It’s Not Easy Being Green: The Top Five Green Stories for 2012

This has been submitted to the Lake County Record-Bee

 It’s Not Easy Being Green: The Top Five Green Stories for 2012

Tis the season for looking back on the previous year; here are my picks for 2012’s top environmental stories plus a bonus story:

1. California’s Cap and Trade Program Begins.

Global Warming

Global Warming (Photo credit: mirjoran)

As U.S. CO2 emissions hit a 20 year low, the California Air Resources Board began its cap and trade program by auctioning off allowances of one metric ton of CO2 equivalent (greenhouse gas – GHG). The goal of the California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32), signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2006, was to bring statewide emissions down to its 1990 levels by 2020. Depending on who spun the story, the first auction, which raised significantly less revenue, than projected, was a qualified success or a fool’s errand.
There are two more auctions to go, but the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that the state may expect less than one-third of lawmakers’ budget projections.

 2. California’s Proposition 37 Ballot Initiative to Label Food Developed Using Transgenic (Genetically Modified) Methods Defeated.

While Europe looks longingly at the U.S. for our lack of labels on genetically modified crops, a ballot measure was solidly defeated that would have legislated more stringent requirements than Europe. Still, groups continue to fight to have labels placed on food that the Food and Drug Administration maintains is virtually identical to food that was developed through crossbreeding methods.
In other news, in October, Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad whose regime has slaughtered more than 33,000 people, issued a ban on GM food “to preserve the health of human beings.”

3. Earth Summit – Rio + 20.

Some 50,000 people including world leaders, bureaucrats, non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and others converged on hedonistic Rio de Janeiro last June to consider how to “reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want.”

Since the data show those things happening without them, they cancelled their trips and did things that were more productive. Not.

4. Italian Scientists Sentenced for Failing to Predict Earthquake.

Rubble on a car
The Italian courts sentenced six Italian scientists and a civil servant to six years in prison and $10 million in fines for failing to communicate the magnitude of risk before the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake that ultimately killed 309 people. The prosecution contended that people were ill prepared due to the seven downplaying earthquake risk following several minor tremors in the area.

Expect scientists and civil servants now to err with reports of direr consequences for any and all events. One-tenth inch of light rain predicted? Close all roads and evacuate the county. We cannot be too cautious now can we?

5. Extreme Weather Events.

From the U.S. drought to megastorm Sandy, it was a year of proofs in the media that catastrophic global warming is occurring due to our releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. BusinessWeek ran an article, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”
Time magazine had an article that said, “In Africa, drought continues for the sixth consecutive year, adding terribly to the toll of famine victims. [Recent] record rains in parts of the U.S., Pakistan and Japan caused some of the worst flooding in centuries.”
The Time article was written in 1974…about a coming Ice Age.
“Extreme events, like the recent U.S. drought, will continue to occur, with or without human causation,” John R. Christy, PhD, Alabama State Climatologist stated in testimony to congress. Roger Pielke Jr., professor of environmental studies, notes, “Flooding has not increased [in the United States] over the past century, nor have landfalling hurricanes.” Pielke adds that, even with this year’s drought, droughts have decreased over the past 100 years.

Because our climate and our earth’s weather have always been in flux, preparedness is our best strategy. Just like earthquakes, extreme weather events happen from time to time. We have seen them in the past; we will see them in the future.

6. Bonus story: December 21, 2012 – The Mayan Apocalypse.

The Mayan calendar ended on the winter solstice in 2012, which, naturally meant the world was ending then. Did you really think that a people who did not predict the conquistadors’ invasion could predict the end of the world?
See you next year.
Sources/Further Reading:

  • Is Weather More Extreme In A Warmer World? The Answer is in the Ice. (EnergyTribune.com)
  • The Birth of Carbon Pricing and Delivering California’s First ‘Climate Dividend’  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-sandler/california-carbon-pricing_b_2205089.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003)
  • Today’s Tornado Outlook: High Risk of Global Warming Hype  http://www.drroyspencer.com/2011/05/todays-tornado-outlook-high-risk-of-global-warming-hype/
  • Guest Commentary: Climate spin is rampant – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_21752735/climate-spin-is-rampant#ixzz2FR3VI9aN
  • “Another Ice Age?” Time. June 24, 1974 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,944914,00.html#ixzz2FhLcAdhM
  • “First cap-and-trade auction a bust for California budget.” November 21, 2012. http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2012/11/first-cap-and-trade-auction-a-bust-for-california-budget.html

 

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Green Games

Cover of "The Skeptical Environmentalist:...

Cover of “The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World” Cover via Amazon

 

Here is today’s Green Chain column for the Lake County Record-Bee.

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” – John Maynard Keynes.

It appears we are witnessing the crumbling of the green movement, as we know it. Dr. James Lovelock, who postulated the ‘Gaia hypothesis’ of earth operating as a self-regulating organism, is the latest to stray, if not exactly leave the faith. The list non-orthodox greens grows continually and now includes Mark Lynas, the author of The God Species and Stewart Brand, the author of the iconic Whole Earth Catalog.

Perhaps the first to change his mind and leave the Greens was Dr. Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace. He felt those in the environmental movement had made their point,

“[W]hen a majority of people decide they agree with you it is probably time to stop hitting them over the head with a stick and sit down and talk to them about finding solutions to our environmental problems,” Patrick Moore says.

Greens have always been fractious, and similar to the Tea Party on the right, they hate compromise. Former Greenpeace director Paul Watson berated Patrick Moore in an email: “you’re a corporate whore, Pat, an eco-Judas, a lowlife bottom-sucking parasite…” And, Bjørn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist took a pie in the face from then true believer, Mark Lynas.

At the heart of the disagreement sits the use of technology. “There is a battle underway for the soul of environmentalism,” writes freelance journalist Keith Kloor, “It is a battle between traditionalists and modernists. Who prevails is likely to be determined by whose vision for the future is chosen by a new generation of environmentalists.”

Traditionalist Greens say, “Stop!” Technology is the Problem. The Worldwatch Institute says we should not simply stop growing our economies, but we must actually contract: “The rapidly warming Earth and the collapse of ecosystem services show that economic ‘degrowth’ in overdeveloped countries is essential and urgent…. Degrowth can be achieved through policies to discourage overconsumption, raising taxes, shortening work hours, and ‘informalizing’ certain sectors of the economy.” The goal, Rik Scarce writes in his book “Eco-Warriors,” is to arrive at “a steady-state relationship with all of nature’s creations, wherein human attitudes and actions dominate no one and no one thing. Their alternative seeks to guarantee life, liberty, evolution, and happiness for humans and non-humans alike.”

Modernist Greens say that technology has a role in making the world greener and more livable for all creatures, including humans. Stewart Brand says “If Greens don’t embrace science and technology” they risk becoming irrelevant.

The modernists are in favor of cities, people, and technology (including genetically engineered food).

Cities, people, and technology are…good? What is happening? Has the world gone crazy?

Perhaps the world is crazy. (Not exactly a news flash now, is it?)

As you know, I have argued on these pages that people, cities, technology, and economic growth have not only improved our lives here in the United States, but have improved the environment. Economic growth using non-renewables has overall been beneficial. The author of “The Rational Optimist,” Matt Ridley notes that technology takes less land and uses materials other species do not want:

“[E]conomic development leads to a switch to using resources that no other species needs or wants…. Contrast Haiti, which relies on biomass (wood) for cooking and industry, with its much (literally) greener neighbour the Dominican Republic, which subsidises propane for cooking to save forest…. [E]conomic growth leads to a more sparing use of the most important of all resources – land.”

Is economic growth and technology a wonder cure? A panacea that works with no side effects? No. But, then everything has its upsides and downsides.

If we humans continue to move from rural to urban (cities are denser), drill and mine for our energy rather than grow it, continue to wring more food and fiber from each acre, and develop incentives for conserving water and our fisheries, we will yet leave a better place for our (and Nature’s) children and grandchildren.

Matt Ridley sums it up well:

“Seven billion people going back to nature would be a disaster for nature.”

Notes/Sources:

  • Johnston, Ian. ‘Gaia’ scientist James Lovelock: I was ‘alarmist’ about climate change. msnbc.com. http://worldnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/23/11144098-gaia-scientist-james-lovelock-i-was-alarmist-about-climate-change
  • “If Greens don’t embrace science and technology and jump ahead to a leading role in both, they may follow the Reds into oblivion.” Brand, Stewart. Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary · “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Maynard_Keynes
  • Kloor, Keith. “The Limits to Environmentalism” Discover.com http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2012/04/27/the-limits-to-environmentalism/
  • Assadourian, Erik. “The Path to Degrowth in Overdeveloped Countries.” Worldwatch Institute, STATE OF THE WORLD 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity
  • Moore, Patrick. “Confessions of a Greenpeace founder.” 2011. Vancouver Sun. http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/Confessions+Greenpeace+founder/4073767/story.html#ixzz1BErUqcWL
  • Scarce, Rik. Eco-Warriors: understanding the radical environmental movement. 1990. Noble Press, Chicago, IL
  • “Seven billion people going back to nature would be a disaster for nature.” Comment by Matt Ridley. Hickman, Leo. Does consumption need tackling before population? http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2012/apr/26/royal-society-report-consumption-population#block-17

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Making money out of thin air

What do the South Sea Company and carbon exchanges have in common? Everything.

In 1711, Britain’s treasurer, Robert Harley, had an extraordinary idea. He could finance Britain’s war debt by selling shares in a non-existent trading company: the South Sea Company. South America was just opening up and was imagined to be a place where silver and gold flowed as easily as water. But for the scheme to be pulled off, according to a recent Economist article, investors needed to “be persuaded to drive the stock above its par value” in order “to create wealth out of thin air.” It worked for a while. Speculation drove up the price but when negotiations with Spain faltered, the South Sea Company needed government backing to keep the party going. They went old school and bribed people close to the king. Eventually, despite the royal imprimatur, the investors discovered that the scheme contained no substance and was just hot air, and their shares’ par value equaled pond scum.

004 Carnival wind-peddler and wholesaler (stoc...

Today, a number of scientists, companies, and policy-makers are concerned with anthropogenic (man-made) global warming. And, carbon dioxide (CO2), a by-product of burning, has been fingered as the prime suspect. CO2 also happens to be the gas that you and I exhale with each breath. Simply put, CO2 reflects infrared radiation back to earth that would otherwise be lost to the cold cold depths of space–the so-called greenhouse effect.

Climate scientists have built complex computer programs to model the earth’s future climate. Using sophisticated equations with feedback loops and forcings they have “proven” the warming, which vary from 1 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit change, of the worldwide average by the end of this century. For our purposes we can simply say that more CO2 equals a hotter earth. People living at the start of the 20th century who could remember the “little ice age” thought this greenhouse effect beneficial. Today, the warming involved with the higher levels of climate change stands accused of everything from colder winters to cancer, and even illegal immigration (I am not making this up).

Some have suggested that a cap-and-trade system could reduce CO2 emissions; this would be similar to how regulators curbed other smokestack pollutants (such as sulfur dioxide) in the late 20th century. Essentially, regulators “cap” the total output of a pollutant with a limited allowance of CO2, and then polluters can trade their credits. Those who produce less of the pollutant can sell their remaining allowance to those who produce more. The state of New York has collected $282 million under a regional agreement from the auctioning of carbon dioxide credits.

In addition to selling allowances in a cap-and-trade system, indulgences can also be sold in the form of “carbon offsets.” Offsets provide a counter-balance to the CO2-emissions’ damage (presumably) done by flying in an airplane, driving a car, having a child, or all three and more. The offsets vary: one might buy a bit of rainforest (to grow and soak up CO2 through photosynthesis) or fund family planning in Ethiopia (to prevent another carbon emitter from entering the world) as atonement. By buying such carbon-coated indulgences, one can expiate the sins of extravagant western living and transform oneself into a holy carbon-neutral being.

It’s not about saving the world (except for the true believers), it’s about money. Follow the incentives. Baptists and bootleggers, true believers and the buck-seekers, have banded together to make markets out of thin air with offsets or allowances. At the United Nations’ climate change delegate meeting in Cancun that just ended, investment funds, insurance companies and banks have lobbied for a treaty, and not because they are altruistic. Ronald Bailey at Reason writes that the delegates there have decided “to kick the Cancun down the road” because the “rich countries continued their vague promises to hand over $100 billion in climate aid annually to poor countries beginning in 2020.”

Cutting 100 percent of our CO2 emissions lowers CO2 emissions by a whopping 1.5 percent of the carbon cycle, because the rest (210 billion metric tons per year) comes from natural processes. But, “if you’re looking to make money from the trading of carbon allowances (carbon credits) than (sic) it makes a great deal of sense….If you are in the renewable energy business it makes perfect sense to support the reduction of carbon dioxide ‘pollution’,” writes one energy analyst.

I could be wrong, but I see no “there” there. The investment has no portfolio. I think, just as what happened to the British South Sea Company, investors will eventually learn that these hyperventilated bubbles are simply full of hot air. What do the South Sea Company and carbon exchanges have in common? Nothing.

Sources

Buttonwood. “An early attempt to buy government bonds by creating money.” The Economist, November 11, 2010.

Christy, John R. “The Global Warming Fiasco.” In Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths, by Competitive Enterprise Institute, edited by Ronald Bailey, 423. Forum, 2002.

Derbyshire, David. “‘Climate change could give you cancer’: UN report warns of deadly pollutants from glaciers .” Mail Online. December 9, 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1336810/Climate-change-cancer-UN-report-warns-deadly-pollutants-glaciers.html#ixzz17qXOVfeT (accessed December 11, 2010).

Horn, Art. “The Utter Futility of Reducing Carbon Emissions.” Energy Tribune. December 1, 2010. http://www.energytribune.com/articles.cfm/5961/The-Utter-Futility-of-Reducing-Carbon-Emissions (accessed December 1, 2010).

Lindzen, Richard S. “Global Warming: How to approach the science.” Testimony: House Subcommittee on Science and Technology hearing on A Rational Discussion of Climate Change: the Science, the Evidence, the Response. Richard S. Lindzen, 2010.

Lomborg, Bjorn. “Human Welfare: Food and Hunger.” In The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World, by Bjorn Lomborg, 515. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

NAVARRO, MIREYA. “Carbon Auction Yields $16.9 Million for New York.” Dot Green. New York Times. December 3, 2010. http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/carbon-auction-yields-16-9-million-for-new-york/ (accessed December 12, 2010).

Optimum Population Trust. “Your questions answered.” PopOffets. Optimum Population Trust 12 Meadowgate, Urmston Manchester M41 9LB. http://www.popoffsets.com/faq.php (accessed December 11, 2010).
Revkin, Andrew C. “Cold Weather in a Warming Climate.” Dot Earth – New York Times blog. March 1, 2008. http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/01/reconciling-cold-weather-and-a-warming-climate/ (accessed December 11, 2010).

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York, New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

Shuaizhang Feng, Alan B. Krueger, Michael Oppenheimer. “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” Linkages among climate change, crop yields and Mexico–US cross-border migration. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. http://www.pnas.org/content/107/32/14257.long.

Vaughan, Adam. guardian.co.uk,. 10 31, 2010. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/oct/31/climate-change-computer-game (accessed 11 20, 2010).

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