Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Has the White House painted itself into a corner over climate change?

April 1, 2010 1:30pm
by Kate Mackenzie
After all, a good look at how Wednesday’s offshore drilling announcement will likely be viewed by individual Senators suggests it has.
As President Obama said in the earlier stages of the presidential campaign, opening up offshore waters will make about as much difference to US energy security as getting drivers to inflate their tires properly (he changed his stance on offshore drilling later in the campaign). Moreover, the importance of the decision isn’t yet known, because these areas of seabed haven’t been explored, having been off-limits for so long.
Little of the oil in question would be likely to flow before the end of even a two-term Obama administration. Next to the bigger issues of US energy policy, new drilling off the coast of just over half-a-dozen US states is small beer.
So the consensus is that this proposal is more about politics than policy — and if it is to be justified, it must be in terms of shepherding a successful climate bill through a fractious and partisan Senate. But is it a success, in those terms?Observers such as Ezra Klein, one of the sharpest watchers of congressional strategy over the past year, seem baffled by the White House’s game:
There may be some brilliant strategy underlying all this, but no one in the administration has seen fit to explain what it is.
The key problem is that 10 Democratic senators from coastal states have promised to oppose any bill that allows “unfettered” offshore drilling. Bernie Sanders, an independent Democrat-in-all-but-name from Vermont, is also signalling opposition. But the Democrats will need all 59 of their senators, plus at least one Republican defector, to get the 60 votes necessary to break a filibuster.
Admittedly, the administration was successful in bringing most wavering Democrats into line over the healthcare bill, but the opposition over drilling shouldn’t be dismissed as mere grandstanding. In Florida, for example, tourism is a $65bn industry - the state’s biggest - while fisheries generated $710m at the end of the 1990s, according to a rather dated analysis. As the Democratic naysayers’ letter makes clear, both industries see offshore oil as a threat, and Florida is having its own tense political battle about drilling closer to the shoreline.
It will be difficult for the Democratic naysayers to spring back from the position they have now staked out. Those senators who had changes of heart over healthcare will at least be able to point to pocket-book benefits (coverage of pre-existing conditions, bans on rescissions) when they hit the campaign trail over the coming months. Those who change their minds over drilling will have to answer the far more toxic charge that they have sold out the local guy for the interests of Washington and big oil.
The breakdown: Whose votes might be gained?
All this would be worthwhile if the move could be counted on to pick up a balancing number of Republican votes. But only three current Republican senators - Maine’s Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and Tennessee’s Bob Corker - have any significant record of supporting green policies in the last Congress.
Add in the handful who show some genuine concern about climate change - Ohio’s George Voinovich, Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, and Indiana’s Richard Lugar - and, optimistically, moderate-leaning ‘energy independence’ types who might be encouraged by the offshore deal (Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Texas’s Kay Bailey Hutchison, and, at a stretch, Mississippi’s Roger Wicker), and you get to 10 votes. For the sake of argument, let’s add New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg and Florida’s George LeMieux, who are both retiring and will not be fearing an electoral backlash, and with the climate bill’s main Republican backer, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, you reach 13.
This, it should be stressed, is an almost absurdly optimistic scenario, given the behaviour of congressional Republicans over the past year. For a Republican senator, the upside of supporting the climate bill might consist of some campaign donations from oil and gas companies that you would likely be receiving anyway, plus a warm fuzzy feeling of Doing The Right Thing. It certainly doesn’t look like you could count on picking up many votes, and most senators aren’t even seeking re-election soon =- and those that are have most to fear from primary challenges from the right, so aren’t likely to make concessions to the left. The downside, on the other hand, is that you would be seen as wrecking your leadership’s flagship political strategy, while enabling the agenda of someone whom a quarter of your supporters appear to believe is literally the Antichrist.
It’s just possible that some of the Democratic naysayers would moderate their opposition by voting to break the filibuster, and then switching to oppose the final bill. But that is a long shot. Unless the White House has some very sophisticated tricks up its sleeve, getting this bill through the Senate will require a legislative miracle on a par with the healthcare victory. And then the real work would start on getting it through the House of Representatives.

