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The Week in Carbon (4/16/07)
Gil Friend, 16 Apr 07

(An idiosyncratic, non-comprehensive, more or less weekly summary of some of the action in the very active world of climate change.)

Step It Up's "National Day of Climate Action" stepped up yesterday.

In all 50 states, at more than 1400 iconic places across the nation, we have united around a common call to action: "Step It Up Congress: Cut Carbon 80% by 2050."

Organizer Bill McKibben describes his "new hobby": sifting through the action reports that have come in from around the country. My personal favorite: the folks who marked "here's where sea level's going to be" lines on buildings at the Emery Bay shopping district, not far from here.

My local paper weighed into the debate over carbon offsets with an above-the-fold (an ancient term from the days of tree-pulp) story on Paying to absolve the sin of emissions.

A new green fever is sweeping the nation, much of it fueled by worry over global warming. Broomhead and tens of thousands of others are using Internet calculators to determine their "carbon footprint" and then paying to "offset" that damage.

Still to be determined is whether carbon offsets are the new commodity that will truly help the environment -- or merely salve the consciences of people who don't want to give up the luxury of big cars, jet travel, overheated homes, blazing lights and gluttonous appliances.

The piece is a bit light on data and attribution (don't you hate it when they right things like "Some experts predict that carbon offsets will be the world's biggest commodity market in the next 10 years"? Which experts? Do they have names?) but still a worthwhile read -- as is a similar, though more skeptical piece over at AlterNet.

Speaking of debate, concerns over the recently hailed "Open Skies" treaty between the US and the EU are starting to bubble over. Sure there's a great economic opportunity in facilitating more transatlantic air travel. But 26 million additional trips adds a walloping fat load of carbon to the climatic system. Solar Century CEO Jeremy Leggett weighed in this week, blasting Cheap flights to extinction and asking his employees to boycott RyanAir -- which is adding fuel to the fire with proposed transatlantic flights as cheap as £7 (US$14). One alternative:

The theory is this. The world is full of wonderful books, and terrible airports. Drop the airports. Read the books. Take the train.

Just as we now celebrate Slow Food, as opposed to its temporal opposite, let us now learn to love Slow Travel.

By the way, if you're planning to plant trees to offset your carbon diet, read this first:

Although a tree can remove more than a ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during its lifetime... planting trees willy-nilly may not be the best strategy....

"Only tropical rain forests are strongly beneficial in helping slow down global warming," said Govindasamy Bala.

Actually, read it carefully. The Stanford University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers don't advocate cutting forests; they're just speculating whether

forests in snowy latitudes absorb solar energy that would otherwise be reflected back out into space, producing a heating effect.

Compared to what, I wonder? Apparently I'm not alone:

Steven W. Running, a professor of ecology at the University of Montana, praised the researchers but questioned their conclusion.

"I don't think the conclusions they draw are ready for prime-time policy, and particularly their conclusion that reforestation in high latitudes might be counterproductive," Running said. "What they are doing is sparking a lively scientific discussion that is very necessary, and I applaud them for that."

On the legislative front, there's too much for me to keep track of; that requires a subscription service. But here's one notable introduction this week, as reported by TreeHugger:

Hillary Clinton has introduced the Zero-Emissions Building Act of 2007 which directs federal agencies to immediately require that all new federal buildings or major renovations reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent as compared to a 2003 baseline. In 2010, and every five years after that, the emissions reduction level would increase by 10 percent, until new federal buildings become "zero-emissions" buildings in 2030. The legislation would also apply to major renovations of existing federal buildings.

Sounds much like Ed Mazria's Architecture 2030 initiative.

In business news, here are a handful of items from some of our favorite green news services:

AIG became the first insurance company to join the US Climate Action Partnership. US CAP, you'll recall, is the coalition of 10 of the nation's largest companies and several major NGO's formed to tackle global warming.

Chevron and Weyerhaeuser Team Up for Biofuels Alliance... to jointly assess the feasibility of commercializing the production of biofuels from cellulose-based sources.

Cisco, Novell, Texas Instruments and others joined The Green Grid, a non-profit consortium dedicated to advancing energy efficiency in data centers and business computing ecosystems

Sometimes it takes a little push, as the Dallas Business Journal reports that investors persuaded D.R. Horton, Toll Brothers, Costco and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide to disclose their strategies and performance in energy efficiency and climate-related topics.

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