Blue Marble - March 2010

EPA Admin Defends Climate Science

| Wed Mar. 3, 2010 5:25 PM EST

EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said that, if successful, efforts to block her agency’s determination that climate change threatens human health would represent an "enormous step backward for science." Moves to block the agency run against "multiple lines of scientific inquiry" and widespread consensus among climate scientists, she told legislators.

"The science behind climate change is settled," Jackson said.

Jackson, who testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, is currently facing bipartisan legislative challenges to the finding in both the Senate and the House, and legal challenges from a number of polluters and trade groups.

Jackson was questioned closely by Lisa Murkowski, lead sponsor of the Senate resolution that would render the agency's conclusion on climate change null and void. Murkowski accused Jackson of not being clear about the agency’s intentions on climate. While she quoted Jackson calling for comprehensive legislation, she argued that the agency "is basically doing whatever they want."

Jackson maintained that while she does, in fact, prefer comprehensive legislation from Congress – which she’s said numerous times before--the EPA is legally compelled to move forward on regulations, as the Supreme Court directed it to in the 2007 case Massachusetts v. EPA, which found the greenhouse gases could be regulated under the Clean Air Act. "I would like nothing more than to see Congress enact comprehensive climate and energy legislation," said Jackson. But, she added, "The law compels me as EPA administrator to follow the Supreme Court decision of April 2007. The law says EPA has to move forward. The rule of law and my respect for it demands we have to move forward."

Murkowski wasn’t sated. "I don't know that I'm any more clear based on your statement this morning as to whether or not you think it should be the Congress and those of us that are elected by our constituents and accountable to them to enact and advance climate policy," she said.

Murkowski's efforts to block the agency were matched in the House yesterday with a measure from 79 Republicans. But while Murkowski maintains that greenhouse gas emissions are a problem, just one that Congress should deal with instead of the administration, the House members yesterday launched an all-out assault on the science. Joe Barton (R-Texas), lead sponsor of the measure, called the EPA’s finding "fatally flawed" and "not based on sound science." Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), called CO2 "an essential element for plant growth and life here on this planet that the EPA should not "simply write it off as somehow a pollutant."

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Ozone Solution Worsens Warming, Acid Rain

| Wed Mar. 3, 2010 5:12 PM EST

We already knew that the hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) used to replace ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are proving to be a super greenhouse gas—4,500 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Nevertheless, we're still using them in everything from spray cans to refrigerators to air-conditioners.

Now a new paper in Journal of Physical Chemistry finds that HCFCs may also be increasing acid rain. Computer models show HCFCs break down in the upper atmosphere to form oxalic acid, one culprit in acid rain.

The researchers suggest the new computer model could help determine whether replacements for the replacements are as environmentally friendly as they appear before manufacturers spend billions of dollars marketing them.

The paper's open access online.
 

Green Groups Go After Blanche Lincoln

| Wed Mar. 3, 2010 2:14 PM EST

Blanche Lincoln is one of three Senate Democrats so far to officially back a GOP effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. And now she's taking the heat for it: Environmental groups are gearing up in force to oppose the Arkansas senator's campaign for reelection in November. 

The Sierra Club blasts Lincoln in new ads released in Arkansas Tuesday for "backing this Big Oil bailout"—referring to the anti-EPA measure. This is the second round of radio ads Sierra Club has launched against Lincoln, who has become a stalking horse for green groups to discourage other moderate Democrats from following her lead.

The ads come as Lincoln’s latest primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, has received an outpouring of support from the liberal netroots. Since he announced his candidacy on Monday, he has pulled in $1 million through MoveOn.org, Progressive Campaign Change Committee, Democracy for America, and DailyKos. The AFL-CIO has also pledged $3 million to his challenge. While green groups aren't yet out campaigning for Halter, they’re expressing tentative support for him—and outright disdain for Lincoln.

"I think she’s getting what she deserves on this," Tony Massaro, senior vice president for political affairs and public education at the League of Conservation Voters told Mother Jones. The group launched the first environmental attack on Lincoln in January, putting her atop their annual "Dirty Dozen" list of lawmakers who are sympathetic to polluters. "So far we like what we see from Bill Halter," said Massaro, although he stopped short of endorsing him, noting that the group didn't yet have enough information about his positions on environmental issues. The League of Conservation Voters expects to decide whether to endorse him by the end of the month. "That said," Massaro added, "we clearly don’t want Blanche Lincoln back."

Microsoft Knocks Chamber's Climate Stance

| Wed Mar. 3, 2010 10:49 AM EST

The Chamber of Commerce has yet another critic, and this time it's a big one: Technology giant Microsoft, which on Tuesday distanced itself from the business lobby's position on climate change policy.

"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has never spoken for nor done work on behalf of Microsoft regarding climate change legislation, and we have not participated in the Chamber’s climate initiatives," Rob Bernard, chief environmental strategist at the company, wrote on its blog.

"Microsoft has stated that climate change is a serious issue that demands immediate, worldwide attention and we are acting accordingly," he continued. "We are pursuing strategies and taking actions that are consistent with a strong commitment to reducing our own impact as well as the impact of our products. In addition, we have adopted a broad policy statement on climate change that expresses support for government action to create market-based mechanisms to address climate change." Part of the company's role in addressing climate, he wrote, is providing "expertise on the role software and technology can play in reducing carbon emissions."

Microsoft has been increasingly vocal on climate issues lately. Chairman Bill Gates gave a speech last month calling for the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 to avert the impacts of climate change.

While the Chamber of Commerce has attempted to take on a softer tone on climate legislation recently, they've opposed all bills so far aimed at addressing the problem of global warming. Last month, they sued the Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to block its finding that climate change is a threat to human health.

