2010 - %3, January

News From TreeHugger: More Mountaintop Coal Mines, COP15 a Game-Changer in Israel, N. Dakota Threatens to Sue Minnesota Over CO2

| Thu Jan. 7, 2010 8:00 AM EST

Editor's Note: A weekly roundup from our friends over at TreeHugger. Enjoy!

Two Democratic Senators Won't Seek Reelection: Bad News For Climate Bill?

The headlines have been filled with the news that three prominent Democratic politicians—two of them senators—won't be seeking reelection in the midterm elections this year. So how might the decisions of Chris Dodd, the well-known senator from Connecticut, and Byron Dorgan, of North Dakota, affect the still-uncertain future of the climate bill? It actually may be a good thing.

EPA Approves One New Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine, Finds 'Path Forward' for Second

Six days into 2010 and the battle over mountaintop removal coal mining is set to start up again. Yesterday afternoon the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it had found "a path forward on two coal mining operations in West Virginia." The two operations are both mountaintop mines, one in Lincoln County, one in Logan County. By early evening green groups, from the establishment to grassroots, denounced the EPA decision.

A Dangerous Quid Pro Quo? EPA to Give Up CO2 Regulation for a Clime Bill?

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will soon be allowed to offer an amendment to Senate debt legislation to strip the EPA of its ability, given to it under a Supreme Court decision and the Endangered Species Act, to regulate greenhouse gas emissions for one year. Murkowski, who sits on the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is fervently against allowing EPA to cut greenhouse gas emissions, has been pushing the amendment for over a year.

Failure Yes. But Copenhagen Still a Game Changer

Last month's climate change summit in Copenhagen, which inspired so much expectation, seems to have pleased no one. Asked to describe their feelings post-Copenhagen in one word, TreeHugger readers responded with words like "disappointed," "cop-out" and "fail." Many people have described COP15 as a resounding failure, and maybe it was - but maybe not...

Study Finds Cross-Border Cooperation Reduces Conservation Costs by 45%

Most conservation studies focus on biodiversity, but to be successful in a real-world application, they must also consider the cost of research and protection programs. A new study that looked at conservation programs in the Mediterranean region has found that cross-border cooperation can increase program effectiveness while significantly reducing the expense.

North Dakota Threatens Suit Against Minnesota, For Even Thinking About Future Carbon Cost

Two years ago Minnesota made it a rule that electric utilities and power distributors should plan for future capacity expansions and so on by 'taking into account the possibility of a carbon tax.' Minnesota currently imports a great deal of North Dakota coal as well power generated from North Dakota coal. Thought being that coal-juice could suddenly get more expensive in the future, requiring a rate increase that impacts consumers adversely. The legislature's intent was to plan for one plausible future direction, protective of citizen interests. But the ND Attorney General has chosen to intercede on behalf of Big Coal, saying, in effect, that he is considering a law suit to stop Minnesota planning for a future where the true cost of coal burning is taken into account. Interstate Commerce Clause of Constitution....blah blah blah.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for January 7, 2010

Thu Jan. 7, 2010 7:37 AM EST

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba—A soldier stands guard in a tower at Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay on December 31, 2009. (US Army photo by Spc. Cody Black.)

Need To Read: January 7, 2010

Thu Jan. 7, 2010 7:23 AM EST

Today's must reads:

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Antique Science Book Heaven

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 11:57 PM EST

The National Library of Medicine has just scanned six classic science and medicine books from the 15th and 16th centuries and posted them at Turning the Pages Online.

Check out Robert Hooke's Micrographia... or Conrad Gesner's Historiae Animalium... or the kinky dissections in Andreas Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica.

Each book is laden with gorgeous illustrations, many surprisingly accurate.

You can view each book as a book, turn the pages digitally, lean in and smell that heady perfume of vellum and binary code.

Plus there are audio files to listen to, and pop-up windows offering translations and interpretations. It's awesome.

Okay, I'll be back in a year or so. I've always wanted to read Johannes de Ketham's Fasiculo de Medicina in Latin.

Arctic Seabed Leaking Methane Fast

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 11:19 PM EST

A dramatic increase in methane gas is seeping from the Arctic seabed off Siberia. The BBC reports the evidence from measurements of carbon fluxes around the north of Russia.

Methane is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2.

Worst of all, the latest research by Igor Semiletov (University of Alaska Fairbanks and head of the International Siberian Shelf Study) finds the shallow arctic shelves are shooting methane to the surface and the atmosphere without first getting sequestered in the ocean as dissolved CO2—as happens in deeper ocean waters.

Siberia's shallow seabed contains tons of frozen methane hydrates. But these waters are warming and the frozen methane is thawing. Last decade's highest-ever recorded temperature rise began to thaw some of the organic material frozen in underwater sediments, releasing methane into the sea, from there into air.

Higher concentrations of atmospheric methane are a global warming trigger, which in turn melts more permafrost (topside and underwater), creating a nasty, brutish, and potentially short positive feedback loop.

(I've blogged about the methane problem a bunch of times and wrote about it in depth in The Thirteenth Tipping Point, including the worst-case scenario of a tipping point being passed and suddenly dumping billions of tons of methane. We know this happened once before, resulting in the worst mass extinction in Earth's history.)

Combine this study with the National Snow and Ice Data Center report yesterday that December 2009 saw average air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean way higher than normal. Grim.
 

Is Sherlock Holmes Gay?

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 8:47 PM EST

Last weekend, I finally got around to seeing the much-anticipated Sherlock Holmes flick. Directed by Guy Ritchie, it features Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson—sleuthing superheroes trying to thwart a sinister black magic plot.

Oh, and they might be gay.

In his review of the film, Roger Ebert remarked, "Both of them now seem more than a little gay; it's no longer a case of 'oh, the British all talk like that.' Jude Law even seemed to be wearing lipstick when he promoted the movie on Letterman." (Wait…that means he played a gay character?) And Robert Downey Jr. himself said on Letterman that Holmes may be a "very butch homosexual."

Naturally, this suggestion isn't sitting well with some folks. Hollywood honchos are apparently worried a homosexual subtext could drive away their audience.  And the executors of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle estate have threatened to revoke Ritchie's rights to the film if he tries any funny business in the sequel. Said Andrea Plunket, who controls the remaining US copyright: "I am not hostile to homosexuals, but I am to anyone who is not true to the spirit of the books."

Which raises two points:

#1: Why does everyone think they're homosexual? From what I saw, they're two guys who are very close, protective, and fond of one another. So were the female leads in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and no one called them lesbians. Might it have something to do with the peculiar way our society perceives masculinity and male bonding? Furthermore, why isn't anyone assuming they might be bisexual—especially considering they both have female love interests in the film? (If only Kinsey were still around to help Americans with their rigid perceptions of sexuality).

#2: So what if they are gay? Putting a homosexual spin on existing popular entertainment is nothing new (see: Bert and Ernie, Fan Fiction). More importantly, the purist argument doesn't really hold water. This is a film in which Sherlock Holmes is an ass-kicking action hero and the plot is straight out of The Da Vinci Code. If Sir Doyle is rolling in his grave, it's not because his heroes may—or may not—be gay.

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Why Dodd Retired

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 8:11 PM EST

As I mentioned this morning, I was working on a piece about Chris Dodd's reelection campaign for the print magazine. That's obviously moot now, but I've recast it as an explanation of what went wrong:

The writing was on the wall for Chris Dodd in December, when even Peter Schiff, the longshot candidate in the fiercely contested Republican primary, was leading the five-term incumbent in the polls. "We have a unique opportunity," Schiff assured supporters in December, during an appearance I attended in Watertown. Dodd "is so unpopular that just about anybody can beat him."

Apparently Dodd and his political advisers ultimately arrived at a similar conclusion. The senator announced Wednesday that he would not seek reelection.

The rest of the piece is here.

Kevin is traveling today and tomorrow.

Paper of the Day

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 6:15 PM EST

Economist James Galbraith, an occasional Mother Jones contributor, has an interesting new article [PDF] in Thought & Action, the journal of the National Education Association. It's about economists who saw the financial crisis coming, and why you never hear about them:

[T]he lines of discourse that take up these questions have been marginalized, shunted to the sidelines within academic economics. Articles that discuss these problems are relegated to secondary journals, even to newsletters and blog posts. The scholars who betray their skepticism by taking an interest in them are discouraged from academic life—or if they remain, they are sent out into the vast diaspora of lesser state universities and liberal arts colleges. There, they can be safely ignored.

While Galbraith will no doubt be slammed by the trolls for not heaping praise on the Austrians, his whole essay is well worth a read. After all, it's not every day you see "the Marxian view" of economics taken seriously.

Graham: Not a Climate Wussypants

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 5:38 PM EST

As noted earlier, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is taking heat from the right-most members of his party for his stance on climate change legislation. But at an event in his home state yesterday, Graham held firm on his belief that addressing climate change "is a worthy endeavor" – even for Republicans.

"I have come to conclude that greenhouse gases and carbon pollution is not a good thing," Graham told the crowd in Columbia, S.C. yesterday. "All the cars and trucks and plants that have been in existence since the Industrial Revolution, spewing out carbon day-in and day-out, will never convince me that's a good thing for your children and the future of the planet."

"Whatever political push back I get I'm willing to accept because I know what I'm trying to do makes sense to me," Graham said. "I am convinced that reason, logic and good business sense, and good environmental policy, will trump the status quo."

Of course, there's been plenty of fretting over what Graham wants in return for his support for the bill (I have engaged in some of that myself). But he really has put himself out there on an issue that most in his party either actively deny is happening or otherwise just ignore. And as a thanks, he's taking jabs from the tea partiers (who have called him a "wussypants," "girly-man," and "half-a-sissy") and getting censured by Ron Paul acolytes. Not that legislators automatically get a gold star for simply believing in basic climate science, but Graham should get some credit for standing firm on climate amid the attacks from the right.

Cape Wind Delay a Big Win for Dirty Energy Interests

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 4:35 PM EST

Cape Wind, the hotly contested proposed offshore wind farm in Massachusetts’ Nantucket Sound, suffered a major setback on Monday when the National Park Service (NPS) announced that the site should be eligible for protection as a historical place. While the decision is being touted as a victory for two Massachusetts Native American tribes, the big winners may well be the dirty energy interests that have been working for nearly a decade to block the project.

The determination that the Nantucket Sound is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, which Andy Kroll wrote about over on Blue Marble, is only the latest setback for the proposed 24-square-mile, 130-turbine wind farm that would be the first offshore project in the US.

The New York Times gave a good rundown on this latest roadblock, which was spurred by a request from two local tribes that claim the turbines would impede their religious practice by blocking the view of the sunrise and intrude on historic burial grounds. But what the Times fails to mention is that the bulk of the opposition to Cape Wind over the years has come from a multimillion-dollar campaign backed by oil and gas money—not Native Americans trying to protect territory they regard as sacred. At the forefront of the effort has been William Koch, who alone has spent more than a million to oppose the farm via a group called the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.

Koch is the founder and president of the Oxbow Group, and has made his fortune off mining and marketing coal, natural gas, petroleum, and petroleum coke products. He's the son of Fred Koch, founder of oil and gas giant Koch Industries, and brother of David and Charles Koch—who have supported conservative groups like Citizens for a Sound Economy (which later merged with another group to form FreedomWorks) and Americans for Prosperity, which has campaigned against both climate legislation and health care reform. Bill Koch used to work for the family business, but split off in the early '80s, prompting a nasty feud with his brothers business that dragged on for nearly two decades. In that time, however, he built a dirty energy empire all his own, which has helped fund his Cape Wind crusade.

The Alliance was founded in 2001 with the sole purpose of defeating the wind farm. Koch, a billionaire fossil-fuel tycoon and yacht enthusiast, has given at least $1.5 million to the Alliance and related efforts to defeat the project (as of 2006, that is—how much he's given since then is unknown), which would be visible from his home in the Cape Cod town of Osterville. Doug Yearley, the former CEO of mining giant Phelps Dodge and a member of Marathon Oil's board of directors, was also highly involved in the Alliance up until his death in 2007.

Koch and his wealthy friends in the area are responsible for more than 90 percent of the contributions to the Alliance, and fundraising documents released in 2006 showed that those major donors gave between $20,000 and $1 million each. In just the last three years the Alliance has brought in $8.6 million, according to its IRS forms. It has spent $2 to $3 million a year to fight Cape Wind. In a 2008 fundraising letter to its wealthy supporters, the Alliance promised that it "will do what whatever it takes to win. We will never allow Cape Wind to become a reality." Despite all the income from well-heeled dirty energy interests like Koch and Yearley, the Alliance describes itself on its tax forms as a "nonprofit environmental organization."