Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | July 9, 2009

What’s really happening at the G8?

Climate news continues this week with President Barack Obama attending the G8 summit of major industrial nations in L’Aquila, Italy. Climate change is one of the top issues on the agenda.

But news reports of what’s happening there vary widely. Some cast the discussions as a retreat – others an advance. So what’s really going on?

Image by Jason Reed/Reuters via New York Times - President Obama and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France during a round table session at the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, on Wednesday.

Image by Jason Reed/Reuters via New York Times - President Obama and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France during a round table session at the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, on Wednesday.

Emily Gertz of the Stop Global Warming blog characterized the meeting as a “fail:”

Word is emerging that the “Group of 8” world’s major industrial nations has failed to create a consensus on slashing human-propelled greenhouse gas pollution (GHGs) by 2050.

G8 climate change negotiators, meeting this week in L’Aquila, Italy, have given up on a proposal that would have comitted most nations to cutting GHGs by 50% by 2050, and industrialized nations to 80% cuts by 2050. They’re putting off the hard talk until December’s international climate treaty talks in Copenhagen.

But the Times of London took the opposite approach in a story by political editor Philip Webster datelined from L’Aquila. His story trumpeted  “historic new targets:”

President Obama and other leaders backed historic new targets for tackling global warming last night in an agreement designed to pave the way for a world deal in the autumn.

For the first time, America and the other seven richest economies agreed to the goal of keeping the world’s average temperature from rising more than 2C (3.6F).

They also agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 as they strove for a worldwide deal at Copenhagen in December.

The moves were designed to put the squeeze on the world’s developing nations, most of whose leaders will join the G8 for a debate chaired by President Obama today.

Which version is closer to the truth? The focus on the 2-degree temperature increase lets international leaders cast the meeting as a win, but the political commitment is vague and the scientific benefit of limiting warming to 2 degrees appears unclear.

The New York Times’ Peter Baker, in a story datelined L’Aquila, addressed both issues in his lead:

The world’s major industrial nations and newly emerging powers failed to agree Wednesday on specific cuts in heat-trapping gases by 2050, undercutting an effort to build a global consensus to fight climate change, according to people following the talks.

As President Obama arrived for three days of meetings, negotiators for the world’s 17 leading polluters dropped a proposal to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by mid-century, and emissions from the most advanced economies by 80 percent. But both the G-8 and the developing countries agreed to set a goal of stopping world temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

Longstanding differences between industrialized and developing nations explain the divide, according to Baker:
The failure to establish specific targets on climate change underscored the difficulty in bridging longstanding divisions between the most developed countries like the United States and developing nations like China and India. In the end, people close to the talks said, the emerging powers refused to agree to the specific emissions limits because they wanted industrial countries to commit to midterm goals in 2020, and to follow through on promises of financial and technological help.
A coalition of environmental groups had been pushing the 2-degree limit, according to an article in Grist.
The 2-degree limit makes for a nice soundbite, since it’s so much more comprehensible than the usual thicket of numbers and dates involved in  climate negotiations. Is this a case of sleight of hand?
Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | July 8, 2009

Climate bill debate opens in Senate today

The Obama Administration’s climate change bill saw its first day of testimony in the Senate today. With the ongoing Michael Jackson frenzy still eclipsing news coverage – today it was his memorial service at the Staples Center – the climate bill wasn’t exactly leading the evening news.

However, there was plenty of reporting and blogging going on.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is one of four top officials pushing climate and energy legislation in the U.S. Senate. FLICKR/CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is one of four top officials pushing climate and energy legislation in the U.S. Senate. FLICKR/CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND

Darren Samuelsohn lead his story for Greenwire, as reprinted in the Scientific American, with a description of the four top administration officials who testified in favor of the bill before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

As Samuelsohn wrote,

“…the four emphasized the threats from climate change and how reducing greenhouse gas emissions would help the U.S. economy bounce back from a historic recession.

“Denial of the climate change problem will not change our destiny,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu, moments after describing the recorded loss of half the summer Arctic polar ice cap since the 1950s, fast-rising seas and the prospect of a more than 10-degree-Fahrenheit increase in global air temperatures.

“A comprehensive energy and climate bill that caps and then reduces carbon emissions will,” Chu added. “America has the opportunity to lead a new industrial revolution of creating sustainable, clean energy. We can sit on the sidelines and deny the scientific facts, or we can get in the game and play to win.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson also pushed the Senate committee to act on an issue that sits atop the president’s domestic and international agenda.

The story continued with the political tug of war between committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Republican opponents, including Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri and Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the committee’s ranking Republican.

Meanwhile, Emily Gertz at Change.org continued her reporting on Inhofe, a longtime denier of anthropomorphic climate change. In her blog posting today, she noted that Inhofe told Fox News last week that he has asked for an investigation into the climate report allegedly “suppressed” by the EPA. (See my previous blog post on the report here.) Inhofe told Fox News that the EPA had been “cooking” the science on global warming and that it was the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

See the Fox News report here:

Gertz posted another story about the EPA report featuring Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.) and his accusations during the Senate hearing today:

Did you hear the one about how the Obama administration is fostering a “culture of secrecy and suppression” of science?

That was the claim made by Senator John Barrasso (R-Wy.). At this morning’s hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Barrasso spent most of his time projecting onto the Obama administration a phenomenon he didn’t seem to mind when it was actually practiced by the Bush-Cheney administration: censorship of scientific data on climate change, and suppression of the words and works of federal employees.

I think we haven’t heard the last of the EPA report.

Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | July 4, 2009

Follow me on Twitter

I’ve recently joined the Twitterverse, where there’s an active community following climate change. Here are some of my Twitter posts this week. If you find any of this intriguing, please follow me – @saraship – and send me a message to follow you!

RT @TIME Check out the new “Climate Clock” ticking away near NYC’s Madison Square Garden | http://su.pr/2zyDi0

RT @nature_org EPA has granted California the right to enforce its own automobile emissions standards (via @nytimes) http://bit.ly/13O7z2

RT @TreeHugger After pledges to stop, ExxonMobile still funding climate change skeptics. http://bit.ly/gqUa28:10 PM

NYT: Scrubbing CO2 with synthetic trees: http://bit.ly/2rI1hC. Me: Why not just plant the real ones instead?

Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | June 29, 2009

Climate backlash over “suppressed” report at EPA

In an earlier post I wondered whether there’s a growing backlash against the notion of climate change. Now I think it must be true.

The blogosphere and Twitter have been ablaze over a report that the Environmental Protection Agency suppressed a report critical of climate change. I must thank Erica Gies (@egies on Twitter) for the original link to the story on CNet
The story leads:

The Environmental Protection Agency may have suppressed an internal
report that was skeptical of claims about global warming, including
whether carbon dioxide must be strictly regulated by the federal
government, according to a series of newly disclosed e-mail messages.

It goes on to describe how the author of the report, Alan Carlin, was told by his superiors that his work was not needed, thank you very much, and to go work on something else.

The CNet story, written by Declan McCullagh, who describes himself as
CBSNews.com’s chief political correspondent, and an iconoclast and a
skeptic, describes the report’s author thusly:

Carlin has an undergraduate degree in physics from CalTech and a PhD in economics from MIT. His Web site
lists papers about the environment and public policy dating back to
1964, spanning topics from pollution control to
environmentally-responsible energy pricing.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute seized on this rejection as evidence that the Obama administration is politicizing the science of climate change by ignoring evidence that global warming isn’t happening. In other words, Bush may have done it, but now Obama’s doing it too.

The folks at RealClimate (“climate science from climate scientists”) responded that the real problem here is that Carlin is first of all, not a climate scientist, and his supposedly devastating arguments are nothing but rehashed gobbledegook:

So in summary, what we have is a ragbag collection of un-peer reviewed
web pages, an unhealthy dose of sunstroke, a dash of astrology and more cherries than you can poke a cocktail stick at. Seriously, if that’s the best they can do, the EPA’s ruling is on pretty safe ground.

What did the mainstream media report of this? Not a whole lot — yet.

The SF Examiner’s Thomas Fuller gave Carlin an interview here in an article titled “The politics, if nto the science is settled at the EPA. Alan Carlin, global warming and trouble.”

And Grist wrote it up as a non-event here in an article titled “Scant evidence for charge that EPA ‘suppressed’ evidence.”

All of these stories received heavy comments from both sides.

I predict that this controversy will grow legs and get more coverage in the mainstream media as the Senate takes up the climate bill. Let’s see how it gets covered.

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Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | June 29, 2009

Monday morning quarterbacking on the climate change bill

Last week, the House passed a major climate change bill – the first major Congressional action on this issue. The debate over the bill’s merits was strong, in the mainstream media, in the blogosphere and on Twitter. I’m a newcomer to Twitter (follow me @saraship!) and I enjoyed watching the real-time scroll of commentary as the House procedural vote and then the real vote unfolded.

Alas, much of the media coverage of climate change was drowned out by the death of Michael Jackson, the pop icon. In fact, as I noted on Twitter, more people were reliving Thriller than watching the dance moves going on in the House as horse-trading over the bill continued.

I also posted some updates to my Facebook page, which drew comments from friends on both the right and left.

Meanwhile, I wanted to post this interesting column by Paul Krugman of the New York Times, which I first saw linked on Twitter from National Wildlife Federation (@NWF), which described it as a “powerful account of Friday’s vote on climate legislation.” http://ow.ly/g5s

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Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | June 26, 2009

NYT’s Andy Revkin’s latest post on climate bill

Here’s some context on the climate bill by NYT’s Andy Revkin, from his blog, Dot Earth. Andy seems to walk a fine line on his views on the bill. For example, he says:

As Democratic leaders work to round up  the last, toughest House votes for the  American Clean Energy and Security Act, as lobbyists and activists frenetically  fight for and  against the bill, as  Twitterers debate, it’s important to step back just a little and explore what this bill, even at its best, could accomplish.

Even if it’s  cheaper than Republican foes assert, even if provisions added to satisfy particular constituencies don’t blunt its impact on emissions, as  some worry, even if the Senate moves and President Obama signs a climate bill into law, will it matter to the climate?

… On Friday, Prime Minister  Gordon Brown of Britain gave a speech on climate in which he proposed that the rich nations ante up some $100 billion a year in such assistance by 2020.

Here’s how Mr. Brown of Britain described that challenge in his London speech (prepared text):

Success will require two major shifts in how we think – as policy makers, as campaigners, as consumers, as producers, as a society. The first is to think not in political or economic cycles; not just in terms of years or even decadelong programs and initiatives. But to think in terms of epochs and eras — and how our stewardship will be judged not by tomorrow’s newspapers but by tomorrow’s children.

And the second is to think anew about how we judge success as a society. For 60 years we have measured our progress by economic gains and social justice. Now we know that the progress and even the survival of the only world we have depends on decisive action to protect that world. In the end, without environmental stewardship, there can be no sustainable prosperity and no sustainable social justice.

He ends his post by asking, “Do you think societies are capable of such shifts?”

Blogged with the Flock Browser
Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | June 26, 2009

Climate bill under intense debate

The climate bill is under intense debate and lobbying pressure today.  Rhetoric is heating up on both sides. Stay tuned…

Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | June 25, 2009

Taking aim at green jobs and climate change

Washington Post columnist George F. Will today criticized President Obama’s green jobs plan, citing a report by a Spanish economist that government subsidies for “green jobs” in Spain far exceeded the value of the jobs. The study says jobs at wind farms and other renewable energy sources in Spain were only temporary and required between $752,000 to $1.4 million in government investment.

Will acknowledged that the study in question was paid for by a U.S. think tank (the Institute for Energy Research) that once paid Will for a speech. Still, Will questioned the wisdom of green jobs and whether they will save the environment and the economy.

What I found noteworthy in this column was its flavor of climate skepticism:

When the president speaks of “new green energy economies” creating “countless well-paying jobs,” perhaps they really are countless, meaning incapable of being counted.For fervent believers in governments’ abilities to control the climate and in the urgent need for them to do so, believing is seeing: They see, through their ideological lenses, governments’ green spending as always paying for itself. This is a free-lunch faith comparable to that of those few conservatives who believe that tax cuts always completely pay for themselves by stimulating compensating revenue from economic growth.

It seems that Obama’s election has ramped up anti-climate-change rhetoric, much as it has brought out anti-gun-control advocates and white supremacist groups. (Not that I’m comparing the three groups.) With government action on climate change seeming more imminent, those who remain skeptical seem to have become more vocal.

Is this part of a climate backlash?

Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | June 17, 2009

Major climate change report released

Federal agencies released a major report today on climate change that has the news agencies and bloggers buzzing. The report, billed as “the most comprehensive, authoritative report on global climate change impacts in the United States,” was reported on by Seth Borenstein at the AP this way:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rising sea levels, sweltering temperatures, deeper droughts, and heavier downpours — global warming’s serious effects are already here and getting worse, the Obama administration warned on Tuesday in the grimmest, most urgent language on climate change ever to come out of any White House.

But amid the warnings, scientists and government officials seemed to go out of their way to soften the message. It is still not too late to prevent some of the worst consequences, they said, by acting aggressively to reduce world emissions of heat-trapping gases, primarily carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.

The new report differs from a similar draft issued with little fanfare or context by George W. Bush’s administration last year. It is paradoxically more dire about what’s happening and more optimistic about what can be done.

The Obama administration is backing a bill in Congress that would limit heat-trapping pollution from power plants, refineries and factories. A key player on a climate bill in the Senate, California Democrat Barbara Boxer, said the report adds “urgency to the growing momentum in Congress” for passing a law.

The New York Times’s John Broder took a more straightforward approach:

WASHINGTON — The impact of a changing climate is already being felt across the United States, like shifting migration patterns of butterflies in the West and heavier downpours in the Midwest and East, according to a government study to be released on Tuesday.

Even if the nation takes significant steps to slow emissions of heat-trapping gases, the impact of global warming is expected to become more severe in coming years, the report says, affecting farms and forests, coastlines and floodplains, water and energy supplies, transportation and human health.

The study was prepared by the United States Global Change Research Program, a joint scientific venture of 13 federal agencies and the White House. Under a 1990 law, the group is required to report every 10 years on natural and human-caused effects on the environment. The current study, which began in the George W. Bush administration, builds on the findings of the 2000 one.

In The Christian Scientist Monitor’s brightgreenblog, Judy Lowe focused on the personal impacts:

One of the interesting aspects of the administration’s climate change report released today is  its emphasis on how global warming is affecting or is projected to touch every corner of the United States. A few location-specific details were mentioned in the press conference – how trout in the Northwest can’t thrive when air temperatures rise above 70 degrees F., for instance. But an online section offers more localized information: It divides the country into eight areas and lets you click on your region to see possible impacts.

I wonder what the day-after reaction will be?

Posted by: Sara Shipley Hiles | June 16, 2009

Tweaking the blog

I’m still building this blog. Today I added a new header photo (credit to Suburbanbloke – thank you!) and played around with settings. I have a lot to learn!

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