Microsoft joins a number of businesses that have voiced disapproval of the Chamber's rigid position on climate issues. There was a round of defections from the Chamber over its climate stance last fall, with Midwestern utility Exelon Corp., the New Mexico utility holding company PNM Resources, Northern California utility Pacific Gas and Electric, Mohawk Fine Paper all dropping out over a span of several weeks. Nike also resigned from the Chamber's board. Meanwhile, environmental groups have been working to get more green-leaning businesses to distance themselves from the business lobby.

Who is the Fiji Water Guerrilla?

| Tue Mar. 2, 2010 2:59 PM EST

Wow. Our 2009 feature on Fiji Water's greenwashing must have made someone mad, because somebody recited several facts from our article on this cardboard sign. This blogger says he found the sign last week, taped to a bottle of Fiji Water in the New York Whole Foods where he works. In case you can't read the back of the sign, it says: "production plant runs on diesel fuel 24/7. high grade plastic transported from China --> Figi --> YOU. shipping thousands of miles to the US & Europe while thousands of Figians do not have access to clean water.............." Thanks for spreading the word, Fiji Water guerrilla, wherever you are.

House GOP Joins EPA Assault

| Tue Mar. 2, 2010 11:03 AM EST

The House Republican caucus is launching its own effort to block the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide emissions, joining a number of other ploys to prevent or delay anticipated new rules from the agency.

On Tuesday, Republicans plan to introduce their own resolution of disapproval for the EPA's finding that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health. The effort, lead by Joe Barton (R-Texas), has 79 Republican cosponsors. It mirrors both the Senate version introduced by Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that has 40 cosponsors, including three Democrats, and another House measure introduced last week by Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.). (A resolution of disapproval is an obscure parliamentary tactic that allows Congress to override decisions from the executive branch.)

Barton, Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) plan to hold a press conference on the measure today. The trio will likely put on quite a good show. Barton believes that humans should find shade to deal with climate change and worries that wind turbines might disrupt the flow of air around the planet. Boehner seems to think that the problem is that carbon dioxide causes cancer, and that the idea that it is "harmful to our environment is almost comical." Pence has objected to funding for climate research and believes that policy to reduce emissions is "tantamount to economic declaration of war on the Midwest by liberals."

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Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday March 2

| Tue Mar. 2, 2010 8:34 AM EST

NY Win: Disabled adults in New York win new housing due to court ruling.

Gold Medals Ain't Cheap: Olympic health insurance is spendy, so the committee hired lobbyists.

Chemical Castration: Chemical changes male frogs to female, wrecking sex ratios. [MongaBay]

EPA Block: Two Democrats are joining GOP in fighting EPA greenhouse gas regulations.

Diluted: Climate change legislation is slowly being watered down in Congress.

No Appetite: An appetite suppressant shows potential as an insulin alternative. [AAAS]

Corn Boondoggle: Ethanol's no greener than gas, so why are we subsidizing it?

Reconciliation?: If the House and Senate could just cool it, maybe healthcare would get passed.

Acting Your Age: Debate on polar bear evolution and if they weathered a previous warm period. [MSNBC]

 

South Dakota to Teach Climate Change Denial in Schools?

| Tue Mar. 2, 2010 7:00 AM EST

South Dakota may soon make climate-change denial the law of the land, if an effort underway in the state legislature is successful. Via Brad Johnson, we learn that the state House of Representatives recently passed a new law calling for "balanced teaching of global warming in the public schools of South Dakota."

The resolution, approved by a vote of 36-30, states that public schools should be required to teach students that "global warming is a scientific theory rather than a proven fact" and that a variety of "climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics" could be changing the weather. Yes, that’s astrological, as in horoscopes. And as Brad Plumer points out, thermology involves the science of infrared body imaging. Not quite clear what role that might play in global warming.

The state Senate approved an amended version of the resolution that is slightly less kooky, dropping the "astrological" and "thermological" causes but still asserting that the "global warming debate" has "prejudiced the scientific investigation of global climatic change phenomena."

Now the House will decide whether to adopt the amended version. No matter which version they adopt, it looks like South Dakota could soon be the first state to sign climate change confusion into law.

Getting Science into the Movies

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 7:06 PM EST

There's a new science literacy program shaping up between the National Science Foundation and the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) to bring science and engineering concepts to the public.

The program, called the Creative Science Studio, due to lauch this autumn, will be make use of SCA's professional soundstages, animation facilities, post-production suites, mixing theaters, screening rooms, and all-digital classrooms to more accurately portray the way science works and what science knows.

The basic idea is to exchange tools:

  • To give faculty and students the science and engineering tools (instruments and data visualization methods) to enhance the way science is depicted in the movie industry (and the likes)
  • To give science researchers the creative tools to educate audiences

In the process, the next generation of entertainment producers will be exposed to science themes, be more comfortable with them, and more likely to accurately portray them to audiences of the future. SCA Dean Elizabeth M. Daley tells USC:

"This alliance is a vital and essential one. I'm excited for a symbiosis between these two institutions, which will play a major role in the ongoing evolution of scientific communication for both researchers and storytellers."

The Creative Science Studio's projects will include videos, interactive games, animations, and examples of information visualization, with a larger research project designed to interrogate "information" itself. SCA's Institute for Multimedia Literacy produced a five- minute video describing the Studio:

 

 

The Climate Change Generation

| Mon Mar. 1, 2010 6:23 PM EST

I will be appearing on the American Forum on the Washington, DC affiliate of National Public Radio, WAMU, tonight as part of their forum on climate change. The Climate Change Generation runs from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST and will also feature Juliet Eilperin, the environmental reporter at the Washington Post, and Matthew Nisbet, a professor in the School of Communication at American University who blogs on framing climate change at Science Blogs.

You can listen to the panel on the WAMU website or watch the webcast. Please tune in!