31 December 2009

Where Does All That CO2 Come From?

CO2 sources world-wide are plotted on Google Earth by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency's Emission Database for Global Research (EDGAR). "The shown grid size is a tenth of a geographical degree of latitude by the same extension in longitude, or simplified, a circa 10 km x 10 km square, roughly the size of central Paris." You can tease emissions out by sector, and have lots more fun seeing who is responsible for emissions where.

Black on the image indicates more than 250 Gg CO2 equivalent per grid square. Yellow along roads and sea-lanes is 2.5-5.0 Gg CO2 equiv. per grid square. (One Gg is one thousand tonnes.) If the square is black where your house is, you and your neighbors are putting out more than 250 tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution per square kilometer per year. Probably a lot more.

[Originally written by Doc for, and crossposted from the HaraBara blog]

23 December 2009

Where does all that CO2 Go?

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising, as we all know. When I learned it in high school it was said to be 320 parts per million. Now it is higher. But this NASA animation, based on seven years of data from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder satellite instruments, shows the dynamic changes over time and space. (I don't think the colors used to represent higher concentrations are deliberately chosen to be frightening--it's just convention. But they do pack an emotional punch that a more neutral color scheme would avoid.)

The superimposed graph is the CO2 concentration measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. (If you can't see the video watch it here on YouTube.)

The popular understanding of the "greenhouse effect" is that greenhouse gases act like a blanket to keep heat from escaping from the Earth. This is incorrect. Greenhouse gases absorb radiation and heat up. They radiate some of that heat away, as any hot body would. Some of it goes out into space, and some is radiated down toward the surface, where some of it can be absorbed to make the surface warmer. It is more like an electric blanket than an insulating blanket. The more greenhouse gases there are, the more radiation they absorb and the hotter they get, and this changes Earth's temperature and climate.

There are more interesting NASA videos and graphics here.

[Originally written by Doc for, and crossposted from the HaraBara blog]

22 December 2009

How not to negotiate carbon reduction

The failure of the 15th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to come to any conclusion whatever in Copenhagen is chilling, but it was to be expected. Could 192 countries large and small, each with a veto, unanimously agree on anything in this difficult area? (See comments in this Daily Brief.)

The alternative, for the biggest current and future emitters to negotiate among themselves to try to agree on ways to move off the untenable "business as usual" projections, achieved some modest progress. Presumably these negotiations will continue and carbon emissions will gradually move off the "worst case" path. But probably not enough to keep total global temperature increases below 2°C. Some effects of processes already under way are unavoidable, and for some they will be catastrophic. But there is no way to turn back the clock.

Fortunately there is not a complete disconnect between big emitters and those affected by climate change. We hear a lot about the potential displacement of coastal-dwellers in Bangladesh, but there are many times more people, and much more wealth, exposed to rising sea levels in China as in Bangladesh. China, India, and the U.S. are finally talking about the need to develop mutually acceptable emission targets of some sort, though decades have been wasted getting to this degree of agreement.

There will continue to be tension between the "we are all in one boat" view and the national interests of each negotiator. And not enough can be done to even pretend to be able to save some doomed nations and regions. But something will be done. It just won't be done by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

07 December 2009

'Fourteen days to seal history's judgment on this generation'

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency. [Reprinted from The Guardian under Creative Commons license.]

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world's response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days. We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics. This should not be a fight between the rich world and the poor world, or between east and west. Climate change affects everyone, and must be solved by everyone.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years. A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea. The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June's UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: "We can go into extra time but we can't afford a replay."

At the deal's heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world's biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of "exported emissions" so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than "old Europe", must not suffer more than their richer partners.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature".

It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.

'Fourteen days to seal history's judgment on this generation' by The Guardian is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Based on a work at guardian.co.uk.

24 November 2009

Future Generations? Who Cares?

Will Global Climate Change be a Big Problem for Future Generations? And Who Cares?

Nearly everybody agrees that global climate change is real, and that it is mostly caused by our recent and continuing emissions of greenhouse gases. But how big a problem will it be? We have to answer this question in order to figure out how much to spend today to reduce the pace and impact of global warming in the future. Here's the question:

How much are you willing to give up today to minimize the costs human-caused global climate change will impose on future generations?

The answer to this question depends on two factors:
  • How great will be the costs to society in the future due to climate change we could have prevented today? And
  • How much do we care about the costs borne by future generations?
Most people will say, "Of course I care a lot about the pain I might be causing future generations!" But the evidence does not support this. How much would you pay today to prevent a million children from dying during the coming year from a cause that you could mitigate?

About one million children die of malaria annually in Africa. Distribution of insecticide-treated bed netting could prevent hundreds of millions of cases of malaria next year. To provide every susceptible family in Africa with such protection would cost around $1 billion (about 200 million nets at $5 each). The people of the rich nations of the world are evidently not willing to spend this amount (your share, if you live in a developed country, would be about $1).

Do we care more about future generations than we do about our fellow Earthlings alive today? Would you give up a dollar today to prevent a million people from dying due to the impact of global warming in 2100?

How Much Will It Cost Future Generations?

There are many studies attempting to quantify the losses future generations will suffer due to the climate change we and our forebears are causing. Two of the best are the Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change and a recent study by Resources for the Future. These reports use different methods to come to similar conclusions:

Stern: "Using the results from formal economic models, the Review estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more."

Sterner and Persson, RFF: "Total damages in our case amount to slightly more than 2 percent of the GDP for a temperature increase of 2.5°C."

Current world GDP is about $65 trillion (figured at purchasing power parity). A 2% loss today would be about $1.3 trillion (1.3x1012). Five percent would be more than $3 trillion. And that cost would probably not be distributed equitably, but would fall most heavily on the poor.

How Much Would It Cost Us Today To Spare Future Generations That Pain?

Of course the rich countries would be the ones which would have to make the sacrifice today, because:
  • They have the money (people living on $1 per day can't afford to give up any consumption--they'd starve), and
  • They caused the problem.
The Stern Report estimates that to avoid a 5% or greater loss of consumption on the part of our successors in the future we would have to give up only 1% of consumption today. ("In contrast, the costs of action -- reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change -- can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.") One percent of current global GDP is about $700 billion. The per capita share of that sum for people in the developed countries would be $700 per year.

Would you be willing to give up a few hundred dollars a year -- about $2 per day (say in carbon taxes) to prevent the worst effects of future global warming? Let your elected representatives know your answer.

Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change
RFF analysis
Malaria in Africa
More Insecticide-Treated Nets Needed For African Households
CIA World Factbook

22 November 2009

Climate Change League Table-Update

Russia Leapfrogs Germany!

Who is leading in the Challenge of our Age, the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions? HaraBara compared the commitments and targets announced by various countries. We adjusted them to a common baseline: Emission reductions between 1990 and 2020. (We used the emission data in FCCC/SBI/2008/12 found here.) Here are the results.

The Russian Federation recently announced it will cut its greenhouse gas emissions 20-25% below 1990 levels by 2020. This means its absolute tonnage reductions will be more than Germany's.

Norway has said it will reduce its emissions to 60% of 1990 levels by 2020. This is the deepest cut of any potential signatory to a Copenhagen agreement. Scotland has promised more, and Germany as much, but they are both part of the European Union which has only pledged to cut 20%.

Country Emissions Reduction, % 2020 compared to 1990
Scotland -42%
Norway -40%
Germany -40%
United Kingdom -34%
France -26%
Japan -25%
EU -20%
Switzerland -20%
Russian Federation -20%
New Zealand -10%
USA -4%
Canada -1%
Australia +13%

Here is what the rankings look like if you compare how many tonnes of GHG are emitted in 2020 compared to 1990 (in millions of tonnes CO2 equivalent per year). How can Switzerland commit to reduce emissions more than Canada, in absolute tonnes, or Japan more than the U.S.?

Country Emissions Reduction, Mt 2020 compared to 1990
EU -849
Russian Federation -665
Germany -491
Japan -318
United Kingdom -262
USA -236
France -145
Scotland -28
Norway -14
Switzerland -10
Canada -5
New Zealand -4
Australia +54

This graph sums it up, and it is not a picture to be proud of. And of course these are just "targets". The total reductions hoped for by the countries declared so far come to only 12.5% below 1990 levels by 2020.

04 November 2009

German Chancellor Begs Congress on Climate Challenges

German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel gave what may someday be remembered as one of the great speeches of our time before a joint session of Congress yesterday. Here is the relevant part:

Ladies and gentlemen,

The fact that global challenges can only be met by comprehensive international cooperation is also shown by a third great challenge of the 21st century, by a wall, so to speak, separating the present from the future. That wall prevents us from seeing the needs of future generations, it prevents us from taking the measures urgently needed to protect the very basis of our life and climate.

We can already see where this wasteful attitude towards our future leads: In the Arctic ice­bergs are melting, in Africa people are becoming refugees due to environmental damage, and global sea levels are rising. I am pleased that you in your work together with President Obama attach such significance to protecting our climate. For we all know: We have no time to lose! We need an agreement at the climate conference in Copenhagen in December. We have to agree on one objective – global warming must not exceed two degrees Celsius.

To achieve this we need the readiness of all nations to assume internationally binding obli­gations. We cannot afford failure with regard to achieving the climate protection objectives scientists tell us are crucial. That would not only be irresponsible from an ecological point of view, but would also be technologically short-sighted, for the development of new tech­nologies in the energy sector offers major opportunities for growth and jobs in the future.

No doubt about it – in December the world will look to us, to Europe and America. It is true that there can be no agreement without China and India accepting obligations, but I am convinced that if we in Europe and America show that we are ready to accept binding obligations, we will also be able to persuade China and India to join in. And then, in Copen­hagen, we will be able to tear down the wall between the present and the future – in the interests of our children and grandchildren and of sustainable development worldwide.

Most American new media didn't even cover the speech, which had unfortunate timing. Though close to the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, this first Tuesday in November generated a lot of election news, which pushed the Bundeskanzlerin's remarks far off the front page.

Using Atmosphere As Toilet? Please Deposit $50

If you are emitting greenhouse gases you are probably imposing a cost on society in the range of $20 to $100 per ton of CO2 equivalent, and possibly much more.

When researchers at the New York University School of Law sent a questionnaire to 289 economists who had published at least one article on climate change in a top-rated economics journal in the past 15 years they asked: "The global 'social cost of carbon' per metric ton—i.e. the net present value of the marginal impact over time caused by the emission today of one ton of carbon dioxide‐equivalent greenhouse gasses—is most likely: _____".

They got 84 answers. The median answer was $50 per ton. The mode was $50 per ton. The average was $107 per ton (discarding the two highest answers, which were twenty times higher than the next highest).

"Perhaps the response that best captures the uncertainty regarding the damages generated by greenhouse gas emission was: 'No one knows, including me.' " But the consensus among the respondents was that there clearly is a social cost, and it is likely in the range of $20-100 per ton.

So if you are emitting greenhouse gases by driving your car or operating your coal-fired power plant, there should be a box nearby where you should deposit $50-100 or so for each ton you pass, to be sent to those who suffer harm from those emissions. Or are you one of those who feels it is OK to use other people's space as your toilet?

28 October 2009

Why The Horseless Carriage Will Never Catch On

I recently came across a yellowed clipping, dating from around 1900, with the following information:

In spite of the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of such inventors as Herr Benz, it is quite impossible for the auto-mobile or "horseless carriage" to ever supplant horse-drawn vehicles as a major form of local or long-distance transport. The reason? Each vehicle has but a limited storage capacity for its fuel.

As a plaything for the rich, who may rattle around their estates or in towns, and can thus return to their stable to refill this "tank" at need, this may not be a problem. But imagine trying to go by auto-mobile from Philadelphia to Baltimore, a distance of more than 100 miles by the established turnpike. Would the vehicle be able to carry the weight of the required fuel, perhaps one or more barrels, as well as the conductor and mechanic? This is an obvious absurdity. By coach this was never a difficulty, as there are several stages at which horses could be rested, or even exchanged if in haste. And of course the railway makes the journey easy, obviating the need for any road machine.

Even if supplies of motor-spirit were to be stored at these post-houses (with, it must be said, great danger of fire, unavoidable odor, etc.) how would it be brought there? By wagon or railway, of course! Hay, grain, and grazing are universally available throughout the country to supply horses, making such expensive and hazardous storage of motor-spirit completely unnecessary!

If mechanically driven transport is needed, railways have already been established and proven the ultimate in efficiency. If Mr. Astor wishes to "motor" in Boston, he would do best to load his auto-mobile on the train, and unload it at his destination. For it to get there under its own power would be quite impossible.

So though we may marvel at these fantastic vehicles as they clatter past, let us recognize them for what they are: a toy for the rich, not transportation for the populace.

People sure were dumb in those days! I guess this lack of refueling points didn't turn out to be a big problem after all. Of course recharging the batteries of electric vehicles is completely different, and forms an insurmountable barrier to their acceptance.

[Full disclosure: I made all this up.]

27 October 2009

Good-bye to the Car?

Teenagers' attitudes toward cars are changing in the U.S. Compare these two (made up) recordings of typical teenage interaction: "Hey! Let's all jump in Johnnie's car and go to the Malt Shop!" Vs. "tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tappety tap tap, tap, tap, tappety, tappety, tap, tap."

For an earlier generation car power was an important social distinction, useful transportation resource, tool for meeting members of the opposite sex, and vital gauge of a potential mate's quality. (Owning a car showed economic achievement and potential--someone who could maintain you in the style to which you would like to become accustomed--and if he can fix a car he can probably unstop a toilet or hang a shelf, also key husband qualifications.)

But has the place of the car for many of these purposes been usurped by the BlackBerry or the iPhone or some other possession? (True they can't take you to the malt shop, but maybe the communication that used to require a trip to the malt shop now takes place in other ways. And they don't have a private back seat . . . who knows what kids do about that these days?)

This item from The L.A. Times tells of a recent J.D. Power survey of online conversations. Shockingly, "Online discussions by teens indicate shifts in perceptions regarding the necessity of and desire to have cars." Ominously, "The negative perceptions of the automotive industry that teens and early careerists hold could have implications on future vehicle sales."

Full disclosure: I don't have a car. Most of my kids don't have cars. My wife has a car but it is broken [she junked it since I originally posted this]. My parents have two cars (but are selling one).

23 October 2009

Flip-top skid lid for stylish cycling

If you are like me you always have a problem deciding what to do with your helmet when you go somewhere on your bicycle. None of my clothes have pockets big enough. In the cinema you can hold it on your lap, but then where do you put the popcorn?

(In Boston's Symphony Hall some of the seats have, or at least had, wire brackets designed to hold a man's hat, brim up, below the seat. Whether it would fit a helmet I do not know.)

A solution may be at hand: Dahon, a maker of folding bicycles, has developed the folding helmet. This video explains:

If you can't see the video, watch it on YouTube here.

So now you can protect your brain-pan and save the planet, and just stuff the folded lid in the pocket of your tux or in your evening bag when you get there.

20 October 2009

Manure mountains manufacture methane, make mess a memory

Greeley, Colorado is a center of cattle feeding and processing. JBS, the successor of the Swift meatpacking business, is a major force in town, and has decided that there's money in those mounds of manure. Like large dairy operations, they can make natural gas from that waste. (Associated Press did a recent story, which you can read here at the Boston Globe. Mr. Swift, who created the meatpacking empire, came from Cape Cod.)

By optimizing the production of methane and capturing it (instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere where it is a potent greenhouse gas) waste disposal problems are reduced, heat is generated for commercial purposes, and tradable carbon credits can be captured.

Heat is usually generated by breakdown of manure by microbes, as anyone who has put his or her hand into a steaming pile of manure can attest. The inside of a pile of manure will typically reach 140℉ or more. This is not the heat that the methane could produce by being burned (although manure fires are a real problem). This heat comes from the action of anaerobic microbes in the pile and some of the most important ones for methane production like higher temperatures. The trick for commercialization is to capture the methane they generate rather than letting it escape or be broken down by other organisms as would happen in manure composting. More about manure to methane here.

Honda Cub for the Next 50 Years?

The Honda Super Cub has been on the market since 1958. Sixty million units have been sold, making it the best selling motorized vehicle of all time. Now Honda will be showing at least a concept version of a battery-electric Cub at the Tokyo Motor Show (see press release and pix at Autoblog Green).
The Super Cub (also known as the Cub, the Honda 50 and the Honda C100) is a 49cc, 4-stroke, one-cylinder workhorse that has put millions on wheels for generations in 150 countries. It served as the inspiration for the Beach Boys song "My Little Honda", which probably nobody reading this has ever heard. Sigh. (I was going to include a link to the video, but it is too embarrassing.)

Now maybe a new generation of Cub riders will be humming a new tune, instead of the buzz of its mighty four-stroke. And our grandchildren may be puzzled by the "first gear, second gear" lyric, should they somehow run across the song, perhaps while getting a Ph.D. in historical popular musicology.

Electric bikes were discussed in this earlier post.

18 October 2009

Smoot, Hawley and Inhofe

Many remember, or have been taught about, the harm done to the global economy by the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930--the Smoot-Hawley Bill. (Or, maybe if you are from Oregon, the Hawley-Smoot Bill.) The names of Senator Smoot and Representative Hawley have lived on in infamy. In fact, the Tariff Act of 1930 has lived on and is still a basic part of U.S. trade law. Both Smoot and Hawley, and Herbert Hoover who refused to veto their ill-conceived bill, were defeated in the elections of 1932. Of course by then it was too late.

How then will Jim Inhofe, Senator of Oklahoma, be remembered? He has played a major and visible role in the stubborn refusal of the U.S. Congress to make any commitment to serious action against greenhouse gas emissions. He calls climate change a "hoax". And he has been reelected by the people of Oklahoma.

J. Wayne Leonard, the Chairman and CEO of Entergy Corporation, recently said at a conference with lawmakers that we are making a choice whether to risk extinction or to pass comprehensive climate change legislation.

He said it in engineer-speak: "We are virtually certain that climate change is occurring, and occurring because of man's activities. We're virtually certain the probability distribution curve is all bad. There’s no good things that's going to come of this. But what's uncertain is exactly which one of those things are going to occur and in what timeframe. In the probability distribution curve is about a 50% probability that about half of all species will become extinct or be subject to extinction over this period of time. What we will never know on an ex ante basis is whether or not man will be one of those casualties or not." Watch his remarks on YouTube.

He said we are cheating our children, and we are doing it with our eyes open. Why are so many in our Congress willing to roll those dice?

As children we learned about Smoot-Hawley, but by then the Great Depression was over. Our children and our children's children will learn about Senator Inhofe, but they may have to live in the consequences of our inaction for centuries to come.

16 October 2009

Still Sustainable: Las Gaviotas

An item in the New York Times reminded me about Las Gaviotas, an experimental outpost in los llanos of Colombia, the dry savanna east of the Andes. When I visited it in the 1970s it was already an off-grid testing ground for "appropriate technology" for rural development. It is still going thirty years later. It has grown to a community of about 200, still testing "small is beautiful" energy and water systems and other village technologies.

Here is a journal of a visit there more recently, with pictures of some of the technologies.

Weird or Cute? Peugeot BB1 Concept Car Video

Peugeot's somewhat whimsical BB1 concept was unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show and got everything from snickers to abuse. But it has bounced right back to appear in this video showing its features in Paris. I think it is kind of cool.

If you can't see the video watch it on YouTube here. What do you think?

15 October 2009

Why Commons Aren't Always Tragic

Who is Elinor Ostrom and why is she getting the The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel? Here's a video to help answer those questions. You can see why some say this is another Nobel Prize related to the problems of climate change.

If you can't see the video watch it on YouTube here.

Professor Ostrom is another female economist I could watch all day. The first is, of course, Jodi Beggs.

14 October 2009

Burtynsky on Oil - The Big Picture

A series of pictures "From extraction to consumption: Oil" by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky appears here courtesy of The Guardian.

The images are from a current show at the Hasted Hunt Kraeutler gallery in New York. A parallel exhibition of photos from Burtynsky's new book "Oil", at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., is profiled here.

We posted earlier on the fantastic film "Manufactured Landscapes", which features Burtynsky and his images.

12 October 2009

That Clever Peace Prize Committee

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which selects the laureate for the Peace Prize, has gotten some criticism for picking U.S. President Barak Obama, much of it pointing out that he hasn't actually accomplished much concrete progress yet on his nuclear disarmament, climate change, or peace initiatives. The Committee recognized this, awarding him the prize in part because he has "created a new climate in international politics."

But did the Committee have a deeper policy? Obama will be in Oslo, Norway, to pick up his medal, diploma, and certificate of the monetary prize on 10th December 2009. He will undoubtedly also attend some of the other Nobel Prize events held in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the same time. The 15th Conference of the Parties under the United Nations’ Climate Change Convention will be taking place in Copenhagen from 7th through 18th December, with the hope of getting a protocol agreed to extend or replace the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012.

Thus the wily Norwegian Nobel Committee has cleverly all but insured that President Obama will be in Copenhagen during the Conference, and will be able to exert his charm and influence to try to get a deal done. The Committee has already shown how closely it feels climate change is tied to threats to world peace (see earlier post).

If the Committee's move helps get a deal in Copenhagen it will itself deserve the Peace Prize.

Dream On, Minister Ramesh

India's minister of state for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, says a final deal may not be possible at the upcoming Copenhagen conference, and that "governments should now focus on agreeing on three main areas: finance for adaptation to climate change, a deal to combat deforestation and promote forestation, and technology sharing."

Unfortunately this may not work, since at least one theory of the way negotiations have to go is this:
  • Poor nations will suffer the most from the effects of accelerating climate change, so they urgently want rich nations to cut emissions deeply.
  • Rich nations (except Norway) do not want to cut emissions as much as poor nations want them to (indeed as much as climate scientists say is necessary to try to reduce further serious negative effects).
  • Rich nations are willing to part with a certain amount of cash and technology to reach a deal that requires them to promise only cuts that are politically acceptable to their voters.
Therefore it is impossible to separate the promises of aid from rich to poor nations from the promises of emission reductions by rich nations.

02 June 2009

How Big Is Green?

Today many companies have their "green" or "sustainability" function within their Corporate Social Responsibility group. This made sense when companies might do a recycling drive or tree-planting project for the benefit of the community.

But now sustainability pervades every part of the organization--anywhere that energy can be saved, waste eliminated, water conserved, transport cost reduced, or products designed better. Accounting for energy and GHG emissions is becoming more and more sophisticated. These accounts are being incorporated into performance reviews and reports to stakeholders.

$ and C

Over time carbon accounting will become as elaborate and fundamental to management of the enterprise as financial accounting is today. (Did you hear that SAP bought a carbon accounting company?) Stakeholders will demand carbon accounts, and those who falsify them will risk going to jail. Every business plan will have a sustainability section, as well as financial projections.
Will carbon accounting be handled within the finance department? Will the Chief Sustainability Officer report to the Chief Financial Officer? Maybe he or she will be called the Chief Carbon Officer.

Green is Routine

The things we think of as "green" today--energy efficiency, waste reduction, low-carbon power, recycling, conservation, green design--will become standard elements of every part of every business. "Sustainability" will come to mean "hitting your carbon numbers". Some businesses moving this direction today. All will have to do so in the future.

[crossposted from the HaraBara blog]

16 April 2009

Which Global Meltdown Is Worse?

A panel discussion at the National Stakeholders' Summit of AIESEC India brought out the confusion between the economic crisis and the environmental one. I was asked whether the global economic situation made "going green" less attractive.

My reply was that:
  • Companies will continue to pursue some green projects because of the potential cost savings, though capital-intensive projects may be delayed.
  • The environmental consequences of global climate disruption are, in fact, a much more serious and long-term problem than the current recession. I said, "Ten years from now the recession will be history, but climate change and environmental problems will still be affecting every business."
  • Young professionals like those in AIESEC should consider careers in cleantech and the green space.
  • Green products, methods and ways of doing business aren't necessarily more expensive than more environmentally destructive approaches.
  • Although I forgot to mention it, the possible economic harm due to climate change is much greater than the damage done to the world economy by the current recession. The recession means that the global economy will not grow, and may even shrink for a year or two. Climate change could decrease global GDP by 5-20% compared to what it would have been if we had addressed the problem effectively.
The panelists were (shown left to right) Mr. Ranjit Pandit, Managing Director of the Mumbai office of General Atlantic, Mr. Alok Kejriwal, Co-Founder and CEO of Games2win, Dr. David Wheat of HaraBara, Mr. Rahul Khanna, Director of Clearstone Venture Advisors Pvt. Ltd., and moderator Mr. Jehangir Pocha, Editor in Chief of NewsX.

29 March 2009

Earth Hour Went Off OK, Then Back On

During Earth Hour many cities, public buildings, companies and individuals turned off some lights, and maybe other electrical devices, for one hour. Then they turned them back on again. Here is how the Wellington, N.Z. railway station looked during Earth Hour:

Nice and dark. I presume the trains continued to run. But then, New Zealand is well-supplied with hydroelectric power, so perhaps they didn't really save any carbon to speak of. (A quick check of N.Z. stats shows that about 70% of its electricity is generated from renewable resources, geothermal, hydro, biomass, wind, etc.)

Here is what Wellington Station looks like the other 364 nights of the year:

What is wrong with this picture? I don't mean Wellington Station, I mean everywhere. Public buildings, monuments, corporate headquarters, even the pyramids of Giza are lit up extravagantly, and just for decoration. Not for safety, or for any useful purpose. Why does this go on, even as it goes off for an hour once a year? And who is paying (directly) for all that electricity? We know we are all paying indirectly for the carbon emitted in producing it.

Maybe New Zealand could cut its electricity use by 30% and then it wouldn't have to use any fossil fuels for electricity production. Why not?

23 March 2009

Development Must Be Green

Here is the situation:

India congratulates itself for having among the lowest per-capita rates of greenhouse gas emission in the world. India's GHG emissions are about 1.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per capita. India claims it "is not a significant contributor" to global GHG emissions (though it is the fifth largest, and will probably be the 3rd largest within a few years). It says won't exceed the per capita emissions of the industrialized countries even as it develops. (It should be careful about this promise, since industrialized countries could cut their per-capita rates substantially if they wanted to. These goalposts can be moved, and such promises forgotten.)

But India achieves this low rate of emissions because of the millions who are so poor that they generate no greenhouse gases to speak of. If it raises them out of poverty they will want vehicles, electric lights and appliances, air conditioning, and many other amenities they have been denied. Their GHG emissions will climb toward those of the middle class, which already equal those of most industrialized nations. (If the Indian "middle class" (and above) includes 50 million people, and they account for half of India's 1.5 billion metric tonnes of GHG emissions, each is already emitting more than the average citizen of the U.K., Japan, Spain or France, and twice as much as the average Swiss.)

The atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases that we believe will not trigger catastrophic climate disruption is about  350 parts per million of CO2. Since the level is already at 385 ppm that means we have to reduce global GHG emissions below the rate at which the planet can absorb those emissions, until we get back down to a sustainable level. We are already in "overshoot".

We need to get global human-caused emissions down to about 14 billion tonnes of CO2 per year just to keep atmospheric CO2 levels from rising. Since population is also increasing we should target a global rate of emissions of about 1.8 tonnes per person per year.

Well, that was a lot of introduction, but now you can see the implications:

  • India already approaches the total per-capita emission level that all of us (or our descendants) will have to attain to keep the earth from going over the edge, climate-change wise.
  • India has the relatively easy job of raising living standards while not increasing GHG emissions.
    • The US, for example, has the harder task of reducing per-capita emissions by 95% without reducing living standards, and while burdened with a huge legacy of carbon-intensive infrastructure.
  • India will be building infrastructure as it develops, and its people will be deciding how to live with greater personal wealth.
India must build toward a less carbon-intensive society, rather than mimicking the high-carbon excesses, the mistakes, of the industrialized countries. Do it right the first time or you will have to do it twice, setting back development and prolonging the poverty of the nation.

21 March 2009

Earth Hour: Fiat Obscurum

Earth Hour is an eco-event next Saturday, 28th March. At 8:30 in the evening, local time, people around the world will switch off their lights for one hour. (Will they also turn off their televisions, computers, radios, video game consoles, air conditioners and other electric appliances?) This will demonstrate that lights can be turned off, then back on again. I am going to participate.

Its exact purpose is a bit vague, but here is what its web site says:
In 2009, Earth Hour is being taken to the next level, with the goal of 1 billion people switching off their lights as part of a global vote. Unlike any election in history, it is not about what country you’re from, but instead, what planet you’re from. VOTE EARTH is a global call to action for every individual, every business, and every community. A call to stand up and take control over the future of our planet. Over 74 countries and territories have pledged their support to VOTE EARTH during Earth Hour 2009, and this number is growing everyday.

Here is my problem with Earth Hour

Many people, having switched off the electric lights, will light candles. These give a warm glow to accompany the moral glow of satisfaction in being part of a global eco-happening. These candles will emit many thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. A candle emits the same amount of combustion products as a 60 Watt incandescent lamp running on electricity from a coal-fired power plant. But it gives only one-seventieth as much light.

Most candles are made from fossil hydrocarbons (80%). Some are made from beeswax or plant oils, so at least they are not as large net contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. If you are going to light up (a candle) during Earth Hour use one made from a renewable form of wax, or use an oil lamp.

WWF, the global conservation organization which is promoting the event, says "Earth Hour 2009 aims to reach more than 1 billion people in 1000 cities around the world, inviting communities, business and governments to switch off lights for 1 hour and send a global message that we need to take action on climate change."

I hope those one billion people use the time to write, or at least compose, letters to their political leaders urging real action on climate change. Darkness is cheap. Change is work.

17 March 2009

It's Easy Being Green--If You Lie

There was a story in the Bombay Times recently about a fabric it claimed was both "green" and "glam": viscose rayon.

Where did anyone get the idea that rayon was "green"? They even called it "organic". Or maybe I am wrong and rayon really is a "green" material.

Rayon is a synthetic fiber made by dissolving cellulose in strong organic chemical solvents then extruding it into filaments the same way nylon and other synthetic polymer threads are made. The fibers are spun and woven into fabrics.

The main chemicals used are caustic soda (produced by electrolysis, a very energy-intensive process) , carbon disulfide (made from natural gas) and sulfuric acid. Grasim Industries of the Aditya Birla Group is the world's largest producer of Rayon.

It was invented in the 1850s and the current commercial technology for "viscose rayon" dates from 1894. The cellulose can come from wood pulp. Bamboo was mentioned in the article, I think. I suppose the source materials could be grown organically (withouth the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers or pest control agents). But rayon is something not found in nature, an industrial product, made by intensive chemical treatment with clearly un-organic chemicals. (The plants that make it are usually big polluters.)

Perhaps the designers have been deceived by the textile manufacturers, but I am sure they didn't put up much of a fight. Perhaps the journalists misinterpreted the information they were given, though usually they just uncritically repeat what they are told. That the manufacturer could fail to know the untruth of these assertions is unbelievable. Someone is deliberately confusing consumers for commercial gain.

Some are willing to exploit consumers' ignorance to make a quick rupee. Consumers should fight back and make it clear that they do not like being duped.

Crossposted from HaraBara's blog