ieBlog

Wishes for 2018

Some hopeful, some desperate

 

Our wishes for 2018

Better health for ourselves and those we are close to

 

 

 

 

 

More protection for those who are vulnerable to threats from forces and events they did not cause, such as environmental disasters, extreme weather events or nuclear war.

The photo captures a boy carrying his dead brother on his shoulders while he waits for his turn at the crematory following the nuclear bomb attack at Nagasaki, Japan.  Photo taken by US Marine photographer Joe O’Donnell.  Pope Francis is having cards printed and distributed showing a 1945 photo of victims of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki along with the words “the fruit of war.”

 

 

Woodlands and seas and valleys and mountains and lakes and rivers that give us pleasure, even joy

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Irish government that develops some courage to make concrete decisions on specific actions for addressing climate change, despite the burdens those actions will have on voters — building owners, farmers, drivers of cars and trucks, all of us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Irish politicians who stop acting out what we witnessed from them in the 1970s and 1980s and 1990s

 

 

 

 

 

 

A more suitable home for T-Rex:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OR

 

 

 

 

 

Mental hospital in West Virginia coal country

 

Winning the battle over climate change

 

But losing the war?

Here are a few parts of a sort-of-syllogism that set the stage for some reflections on global climate talks, which recently wrapped up its latest stage in Bonn.

A.  No major industrialized country, including the European Union (EU), is likely going to meet its climate targets for reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 2030, as adopted under the Paris Accord.

Note:  There are few reliable methods or systems for confirming the status of compliance with the targets, which remain voluntary and self-selected.

B.  Even if all the countries hit their targets, as adopted in Paris, that would not be enough to stop global warming from rising more than 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels of about 280 ppm CO2.

Note: The hopes of the Paris Accord are shaky for a 2°C target, and certainly there is little chance of meeting the more ambitious goal of keeping global temperatures from rising 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial levels.

C.  Therefore, if we cannot keep global temperatures from rising 1.5 – 2.0°C above pre-industrial levels, we will experience, e.g., melting glaciers, rising sea levels, megacities flooded out, millions and millions of environmental refugees, billions of dollars of damages and losses, etc..

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what is the point of the global climate talks?

At center stage, those talks concentrated on specific pathways, or a “rule book,” for nations to up their ante, to increase their voluntary commitments, as built into the Paris Accord to address its acknowledged shortfall.  As noted above, one of the problems with the existing targets is the difficulty in determining just by how much the nations are hitting, or missing, their targets, and how they are making that happen.  The hope is to devise visible, transparent means to hold countries accountable and to monitor their compliance.  The central argument is that by seeing what their actual emissions are, and how that compares with their stated targets, and seeing how they are trying (or not) to hit those targets, it is expected that more progressive parties will be able to persuade more reticent parties to do more.  The power will rest on persuasion rather than compulsion.

 

 

 

 

That is a reasonable process and goal under all the circumstances, and consistent with how other international agreements function.   A rather large hole in the middle of the argument, however, is that even the progressive parties, including Germany and the entire European Union, are not making sufficient progress to hit their inadequate targets.   So who is going to persuade others to do more?  Meanwhile, the earth continues to glow alarmingly.

Driving the climate talks, and the argument on pressure by persuasion, is the refrain: we have only a limited time, maybe 10 years, maybe less, to take the actions necessary to save the planet from catastrophic disasters.  In an article on the Bonn talks, some are claiming that we have a “window of the next two years” to stop runaway climate change.  The author ends the article with a plea, or threat: “A few years is too late.”

Those from communities vulnerable to climate change rightly demand action now — their lives are at risk now — as do the youth who will have to pay for and suffer through the forces we have unleashed.

 

 

 

 

But there is a problem with this refrain.  It has been repeated over and over.  We have been saying it since 1995, and earlier, but the ten years or few years have passed, several times.  Yet not much has changed.  Nations continue to do less than what is required to save the planet.

So we should not be surprised if large segments of the public tune us out, or if many sympathetic listeners hear what we’re saying but see no way to do anything meaningful.  Emblematic of this dilemma is a statement in a recent introduction to a series in the New York Times Sunday magazine on a world dominated by self-driving cars.  The editor mentions recent technological improvements to cars, including hybrid and electric drivetrains that “have allowed some consumers to pay for the pleasure of offsetting, ever so slightly, the upward trajectory of carbon emissions that will one day render Earth uninhabitable.”  “Render earth uninhabitable.”  It is said ever so casually, as if predicting it will rain tomorrow.

My first reaction was that we are winning the battle to convince people that climate change is real and as dangerous as hell, even if the comment was from a progressive source.  My second reaction was that winning the battle is of little use if it results in such nonchalance acceptance of the end of the world.

 

Sources

Bill Wasik, “What the car did and what it might do,” The New York Times Sunday magazine (7 Nov 2017). nyti.ms/2hnXdQm

“Climate target too low and progress too slow: top scientist,” enca (1Nov 2017). bit.ly/2AxABnV

Jonathan Franzen, “Is it too late to save the world? Jonathan Franzen on one year of Trump’s America,” The Guardian (4 Nov 2017).  http://bit.ly/2A6hfGw

Natalie Bennett, “ A message for the planet: beware the urgency gap,” The Ecologist (10 Nov 2017).  bit.ly/2hxeRRA

Brad Plumer, “At Bonn Climate Talks, Stakes Get Higher in Gamble on Planet’s Future,” The New York Times (18 Nov 2017). nyti.ms/2AShqpb

John Sweeney, “Some Reflections on Attending the Bonn Global Climate Change Talks,” in the Commentary section of the current (December 2017) issue of www.irishenvironment.com

 

 

 

 

Trump’s Pending Repeal of Obama’s Clean Power Plan

 

Not so easy because of the EPA Endangerment finding on carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act

Trump has declared that he is repealing the Clean Power Plan, an administrative policy issued by President Obama.  That Plan was designed to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) by lowering the carbon dioxide (CO2) from power generators, especially coal plants. States had the flexibility to devise plans best suited to their needs.  Options included: increasing the generation efficiency of existing fossil fuel plants; substituting lower CO2 emitting natural gas generation for coal powered generation; or substituting generation from new zero carbon dioxide emitting renewable sources for fossil fuel powered generation.  States could use regionally available low carbon generation sources when substituting for in-state coal generation and coordinate with other states to develop multi-state plans.  That is, they could get credits, or an off-set, by adopting renewable energy sources at sites other than the polluting plant.

The clear intent was to move power generation away from polluting coal plants to natural gas and renewable energy, as well as to enhance energy conservation.

The problem for the Trump administration is that it cannot simply repeal the Plan, although it was based on an executive action, without replacing it with some regulation addressing the environmental and health effects from CO2 emissions.  The New York State Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, and others have indicated they will sue the Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over this action.  That lawsuit will certainly be based, in part, on the so-called Endangerment Finding issued by EPA under President Obama (December 2009), and that Finding grows out of litigation against the EPA under President George W. Bush.

The Clean Air Act requires that EPA set emission standards for any air “pollutant” that endangers public health or welfare. When the Bush administration refused to regulate CO2 emissions, arguing that CO2 is not a pollutant, a number of states, including the New York State Attorney General, cities and environmental organisations filed a lawsuit claiming that EPA was in breach of the Clean Air Act. (The author was an Assistant Attorney General, in the Environmental Protection Bureau, of the NY State AG Office at that time although not directly involved in this litigation.)

 

 

 

EDF

 

 

After rulings by several lower federal courts, the case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.  In Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), the Supreme Court held that greenhouse gases (GHGs), including CO2, are “pollutants” under the Clean Air Act.   The Court also rejected a “laundry list” of other reasons for inaction advanced by the Bush Administration as not consistent with the relevant provisions of Clean Air Act, which require regulation when EPA finds that emissions of a pollutant endanger public health or welfare.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Barack Obama was elected as President, and a new, more environmentally-friendly EPA was constituted after Obama took office in January 2009.   On December 15, 2009, the EPA determined, based upon a careful review of the scientific record, that greenhouse gas emissions endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations – an action that the D.C. Circuit Court upheld.

The Endangerment Finding (“Finding”) held that:  greenhouse gas pollution generated by human activity is causing climate change; that greenhouse gas pollution will endanger public health; and, that greenhouse gas pollution will endanger public welfare.  Those basic tenets of the Finding, that was upheld by the D.C. Circuit court, directly contradict the fundamental basis on which Trump and other Republican party members deny the reality of climate change.

Implications 

The Trump administration could try to overturn the Finding, on the grounds presumably that it is not supported by facts or science.  But that is likely an impossible task as the overwhelming consensus by the scientific community, including over 95% of peer-reviewed literature, supports the Finding.   While the supporters of fossil fuel interests in Congress continue to turn a blind eye to the consensus on climate change, federal courts will not easily ignore such a record.

Absent overturning the Finding, Trump will have to replace the Clean Power Plan with a different way of regulating GHG emissions from power plants, including coal plants.  While his administration will of course look for a softer, less burdensome regulation, any such effort will be subject to public consultation and judicial review.  Any repeal and replacement may also be subject to Congressional approval, as was the efforts to repeal (and maybe replace) Obamacare, and we know where that went.

 

 

 

 

WhoWhatWhy

 

All of this will take time and may not be completed by 2018, when the Democrats have a shot at wining back the House, or by 2020, when Trump may be returning to real estate practice or a new reality TV show, “I’m Still the Greatest President.”  A Democratic President in 2020, if not a Democratic House in 2018, would most likely halt any repeal and replace, and re-instate the Clean Power Plan or something even more onerous for power generators.

Despite Trump’s fake tough talk, there is a lot of uncertainty about federal regulations of GHGs, even while states and cities move increasingly more toward a low-carbon economy.

Such uncertainty disturbs most businesses.

More and more of the larger businesses and public authorities accept the basic tenets of climate change, as adopted in the Finding, as well as the need for and economic benefits of renewable energy sources.  They also recognise that renewable energy is the wave of the future for energy and the economy, and that the future is here already.

For example, the State of Arkansas was one of the parties that challenged in court the Clean Power Plan.  Yet the State Public Service Commission, responsible for regulating power plants, is shifting from coal to natural gas, and exploring clean energy options.  The Chairman of the Commission acknowledged that even if the Clean Power Plan is repealed or replaced “with something that doesn’t require us to do very much, you still have to reckon with the fact that ultimately regulations on carbon are coming.”  (Emphasis added)  He added: “You can either be prepared or unprepared … and that’s a pretty simple choice.”  (See Sources: NY Times).

Many of those who resist climate change actions, like the Clean Power Plan, understand that the movement to a low-carbon, or even carbon-free, energy sector and economy is inevitable.  Renewable energy sources and technological developments are ensuring that.

But some of these also know that every year they delay that inevitability, they save enormous sums of money that they have invested, and continue to invest, in fossil fuels.  One suspects that even the Koch Brothers understand this reality.

So like the tobacco industry campaign to fight regulation of cigarette smoking, delay is the name of the game for fossil fuel interests, and their political supporters, even they know the game is essentially over.

Sources

Lisa Freidman and Bras Plumer, “E.P.A. Announces Repeal of Major Obama-Era Carbon Emissions Rule” The New York Times (9 October 2017). nyti.ms/2g5m8va

David Roberts, “The GOP wants to repeal Obama’s climate plan. Like health care, it’s going to be a fiasco,” Vox (10 October 2017).  bit.ly/2ydqRl6

Environmental Defense Fund, Overview of EPA Endangerment Finding. bit.ly/2zi5Ket

 

 

 

Irish Ambassadors and Champions of Climate Change

Coming soon to a community near you

Recently there has been an announcement about a new program for Ambassadors of climate change to work with secondary schools, college campuses and communities across the Republic of Ireland, co-ordinated by the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce, with support from the Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment. The Environmental Education Unit also operates the widely successful Green Schools, Blue Flag, Green Campus, Clean Coasts and National Spring Clean programs.

Around the same time there has been an announcement of the development of a Cool Planet Climate Champion program sponsored by Cool Plant Experience and the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).   The program will select and train 26 Champions, presumably one champion appointed for each of the 26 counties in the Republic of Ireland.

 

 

 

 

 

Ambassadors

 

 

 

The impetus for both seems to come from the recognition that the general public in Ireland, as elsewhere, needs more exposure to the fundamentals of the problems of climate change, and how they can be understood and addressed. There also seems to be a shared assumption that using climate change experts to reach the public, through national forums (conferences and media appearances), has not been sufficient to build a consensus for the need for progressive climate policies and actions.  More direct engagement with the public, in their own communities or schools, from spokespersons closely tied to those communities is what is needed to address climate change. This focus on citizen engagement is also reflected in the on-going Ireland’s Citizens Assembly, a randomly selected group of 99 people representative of the Irish electorate examining a number of critical “political” issues, including abortion, fixed term parliaments, referendums, population ageing, and climate change. And perhaps the development of the Public Participation Networks in local governments also reflects this focus on citizen engagement. See iePEDIA in Sources.

Cool Planet Champions will be selected from those who apply and are over 18 and have a passion for making a difference to people in their local community. The deadline for applying is October 9, 2017.  The An Taisce Climate Ambassadors program is open to secondary level students, college students and members of the wider community who are 18 or older.  The deadline for applying is October 20, 2017.

The Cool Planet program selection process requires that applicants submit a video of no more than 2 minutes about themselves and why they would make a great Cool Planet Champion. Presumably such a requirement will appeal to younger, more technically capable citizens who own or have access to a video camera (including smart phones) and know how to shoot, edit and deliver the video electronically.  An Taisce requires its applicants to submit electronically written answers to questions.

The training for both programs is similar: material covering all dimensions of climate change, including causes, effects and solutions, as well as skills in communication. The Cool Planet Champions will receive a weekend of training, with complimentary room and board, at the Powerscourt Estate in county Wicklow, the home of Cool Planet experience.   The communications trainng will be provided, in part, by Dr. Cara Augustenborg and Raoul Empey, participants in Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and Climate Talk Ireland.

 

 

 

Champions – St Francis Assisi by Giotto

 

 

 

An Taisce Ambassadors will be obliged to implement 4 actions, over a year period, within schools or campuses or communities. An Taisce offers examples of a wide variety of actions on climate change that Ambassadors can apply or adapt to their local communities, or use to develop other actions, with support and advice from An Taisce’s Climate Action Officers. The Cool Planet Champions will be responsible for delivering 10 climate talks in their county, to schools, businesses or the general public.

 

Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

Assuming the selection process leads to a broad spectrum of Ambassadors/Champions, the possibilities seem unlimited. What will be interesting is to see how Champions/Ambassadors from different regions and different backgrounds respond to the perceived needs of their communities. What flies in Cork may die in Donegal.

Another interesting issue is how the training program prepares the Ambassadors/Champions to handle the contributions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to climate change from the transportation and agricultural sectors, two leading contributors. While addressing these sectors can be politically sensitive, at times explosive, they are also central to confronting Ireland’s obligations to reduce GHGs. If anything needs to be talked about, it is these two sectors.

Yet it is expecting a lot of these Champions/Ambassadors to be trained in all aspects of climate change, in a day or weekend, and then to be turned loose on their communities, albeit with some guidance and advice from program staff, to communicate and advocate the need for reduced emissions from all those in their audience who drive and/or farm.

Finally, those of us who have talking about climate change for some time understand that whatever we have all been doing so far, it has not worked well enough. Any attempt to open lines of communication between those committed to dealing with climate change and those in the wider community, is to be applauded.

Keep an eye on these two imaginative initiatives.

 

Sources:

An Taisce, Climate Ambassador climateambassador.ie/about/

Cool Planet Climate Champions www.coolplanetexperience.org/championapplication/

“Public Participation Networks” in iePEDIA section of irish environment online magazine  www.irishenvironment.com/iepedia/public-participation-networks-ppn/

 

 

 

Trump’s climate policies are putting us all at increased, significant risk

At least at the same time he is shooting himself in the foot

Trump (a/k/a T-Rex) has set in motion the destruction of his prized real estate jewel, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida.  The good news for T-Rex is that he will be dead when the destruction occurs, unless Steve Bannon actually possesses evil powers and somehow keeps T-Rex alive, forever.  The bad news is that his kids and grandkids will pay the price.

T-Rex has axed a whole range of Obama environmental-protection regulation and efforts, and he has declared that the US is withdrawing from the Paris Accord.

One axe has fallen on an executive order that Obama issued that required federal agencies to account for sea-level rise and extreme weather events when making grants and plans for building any infrastructure.   The rationale is simple enough.  Why build infrastructure, like bridges and coastal defense systems, for the future unless you build something that will survive changing climate conditions, like sea level rise and extreme weather events.  If you don’t account for such developments, the money spent will be wasted, as will the lives of those who will depend on the protections allegedly offered by such infrastructure.

Another axe is about to fall, and will add to the injuries from the first axe.  The future conditions, that will likely occur and have to be accounted for, are assessed in the US Climate Science Special Report.  The report is currently pending before various federal agencies and the T-Rex White House (or more appropriately, the Dark House).  This Report, and its possible future application, is discussed in some detail in the Reports section of the current issue of irish environment.  The report assesses the current and future impacts from the human-induced climate change that is rapidly unfolding.  In a worse case scenario, it is expected that global mean sea level (GMSL) could rise as high as 8 feet (2.4 m) by 2100.

In another recent study, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has projected a worse case of a 10-12-foot rise in sea level by 2100.  The probability of such extreme rises may be difficult to estimate, but it is disturbing that it can happen, as a result of the unfolding impacts from climate change.  Florida will be most vulnerable to such sea level rises.

 

 

 

 

 

Florida with 10-foot rise

 

 

 

If there is no planning that accounts for the sea level rise, and if the T- Rex administration ignores or undermines the pending Climate Science Special Report, then here is what Mar-a-Lago would look like in 2100, assuming a 10-foot rise.

A fitting watery grave for T-Rex’s real estate jewel.   Unfortunately, all his neighbors will suffer as well.

But does he care?

Sources:

Sarah Frostenson and Eliza Barclay, “Trump axed a rule that would help protect coastal properties like Mar-a-Lago from flooding,” Vox (19 August 2017).  http://bit.ly/2pQ6Z4h

Juliet Eilerin, “The Trump administration just disbanded a federal advisory committee on climate change,” The Washington Post (20 August 2017). wapo.st/2wIsDdG