Thursday, October 08, 2009

350 or what?

A Santa Clara County Green recently asked me what the Green Party was going to do on the International Day of Climate Action sponsored by Sadly, as far as I have found, the answer is "nothing." We seem to be able to generate more passion for the prosecution of a Dick Cheney than we can for preventing 100 million deaths from the effects of global warming. That, my Green Friends, is an abdication of our history as Greens and our responsibility to the earth.  At best, we had a timely press release about the shortcomings of the Kerry - Boxer bill currently in the Senate.

In the middle of all of this, I continue to get fund raising letters from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the Natural Resources Defense Council to stop global warming in order to save the polar bear. If that is what it takes to be successful, then we would have solved it a long time ago. It illustrates just how out of touch with realities some well intentioned environmental organizations really are. Such framing of this issue allows climate change deniers and ecology destroyers to position the discussion as people vs. polar bears. The specie headed for extinction may well be our own. The problem is that our world is warming now and concerted, effective efforts are required… now.

Consider the problems of the Biloxi-Chitimacha tribe in Louisiana.
For at least 170 years, Isle de Jean Charles—a narrow ridge of land lying between Bayou Terrebonne and Bayou Pointe-aux-Chene in southeastern Louisiana’s Terrebonne Parish—has been home to members of the Biloxi-Chitimacha tribe, native people related to the Choctaw and part of a larger confederation of Muskogees.

But the tribe’s history is about to take a dramatic turn due to climate change.

Albert Naquin, chief of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha, recently announced that the group plans to leave its ancestral island homeland and build a new community behind levees on higher ground. He told the Associated Press the decision came because the community was flooded five times in the past six years. About 25 families now live on the island, a number that’s fallen in recent years due to the constant flooding associated with global warming.
I will discuss the issues around the magic of 350 and what we have to do in order to stabilize atmospheric CO2 at that number… or even 450. But you will have to click on Read more! to get to it.

Throughout the discussion of climate change, the avoidance of catastrophic warming hinges around our ability to stop the increase in atmospheric CO2 at 350 parts per million. The implications of that number and our possible ability to achieve it, were discussed today by Joseph Romm at Climate Progress.
The bottom-line on the technical side: Decarbonizing by 2050 is possible with, roughly, the suite of technologies now available or on the near-term horizon. Very aggressive policy, however, will still be required very soon to drive down the costs of renewables, to redesign cities, reimagine transport and agricultural systems, and insure that all efficiencies are captured. Doing all this gets the world to 350 by 2200. Taking the additional steps to achieve negative emissions (and 350 by 2100) would require the development of large-scale, cost-effective sequestration technologies that go well beyond reforestation.
Two impending events bring climate change to the front page. One is the upcoming (Dec. 9, 2009) United Nations meeting on Copenhagen that is supposed to see the approval of a new treaty to supersede the Kyoto Accord, which the United States Senate failed to ratify. The other is the fact that the U.S. Senate finally has draft legislation to discuss. Known variously as Kerry-Boxer after it's two main sponsors or as the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (a name that surely disguises what should be it's primary objective), this bill fails to even mention a goal of achieving the magic number of 350.

At least the Green Party U. S. has taken the authors to task. Unfortunately, the voices raised against any bill are well organized and loud. An astroturf organization that calls itself Energy Citizens is already attacking all climate change legislation over the erroneous assumption that it will "raise prices and kill jobs".

The facts are very much against Energy Citizens. The post at Climate Progress references a larger study from the E3 Network that conclude just the opposite. The Economics of 350 is too long (50 pg) for a quick read, but worth the time to go through it. They summarize it this way.
This report demonstrates that the 'go slow' recommendations are unjustified. A number of economic analyses,
informed by recent scientific findings and using reasonable assumptions, suggest that more ambitious targets and quicker action make good economic sense. The warnings about climate change are growing steadily more ominous — but it has not, as a consequence, become impossibly expensive to save the planet. We can still afford a sustainable future.
The bad news about climate change relates mostly to the costs of inaction. As greenhouse gas emissions grow, it is the cost of doing nothing that is becoming unbearable, not the cost of taking action.
So, where are we? Well, it seems that President Obama has demonstrated his ability to deal with more than one thing at a time, but Congress has not and at this time, the one thing seems to be health care. As important as that is, the single thing that Congress could do to reduce future health care costs is to fix Global Warming. A study from the Univ. of Oregon puts the number conservatively at $1.3 Billion. This underscores what Romm was saying.

What is a good Green to do? Start by contacting your elected officials at every level: local, state, federal. Here are some talking points that we need to use:

  • Climate Change is a moral issue that goes far beyond saving polar bears.  Future generations will evaluate us as to whether we were able to rise above selfish concerns and work toward a sustainable future. 
  • Climate Change is an economic issue and the cost of doing nothing exceeds the cost of  managing toward a goal.  That should be apparent if you read this post and followed the links to the hard data. 
  • No climate change plan at any level is acceptable if it does not show how it can achieve 360 ppm of CO2 and the date by which that will happen. 
  • No climate change plan at any level is acceptable if it does not deal with the energy load that arises from building operations.  This goes far beyond Green Jobs or turning your roof white. It means that we have to be involved with every planning commission and zoning change request in every community to ensure that it meets with the most stringent standards as defined by Architecture 2030 and the American Institute of Architects.  No organization is doing more of the right things than Architecture 2030 and for all of the 1000 Mayors that have signed  U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement , no community has fully achieved what they pledged. I know my own City Manager down played the fact that our Mayor was an early signatory to the agreement and did not feel bound to it since there was no City Council discussion / vote prior to his signature.  Hold their feet to the fire.

No comments: