Tag Archives: carbon dioxide

Britain Shows Leadership on Climate Change

Human impacts on our planet’s life support systems are contributing to carbon dioxide buildup and climate change. Few countries are taking critically needed action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In a dramatic action the British government has made a hard political decision, putting our planet’s welfare above continued unsustainable growth of airport traffic which contributes to climate change.

As reported in the New York Times today:

In a bold if lonely environmental stand, Britain’s coalition government has set out to curb the growth of what has been called “binge flying” by refusing to build new runways around London to accommodate more planes.
Citing the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, abruptly canceled longstanding plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport in May, just days after his election; he said he would also refuse to approve new runways at Gatwick and Stansted, London’s second-string airports.
The government decided that enabling more flying was incompatible with Britain’s oft-stated goal of curbing emissions. Britons have become accustomed to easy, frequent flying — jetting off to weekend homes in Spain and bachelor parties in Prague — as England has become a hub for low-cost airlines. The country’s 2008 Climate Change Act requires it to reduce emissions by at least 34 percent by 2020 from levels reached in 1990

Here in Seattle meanwhile we opened a new third  runway at Seattle Tacoma International  Airport in 2008. As noted in a Seattle Times article in November 2008:

As the first jetliner takes off today on Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s new $1 billion third runway, state and local decision-makers are already debating where in Puget Sound to put a fourth runway or its equivalent.

While the current recession has slowed consideration of expanding air traffic, when the economy improves pressure will again  increase for continued expansion of regional airports. Alternatives to more  air traffic include expanding our rail transportation system.  Last year a news report from McClathydc.com reported that:

Washington state and California officials have held preliminary discussions about a high-speed, state-of-the-art rail line that would connect San Diego and Vancouver, B.C., with trains that could travel in excess of 200 miles per hour.

Certainly we have alternatives. These don’t just include huge engineering projects and huge financial expenditures as more teleconferencing versus business trips as an example makes sense both environmentally and economically for businesses.

And horror of horrors, maybe people just not taking as many personal airline trips makes sense. Growth for growth sake is not the answer to living within our means without destroying our planet’s life support systems.

Let’s give a round of applause to Britain for acting with restraint. We need to do the same in planning for our future in the Northwest..

Cheney Behind Efforts to Kill Washington and California Clean Car Laws

A number of news sources now point to the fact that Dick Cheney was heavily involved in the EPA’s recent decision to try to void California’s, Washington’s and 15 other state’s attempts to enact Clean Car Legislation to restrict car emissions.

Last Thursday from Los Angeles Times 12/20/2007

“Johnson said California’s request was unlike others that had been granted by his agency that covered “pollutants that predominantly impacted local and regional air quality.”
He said the EPA acted after he and his staff reviewed more than 100,000 written comments and “thousands of pages of technical and scientific documentation.”
Asked if there was White House influence, Johnson said, “My decision was an independent decision.”

Last Friday from Los Angeles Times 12/21/2007

“The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ignored his staff’s written findings in denying California’s request for a waiver to implement its landmark law to slash greenhouse gases from vehicles, sources inside and outside the agency told The Times on Thursday.”California met every criteria . . . on the merits. The same criteria we have used for the last 40 years on all the other waivers,” said an EPA staffer. “We told him that. All the briefings we have given him laid out the facts.”” …

…three sources said, Johnson cut off any consultation with his technical staff for the last month and made his decision before having them write the formal, legal justification for it. “It’s very highly unusual,” said one source with close ties to the agency.Normally the technical staff would be part of the final decision-making process, including briefing the administrator and writing the formal legal document before his decision. In this case, the briefings were done, but the formal finding has yet to be drafted. …

Some staff members believe Johnson made his decision after auto executives met with Vice President Dick Cheney and after a Chrysler executive delivered a letter to the White House outlining why neither California nor the EPA should be allowed to regulate greenhouse gases, among other reasons. The Detroit News reported Wednesday that chief executives of Ford and Chrysler met with Cheney last month.”Clearly the White House said, ‘We’re going to get EPA out of the way and get California out of the way. If you give us this energy bill, then we’re done, the deal is done,’ ” said one staffer.”

Detroit News November 2, 2007:

Vice President Dick Cheney met with the CEOs of Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC in recent days in the wake of a push on Capitol Hill for dramatically higher fuel economy requirements.
Cheney met Wednesday with Chrysler Chairman and CEO Robert Nardelli and on Oct. 24 with Ford Motor Co. president and CEO Alan R. Mulally, officials told The Detroit News. … The companies declined to confirm or deny the meetings. Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Cheney, declined to comment.

Numerous other meetings have taken place between automobile representatives and the Bush Administration. In fact the White House even has a picture posted on its website from last year. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney meet with automotive CEOs Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2006, in the Oval Office. The automobile industry has opposed higher fuel efficiency standards for the last 20 years. In the past they also opposed seat belts, higher collision standards and air bags.

Cheney has been Bush’s point person on stopping efforts to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions from cars and trucks. For almost seven years they held off efforts to protect the health of our families, cities and our environment. For those naysayers in the press and other who try to equate the Democratic Congress with the previous Republican run Congress, let me tell you – there is no comparison.

The just passed energy bill which increased fuel efficiency standards and set up efficiency standards for appliances was a step that only a Democratic Congress was going to pass. They did it despite the efforts of Bush and Cheney and the Republicans to stop it.

The Clean Car legislation from California and Washington State and other states goes even further. The refusal by EPA’s Johnson to grant the waiver to move ahead with tougher emissions standards is going to be challenged in Court. The people want action to deal with global warming and climate change, not the obstruction coming from the Republicans and Bush and Cheney.

But being a Democrat I suppose I should not fret too much. Each action by Bush and Cheney to delay action on global warming only makes a stronger case for why people need to vote Democratic in the 2008 elections. Change is needed away from the corporate oligarchy that Bush and the Republicans have tried to impose on America. Its time to take the country back from the corporations.

Will it Be the Big Chill at the US Supreme Court?

Washington State in 2003  joined with a coalition of other state attorneys general to sue the Bush Administration for its failure to regulate CO2 emissions from automobiles and other sources of CO2 contributing to global warming. The case was heard Wednesday before the US Supreme Court.

The question now is whether the Supreme Court will respond to the almost uniform scientific consensus that global warming is real and agree that the US Government has the authority to act, and needs to act to act now to protect the public, or whether it will instead respond to the political whims of the Bush corporate mantra and dump cold water on the EPA’s doing anything.

Democratic Washington State Attorney General Christine Gregoire, speaking in 2003, noted that “Washington State has shown its commitment by investing heavily in clean sources of power and strong pollution controls to provide the healthiest air possible for our citizens, crops and businesses. We need to see the same kind of commitment on a national level.” Christine Gregoire is now the Governor of Washington State.

Earlier this year Rob McKenna, the current Republican Attorney General for Washington State choose not to participate in a similar lawsuit with most of the same plaintiffs challenging the EPA’s not acting to raise Federal vehicle fuel efficiency standards. I guess he must have consulted with Republican Congressman Dave Reichert first. Reichert in his campaign for re-election this year said he didn’t think global warming had been proved. I’ll bet neither of them have gone to see Al Gore’s documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth“.

The current case now before the Supreme Court was the one started by then AG Gregoire.

According to the Environmental News Service

The (current)case originated in 1999, when various environmental groups filed an administrative rulemaking petition requesting that EPA set motor vehicle emission standards for four greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide. In August of 2003, the EPA denied the pending rulemaking petition. At that time, EPA also stated that, as a policy matter, it would not set motor vehicle emission standards even if it had authority. In October of 2003, this decision as challenged. On July 15, 2005, the federal appeals court for the D.C. Circuit voted 2-1 to let the EPA’s current position on greenhouse gas pollutants stand. In August, the full bench of the appeals court for the D.C. Circuit was asked to hear the case. The court denied that request with a 4-3 decision, paving the way for the Supreme Court appeal.”

Nina Totenberg of NPR notes that

The first question facing the justices is whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant at all. The administration claims it isn’t, and is backed by the auto and energy industries in that claim..

“We’re talking about carbon dioxide,” says former Solicitor General Ted Olson, who is representing the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “It’s necessary for life. A pollutant is something that fouls the air, a contaminant. No EPA administrator in history has ever considered carbon dioxide a pollutant.”

We’ve commented on this argument before – “CO2 is life.” That’s why we all love to be in a room full of CO2. Who needs O2. Trace elements are also important to life. So are vitamins. But its all a matter of proportion. Just like injesting too many of some vitamins can be fatal, so can too much CO2 in the atmosphere – which contributes to global warming.

I guess this argument of CO2 is life made sense to Bush. That’s probably why he didn’t respond very quickly to Hurricane Katrina. I guess someone told him water is necessary for life. If a little is good for you, more is better. So what was the matter with those people in New Orleans? Didn’t they know that H2O is life?

Then Olson says it also a question of standing or the right to bring a case. Saying that just because Massachusetts will lose shoreline because of global warming that is not an adequate reason to bring suit.

Again from Totenberg of NPR

The states contend that they are suffering significant damage because of the EPA’s failure to act. They claim they are losing shoreline because of melting ice and rising oceans, that floods and storms are more severe, causing greater damage, and that controlling smog is getting more difficult. And the Western states say their snow pack is melting, jeopardizing their water supply.

Olson says that sort of generalized damage is not adequate to make the legal case: “If it does exist, it is damage to humanity in general, not to Massachusetts,” he says. “Courts need concrete particularized cases before they can constitutionally render a decision. Otherwise, anybody with a grievance can say ‘Gee, the ocean’s too high this year. I think we should have a lawsuit against the EPA.'”

Of course these are these same people that refuse to join with other nations to reduce CO2 pollution. They refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement or seriously explore and work for other international solutions.

These are the Bush people. The Democrats winning control of the House and the Senate is only a first step to bringing sanity back to public policy because the EPA is still run by Bush. And Bush with his Supreme Court appointments has swung the US Supreme Court further to the right. And it seems that many on the right really don’t understand what is happening.

USA Today said

“Chief Justice John Roberts and fellow conservatives questioned whether states’ environmental problems truly would be helped if the U.S. government changed its decision not to regulate emissions from new cars and trucks.
Roberts suggested that economic development in China, for example, could produce pollution that would offset whatever “marginal benefit” states hope to win through federal limits on tailpipe emissions. Justice Antonin Scalia also seemed skeptical about warnings of looming harm from so-called greenhouse gases, asking, “When is the predicted cataclysm?”

It is wonderful to have such forward insightful and forward thinking people on the US Supreme Court. I guess if we left it to Scalia to have building codes to protect buildings from falling down during an earthquake we would have no earthquake proof buildings because we can’t predict when the next earthquake will come.

Likewise, because any measure we take is only part of fixing the problem, we should do nothing? But what is nothing? The Seattle Times says that “Together, US power plants and vehicles account for some 15% of global CO2 emissions.

As the NY Times aptly argues, the case is rather simple.

“A plain reading of the Clean Air Act shows that the states are right. The act says that the E.P.A.”shall” set standards for “any air pollutant” that in its judgment causes or contributes to air pollution that “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” The word “welfare,” the law says, includes “climate” and “weather.” The E.P.A. makes an array of specious arguments about why the act does not mean what it expressly says. But it has no right to refuse to do what Congress said it “shall” do

The Seattle Times in a lengthy article last year entitled “The Truth about Global Warming”summed up part of the reality.

“…atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are increasing at a rate that precisely tracks man’s automotive and industrial emissions.
“The process is 1,000 times faster than nature can do it,” Battisti said. Climate reconstructions show that average global temperatures for the past 2 million years have never been more than 2 to 4 degrees higher than now. That means if greenhouse emissions continued unchecked, temperatures would likely be higher by the end of the century than any time since the human species evolved.”

Why is there still a controversy? In the Seattle Times article Eric Steig of the University of Washington says that

“…a handful of skeptics has dominated public debate.””Many of us have felt our voices are drowned out by the very well-funded industry viewpoint.”
He and several colleagues set out this year to bridge the gap between science and popular perception with a Web log called
RealClimate.org. Researchers communicate directly with the public and debunk what they see as misinformation and misconceptions. By giving equal coverage to skeptics on the fringe of legitimate science, journalists fuel the perception that the field is racked with disagreement.
You get the impression it’s 50-50, when it’s really 99-to-1,” Steig said. Over the past decade, coal and oil interests have funneled more than $1 million to about a dozen individual global-warming skeptics as part of an effort to “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact,” according to industry memos first uncovered by former Boston Globe journalist Ross Gelbspan.
From 2001 to 2003, Exxon Mobile donated more than $6.5 million to organizations that attack mainstream climate science and oppose greenhouse-gas controls. These think tanks and advocacy groups issue reports, sponsor briefings and maintain Web sites that reach a far wider audience than scholarly climate journals.”