German Solar Corporation Establishes New Solar Arrays Facility

By Solar Academy International
German Solar Corporation recently announced plans to expand its assembly and distribution operations into London, Ontario in order to take advantage of the province's rapid solar development. Expecting to employ at least 20 associates once fully operational later this year, the 25,000 sq ft assembly plant will be dedicated to producing environmentally friendly solar arrays for both residential and commercial applications.
The timing of this announcement is no coincidence. Ontario's FIT program has helped spark a boom in solar energy investment and development, creating new business opportunities throughout Canada's solar energy industry. Even firms situated much farther down the value chain are reporting significant upticks in business. Director of Ontario Solar Academy, Jacob Travis, observed that "with all of these new incentives, interest in our 5-Day solar panel design and installation training course has grown exponentially." Travis went on to add that "German Solar Corporation's recent announcement bodes well for all of our of high caliber graduates - past, present, and future."
One such graduate, Adam German, believes that the benefits work in both directions. The connections he made over his 5 days of PV design and installation training could prove invaluable as he helps expand both the scope and scale of German Solar Corporation. Moreover, as a graduate of the Ontario Solar Academy, Adam will join a growing group of alumni who are active in the Ontario Solar Network - a renewable energy community formed under the aegis of Ontario Solar Academy.
Originally formed as a strategic partnership amongst Kaco New Energy Group, Deutshe Solargesellschaft, and German Energy Alternatives Inc, German Solar Corporation seems well positioned to intercept Ontario Solar Academy's graduates as it develops turnkey solar array solutions for both residential (1.8kWp to 10kWp) and commercial customers (100kWp to 600kWp+). A quick glance at its various service offerings almost reads like the curriculum outline from Ontario Solar Academy's training program:
comprehensive feasibility analyses
rooftop leasing arrangements
FIT applications
permits and regulatory approvals
high-end solar equipment (domestic content)
construction, installation, and connection
But what of the City of London? How did they greet the news?
As can be imagined, the reaction was enthusiastic. Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best glowingly remarked that "renewable technology is a strategic focus for the City of London, and we warmly welcome [German Solar Corporation] to London and know they will be successful…."
President and CEO of the London Economic Development Corporation (LEDC), Peter White, followed up on Mayor DeCicco-Best's praise, offering
"at the 2009 Economic Summit, the city's investment in renewable technology received wide support from academia, government, business, and the community as a whole. It has been an absolute pleasure, and honour, for the LEDC team to work closely with German Solar Corporation. We value their confidence in London as a centre of excellence for this industry and look forward to continuing to work closely with them as this investment moves forward."
Phil Scarfone, VP of Sales and spokesperson for German Solar Corporation returned by saying,
"our new facility, already built in London, Ontario, will be the catalyst for our goals to deliver world class solar array projects to Ontario…. We are confident that our solar array business will grow and be successful in Ontario with the continued strong support and cooperation from the City of London and the province of Ontario."
This London expansion is just one of many stages in German Solar Corporation's grander vision. Phase II of its strategy involves adding another 500,000 sq ft facility plus 40 new jobs within the next two years.

Houston Sets the Energy Efficiency Bar

April 6, 2010by: Laurie Johnson
Two new energy efficiency rules could soon become law in Texas. As Laurie Johnson reports — one of the rules would require the rest of the state to follow the example already set by Houston.
Residential and commercial buildings use 40 percent of all energy consumed in America.
Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger says the State Energy Conservation Office could soon require new homes and buildings be 15 percent more efficient than current standards.
"The draft proposal would be that by January 1, 2012 all new buildings would have to basically do what Houston's already doing. So in this area then, the City of Houston already requires these codes. Now the entire metropolitan area would have to do what Houston's doing and the entire state would have to do what Houston's doing."
Because heat is the biggest energy factor in Texas, it's also the biggest area where improvements can be made.
Julie Hendricks with the U.S. Green Building Council says developers can do things like use light-colored roofing material, put more insulation in exterior walls and install Energy Star appliances.
"We don't have to invent any brand new fancy technologies. We don't have to wait for a new coal plant to get built, which takes years. We can start saving energy right now."
The second state rule could go into effect in 2015. The Public Utility Commission has issued a draft which would require utility companies to increase their investment in efficiency programs.
Right now, electricity providers are required to invest about $100 million a year statewide in efficiency. The new rule would require a $250 million investment

Emissions rules may aid biofuels

Environmental groups say S.D. will benefit from new standards
Thom Gabrukiewicz • • April 3, 2010
Tougher air standards for the country's cars and trucks is not only good for the environment, it's a win for economic competitiveness in the Midwest - especially South Dakota's biofuels industry.
That's the assessment from several Midwest environmental organizations, including the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which has an office in Sioux Falls. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told automakers Thursday of new greenhouse gas standards for 2012 models.
"Biofuels is a growth industry in South Dakota and the entire Midwest," said Howard Learner, president and executive director with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. "The U.S. EPA's action shows the Clean Air Act working successfully to achieve environmental progress and economic benefits together by advancing clean technologies that provide positive solutions."
The nation's oil and gas industry sees things a bit differently.
"The rule is not just about vehicle efficiency," said American Petroleum spokesman Bill Bush. "It's about EPA overreaching to create an opportunity for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from virtually every firm and business in America, no matter how unwieldy, intrusive and burdensome such regulation might be."
Starting with 2012 model year vehicles, the new standards would push the average fuel economy for passenger cars from 27.5 mpg in 2009 to 37.8 mpg by 2016, or an improvement of almost 40 percent. New EPA standards would cover air conditioning improvements in cars and trucks. Those standards require that by the 2016 model-year, manufacturers must achieve a combined average vehicle emission level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile.
In South Dakota, the new rules would conserve an estimated 29 million gallons of fuel, which in turn would save consumers $70 million in gas by 2016. The rules also could avoid releasing 300,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas into the air and would reduce pollution in the state equivalent to taking 52,775 vehicles off the road.
"Clean car standards and innovative technology will spur new jobs in research and development of pollution control technologies and create new manufacturing opportunities in the Midwest," said Jack Shaner, deputy director of the Ohio Environmental Council.
"Improving vehicle efficiency makes sense. It's a vital part of energy conservation," Bush said. "However, EPA joining DOT in this rule sets the nation on the disastrous course of Clean Air Act regulation of stationary source greenhouse gas emissions."
The new rules are expected to cost about $52 billion and will generate more than $182 billion in economic benefits, Learner said. The bulk of new investment by automakers would be for developing innovative fuel efficiency technologies. That would lessen the need for refining capacity in the U.S. and cast further doubt on the proposed Hyperion oil refinery near Elk Point, Learner said.

Obama acts to cut car emissions

The US will target greenhouse gases emitted by cars for the first time, thanks to new regulations on exhaust emissions

The Obama administration, frustrated by Congress from acting on climate change, finalised its first national greenhouse gas limits on car exhaust emissions today. The new rules will lead to a nearly 40% increase in fuel efficiency for America's fleet of cars and light trucks by 2016, or 35.5 miles per US gallon on average.
Although car exhaust has been regulated for years, today's announcement was the first time the federal government has imposed curbs specifically targeted at carbon emissions from cars. The Environmental Protection Agency, facing resistance in Congress, has said it will delay curbing similar emissions from power plants and industry at least until next year.
Today's new tougher federal regulations were simultaneously adopted by Canada's government.
With climate change and energy legislation stalled in Congress, today's action may remain the most significant taken by the Obama administration against global warming. Obama has had limited success in getting Republicans and moderate Democrats to support energy and climate change legislation. His latest attempt to win over Republicans, opening up swaths of the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic to offshore drilling, won only lukewarm support. Meanwhile, commentators accused Obama of drafting energy policy on purely political grounds.
The new standards were pioneered by the state of California, which fought for years with the auto industry and the George Bush administration to raise fuel efficiency and limit car exhaust emissions.

We need birth control, not geoengineering

The pill, condoms and IUDs are some of the most effective – and cheap – weapons the world has to fight climate change. From Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Lisa Hymas for Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Tuesday 6 April 2010 11.45 BST
I've written about my choice not to have children. What's all too easy to forget is that many women still don't have any reasonable choice about their fertility.
An estimated 200 million women around the world don't have access to family-planning tools. If they did, 52 million unwanted pregnancies could be averted every year, according to the Guttmacher Institute [PDF].
I'm not talking government mandates or coercion or heavy-handed tactics — those approaches aren't just ethically dubious, they're wholly unnecessary. We just need to give every woman everywhere contraceptive options so she can have basic control over how many children she has and how close together she has them — something that we in the developed world take completely for granted. If we did so, many women would choose on their own to have fewer children, or to space them further apart. Not only would there be fewer new bodies on our already crowded planet, but the lives of women and the children they do choose to have would be improved.
Most green groups don't like to talk about all this — population has become the third rail of the environmental community (more on that in a future post).
Technologists don't like to either — they'd rather talk about traveling-wave nuclear reactors and CO2-sucking machines and space sunshades. We do need to explore and invest in cleantech options; climate change is serious enough that it requires all of our best efforts in all arenas.
But it may be that many of the technologies with the most potential for averting climate change already exist — the pill, the condom, the IUD. We just need to spread them far and wide.
Baby stroller crossed-out in greenGINK: green inclinations, no kidsBetter still, providing contraception to women who lack it is one of the most cost-effective ways to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. Each $7 spent on basic family planning over the next four decades would reduce global CO2 emissions by more than a metric ton, while achieving that same reduction with the leading low-carbon technologies would cost a minimum of $32, according to a recent study by the London School of Economics [PDF], commissioned by the Optimum Population Trust. And if you compare contraception to the potential costs of geoengineering, the potential savings are even more massive.
As Laurie Mazur puts it in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,
[T]he developed countries' share of the cost to provide reproductive health services for every woman on earth is $20 billion -- about what the bankers on Wall Street gave themselves in bonuses [in 2008]. The U.S. share of the cost is $1 billion, less than 2 percent of what the United States will spend on the war in Afghanistan [in 2009]. In contrast, the scheme to launch mirrors into space is estimated to cost a few trillion dollars.
When you look at those numbers, paying for condoms and IUDs looks to be not just a huge bargain, but startlingly sane. It may not be as sexy as space mirrors, but when's the last time sexy solved a pressing global problem?

Greenpeace could learn a simple lesson on manners from George Washington

Threatening climate sceptics and warning Twitter followers you are armed with a knife are not smart moves from Greenpeace India's communications director, Gene Hashmi

It's a car crash. There's simply no other way to view it. On 31 March, Greenpeace posted a blog on to the front page of the international version of its website. It was written by "Gene from Greenpeace India" and it discussed the organisation's recent investigation into the significant funding of climate scepticism by Koch Industries.
So far, so normal. But on the following day – 1 April, no less – part two of the blog went live. It included the now infamous passage:
The proper channels have failed. It's time for mass civil disobedience to cut off the financial oxygen from denial and scepticism. If you're one of those who believe that this is not just necessary but also possible, speak to us. Let's talk about what that mass civil disobedience is going to look like. If you're one of those who have spent their lives undermining progressive climate legislation, bankrolling junk science, fuelling spurious debates around false solutions and cattle-prodding democratically-elected governments into submission, then hear this: We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work. And we be many, but you be few.
Within hours these words were being reported across the blogosphere, particularly on sceptic websites, as nothing less than an incitement to intimidation. Web staff at Greenpeace tried to limit the damage by adding a forward to the blog noting how the author was "known around the Greenpeace world for stating his opinion loud and clear, and not being a diplomat".
It went on to say he was "a genuinely peaceful guy who believes in the power of peaceful protest to change the world".
But it was too little, too late: the comment field underneath the blog was quickly filling up with angry, hateful responses. Two Greenpeace web producers called Juliette and Andrew made a stab over the next few days at responding to the inevitable tidal wave of vitriol, but they were in effect only adding fuel to the fire:
We realise it might have sounded threatening to some. This is why we have explained over and over that it is NOT a threat of violence, that Greenpeace doesn't endorse violence, it is not a campaign tactic and never will be. Juliette
After much procrastination – in part, caused by the timing of the long Easter break – the blog was finally pulled by Greenpeace earlier today once senior staff realised what was going on.
Greenpeace has confirmed to me that the blog's author had been given "full blogging rights" on its international website and therefore did not need to first clear his ill-chosen words with a senior member of staff.
This isn't that surprising as "Gene from Greenpeace India" turns out to be Gene Hashmi, the communications director at Greenpeace India. A visit to his Twitter page reveals that he is someone who likes to play it fast and loose with his phrasings – not always an admirable trait for a communications director.
For example, here's a tweet he posted on 9 March after a period of inactivity on his Twitter account:
I haven't said anything in 7 months, so why are all 32 of you mofos following me? Just so you know, I'm carrying a knife.
His last tweet, posted on 31 March, states that he will be on a beach in Thailand until June without any access to the internet. How fortuitous.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace is now trying to salvage its damaged reputation. Ananth Guruswamy, Greenpeace International's programme director, has just posted this message in place of the offending blog:
You've probably come here to read a blog post written by our colleague Gene, in which he included the line addressing climate sceptics: "We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work. And we be many, but you be few."Well, we've taken down that post from our website. It's very easy to misconstrue that line, take it out of context and suggest it means something wholly different from the practice of peaceful civil disobedience, which is what the post was about. Anyone who knows Gene knows he's an entirely peaceful guy. In the interest of transparency we have moved it off site to this location, where you can read the offending quotes in context and judge for yourself.We got this one wrong, no doubt about it. I'm holding up my hands on behalf of the organisation and saying sorry for that. Peaceful action is at the very core of what we do, so any language that even comes close to suggesting that's not the case is something we cannot support.Gene in his blog asks: "What do you do when patient petitioning, protest marches and court orders fail? What do you do when all the protocols and cheat codes of democracy fail? This is what you do: you reclaim the language of democracy from the twisted bunch that have hijacked, cannibalised and subverted it."We need to reclaim the language of democracy and tolerance. A language that is clear and precise and distinguishes between individuals that hold an opinion from our deep and visceral reaction to the opinion itself. A language that does not confuse integrity of protest and civil disobedience with anger. One which establishes the fundamental tenets of protecting the planet for all life forms.The climate change debate is often characterised by more heat than light, and for that reason we all need to be careful about how we express ourselves.Of course the anti-science brigade on the web has seized on the line in that post and run with it (and will run and run and run), taken it out of context and run with it some more – it's what the climate contrarians exist to do.We do not look over our colleagues' shoulders when they blog. That's not what the web is about – and that means we'll make mistakes. No doubt this won't be the last one, but next time we'll deal with it a little quicker.
It goes without saying that the original blog should never have been posted in the first place but, for an organisation with a reputation for being media-savvy, Greenpeace took far, far too long in making the right decision to kill it and offer an apology.
The episode has echoes of how the University of East Anglia press office made its already mountainous task a whole lot harder by remaining essentially silent for so long after the stolen email scandal broke last November.
All actors in this "debate" make idiotic remarks from time to time and will no doubt continue to do so. For example, the proud residents of Beckistan will recall the occasion in February when their great leader Glenn Beck made the statement on his radio show that "there aren't enough knives" in the world for the IPCC's "dishonoured" climate scientists to commit hara-kiri. Not big. Not clever.
The divide between the sides is growing, as foolish outbursts such as this display. The last thing this debate needs right now is fodder to feed to the baying mobs inside their respective echo chambers.
In this internet age, it seems a long, long time since the 13-year-old George Washington wrote out his Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company, which included the immortal line: "Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly."