Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Problems with antibiotics in agriculture


FRANKENSTEIN, Mo. – The mystery started the day farmer Russ Kremer got between a jealous boar and a sow in heat.

The boar gored Kremer in the knee with a razor-sharp tusk. The burly pig farmer shrugged it off, figuring: "You pour the blood out of your boot and go on."

But Kremer's red-hot leg ballooned to double its size. A strep infection spread, threatening his life and baffling doctors. Two months of multiple antibiotics did virtually nothing.

The answer was flowing in the veins of the boar. The animal had been fed low doses of penicillin, spawning a strain of strep that was resistant to other antibiotics. That drug-resistant germ passed to Kremer.

Like Kremer, more and more Americans — many of them living far from barns and pastures — are at risk from the widespread practice of feeding livestock antibiotics. These animals grow faster, but they can also develop drug-resistant infections that are passed on to people. The issue is now gaining attention because of interest from a new White House administration and a flurry of new research tying antibiotic use in animals to drug resistance in people.

Researchers say the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals has led to a plague of drug-resistant infections that killed more than 65,000 people in the U.S. last year — more than prostate and breast cancer combined. And in a nation that used about 35 million pounds of antibiotics last year, 70 percent of the drugs went to pigs, chickens and cows. Worldwide, it's 50 percent.

"This is a living breathing problem, it's the big bad wolf and it's knocking at our door," said Dr. Vance Fowler, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University. "It's here. It's arrived."

The rise in the use of antibiotics is part of a growing problem of soaring drug resistance worldwide, The Associated Press found in a six-month look at the issue. As a result, killer diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and staph are resurging in new and more deadly forms.

In response, the pressure against the use of antibiotics in agriculture is rising. The World Health Organization concluded this year that surging antibiotic resistance is one of the leading threats to human health, and the White House last month said the problem is "urgent."

"If we're not careful with antibiotics and the programs to administer them, we're going to be in a post antibiotic era," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, who was tapped to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year.

Also this year, the three federal agencies tasked with protecting public health — the Food and Drug Administration, CDC and U.S. Department of Agriculture — declared drug-resistant diseases stemming from antibiotic use in animals a "serious emerging concern." And FDA deputy commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein told Congress this summer that farmers need to stop feeding antibiotics to healthy farm animals.

Farm groups and pharmaceutical companies argue that drugs keep animals healthy and meat costs low, and have defeated a series of proposed limits on their use.
America's farmers give their pigs, cows and chickens about 8 percent more antibiotics each year, usually to heal lung, skin or blood infections. However, 13 percent of the antibiotics administered on farms last year were fed to healthy animals to make them grow faster. Antibiotics also save as much as 30 percent in feed costs among young swine, although the savings fade as pigs get older, according to a new USDA study.

However, these animals can develop germs that are immune to the antibiotics. The germs then rub into scratches on farmworkers' arms, causing oozing infections. They blow into neighboring communities in dust clouds, run off into lakes and rivers during heavy rains, and are sliced into roasts, chops and hocks and sent to our dinner tables.

"Antibiotic-resistant microorganisms generated in the guts of pigs in the Iowa countryside don't stay on the farm," said Union of Concerned Scientists Food and Environment director Margaret Mellon.

More than 20 percent of all human cases of a deadly drug-resistant staph infection in the Netherlands could be traced to an animal strain, according to a study published online in a CDC journal. Federal food safety studies routinely find drug resistant bacteria in beef, chicken and pork sold in supermarkets, and 20 percent of people who get salmonella have a drug resistant strain, according to the CDC.

Here's how it happens: In the early '90s, farmers in several countries, including the U.S., started feeding animals fluoroquinolones, a family of antibiotics that includes drugs such as ciprofloxacin. In the following years, the once powerful antibiotic Cipro stopped working 80 percent of the time on some of the deadliest human infections it used to wipe out. Twelve years later, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study linking people infected with a Cipro-resistant bacteria to pork they had eaten.

Johns Hopkins University health sciences professor Ellen Silbergeld, who has reviewed every major study on this issue, said there's no doubt drug use in farm animals is a "major driver of antimicrobial resistance worldwide."

"We have data to show it's in wastewaters and it goes to aquaculture and it goes here and there," agreed Dr. Stuart Levy, an expert on antibiotic resistance at Tufts University in Boston. "Antibiotic use in animals impacts everything." ...

Monday, December 21, 2009

"What did the Copenhagen climate summit achieve?"

From the BBC:

By Tom Brookes and Tim Nuthall
The European Climate Foundation

The great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said "from chaos comes order".

It is difficult to foresee the order that may result from the chaos of the Copenhagen climate change conference (COP15), but as the dust settles, traces of a path forward are becoming visible.

The outcome - a decision to "take note of" an accord drawn up by a core group of heads of state on Friday evening - is far from the legally binding treaty which some had expected and for which many hoped.

However, this does not change the fact that the Copenhagen conference was a unique moment in history.
What Copenhagen changed:

With 110 world leaders present and a single issue on the agenda, there has never been a meeting like this. The countries that brokered the text, the US, China, India, South Africa, Brazil and the EU, also reflects a world in which the balance of power has significantly changed in the last 20 years.

At a fundamental level, the conference redefined the debate between countries in terms of awareness of climate science and support for action. There is no longer any question that climate change is central to the political thinking of every country on the planet.

Public awareness has also massively increased. The vast campaigns run around the world in the run-up to Copenhagen by governments, NGOs and business and the media coverage of the issue and the summit have made addressing climate change widely understood and discussed from the pubs of rural England to the bars of Beijing.

The other very important change is that green growth is now the prevailing economic model of our time. The idea that addressing climate change is bad for business was buried at Copenhagen. Countries from both developed and developing worlds have announced low-carbon economic plans and are moving forward.

What it did not change:
That combination of political will, economic direction and public pressure was not enough to overcome the concerns over sovereignty that many countries have in the context of international law. The final decision reflects the fact that many countries only want to be answerable to themselves. They will co-operate, but not under the threat of legal sanction.

There is no quantified aggregate target for emissions reduction such as the 50% by 2050 that was in early drafts - as it stands, targets are yet to be announced and they may be at the low end of what was promised, locking in ever greater emissions.

The reference to transparency in the text is significant as it will mean that for the first time actions by countries can be assessed globally, but there is no verification of the actions undertaken in the developing world unless they are paid for by the developed world.

Also, there is very little detail on any of the elements it does mention.

The accord does refer to the target of limiting global warming to 2C above pre-industrial temperatures, as well as the need for quantified action by both developed and developing countries - but it's unclear how the target will be achieved.

The deal at COP15, as it stands, leaves the world on a pathway for temperature rises of 3C and above...

Freeze, snow causes chaos in Europe and East Coast-US

Snow causes chaos in US:

Heavy snowfall has hit the American East Coast, forcing most flights to be canceled in Washington and Baltimore, killing one person and hampering holiday shoppers on the last weekend before Christmas.

Up to 56 cms of snow was expected to fall in the Baltimore-Washington area and a blizzard warning has been issued by the National Weather Service, with wind gusts of 64 kph forecast.

The snowstorm, expected to dump more snow on the region than any storm since at least February 2003, could take a big bite out of retail sales on one of the busiest shopping weekend of the year.

At least one person has died in the storm...

Washington has announced the closure of above-ground Metrorail subway operations and stopped all bus services because streets were rapidly becoming impassable.

The city's Reagan National airport has been closed and many airlines have canceled their flights from Dulles International Airport.

Baltimore-Washington International Airport is open but the majority of the flights have been canceled....

Big freeze kills at least 80 across Europe:

The death toll from winter storms across Europe rose to at least 80 on Monday as transport chaos spread amid mounting anger over the three-day failure of Eurostar high-speed trains.

With tens of thousands stranded by the cancellation of London-to-Paris trains and hundreds of flights across the continent, new accidents and mass power cuts added to the big freeze tumult.

A car veered off an icy road and knocked concrete onto rails, derailing a Paris commuter train and injuring 36 people, police said. Three hundred people had to be evacuated from the train.

Another train in the Croatian capital Zagreb hit a buffer injuring 52 people.

Croatian investigators blamed the minus 17 degrees Celsius (1.4 Fahrenheit) temperatures for a brake failure, national television reported. European temperatures as low as minus 33.6 degrees Celsius (minus 28.5 Fahrenheit) have been recorded in Bavaria.

In Poland, authorities said 42 people, many of them homeless, had died of cold over three days after temperatures plunged to minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus four Fahrenheit).

Ukraine reported 27 deaths while six people were killed in accidents in Germany and three in Austria.

France has reported at least two deaths of homeless people, and the national power company briefly cut electricity to two million people on Monday saying it was necessary to avoid an even bigger blackout amid surging demand.

More flights were cancelled in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain and main highways were blocked across Europe where some regions had more than 50 centimetres (20 inches) of snow.

The breakdown of the Eurostar service under the Channel, linking London with Paris and Brussels, has symbolised Europe's suffering.

On Pantheism

In an opinion piece in the New York Times called "Heaven and Nature", Ross Douthat (a conservative who adopted Pentecostalism and then converted to Catholicism), tries to argue against Pantheism.

He argues that Hollywood has been pushing Pantheism on people, "Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favorably to them...." He wrote:

Indeed, it represents a form of religion that even atheists can support. Richard Dawkins has called pantheism “a sexed-up atheism.” (He means that as a compliment.) Sam Harris concluded his polemic “The End of Faith” by rhapsodizing about the mystical experiences available from immersion in “the roiling mystery of the world.” Citing Albert Einstein’s expression of religious awe at the “beauty and sublimity” of the universe, Dawkins allows, “In this sense I too am religious.”

The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality...

Nature is also life.

That people do not live forever - is what people such as Douthat choose not to accept. Meanwhile, the religions they support advocate such concepts as "God gave people the right and even the demand to subdue, dominate and multiply on the earth". Douthatians don't want to accept that global warming is a man-made crisis - partly brought on by such thinking. They resist the idea that there may be a better way to think about life than to ruin the earth and pretend there is another place that is more important than this one. To pretend that their life here is not really life - that one has to be "reborn" and all that.

I hope more people realize that this is it. If movies such as "Avatar" help some people to see that - then good for Hollywood and such films.

Happy Solstice. And blessings to those trying to live in harmony and more sustainably on the earth, who choose vegetarianism and non-violence, who accept life (and death as part of life).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Military Energy Consumption

From Planetgreen:

For decades, fuel consumption has been a major green issue. From miles-per-gallon to hybrids to alternative energy options and beyond, we surely now realize that the term "gas guzzler" is never a compliment. However, there's a dirty little secret rarely mentioned by the corporate media: The U.S. military is the single-largest purchaser and consumer of oil in the world.

"All the tanks, planes and ships of the U.S. military burn about 340,000 barrels of oil per day," explains Michael Graham Richard at TreeHugger.com. "If you break it down, the Air Force uses the most fuel, followed by the Navy, and then the Army. If the Department of Defense were a country, it would rank about 38th in the world for oil consumption, right behind the Philippines, a country with a population of 90.5 million people."

According to 2007 CIA World Fact Book, when oil consumption is broken down per capita, the U.S. Department of Defense ranks fourth in the world (behind three actual nations, that is.)

Some facts on U.S. military fuel usage since 2003:

2003: $5.21 billion
2007: $12.61 billion

2003: 145.1 million barrels
(397,500 barrels per day)
2007: 132.5 million barrels
(363,000 barrels per day)

2007 U.S. military fuel consumption equals:
90% more than Ireland's annual consumption
38% more than Israel's annual consumption
20 times Iceland's annual consumption

Of course, this is not a problem with a simple solution. Sure, we can make furniture from U.S. army howitzer cartridge cases from the Vietnam war era but that's not exactly gonna slow military gas guzzling. Environmentalists Against War (EAW) have opted for the coalition approach, e.g. cross-pollinating activist camps. In 2003, EAW presented its ten reasons to oppose the ongoing American military intervention in Iraq. These included:

War destroys human settlements and native habitats. War destroys wildlife and contaminates the land, air and water. The damage can last for generations.

U.S. cluster bombs, thermobaric explosions, electromagnetic bursts, and weapons made with depleted uranium are indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction.

Bombs pollute, poisoning the land with unexploded shells and toxic chemicals.

"Substantial irreversible damage to ocean ecosystems"

From COP15:

By 2050, ocean acidity could increase by 150 percent. This increase is 100 times faster than any change in acidity experienced in the marine environment over the last 20 million years.

The secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) released Monday a major study in collaboration with the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

According to the study, seas and oceans absorb approximately one quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and other human activities. As more and more carbon dioxide has been emitted into the atmosphere, the oceans have absorbed greater amounts at increasingly rapid rates.

Without this level of absorption by the oceans, atmospheric CO2 levels would be significantly higher than at present and the effects of global climate change would be more marked.

However, the absorption of atmospheric CO2 has resulted in changes to the chemical balance of the oceans, causing them to become more acidic.

It is predicted that by 2050, ocean acidity could increase by 150 percent. This dramatic increase is 100 times faster than any change in acidity experienced in the marine environment over the last 20 million years, giving little time for evolutionary adaptation within biological systems.

"Ocean acidification is irreversible on timescales of at least tens of thousands of years, and substantial damage to ocean ecosystems can only be avoided by urgent and rapid reductions in global emissions of CO2. Attention must be given for integration of this critical issue at the global climate change debate in Copenhagen," said Mr. Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the convention.

"This CBD study provides a valuable synthesis of scientific information on the impacts of ocean acidification, based on the analysis of more than 300 scientific literatures, and it describes an alarming picture of possible ecological scenarios and adverse impacts of ocean acidification on marine biodiversity," he added.

Among other findings, the study shows that increasing ocean acidification will mean that by 2100 some 70 percent of cold water corals, a key refuge and feeding ground for commercial fish species, will be exposed to corrosive waters.

"Record levels of toxic algae hurt coastline"

From USA today:

Large swaths of toxic algae have punished U.S. coastal towns at record levels this year, shutting down shellfish harvests and sickening swimmers from Maine to Texas to Seattle.
The algal blooms stretch for hundreds of miles in some areas in a phenomenon known as "red tides" and give off toxins that sicken fish and birds and can cause paralysis in humans, said Wayne Litaker, a research scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The blooms have been getting increasingly larger and more toxic since 2004, causing an estimated $100 million a year in damage to the country's seafood and tourism industries, he said.

This year, the algal blooms:

• Forced the closure of Maine's bivalve shellfish harvest, which includes clams, oysters and mussels, from early April to September — a first in state history, according to state biologists.

• Killed more than 4 million fish off the coast of Texas, according to the state Parks and Wildlife Department.

• Emitted a soaplike foam that coated the wings of seabirds off the Northwest coast, killing more than 10,000 of them, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The toxic algae are ocean-dwelling creatures that have been around for centuries, said Donald Anderson, a senior scientist at the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. The 1970s and '80s also saw large outbreaks of red tide, he said.

The seed beds that sprout the toxic algae have grown much larger in recent years, spawning blooms that stretch for 500 to 1,000 miles in some areas, he said. Overfishing and global warming also may contribute to their widespread growth, he added.

Though the blooms affect a relatively small number of humans, they can be lethal. The algae release a neurotoxin that can reside in shellfish. When ingested by humans, it can cause death, he said.

The toxin found off the Texas coast, known as karenia brevis, is not as directly harmful to humans but has killed millions of striped mullet, ladyfish and other bait fish, washing up piles of the fish on tourist beaches, said Meridith Byrd, a biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The toxins ride sea spray and cause some swimmers to experience sinus or asthma attacks, she said.

In Cushing, Maine, 129 clam harvesters were forced out of work when the harvest closed, said Butch Taylor of C&S Seafood, a wholesaler. "It's been a bad year," he said. "It affects everybody."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"ARGENTINA: Solar Villages Light Up the Andes"

From ipsnews.net:

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 13 (Tierramérica) - The residents of the Puna, the dry Andean highlands in northern Argentina, are cut off from everything - except the sun. Living on arid land thousands of metres above sea level, they are on their way to becoming "solar villages."

In the north and northwest of Jujuy province, people are finding that solar energy, a clean and inexhaustible source, can replace firewood, which is increasingly scarce. The EcoAndina Foundation is showing the way through a series of projects.

The Puna, at altitudes of 2,700 to 4,600 metres above sea level, is part of the vast Andean Altiplano shared by Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru.

EcoAndina's goal is to improve living conditions for local residents by sustainably harnessing the abundant sunshine and wind, while maintaining the cultural and historic identity of local indigenous communities.

Since it began its efforts two decades ago, some 400 solar energy units - which power family and community kitchens, bread ovens, heaters and hot-water tanks - have been installed in 30 towns in the region.

In addition to cooking in solar stoves and ovens, which have proven as effective as gas stoves, the families now have heat and hot water in their homes. In the schools, solar panels warm the classrooms, and photovoltaic panels produce electricity.

One of the projects involves developing technology to verify reductions of carbon dioxide emissions resulting from using solar ovens. Certification of emissions reductions will help gain access to carbon credits, which can be sold on the market, and the revenue would be invested in new sustainable energy devices in the Puna.

The stoves, which can be used inside or outside the home, depending on the model, are manufactured in the region at low cost. The mostly widely used are the parabolic stoves, which are made with highly polished aluminium to concentrate the sun's rays.

These techniques allow residents to replace other sources of energy, particularly firewood and fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide and contribute to climate change.

In the high plains region or arid and semiarid soils and fragile and scant vegetation, replacing firewood also helps fight desertification. The altitude and dry environment mean that plants grow very slowly, and people have to travel farther and farther from home to find firewood.

Studies by EcoAndina show that one solar oven reduces household firewood consumption by 50 to 70 percent.

Silvia Rojo, president of EcoAndina, explained to Tierramérica that the people of the Puna region have traditionally used three types of plants for firewood: the "tola" bush, "queñoa" - a high-altitude tree - and "yareta" - a cushion-shaped shrub. But collecting these sources has led to serious desertification, the loss of species and damage to watersheds.

The other choice besides firewood is propane gas, which is sold in 10-kg cylinders at high prices in this remote area. "The bottled gas costs 13 times more per cubic metre than the methane supplied by public networks in the cities," said Rojo.

"Our work is focused on offering thermal energy alternatives to firewood and gas to about 30 villages," she said.

Today the applications of solar energy "enjoy broad acceptance and high demand, which is why we are spreading the word on 'solar villages'," she said. To achieve that status, the communities receive training with the support of the United Nations Development Programme's Global Environment Facility.

The first "solar village" is Lagunillas del Farallón. "It is a category that gives the community a higher standing and fills it with pride, because the residents are recognised for using clean technologies," said Rojo.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Bubbles of warming, beneath the ice"

From the LAtimes:

Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Alaska - Four miles south of the Arctic Circle, the morning sky is streaked with apricot. Frozen rivers split the tundra of the Seward Peninsula, coiling into vast lakes. And on a silent, wind-whipped pond, a lone figure, sweating and panting, shovels snow off the ice.

The young woman with curly reddish hair stops, scribbles data, snaps a photo, grabs a heavy metal pick and stabs at white orbs in the thick black ice.

"Every time I see bubbles, I have the same feeling," says Katey Walter, a University of Alaska researcher. "They are amazing and beautiful."

Beautiful, yes. But ominous. When her pick breaks through the surface, the orbs burst with a low gurgle, spewing methane, a potent greenhouse gas that could accelerate the pace of climate change across the globe.

International experts are alarmed. "Methane release due to thawing permafrost in the Arctic is a global warming wild card," warned a report by the United Nations Environment Programme last year. Large amounts entering the atmosphere, it concluded, could lead to "abrupt changes in the climate that would likely be irreversible."

Methane (CH4) has at least 20 times the heat-trapping effect of an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide (CO2). As warmer air thaws Arctic soils, as much as 55 billion metric tons of methane could be released from beneath Siberian lakes alone, according to Walter’s research. That would amount to 10 times the amount currently in the atmosphere.

At 32, Walter, an aquatic ecologist, is a rising star among the thousands of scientists who are struggling to map, measure and predict climate change. Parts of her doctoral dissertation on Siberian lakes were published in three prestigious journals in 2007: Science, Nature and Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

According to one of her studies, methane emissions from Arctic lakes were a major contributor to a period of global warming more than 11,000 years ago.

"It happened on a large scale in the past, and it could happen on a large scale in the future," says Walter, who refers to potential methane emissions as "a time bomb."

Methane levels in the atmosphere have tripled since preindustrial times. Human activities, including rice cultivation, cattle raising, and coal mining, account for about 70% of releases, according to recent studies. Natural sources, from tropical wetlands to termites, make up the rest. But those estimates had not incorporated the bubbles Walter was probing on an autumn morning on the Seward Peninsula.

That gurgling gas could change the entire model for predicting global warming. And lakes are not the only methane source: Newly discovered seeps -- places where methane leaks to the surface -- from the shallow waters of Siberia's vast continental shelf are also likely to upset previous assumptions....

Walter's work is crucial, according to Romanovsky and others, because global warming hinges partly on the ratio of how much carbon is released as CO2 vs. how much as methane, a molecule that contains both carbon and hydrogen. Methane, although a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, breaks down more quickly. But when it does, it oxidizes into a carbon dioxide molecule, which can last more than a century in the atmosphere.

Out on the lake, Walter explains: When organic matter (dead plants and animals) rots in the ground, it gives off carbon dioxide. Much of the organic material of thawed permafrost is expected to release carbon dioxide.

But as ice inside permafrost melts, small sinkholes open in the ground and fill with water, joining together to form millions of ponds and lakes. Organic matter slips from eroding shorelines to lake bottoms, where microbes feed on it. Because lake bottoms are oxygen-free, the microbes generate methane in addition to carbon dioxide -- as in the burping La Brea tar pits.

"These lakes are getting bigger -- in some places by a meter a year," Walter says, scooping out slush from the hole she has punched through 6 inches of ice. Into the seep, she inserts a plastic umbrellalike contraption fitted with a bottle to collect gas and a suspended brick to hold it straight...

Elsewhere, scientists cast a wary eye toward clouds of methane bubbles roiling the waters of the Siberian continental shelf. Those emissions, possibly from sub-surface permafrost, are even harder to measure than lake emissions.

Meanwhile, researchers are debating the possibility of eventual seeps from methane hydrates -- icy formations beneath the continental shelves and the ocean bottom, and far below land-based permafrost...

See Graphic

"Family Portraits of all 56 ethnic groups in China"

From ChinaHush.com: / ChinaGate:

Chen Haiwen, a photographer, recently lead a team of 14 photographers to create a book entitled, “Harmonious China: A Sketch of China’s 56 Ethnicities.” The team spent one year travelling all over China to complete the project. They ended up taking over 5.7 million photographs.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"Where countries stand on Copenhagen"

From the BBC:

The world's biggest GHG producer (20.7% of global emissions, 8,106mt of CO2 equivalent)
Emissions per head: 30th in the world (6t of CO2 equivalent)
GDP (2008): $4.3tn
Amount of GHG emitted per $1m of GDP: 1,152t
Kyoto: Signed as a developing country so not obliged to cut emissions
*** "Developed countries should support developing countries in tackling climate change." President Hu Jintao, 22/9/09

The world's second-biggest GHG producer (15.5% of global emissions, 6,087mt of CO2 equivalent)
Emissions per head: Fifth in the world (20t of CO2 equivalent)
GDP (2008): $14.2tn
Amount of GHG emitted per $1m of GDP: 441t
Kyoto: Signed, but never ratified
*** "We understand the gravity of the climate threat. We are determined to act. And we will meet our responsibility to future generations." Barack Obama, US president, 22/9/09

European Union:
The world's third-biggest GHG producer (11.8% of global emissions, 4,641mt CO2 equivalent)
Emissions per head: 17th in the world (9t of CO2 equivalent)
GDP (2008): $18.3tn
Amount of GHG emitted per $1m of GDP: 315t
Kyoto: Signed - has to get average emissions for 2008-2012 8% below 1990 level
*** "We are going to over-achieve our Kyoto targets." Stavros Dimas, EU environment commissioner, 27/10/09 - The EU is a grouping of 27 European states

The world's sixth-biggest GHG producer (5% of global emissions, 1,963mt of CO2 equivalent)
Emissions per head: 66th in the world (2t of CO2 equivalent)
GDP (2008): $1.2tn
Amount of GHG emitted per $1m of GDP: 655t
Kyoto: Signed as a developing country, so not obliged to cut emissions
*** "The most vulnerable country in the world to climate change is India." Jairam Ramesh, India's environment minister, 3/12/09

The world's seventh-biggest GHG producer (3.3% of global emissions, 1,293mt of CO2 equivalent)
Emissions per head: 15th in the world (10t of CO2 equivalent)
GDP (2008): $4.9tn
Amount of GHG emitted per $1m of GDP: 301t
Kyoto: Signed - has to get average emissions for 2008-2012 6% below 1990 level
*** "We think developing countries are also required to make an effort to reduce greenhouse gases." Yukio Hatoyama Japan's prime minister, 7/9/09

African Union:
The AU accounts for 8.1% of global emissions (3,164mt of CO2 equivalent)
Emissions per head: 4t of CO2 equivalent
GDP (2008): $34bn
Amount of GHG emitted per $1m of GDP: 1,361t
Kyoto: African nations signed as developing countries so are not obliged to cut emissions
*** "We are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of the continent." Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, 3/9/09 - The African Union is a grouping of 52 African states

Gulf States:
Gulf states account for 2.3% of global emissions (894mt of CO2 equivalent)
Emissions per head: 25t of CO2 equivalent
GDP (2008): $468bn
Amount of GHG emitted per $1m of GDP: 875t
Kyoto: Gulf States signed as developing countries so are not obliged to cut emissions
*** "We are among the most economically vulnerable countries." Mohammad S. Al Sabban, Saudi Arabia's lead negotiator 8/10/09 - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE

Small Islands:
The small island states account for 0.6% of global GHG emissions (246mt of CO2 equivalent)
Emissions per head: 4t of CO2 equivalent
GDP (2008): $46bn
Amount of GHG emitted per $1m of GDP: 551t
Kyoto: Aosis members signed as developing countries so are not obliged to cut emissions
*** "The days of little money in the face of big problems are over." Dessima Williams, head of the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), 9/10/09 - Aosis is a bloc of 42 island and coastal states mostly in the Pacific and Caribbean

"Copenhagen 'not on track to save planet'"

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Australia has formally warned the Copenhagen climate summit that negotiations to save the planet are not on track.

There are six days left before world leaders are supposed to seal a deal to tackle climate change.

At the summit's halfway mark, Australia's climate change ambassador Louise Hand has announced that things are not going well.

"Australia is seriously concerned by existing gulfs on those issues essential for a deal," Ms Hand told the summit on Saturday.

"We are currently not on a path to deliver the environmental outcome we need."

Australia is worried about an official UN draft treaty, which would force rich countries to cut emissions quickly while being more lenient on developing countries like China.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, who is in Copenhagen, reiterated on Saturday that the draft "isn't good enough".

She called for politicians to step in and save the talks.

Last week, negotiators held the floor, but more than 50 ministers have now arrived at the summit and will take over the process from Sunday.

World leaders are due to fly in on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We absolutely need political ownership, political accountability," Senator Wong told reporters on Saturday.

Senator Wong said the big problems in the talks were the targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, how to verify that countries made good on their climate promises, and how to finance poorer countries to tackle global warming.

Cities with best and worst tap water

By Lori Bongiorno on Yahoo!

It's now easier than ever for consumers to find out what's in their tap water. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) today released the results of a three-year investigation of municipal water supplies across the U.S.

The research and advocacy group looked at water quality tests performed by water utilities since 2004 and created an extensive database that contains info on the contaminants found in 48,000 communities in 45 states.

EWG also rated 100 big city (population over 250,000) water utilities. Below are the top and bottom results.

Cities with the best water:

Arlington, TX
Providence, RI
Fort Worth, TX
Charleston, SC
Boston, MA
Honolulu, HI
Austin, TX
Fairfax County, VA
St. Louis, MO
Minneapolis, MN

Cities with the worst water:

Pensacola, FL
Riverside, CA
Las Vegas, NV
Riverside County, CA
Reno, NV
Houston, TX
Omaha, NE
North Las Vegas, NV
San Diego, CA
Jacksonville, FL

Your city not on the list? Here is the full 100-city listing, or you can search for your town by ZIP code.

The results of the investigation raise some concerns about municipal water supplies in the U.S. EWG says 316 different contaminants were found in the nation's tap water. The group also points out that more than half of those contaminants aren't regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Establishing more effective source water protection programs and developing enforceable government standards for contaminants would go a long way toward improving the nation's water supply, according to the EWG....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

CERN and Crashing Particles

Subatomic particle tracks from colliding protons on Sunday at the Large Hadron Collider.
From the New York Times:

Tiny spitfires of energy blossomed under the countryside outside Geneva late Tuesday night, heralding the arrival of a new European particle collider as the biggest, baddest physics machine in the world.

Scientists said that the new Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile loop underneath the Swiss-French border, had accelerated protons to energies of 1.2 trillion electron volts apiece and then crashed them together, eclipsing a record for collisions held by an American machine, the Tevatron, at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.

Officials at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, which built the collider, said that the collisions lasted just a few minutes as a byproduct of testing, and that the Champagne was still on ice in Geneva. But in conjunction with other recent successes, those tiny fireballs displaced American physicists as the leaders in the art of banging subatomic particles together to see what nature is made of.

The collider first boosted a beam of protons to the new energy record of 1.2 trillion electron volts on Nov. 29 without making collisions; CERN hopes to be having sustained collisions at that energy within a week. In the future, as the collider ramps up to seven trillion electron volts, the dateline for physics discoveries will be Geneva, not Batavia, Ill., the home of Fermilab.

That future, physicists say, includes not only the sheen of announcing exotic particles and strange dimensions, but also the ancillary rewards of increased technological competence and innovation that spring from the pursuit of esoteric knowledge. The World Wide Web, lest anyone forget, was invented by particle physicists at CERN. Detectors developed for physics experiments are now used in medical devices like PET scans, and it was the industrial-scale production of superconducting magnets for the Tevatron that made commercial magnetic resonance imagers possible, said Young-Kee Kim, deputy director of Fermilab.

It is all very fine to worry about the value of the dollar. But what about the value of the proton?

“Particle accelerators and detectors (initially with the bold and innovative ideas and technologies) have touched our lives in many ways and I have no doubt that this will continue,” Dr. Kim wrote in an e-mail message.

Those spinoffs now will invigorate the careers and labs of Europe, not the United States, pointed out Steven Weinberg, a physicist at the University of Texas in Austin, who won the Nobel Prize for work that will be tested in the new collider. Americans will work at CERN, but not as leaders, he said in an e-mail interview.

“There is also a depressing symbolism,” he added, “in the fact that the hottest new results in fundamental physics will for decades not be coming from our country.”

This moment has been inevitable since fall 1993, when Congress canceled a behemoth project in Texas known as the Superconducting Supercollider, after estimated costs rose to $11 billion. That accelerator, designed at 54 miles and 20 trillion electron volts, would have been working by now and would have had an even greater reach for new physics than Europe’s machine. American physicists have reacted to the Large Hadron Collider with a mixture of excitement, good sportsmanship and wistfulness.

The United States has not exactly been shut out of the action at the new collider, as Dr. Kim pointed out. It contributed $531 million to the project, and about 1,700 of the 10,000 scientists who work on the giant particle detectors in the collider tunnel are Americans, the largest of any national group. (Italians are next.)

Thanks in part to delays with the CERN collider and other problems that will keep it from performing up to snuff for the next couple of years, she said, Fermilab’s Tevatron is still in the lead in the hunt for one of the collider’s main quarries, the Higgs boson, a particle that is thought to imbue other particles with mass.

In the meantime, Fermilab is investing $53 million from the federal stimulus package in a “Project X” to make more intense proton beams, which in turn could be used to make beams of the strange ghostlike particles called neutrinos. The lab is also going into cosmology. Other physics labs, like Brookhaven on Long Island and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, have converted their accelerators into powerful X-ray sources, which can be used to plumb the properties and structures of molecules in work that led to this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry.

For CERN, the Fermilab-topping collisions will be only the end of the beginning of a 15-year, $10 billion quest to recreate laws and particles that prevailed just after the Big Bang, when the universe was less than a trillionth of a second old.

Particle colliders get their magic from Einstein’s equation of mass and energy. The more energy that these machines can pack into their little fireballs, in effect the farther back in time they can go, and the smaller and smaller things they can see....

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

I'm watching Elinor Ostrom's Nobel Lecture Live

click here

On complex human systems, etc. Polycentric systems.

"Complexity is NOT the same as chaos"

Essentially users more effective than outsiders.

Micro-situational level of analysis - cooperation, etc.

"Polycentric systems can cope with complexity"

"What if...we create a better world for nothing?"

Joel Pett
Lexington Herald-Leader
Dec 7, 2009

Monday, December 07, 2009

'We won't let sceptics hijack climate talks'

From the Independent.co.uk:

Global warming scientists join attack on email theft as Copenhagen summit begins

It has been billed as the most important meeting for half a century, and yesterday, with 15,000 people in attendance, the Copenhagen Climate Conference opened with a robust and angry defence of the science of global warming by two of the world's leading climate science figures.

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the Nobel-Prize winning head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), and Dr Jonathan Pershing, the head of the US delegation to the conference, both hit out at the theft of emails from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, which has been used by climate sceptics in Britain, the US and elsewhere to allege that global warming is not man-made.

There has been widespread speculation that the timing of the theft represented a specific attempt to destabilise the conference, in which the world community will attempt to construct a new treaty to cut back on the emissions of carbon dioxide causing the atmosphere to warm.

But yesterday Dr Pershing said that all the incident had done was to "release a barrage of further information which makes clear the robustness of the science." He said it was "shameful" how some of the scientists involved were now being pilloried.

Dr Pachauri told the conference opening ceremony, presided over by the Danish Prime Minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, that some people clearly found it "inconvenient" to accept the inevitability of the changes that would have to be made in the face of the climate change threat.

"The recent incident of stealing the emails of scientists at the University of East Anglia shows that some would go to the extent of carrying out illegal acts perhaps in an attempt to discredit the IPCC," he said. "But the panel has a record of transparent and objective assessment stretching back over 21 years, performed by tens of thousands of dedicated scientists from all corners of the globe."

...Dr Pachauri listed for the conference – and for the world – some of the consequences global warming would lead to if it were left unchecked. They included widespread increases in droughts and floods, greater stress on water resources, increases in tropical cyclone intensity, more extinctions of wild species and the eventual melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which would cause sea levels around the world to rise by more than 20 feet.

Cutting back on the emissions responsible was now the urgent task of the "historically important meeting", he said. But it will not be a matter just for the thousands of delegates. Mr Rasmussen announced that the number of world leaders who would be attending the finale of the conference at the end of next week had now reached 110. He said: "Their presence reflects an unprecedented mobilisation of political determination to combat climate change. It represents a huge opportunity – an opportunity the world cannot afford to miss."

*European Union says it wants stronger commitments from the US and China to cut CO2 before raising its own ambitions.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

"The Manufactured Doubt industry and the hacked email controversy"

From Dr. Jeff Master's Wunderblog:

In 1954, the tobacco industry realized it had a serious problem. Thirteen scientific studies had been published over the preceding five years linking smoking to lung cancer. With the public growing increasingly alarmed about the health effects of smoking, the tobacco industry had to move quickly to protect profits and stem the tide of increasingly worrisome scientific news. Big Tobacco turned to one the world's five largest public relations firms, Hill and Knowlton, to help out. Hill and Knowlton designed a brilliant Public Relations (PR) campaign to convince the public that smoking is not dangerous. They encouraged the tobacco industry to set up their own research organization, the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), which would produce science favorable to the industry, emphasize doubt in all the science linking smoking to lung cancer, and question all independent research unfavorable to the tobacco industry. The CTR did a masterful job at this for decades, significantly delaying and reducing regulation of tobacco products.

... from a 1969 memo from a tobacco company executive: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy". Hill and Knowlton, on behalf of the tobacco industry, had founded the "Manufactured Doubt" industry.

... 1967, Hill and Knowlton helped asbestos industry giant Johns-Manville set up the Asbestos Information Association (AIA). The official-sounding AIA produced "sound science" that questioned the link between asbestos and lung diseases (asbestos currently kills 90,000 people per year, according to the World Health Organization). Manufacturers of lead, vinyl chloride, beryllium, and dioxin products also hired Hill and Knowlton to devise product defense strategies to combat the numerous scientific studies showing that their products were harmful to human health.

.... By the 1980s, the Manufactured Doubt industry gradually began to be dominated by more specialized "product defense" firms and free enterprise "think tanks". Michaels wrote in Doubt is Their Product about the specialized "product defense" firms: "Having cut their teeth manufacturing uncertainty for Big Tobacco, scientists at ChemRisk, the Weinberg Group, Exponent, Inc., and other consulting firms now battle the regulatory agencies on behalf of the manufacturers of benzene, beryllium, chromium, MTBE, perchlorates, phthalates, and virtually every other toxic chemical in the news today....Public health interests are beside the point. This is science for hire, period, and it is extremely lucrative".

In 1975, the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) industry realized it had a serious problem. The previous year, Sherry Rowland and Mario Molina, chemists at the University of California, Irvine, had published a scientific paper warning that human-generated CFCs could cause serious harm to Earth's protective ozone layer. They warned that the loss of ozone would significantly increase the amount of skin-damaging ultraviolet UV-B light reaching the surface, greatly increasing skin cancer and cataracts. The loss of stratospheric ozone could also significantly cool the stratosphere, potentially causing destructive climate change. Although no stratospheric ozone loss had been observed yet, CFCs should be banned, they said. The CFC industry hired Hill and Knowlton to fight back. As is essential in any Manufactured Doubt campaign, Hill and Knowlton found a respected scientist to lead the effort--noted British scientist Richard Scorer, a former editor of the International Journal of Air Pollution and author of several books on pollution. In 1975, Scorer went on a month-long PR tour, blasting Molina and Rowland, calling them "doomsayers", and remarking, "The only thing that has been accumulated so far is a number of theories." To complement Scorer's efforts, Hill and Knowlton unleashed their standard package of tricks learned from decades of serving the tobacco industry:

- Launch a public relations campaign disputing the evidence.

- Predict dire economic consequences, and ignore the cost benefits.

- Use non-peer reviewed scientific publications or industry-funded scientists who don't publish original peer-reviewed scientific work to support your point of view.

- Trumpet discredited scientific studies and myths supporting your point of view as scientific fact.

- Point to the substantial scientific uncertainty, and the certainty of economic loss if immediate action is taken.

- Use data from a local area to support your views, and ignore the global evidence.

- Disparage scientists, saying they are playing up uncertain predictions of doom in order to get research funding.

- Disparage environmentalists, claiming they are hyping environmental problems in order to further their ideological goals.

- Complain that it is unfair to require regulatory action in the U.S., as it would put the nation at an economic disadvantage compared to the rest of the world.

- Claim that more research is needed before action should be taken.

- Argue that it is less expensive to live with the effects.

The campaign worked, and CFC regulations were delayed many years, as Hill and Knowlton boasted in internal documents. The PR firm also took credit for keeping public opinion against buying CFC aerosols to a minimum, and helping change the editorial positions of many newspapers.

In the end, Hill and Knowlton's PR campaign casting doubt on the science of ozone depletion by CFCs turned out to have no merit. Molina and Rowland were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1995. The citation from the Nobel committee credited them with helping to deliver the Earth from a potential environmental disaster.

The battle over global warming-
In 1988, the fossil fuel industry realized it had a serious problem. The summer of 1988 had shattered century-old records for heat and drought in the U.S., and NASA's Dr. James Hansen, one of the foremost climate scientists in the world, testified before Congress that human-caused global warming was partially to blame. A swelling number of scientific studies were warning of the threat posed by human-cause climate change, and that consumption of fossil fuels needed to slow down. Naturally, the fossil fuel industry fought back. They launched a massive PR campaign that continues to this day, led by the same think tanks that worked to discredit the ozone depletion theory. The George C. Marshall Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Heartland Institute, and Dr. Fred Singer's SEPP (Science and Environmental Policy Project) have all been key players in both fights, and there are numerous other think tanks involved. Many of the same experts who had worked hard to discredit the science of the well-established link between cigarette smoke and cancer, the danger the CFCs posed to the ozone layer, and the dangers to health posed by a whole host of toxic chemicals, were now hard at work to discredit the peer-reviewed science supporting human-caused climate change.

As is the case with any Manufactured Doubt campaign, a respected scientist was needed to lead the battle. One such scientist was Dr. Frederick Seitz, a physicist who in the 1960s chaired the organization many feel to be the most prestigious science organization in the world--the National Academy of Sciences. Seitz took a position as a paid consultant for R.J. Reynolds tobacco company beginning in 1978, so was well-versed in the art of Manufactured Doubt....

The history of the Manufactured Doubt industry provides clear lessons in evaluating the validity of their attacks on the published peer-reviewed climate change science. One should trust that the think tanks and allied "skeptic" bloggers such as Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit and Anthony Watts of Watts Up With That will give information designed to protect the profits of the fossil fuel industry. Yes, there are respected scientists with impressive credentials that these think tanks use to voice their views, but these scientists have given up their objectivity and are now working as lobbyists. I don't like to call them skeptics, because all good scientists should be skeptics. Rather, the think tanks scientists are contrarians, bent on discrediting an accepted body of published scientific research for the benefit of the richest and most powerful corporations in history...

Let's look at the amount of money being spent on lobbying efforts by the fossil fuel industry compared to environmental groups to see their relative influence. According to Center for Public Integrity, there are currently 2,663 climate change lobbyists working on Capitol Hill. That's five lobbyists for every member of Congress. Climate lobbyists working for major industries outnumber those working for environmental, health, and alternative energy groups by more than seven to one. For the second quarter of 2009, here is a list compiled by the Center for Public Integrity of all the oil, gas, and coal mining groups that spent more than $100,000 on lobbying (this includes all lobbying, not just climate change lobbying):

Chevron $6,485,000
Exxon Mobil $4,657,000
BP America $4,270,000
ConocoPhillips $3,300,000
American Petroleum Institute $2,120,000
Marathon Oil Corporation $2,110,000
Peabody Investments Corp $1,110,000
Bituminous Coal Operators Association $980,000
Shell Oil Company $950,000
Arch Coal, Inc $940,000
Williams Companies $920,000
Flint Hills Resources $820,000
Occidental Petroleum Corporation $794,000
National Mining Association $770,000
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity $714,000
Devon Energy $695,000
Sunoco $585,000
Independent Petroleum Association of America $434,000
Murphy Oil USA, Inc $430,000
Peabody Energy $420,000 (more)

Here are the environmental groups that spent more than $100,000:

Environmental Defense Action Fund $937,500
Nature Conservancy $650,000
Natural Resources Defense Council $277,000
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund $243,000
National Parks and Conservation Association $175,000
Sierra Club $120,000
Defenders of Wildlife $120,000
Environmental Defense Fund $100,000

If you add it all up, the fossil fuel industry outspent the environmental groups by $36.8 million to $2.6 million in the second quarter, a factor of 14 to 1. To be fair, not all of that lobbying is climate change lobbying, but that affects both sets of numbers. The numbers don't even include lobbying money from other industries lobbying against climate change, such as the auto industry, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, etc.

...The law in all 50 U.S. states has a provision similar to Maine's section 716, "The directors and officers of a corporation shall exercise their powers and discharge their duties with a view to the interest of the corporation and of the shareholders". There is no clause at the end that adds, "...but not at the expense of the environment, human rights, the public safety, the communities in which the corporation operates, or the dignity of employees". The law makes a company's board of directors legally liable for "breach of fiduciary responsibility" if they knowingly manage a company in a way that reduces profits. Shareholders can and have sued companies for being overly socially responsible, and not paying enough attention to the bottom line. We can reward corporations that are managed in a socially responsible way with our business and give them incentives to act thusly, but there are limits to how far Corporate Socially Responsibility (CSR) can go. For example, car manufacturer Henry Ford was successfully sued by stockholders in 1919 for raising the minimum wage of his workers to $5 per day. The courts declared that, while Ford's humanitarian sentiments about his employees were nice, his business existed to make profits for its stockholders.

So, what is needed is a fundamental change to the laws regarding the purpose of a corporation, or new regulations forcing corporations to limit Manufactured Doubt campaigns. Legislation has been introduced in Minnesota to create a new section of law for an alternative kind of corporation, the SR (Socially Responsible) corporation, but it would be a long uphill battle to get such legislation passed in all 50 states.

... In the end, we're stuck with the current system, forced to make critical decisions affecting all of humanity in the face of the Frankenstein monster our corporate system of law has created--the most vigorous and well-funded disinformation campaign against science ever conducted.

George Will - Global Warming Denier

George Will - in his column today, "The climate-change travesty", does a good job of making a stupid argument.

He says of Copenhagen, "Its organizers had hoped that it would produce binding caps on emissions, global taxation to redistribute trillions of dollars, and micromanagement of everyone's choices." He added, "Skeptics about the shrill certitudes concerning catastrophic man-made warming are skeptical because climate change is constant..."

Those skeptics haven't looked at the data and seen how off the charts global warming is getting (or they don't understand what they are looking at, they don't care, or they have some other reason for denying reality).

From A Norweigian Study, "Public concern over global warming correlates negatively with national wealth":

Both psychological and sociological factors affect the willingness of laypeople to acknowledge the reality of global warming, and to support climate policies of their home countries. In this paper, I analyse a cross-national dataset of public concern about global warming, utilising data from 46 countries. Based on earlier results at the national and regional level, I expect concern to be negatively correlated to national measures of wealth and carbon dioxide emissions. I find that gross domestic product is indeed negatively correlated to the proportion of a population that regards global warming as a serious problem. There is also a marginally significant tendency that nations' per capita carbon dioxide emissions are negatively correlated to public concern. These findings suggest that the willingness of a nation to contribute to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions decreases with its share of these emissions. This is in accordance with psychological findings, but poses a problem for political decision-makers. When communicating with the public, scientists ought to be aware of their responsibility to use a language that is understood by laypeople.

Apparently Obama's suggested plan is:
to curb US emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020
(less than calls by the European Union, Japan and UN scientists -- but the first concrete numbers put on the table by the world's largest economy and second biggest polluter (AFP).

30 percent reduction in emissions by 2025

42 percent by 2030

83 percent by 2050

From the Barak Obama website:
The country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. For too long, politicians in Washington have been beholden to special interests, but no longer. Our new, responsible energy policy recognizes the relationship between energy, the environment, and our economy and leverages American ingenuity to put people back to work, fight global warming, increase our energy independence and keep us safe.

Will is concerned about the 83% target - that it is unattainable. But 2050 is 40 years away - by then there will be someone else to reevaluate the consequences. Plus there may not be the oil per capita to burn anyway.

Will quotes, "The Financial Times' peculiar response to the CRU materials is: The scientific case for alarm about global warming "is growing more rather than less compelling."

And Will does not buy it. He skews any sort of comment so as to be fuel for his fire. His intention if to be daft because he doesn't like the alternative.

He asserts, "The travesty is the intellectual arrogance of the authors of climate-change models partially based on the problematic practice of reconstructing long-term prior climate changes. On such models we are supposed to wager trillions of dollars -- and substantially diminished freedom."

As it happens and as I have posted previously - what is actually occurring is almost always "worse than they expected." There are already massive problems. Will refuses to look. He is like the monkeys - "see no evil", "hear no evil".

"Tens of billions of dollars are being dispensed, as by the U.S. Energy Department, which has suddenly become, in effect, a huge venture capital operation, speculating in green technologies."

Conservatives such as Will should not be so distraught. It's not all bad. Some companies will grow - others lose out. That's the way capitalism goes. In the UK - new housing is going to have to meet stringent standards. So what - there have always been building codes. Having codes that address climate and emission goals is not so terrible.

Will is promoting mistrust, "Some climate scientists compound their delusions of intellectual adequacy with messiah complexes. They seem to suppose themselves a small clerisy entrusted with the most urgent truth ever discovered."

Perhaps Will is projecting his own messiah complex. He has his truth based on nothing but suspicion and cynicism. He seems to think that the traditional rules of power apply to this and every sort of situation.

"Will Big Business Save the Earth?"

Large corporations have the capacity to do great harm and the power to help in large ways. One thing about coca-cola is that it is totally useless and the drink is harmful for many people due the quantity they drink. The advertising that encourages consumption is a large part of the problem - healthwise and planetwise.

Walmart - as the purveyor of cheap junk is also a problem - and there are many other problems associated with the company - such as labor practices. But it is interesting to hear Diamond's take on the subject of business and the environment - and see it in the New York Times.

By Jared Diamond / the New York Times:

THERE is a widespread view, particularly among environmentalists and liberals, that big businesses are environmentally destructive, greedy, evil and driven by short-term profits. I know — because I used to share that view.

But today I have more nuanced feelings. Over the years I’ve joined the boards of two environmental groups, the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, serving alongside many business executives... I’ve discovered that while some businesses are indeed as destructive as many suspect, others are among the world’s strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability.

The embrace of environmental concerns by chief executives has accelerated recently for several reasons. Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run. And a clean image — one attained by, say, avoiding oil spills and other environmental disasters — reduces criticism from employees, consumers and government.

What’s my evidence for this? Here are a few examples involving three corporations — Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and Chevron — that many critics of business love to hate, in my opinion, unjustly.

Let’s start with Wal-Mart. Obviously, a business can save money by finding ways to spend less while maintaining sales. This is what Wal-Mart did with fuel costs, which the company reduced by $26 million per year simply by changing the way it managed its enormous truck fleet. Instead of running a truck’s engine all night to heat or cool the cab during mandatory 10-hour rest stops, the company installed small auxiliary power units to do the job. In addition to lowering fuel costs, the move eliminated the carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to taking 18,300 passenger vehicles off the road.

Wal-Mart is also working to double the fuel efficiency of its truck fleet by 2015, thereby saving more than $200 million a year at the pump. Among the efficient prototypes now being tested are trucks that burn biofuels generated from waste grease at Wal-Mart’s delis. Similarly, as the country’s biggest private user of electricity, Wal-Mart is saving money by decreasing store energy use....

Coca-Cola’s problems are different from Wal-Mart’s in that they are largely long-term. The key ingredient in Coke products is water. The company produces its beverages in about 200 countries through local franchises, all of which require a reliable local supply of clean fresh water.

But water supplies are under severe pressure around the world, with most already allocated for human use. The little remaining unallocated fresh water is in remote areas unsuitable for beverage factories, like Arctic Russia and northwestern Australia.

Coca-Cola can’t meet its water needs just by desalinizing seawater, because that requires energy, which is also increasingly expensive. Global climate change is making water scarcer, especially in the densely populated temperate-zone countries, like the United States, that are Coca-Cola’s main customers. Most competing water use around the world is for agriculture, which presents sustainability problems of its own.

Hence Coca-Cola’s survival compels it to be deeply concerned with problems of water scarcity, energy, climate change and agriculture....

The third company is Chevron. Not even in any national park have I seen such rigorous environmental protection as I encountered in five visits to new Chevron-managed oil fields in Papua New Guinea. (Chevron has since sold its stake in these properties to a New Guinea-based oil company.) When I asked how a publicly traded company could justify to its shareholders its expenditures on the environment, Chevron employees and executives gave me at least five reasons.

First, oil spills can be horribly expensive: it is far cheaper to prevent them than to clean them up. Second, clean practices reduce the risk that New Guinean landowners become angry, sue for damages and close the fields. (The company has been sued for problems in Ecuador that Chevron inherited when it merged with Texaco in 2001.) Next, environmental standards are becoming stricter around the world, so building clean facilities now minimizes having to do expensive retrofitting later.

Also, clean operations in one country give a company an advantage in bidding on leases in other countries. Finally, environmental practices of which employees are proud improve morale, help with recruitment and increase the length of time employees are likely to remain at the company.

In view of all those advantages that businesses gain from environmentally sustainable policies, why do such policies face resistance from some businesses and many politicians? The objections often take the form of one-liners.

• We have to balance the environment against the economy. The assumption underlying this statement is that measures promoting environmental sustainability inevitably yield a net economic cost rather than a profit. This line of thinking turns the truth upside down. Economic reasons furnish the strongest motives for sustainability, because in the long run (and often in the short run as well) it is much more expensive and difficult to try to fix problems, environmental or otherwise, than to avoid them at the outset.

• Technology will solve our problems. Yes, technology can contribute to solving problems. But major technological advances require years to develop and put in place, and regularly turn out to have unanticipated side effects — consider the destruction of the atmosphere’s ozone layer by the nontoxic, nonflammable chlorofluorocarbons initially hailed for replacing poisonous refrigerant gases.

• World population growth is leveling off and won’t be the problem that we used to fear. It’s true that the rate of world population growth has been decreasing. However, the real problem isn’t people themselves, but the resources that people consume and the waste that they produce. Per-person average consumption rates and waste production rates, now 32 times higher in rich countries than in poor ones, are rising steeply around the world, as developing countries emulate industrialized nations’ lifestyles.

• It’s futile to preach to us Americans about lowering our standard of living: we will never sacrifice just so other people can raise their standard of living. This conflates consumption rates with standards of living: they are only loosely correlated, because so much of our consumption is wasteful and doesn’t contribute to our quality of life. Once basic needs are met, increasing consumption often doesn’t increase happiness.

Replacing a car that gets 15 miles per gallon with a more efficient model wouldn’t lower one’s standard of living, but would help improve all of our lives by reducing the political and military consequences of our dependence on imported oil. Western Europeans have lower per-capita consumption rates than Americans, but enjoy a higher standard of living as measured by access to medical care, financial security after retirement, infant mortality, life expectancy, literacy and public transport.

NOT surprisingly, the problem of climate change has attracted its own particular crop of objections.

• Even experts disagree about the reality of climate change. That was true 30 years ago, and some experts still disagreed a decade ago. Today, virtually every climatologist agrees that average global temperatures, warming rates and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are higher than at any time in the earth’s recent past, and that the main cause is greenhouse gas emissions by humans. Instead, the questions still being debated concern whether average global temperatures will increase by 13 degrees or “only” by 4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, and whether humans account for 90 percent or “only” 85 percent of the global warming trend.

• The magnitude and cause of global climate change are uncertain. We shouldn’t adopt expensive countermeasures until we have certainty. In other spheres of life — picking a spouse, educating our children, buying life insurance and stocks, avoiding cancer and so on — we admit that certainty is unattainable, and that we must decide as best we can on the basis of available evidence. Why should the impossible quest for certainty paralyze us solely about acting on climate change? As Mr. Holdren, the White House adviser, expressed it, not acting on climate change would be like being “in a car with bad brakes driving toward a cliff in the fog.”

• Global warming will be good for us, by letting us grow crops in places formerly too cold for agriculture. The term “global warming” is a misnomer; we should instead talk about global climate change, which isn’t uniform. The global average temperature is indeed rising, but many areas are becoming drier, and frequencies of droughts, floods and other extreme weather events are increasing. Some areas will be winners, while others will be losers. Most of us will be losers, because the temperate zones where most people live are becoming drier.

•It’s useless for the United States to act on climate change, when we don’t know what China will do. Actually, China will arrive at this week’s Copenhagen climate change negotiations with a whole package of measures to reduce its “carbon intensity.”

...My friends in the business world keep telling me that Washington can help on two fronts: by investing in green research, offering tax incentives and passing cap-and-trade legislation; and by setting and enforcing tough standards to ensure that companies with cheap, dirty standards don’t have a competitive advantage over those businesses protecting the environment. As for the rest of us, we should get over the misimpression that American business cares only about immediate profits, and we should reward companies that work to keep the planet healthy.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

"World’s Largest Working Hydro-Electric Wave Energy Device Launched"

From Science Daily:

Queen's University Belfast has helped the global wave energy industry take a major stride forward with the launch of the world's largest working hydro-electric wave energy device by Aquamarine Power Ltd.

Known as Oyster, the device has been officially launched by Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond MP, MSP at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney.

It is currently the world's only hydro-electric wave energy device producing power and is now producing power by pumping high pressure water to its onshore hydro-electric turbine. This will be fed into the National Grid to power homes in Orkney and beyond. A farm of 20 Oysters would provide enough energy to power 9,000 three bedroom family homes.

Oyster was first conceived out of work funded by an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research grant to Queen's between 2002 and 2004, to develop surging power-wave devices.

Professor Trevor Whittaker from Queen's School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering was the principal investigator and was supported by Dr Matt Folley. Aquamarine Power Ltd was formed by a Scottish entrepreneur specifically to develop the technology. Today there is a joint agreement which results in Queen's undertaking all the hydrodynamic testing for Aquamarine.

Professor Whittaker said: "The concept of Oyster came about through research in our wave-tank facility at Queen's. The launch of Oyster is both a major landmark in terms of carbon-free sustainable energy production and a proud day for Queen's University Belfast, which already has a reputation as being one of the leading wave-power research groups in the world. In fact Oyster is the third prototype demonstration wave power project which the team at Queen's has instigated in the past 20 years.

"Devices such as these have the power to revolutionise the world's energy industry and help combat climate change. And we aren't stopping with Oyster. We are continuing to work with our partners in Aquamarine Power and the EMEC to develop the next generation of Oyster, by providing testing opportunities at Queen's large wave tanks facility in Portaferry which is part-funded through the University's Institute for a Sustainable World."

The marine energy industry could provide as many as 12,500 jobs, contributing £2.5 billion to the UK economy by 2020. Marine energy such as that produced by Oyster has the potential to meet up to 20 per cent of the UK's energy demands..

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"Is there any real chance of averting the climate crisis?"

by James Hansen From the Guardian:

Absolutely. It is possible – if we give politicians a cold, hard slap in the face. The fraudulence of the Copenhagen approach – "goals" for emission reductions, "offsets" that render ironclad goals almost meaningless, the ineffectual "cap-and-trade" mechanism – must be exposed. We must rebel against such politics as usual.

Science reveals that climate is close to tipping points. It is a dead certainty that continued high emissions will create a chaotic dynamic situation for young people, with deteriorating climate conditions out of their control.

Science also reveals what is needed to stabilise atmospheric composition and climate. Geophysical data on the carbon amounts in oil, gas and coal show that the problem is solvable, if we phase out global coal emissions within 20 years and prohibit emissions from unconventional fossil fuels such as tar sands and oil shale.

Such constraints on fossil fuels would cause carbon dioxide emissions to decline 60% by mid-century or even more if policies make it uneconomic to go after every last drop of oil.

Improved forestry and agricultural practices could then bring atmospheric carbon dioxide back to 350 ppm (parts per million) or less, as required for a stable climate.

Governments going to Copenhagen claim to have such goals for 2050, which they will achieve with the "cap-and-trade" mechanism. They are lying through their teeth.

Unless they order Russia to leave its gas in the ground and Saudi Arabia to leave its oil in the ground (which nobody has proposed), they must phase out coal and prohibit unconventional fossil fuels.

Instead, the United States signed an agreement with Canada for a pipeline to carry oil squeezed from tar sands. Australia is building port facilities for large increases in coal export. Coal-to-oil factories are being built. Coal-fired power plants are being constructed worldwide. Governments are stating emission goals that they know are lies – or, if we want to be generous, they do not understand the geophysics and are kidding themselves.

Is it feasible to phase out coal and avoid use of unconventional fossil fuels? Yes, but only if governments face up to the truth: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, their use will continue and even increase on a global basis.

Fossil fuels are cheapest because they are not made to pay for their effects on human health, the environment and future climate.

Governments must place a uniform rising price on carbon, collected at the fossil fuel source – the mine or port of entry. The fee should be given to the public in toto, as a uniform dividend, payroll tax deduction or both. Such a tax is progressive – the dividend exceeds added energy costs for 60% of the public.

Fee and dividend stimulates the economy, providing the public with the means to adjust lifestyles and energy infrastructure.

Fee and dividend can begin with the countries now considering cap and trade. Other countries will either agree to a carbon fee or have duties placed on their products that are made with fossil fuels.

As the carbon price rises, most coal, tar sands and oil shale will be left in the ground. The marketplace will determine the roles of energy efficiency, renewable energy and nuclear power in our clean energy future.

Cap and trade with offsets, in contrast, is astoundingly ineffective. Global emissions rose rapidly in response to Kyoto, as expected, because fossil fuels remained the cheapest energy.

Cap and trade is an inefficient compromise, paying off numerous special interests. It must be replaced with an honest approach, raising the price of carbon emissions and leaving the dirtiest fossil fuels in the ground.

---- at the link others answer the question as well....

Permafrost Problems

Warming To Hit "Roads, Pipelines" In Canada North

Reuters - OTTAWA - Roads, buildings and pipelines in Canada's north are at risk from global warming and the government must do more to protect infrastructure in the remote frozen region, an official panel said Thursday.

Temperatures in the north -- which includes the Arctic -- are rising much faster than elsewhere in the world, and this comes at a time of increasing interest in the area's vast mineral and energy reserves.

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) said the permafrost layer had begun to melt, a development that can have disastrous consequences.

"Melting permafrost is undermining building foundations and threatens roads, pipelines and communications infrastructure,' it said in a report, also citing the potential danger to energy systems, waste disposal sites and ponds containing toxic tailings from mines.

"The risk to infrastructure systems will only intensify as the climate continues to warm."

The panel called for better building codes to help protect against the effects of climate change, better disaster planning and a change in insurance policies to encourage modifications to take into account the risks of warming.

The NRTEE -- which Ottawa set up in 1988 to provide it with information and advice on environmental issues -- also cited the risks posed by coastal erosion, storm surges, wildfires, blizzards and changing wind and snowstorm patterns.

The faster rate of warming is shortening the life of ice roads that supply massive mines like the diamond operation at Diavik in the Northwest Territories. Diavik is 60 percent owned by mining company Rio Tinto.

The NRTEE cited a 2009 report from Canada's federal environment ministry which said more than C$5 trillion ($4.8 trillion) of aging infrastructure could be threatened by the changing climate.

The risk of damage is particularly dangerous because in many remote communities, there are no back-up electricity generating systems or roads or secondary hospitals.

In particular, the report said, communications and energy transmission towers were becoming increasingly susceptible to the risk of failure.

The changes in permafrost, which include sudden shifts in the ground, will make pipeline construction more complicated.

This could have implications for the planned C$16.2 billion 1,220 km (760 mile) Mackenzie Valley pipeline to ship gas from the Arctic to the western province of Alberta.

The main partners in the project include Imperial Oil Ltd, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp.

The report also said containment structures, which hold in toxic mine tailings and other materials, often rely on the integrity of permafrost. A release of toxins "could be environmentally and socially disastrous," it added.

Permafrost thaw threatens Russia oil and gas complex: study

AFP - MOSCOW — Thawing permafrost caused by global warming is costing Russian energy firms billions of dollars annually in damage control and shrinking Russia's territory, Greenpeace warned in a new study Friday.

According to the report by the environmental watchdog, up to 55 billion roubles (1.9 billion dollars) a year is spent on repairs to infrastructure and pipelines damaged by changes in the permafrost in western Siberia.

"For Russia, the biggest threat of the permafrost melt is to oil and gas company infrastructure," said Vladimir Chuprov, who heads Greenpeace's energy programme in Russia.

He said that the group had consulted with experts at gas giant Gazprom in writing its report, which detailed the destruction to infrastructure such as pipelines caused by rising temperatures and resulting melt water.

"These are people who see what is happening and are already feeling the economic consequences of it," he told reporters in Moscow.

Russia's main raw export industries are spread across the Siberian permafrost, which makes up over 60 percent of its territory and includes 20 cities and several hundred thousand people.

The permafrost thaw has accelerated in recent years and Russia is now shrinking by 30 square kilometres (12 square miles) per year as icey territory disappears from the coastline, one of the authors of the report, Oleg Anisimov, warned.

"It's not only an economic and infrastructure problem but a geopolitical one. It means the loss of Russian territory," said Anisimov, a senior researcher at the State Hydrological Institute in Saint Petersburg.

"It's a simple observable fact that in the last decade the coastline retreat has sped up by five or six times."

...Another Greenpeace study author Sergei Kirpotin said that the greatest threat of the permafrost melt may be that it powerfully accelerates global warming by unlocking billions of tonnes of the potent greenhouse gas methane.

Methane is some 20 times more efficient than carbon dioxide in trapping solar heat, experts say.

"Before we saw marshlands just as wasteland but in recent years scientists have realized that the Siberian swamplands have a large climate-regulating role," said Kirpotin, from the Tomsk State University in Siberia.

"It is like a methane bomb threat in our north.... There is the feeling that this bomb figuratively speaking could explode."

In a complex cycle, permafrost melts at the edges of lakes that previously were iced over year-round, he explained.
Organic material -- the remains of rotted plants and long-dead animals -- then melt into the lake from the soil and decompose to form methane. With the thaw, the methane bubbles to the surface and is released into the atmosphere.

"Climate change Pushing Bangladeshis into India"

From The Indian:

Dhaka, Nov 29 (IANS) Many people from coastal areas of Bangladesh forced out of their homes by the effects of climate change have started migrating towards already over-populated and infrastructure-crippled cities - and to India for their survival.

“The climate refugees are moving towards cities. After Cyclone Aila in May 2009 many from Khulna (one of Bangladesh’s coastal districts) have moved to Dhaka and India,” Ainun Nishat, senior climate change adviser and one of those who drafted the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy And Action Plan 2009, told IANS in an interview.

“Another impact of climate change would be in the form of increase in river bank erosion. This will also push people out of their original settlements. For a densely populated country like Bangladesh, any further concentration of population in safe areas will not be desirable. Thus migration, first within the country, then to areas far beyond, is not to be ruled out,” he said.

Bangladesh is the world’s seventh most populous country with 112 million people, most of them poor. It is bordered by India on all sides except for a small border with Myanmar to the southeast and by the Bay of Bengal to the south.

Its major cities include Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Barisal, Bogra, Comilla, Mymensingh and Rangpur. It is feared that up to 50 percent of the land could be flooded if the sea level were to rise by a metre as a result of climate change.

In that case more people will move to the already infrastructure crippled cities and also to India, which is already facing a huge problem of illegal Bangladeshi migrants who are a burden on its economy.

Peter Kim Streatfield of an international health research institution in Dhaka said slums in the city are already growing at the rate of seven percent every year while the city itself is growing at the rate of 1.1 percent.

“It will add more burden on the resources,” he added...

"'Permanent' Arctic ice vanishing"

From the Toronto Star:

WINNIPEG–One of Canada's top northern researchers says the permanent Arctic sea ice that is home to the world's polar bears and usually survives the summer has all but disappeared.

Experts around the world believed the ice was recovering because satellite images showed it expanding. But David Barber says the thick, multi-year frozen sheets crucial to the northern ecosystem have been replaced by thin "rotten" ice that can't support weight of the bears. "It caught us all by surprise because we were expecting there to be multi-year sea ice. The whole world thought it was multi-year sea ice," said Barber, who just returned from an expedition to the Beaufort Sea.

"Unfortunately, what we found was that the multi-year (ice) has all but disappeared. What's left is this remnant, rotten ice."

Permanent ice, which is normally up to 10 metres thick, was easily pierced by the research ship, said Barber, who holds the Canada research chair in Arctic science at the University of Manitoba.

The team finally reached what it thought was stable ice, only to watch a crack appear just as researchers were preparing to descend onto the floe.

"As I watched, over the course of five minutes, the entire multi-year ice floe broke up into pieces," Barber said. "This floe was 16 km across. Something that's twice the size of Winnipeg, it just broke up right in front of our eyes."

The ice is unable to withstand battering waves and storms because global warming is rapidly melting it at a rate of 70,000 square kilometres each year, he said.

Multi-year sea ice used to cover 90 per cent of the Arctic basin, Barber said. It now covers 19 per cent. Where it used to be up to 10 metres thick, it's now 2 metres at most.

The findings, soon to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, come as a shock to experts worldwide.

Although northern sea ice hit a record low in 2007, researchers believed it was recovering because of what they were seeing on satellite images.

But the images the experts relied on were misleading because the rotten ice looks sturdy on the surface and has a similar superficial temperature, Barber explained.

"The satellites give us only part of the story. The multi-year ice is disappearing and it's almost all gone now from the northern hemisphere."

Friday, November 27, 2009

"Obama's Secret Climate Pact"

From the Daily Beast - by Richard Wolffe:

It's no coincidence that one day after the White House announced new emissions targets, China followed suit with its own target. The Daily Beast's Richard Wolffe on the behind-the-scenes negotiations during Obama's Asia trip that could help break the climate stalemate in Copenhagen.

After the Olympic-sized disappointment of his last trip to Copenhagen, why on earth would President Obama want to travel once again to the Danish capital for next month’s UN climate talks?

The answer, according to White House officials, lies in several weeks of intensive behind-the-scenes diplomacy that the press corps entirely overlooked during Obama’s recent trip to China, and during the recent state visit by India’s prime minister.
"Obama is at the point where he feels on the verge of a breakthrough, based on the kind of talks that don’t get covered by reporters obsessing about state dinners."

Beyond the photo ops and press statements, Obama was pushing President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the kind of climate deals that eluded him at the G8 summit in Italy in the summer – and have eluded international negotiators for the last decade. China and India have played central roles in blocking past agreements, alongside the US, in a seemingly intractable dispute between fast-developing economies and the older, wealthier polluters.

Now Obama is at the point where he feels on the verge of a breakthrough, based on the kind of talks that don’t get covered by reporters obsessing about state dinners. “He had extensive conversations with President Hu specifically on climate and conversations with the prime minister of India,” said one senior White House aide. “So he has been building momentum for a political agreement to be brokered at Copenhagen.”

That was the backdrop for Wednesday’s White House announcement of specific targets to reduce emissions “in the range of 17% below 2005 levels in 2020.” The next day, on Thanksgiving, China announced its own bargaining position to slow the growth of carbon emissions by 2020. Using a different standard from the US – measuring carbon intensity (relative to its own economic growth), China is offering a 40 to 45% cut below 2005 levels.

Environmental groups have criticized both the American and Chinese targets as too low. But the criticism was much sharper when it looked like President Obama might not attend Copenhagen. Now the White House says Obama believes he can be a decisive factor in turning the talks into a success. “He feels he can be a catalyst for getting a political agreement in place,” says one senior aide.

Obama’s decision to attend Copenhagen only crystallized over the last two weeks as the Chinese and Indian talks progressed, out of public view. However Obama will not stay for the conclusion of the week-long talks, and he arrives at the start of the conference before traveling on to Oslo, Norway, to accept his Nobel peace prize the following day. Instead, he will leave behind several White House and Cabinet officials, including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and White House climate change czar Carol Browner...

This week the White House was eager to point out that the President’s Copenhagen targets were in line with legislation currently before Congress. It also quoted favorably from a range of unlikely supporters, including Senator Joe Lieberman and several energy company CEOs, such as Jim Rogers of Duke Energy and Lew Hay of Florida Power & Light.

Whether those statements will satisfy the international negotiators, or add to any momentum inside Congress, is unclear. At least Obama will return from Europe with something golden and tangible in his hands: the medal dedicated to his Nobel prize.