhouse gas production at 2006 levels by 2011 and ratchet that down to 2001 levels by 2015, a 16 percent drop from anticipated levels. By 2020, emissions would be reduced 25 percent below anticipated levels, and the Environmental Protection Agency could require further cuts.

Not good enough, say critics like David Doniger, climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who "warned about the dangers of setting too low a target."

A competing bill (from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. Bernie Saunders (I-VT) would set an emissions reduction target of 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 -- in line with California's mandated statewide targets.

The Chronicle gives most of the article to Sen. Feinstein, though, not her critics.

"What worries me most is that people will let the perfect become the enemy of the good, and in this area, that's catastrophic," Feinstein said. "We have to get started."

Feinstein's bill has the support of PG&E and a number of other power companies across the nation. Working with industry groups on the nuts and bolts of her global warming measure was critical, she said. At least 40 states rely heavily on coal-fueled power plants, which means there are 80 senators who will be leery of any bill that could boost the costs of electric power in their states, Feinstein said.

What do you think: Do we go for what we need or go for what we can get?

Meanwhile, the EPA is seeking comments on its Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2005.

[O]verall emissions have grown by 16 percent from 1990 to 2005, while the U.S. economy has grown by 55 percent over the same period.

In other news:
Environmental Leaders reports Alcan's "commitment for a further 10 percent reduction in direct C02 equivalent emissions intensity from 2006 to 2010" on top of reducing GHG emission intensity was reduced by 25 percent between 1990 and 2005.

Alcan's just been named to the Global 100 "most sustainable" companies, but let's be clear -- the focus, for companies and countries, has to move from reduction of emissions intensity to reduction of emissions. Right now, the best still isn't good enough.

Yahoo, Wal-Mart, Environmental Defense, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy, along with other private companies and government agencies, has launched a marketing campaign called 18 seconds to persuade people to switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Lots of cool webby stuff there.

This is just the latest in a long line of CFL news. Recently, California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine introduced legislation to make his state the first to ban incandescent lightbulbs. Earlier this week, Australia announced it would phase out incandescents and Greenpeace asked India to follow Australia’s lead. Wal-Mart has set a goal of selling 100 million CFLs by 2008.

In addition, people are pointing to the fact that CFLs contain mercury, a neurotoxin, and that manufacturers, retailers, and the government haven’t come up with effective ways to get Americans to recycle them.

In any case, incandescents may not be done for yet if GE's planned high efficiency incandescent (HEI™) lamps hit their targets. The fine print: a 4x efficiency improvement is still several years away; its' hard to see how a thermal technology like incandescents can cut the mustard; and other technologies -- like LED lighting -- aren't standing still.

Getting the message out
Environmental Alliance announced the winner of its Stop Global Warming Pin design contest.

A marketing flub, imho. By putting the international "NO!" symbol in front of the most widely know photograph of the planet, this button reads to me as "No 'whole earth'!" Can't be what they meant.

Since it's taken me till this evening to get this posted, I glad to report that An Inconvenient Truth won the Oscar for best documentary.

New York Times: A Buyout Deal That Has Many Shades of Green

Early Monday, after several weeks of marathon negotiations that brought together both environmentalists and Wall Street bankers, TXU announced that its board of directors had approved the bid from Kohlberg Kravis and Texas Pacific for about $45 billion, which would be the largest buyout in history.

The deal was noteworthy not just for its size, but for the confluence of business decisions and environmental concerns that drove the ultimate transaction.

If you still weren't sure that the business landscape is being profoundly changed by global warming, the investors (according to former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly, who works for Texas Pacific) will

commit themselves to scale back significantly on TXU’s plan to build 11 new coal plants and adhere to a strict set of environmental rules.

Why? A powerful confluence of environmental concerns and business concerns.

Within TXU, the controversial plan to build a raft of coal plants had become so damaging to its stock price that its board had been privately weighing a plan to scrap part of the project.

(I've been thinking a lot about coal lately, musing about the financial strategies that would enable shutting down and writing off the entire industry. Why not buy out owners, employees and communities -- and take the financial hit now, rather than over a century or two of continued subsidies and escalating environmental and climate damage. It seemed like a pipe dream, or at least a dream that needed a lot of details worked out. It may be that events will move faster than I ever imagined.)


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Comments

To clear the record, I was misquoted in the Chronicle article. I said Senator Feinstein's bill is in the ballpark with several other "declining cap" bills that reduce emissions over time, and that it should be considered, with those other bills, by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. My warning against bills that aim too low was meant for bills from last year that did not stop the growth of global warming pollution and did not set it on a declining course. There are important differences between the declining cap bills, but Senator Feinstein's is one that deserves consideration.


Posted by: David Doniger on 26 Feb 07



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