Blue Marble - October 2010

States Have Clean-Energy Momentum, But It’s Under Threat

| Tue Oct. 26, 2010 6:56 PM EDT

For all the dysfunction, moral cowardice, and hamfisted leadership in the fight for a federal climate bill, there's a good deal of ambitious work being done at the state level. Cleantech entrepreneurs are finding ways to build profitable businesses nearly everywhere, but particularly in states that deliberately encourage it.

Thirty-two states do this by participating in the Northeastern, Midwestern, or Western cap-and-trade programs. Thirty states guarantee a market for clean energy through renewable-energy standards (which require electricity providers to get X percent of their power from clean sources by X year). Interestingly, Texas, Colorado, Wisconsin, New Mexico, and others have strengthened their original targets after finding them cheaper and quicker to reach than expected.Shaded states have some form of renewable energy standard.: Image: The fantastic map collection at the Pew Center on Global Climate ChangeShaded states have some form of renewable energy standard. Image: The fantastic map collection at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change

The progress isn't just on energy. Other states are changing the built environment through complete-streets policies, smart growth plans, and transit investment that reduces the need for oil.

However—you knew it was coming, right?—much of this work is threatened by candidates for governor who don't buy the potential of clean energy, don't see the point of non-auto transit, or simply demonstrate indifference to it all. Of the 37 Republicans running for governor this fall, 22 reject the science of climate change, as Brad Johnson of Think Progress found in a run-down.

California Republican Meg Whitman, Florida Republican Rick Scott, Wisconsin Republican Scott Walker, and Ohio's Kasich all promise to reject federal high-speed rail funds for their states. A frustrated Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood compared this to states trying to opt-out of the President Eisenhower's interstate highway system in the ‘50s.

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Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 2:15 PM EDT

In the months after the BP oil spill, the company announced that its gaffe-prone CEO, Tony Hayward, would be replaced by Bob Dudley, an American who served as the point person in the US on the spill. Since taking over on October 1, Dudley has been too busy to talk to members of Congress about the disaster the company unleashed on the Gulf. But he wasn't too busy today to accuse the media and other oil companies of making too much of a big deal about that 4.9 million barrels of oil they dumped.

In remarks today at the annual conference of a British business lobbying group, Dudley accused the media and the company's rivals for "creating a climate of fear" around the spill, and for making "a great rush to judgment before the full facts could possibly be known."

"I watched graphic projections of oil swirling around the Gulf, around Florida, across and around Bermuda to England—these appeared authoritative and inevitable," he said. "The public fear was everywhere."

The crux of his speech was that this was just an "accident," BP is doing its best to clean it up and reform their ways, and, gosh darn it, we should all be a little bit nicer to them about the whole thing. "We fully accept our share of responsibility but I hope for everyone's sake that over the next month and years we can reach a balanced and informed judgment about what happened and what we need to learn," he said. Dudley also praised the "huge progress in cleaning up the spill" that the company has made.

Dudley affirmed that the company plans to keep drilling here. "BP will not be quitting America," he said, arguing that companies should not let the risks outweigh the benefits:

We live in an atmosphere where many things are often exaggerated, opinion can quickly becomes polarized and it is tempting to react to events in extreme ways. The demand for information and instant conclusions is insatiable. But as business leaders we have to be wise, pragmatic and proportionate. There are difficult balances to strike, but we cannot afford to shy away from risk.

He also thanked the British government for its "stalwart support," as compared to the criticism and investigations the company faced from many US lawmakers. "At the height of the crisis it made a big difference knowing we had such good friends at home," he said. (His full remarks are here.)

Now, this is the same guy who, in the midst of the spill, stuck to claims that the well was only leaking at a rate of 5,000 barrels per day, and accused those who said the rate was higher of "scaremongering." We would later learn that up to 62,000 barrels of oil spilled from the well each day. And of course, the impact of the spill will remain for quite some time—it's far from over at this point.

It's safe to say that BP's new CEO is just engaging in some good old-fashioned, CYA PR. It's not that I expect anything less (or more, really). But that doesn't mean all of us have to buy in to his delusions.

But back in reality land, fishermen reported massive stretches of weathered oil washing up off the coast of Louisiana. The Coast Guard now says it's algae, not oil, but those who have seen it are skeptical. From the Times-Picayune:

"I've never seen algae that looked orange, that was sticky, smelled like oil and that stuck to the boat and had to be cleaned off with solvent," said one captain, who like the others wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing their BP contracts. "I'll wait for the lab reports. In fact, we're also sending some samples off."

Could Cutting Emissions Cost You Your Job?

| Mon Oct. 25, 2010 4:30 AM EDT

Since the Senate couldn't manage to pass a climate bill, this election day all eyes will be on California, where a ballot measure—Proposition 23—could make or break AB32, the country's most aggressive law to cut planet-warming emissions. Supporters of Prop 23 say they're just worried about the economy. They claim that reducing emissions could lead to the loss of 1.1 million jobs, cost the average small business more than $49,000, and "devastate budgets of California social service agencies" due to lost tax revenues. But the biggest spenders on the Prop 23 campaign have been out-of-state fossil fuel interests—hardly a disinterested party in the debate. So are their claims at all legit? Can cutting emissions really lead to a net loss of jobs?

The 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB32, requires that the state decrease emissions down to 1990 levels by 2020—an approximate 25 percent cut from current levels. Implementation of the plan is supposed to begin in 2011, but Prop. 23 would delay the start of the law until unemployment in the state falls below 5.5 percent and stays there for four consecutive quarters. Given the economic downturn around the country and the 12.8 percent unemployment rate in California, that could take quite a bit of time to pull off. (In fact, the state has only hit that goal three times since 1970—well before people were worrying about global warming.)

But there's little evidence that cutting emissions would increase unemployment. A study released earlier this year by Navigant Consulting for the Renewable Electricity Standard Alliance indicated that a federal renewable electricity standard that required 25 percent of electricity come from renewable sources like wind and solar power could create 274,000 jobs nationally. A Congressional Budget Office study of federal proposals to cut greenhouse gases found only a "modest" impact on GDP. And while there would be job loss in the fossil fuel industry or other industries that are heavily reliant on those dirty energy sources, new jobs would be created in other sectors. Indeed, CBO concluded, the "churning of jobs that would be spurred by climate legislation would be small compared with what normally occurs."

What's In Your Placebo?

| Sat Oct. 23, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

In the 1960s, a six-year trial of a potential heart-disease drug was conducted in 19 hospitals across Scotland. Researchers gave 350 subjects with heart problems a drug containing the agent clofibrate; 367 got a placebo. For the most part, clofibrate proved to be statistically better at prolonging the subjects' lives. But when it came to a subgroup of participants who had recently suffered a heart attack, clofibrate was only as good as the placebo. Normally, the mortality rate following a heart attack was four to nine percent per a year. But the placebo group's was less than three percent.

It's possible that the placebo group was just an unusual sampling of heart-attack patients with an above-average survival rate. This was the conclusion that the researchers published in 1971. But, as it turns out, the study's placebo contained olive oil, which is now known to fight heart disease. It appears that this possibility never occurred to the researchers. However, since they published their placebo's ingredients, others were able to question and examine their conclusion. Yet more often than not, researchers don't disclose what's in their placebos—making oversights like the Scottish researchers' nearly impossible to catch.

An Ethics Overhaul at BLM?

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 3:45 PM EDT

Looks like the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management plans to look into the potential ethics violations of its former New Mexico district manager, Steve Henke, after all. Henke, as we've reported here previously, was cited by the Department of Interior's inspector general for what seemed like pretty clear violations of ethics policy, like accepting trips from the companies he was supposed to be regulating and getting them to fund his kid's baseball team. He recently left his post to take a job as head of an oil and gas industry advocacy group. This week, BLM Director Bob Abbey signaled that he wants the Department to investigate the case again.

Abbey sent a letter to Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall asking her office to "renew its investigative inquiries regarding certain 'questionable activities' that may have occurred during the tenure of Steve Henke, to include activities which eventually led to his employment by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association."

The watchdogs over at the Project on Government Oversight have been calling for an investigation, pointing to this as just another example of an agency in the Department of Interior falling down on the job. The group applauded today's announcement, but wondered if there are larger reforms underway.

"Why does it take a punch in the gut to get Interior to do anything on ethics? This is an obvious first step that BLM needs to take in order to assure the public that the agency takes a serious approach to ethics," said Danielle Brian, POGO's executive director. "But Interior still needs a cultural overhaul. We all saw what happened the last time an agency within Interior made itself vulnerable to industry influence and failed to hold ethics offenders accountable." (She's referring, of course, to the former Minerals Management Service, whose many failures have been fingered in the months since the Deepwater Horizon disaster.).

Introducing 'Climate Hawks'

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 3:09 PM EDT

On Monday I asked, "What should we call people who care about climate change and clean energy?" A fantastic discussion ensued, up to 226 comments and counting—thanks to everybody who weighed in, not only on the site, but on Facebook, Twitter, email, and "words spoken in my physical presence" (kids, ask your parents!).

As the logorrheic post below will attest, I've read all your feedback and given the matter quite a bit of thought. At long last I've settled on something I'm happy with, though of course I'm just Some Blogger and who cares what I think.

Without further ado, the winner is ... [drumroll] ...

Climate hawks.

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Mexican Cartels Hurting Silver Mining

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 2:22 PM EDT

As one of the world's largest silver producers, Mexico stood to gain from a global rise in silver prices. Instead, some mining companies are finding that it's just too dangerous, or expensive, to keep up business as usual. Cartel members rob and ransom workers, try to sell drugs to employees, coerce mine-owners into money laundering, and are now stealing raw ore and selling it to other countries. As the Latin American Herald Tribune recently reported:

In one recent operation against the nation’s cartels, the arrest of the reputed money manager of the crime syndicate La Familia Michoacana, it was discovered that that organization sold 1.1 million tons of illegally extracted iron ore in China for $42 million.
The theft of minerals in the western state of Michoacan has increased in recent years as that area has come under the control of La Familia, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office said.

In response, certain mining firms are choosing to stop exploration projects. Mexico's Chamber of Commerce says the threats are not just to mines in established areas, but those in more isolated places where cartels grow opium poppies and marijuana. Security costs are up 5 to 10% over last year, one firm reported. Canada's Goldcorp—under fire for not providing promised jobs and services to local peoples—has gone so far as to build a private airstrip near its mines to prevent ore shipments being hijacked on Mexican highways. Such is the cost of business in Mexico. The question is if there will come a point for the majority of mining firms in Mexico when the security costs and collateral damage are higher than any potential profits. Already cartels have shut down schools and brought city life to a standstill. Some think they may do the same to Mexico's already struggling economy if they keep interfering with Mexico's major industries.

 

Grim Outlook for Arctic Sea Ice

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 8:16 AM EDT

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its Arctic Report Card on Thursday, and the news for sea ice isn't good. Record temperatures have sped up the melting of Arctic sea ice so much, the report concludes, that a "return to previous Arctic conditions is unlikely."

The reports notes that the rate of warming in the Arctic slowed down some in 2009, but the first half of 2010 has brought warming to a "near record pace." That in turn has caused near-record sea ice loss so far this year.

More on the report here. Here's what the seasonal melting between March and September of this year looked like:

Eco-News Roundup: Friday October 22

| Fri Oct. 22, 2010 6:52 AM EDT

Blue Marble-ish stories that got published on our other blogs instead.

Running on Empty: EPA wants to regulate truck emissions, but enactment may be under GOP rule.

HOV Lane: Women living near tollbooths had healthier babies after E-Z passes started.

Little White Lie: Companies are using health care reform as an excuse for 'inevitable' cuts.

Individual Liberties: Is requiring health coverage for everyone anti-Libertarian?

Cash on Delivery: Kevin Drum's birth cost around $1,000. Today, it's 10 times that.

Mid-Term Madness: Energy companies are spending big on mid-terms.

Burn, Baby, Burn: Trash burn pits in Iraq aren't just unhealthy, they're illegal.

Pyramid Scheme: Herbalife has taught tea party leaders its tricks.

 

 

 

Target Boos Homemade Costumes

| Thu Oct. 21, 2010 6:18 PM EDT

Target recently came out with a new commercial that puts down homemade costumes in favor of store-bought ones. This makes sense, since the company sells costumes and we're in a recession where a $19.99, 100% polyester Iron Man toddler costume may seem like a luxury. The commercial made me think of my own childhood Halloween costumes, which were all hand-made by my mother. Not only were they higher quality than the store-bought kind, they've lasted for generations. A Snow White costume she made for me (from real cotton and satin) lasted for more than 20 years and was handed around from family to family. In 1995, she made a matching baby-and-mama set of elephant costumes (see baby below) that still exist. I can only imagine that making a product that lasts for 20-some years, and is reused, may not be better for the environment as a whole, but may be better for landfills. I'm not sure what the carbon or water footprints of a homemade costume is versus the kind you'd buy at the store. I started looking into the carbon emissions for 3 yards of cotton versus 2 yards of polyester, but there are so many variables (shipping, manufacturing, etc) that I don't think it's really confirmable which is greener.

Of course, not every child has a parent who can, or has time to, cut a pattern, buy fabric, cut fabric, fit, and sew a costume. I definitely understand the appeal of just being able to buy one at Target and being done. Stores also have trend-based costumes, like Iron Man or Legally Blonde. I have to take issue with Target that homemade costumes are necessarily poor quality: mine won 'best costume' several years running. Thanks Mom!