Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Global warming is why you are freezing.

For anyone who has to deal with the climate deniers who, like Sen. Inhofe, would point to the recent cold weather storms as evidence that global warming is a hoax, there is a very good, easily understandable story in the NY Times this week. Juath Cohen manages to make it so clear that even Sen. Inhofe should be able to understand it.
All of this cold was met with perfect comic timing by the release of a World Meteorological Organization report showing that 2010 will probably be among the three warmest years on record, and 2001 through 2010 the warmest decade on record.
Read the full text here:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Transition for my town

This is scheduled for the 12/31 issue of the Morgan Hill Times.

The history of the Santa Clara Valley is one of constant transition. Long gone are the days when the Union Pacific RR advertised it as the Valley of the Heart's Delight. Some of the agricultural economy has remained but the structure has radically changed. No longer do we have packing sheds next to the railway. Morgan Hill is not even just a bedroom community for Silicon Valley, as it was when I moved here over 30 years ago. Rather we are transitioning to something new and don't really know just what that will be.

One of the most important drivers for the past transitions has been the value of our land. How do we use it? How do we tax it? Is it more valuable for agriculture or for industrial development. You have only to examine the office parks along Cochrane Rd. to appreciate how we have answered those questions.

It seems obvious that we may not always answer those questions in the same manner, or that we will start asking new question. As our economic life changes, there will be new drivers for local decisions.

In a recent NY Times column, Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman discusses the new economic normal. “Oil is back above $90 a barrel. Copper and cotton have hit record highs. Wheat and corn prices are way up. Over all, world commodity prices have risen by a quarter in the past six months.” With changes like this, perhaps it will become more valuable to maintain agricultural land in close proximity to where we live.

Krugman gets right to the point. “What the commodity markets are telling us is that we’re living in a finite world, in which the rapid growth of emerging economies is placing pressure on limited supplies of raw materials, pushing up their prices. And America is, for the most part, just a bystander in this story.”

That is a big change from that past vision of America. How do we adapt to the reality of a finite world, one in which resources are limited, access to them is increasingly expensive when transportation costs are added, and America no longer has an inexhaustible supply. Politicians talk about meeting out energy needs through the exploitation of oil shale, but they never mention the costs, direct and indirect, that oil shale operations have. There is probably no single process that would destroy more watershed than a massive exploitation of the shale deposits in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. This is water that would go to the Colorado River and make that water supply unusable.

There are other drivers that we have to consider; a changing climate is just one. The frequency of extreme weather events that we are currently experiencing around the world is on of the predicted results of increased greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere. New York has been hard hit by a blizzard while Greenland continues to warm. In the Southern Hemisphere, South Australia has experienced their worst drought while Queensland had record rainfall and flood this week. It may rival the flood from Pakistan but affect fewer people. Remember: a warmer atmosphere will hold more water and that will fall somewhere.

We can no longer count on our state and federal governments to prevent future catastrophic events, or even to adapt to them after it happens. There is neither the fiscal capacity in either Washington or Sacramento nor the political will act if it costs money. We can only raise taxes so much and I doubt that the incoming Republican House of Representatives, filled as it is with new Tea Party members, is gong to do much of anything productive about energy or climate change.

Morgan Hill has to recognize that the future of this community depends on what we do, collectively, here and now. There is a good model for this cooperative community action in the Morgan Hill Community Emergency Response Team. ( This is how we take local action to deal with a sudden emergency because we know that immediate help will not be coming form State or Federal agencies. This is not because those agencies don't want to help, it is because the can't.

How will we deal with events that are not sudden, but rather assert themselves over time. There is a model for this as well. Morgan Hill is uniquely positioned to be a Transition Town, developing a local resilience that will see us through, transitioning to a newer reality. You can find more information about Transition Towns by following Hopedance, an online journal published by Bob Banner of Santa Barbara. (

The key objective of a Transition Town is to provide that local resilience. They begin by asking different questions: What is the true cost of consumerism? How willing are we to push down other people in order to maintain our idea of American Exceptionalism? How do we best adapt to this new world we have created? These are moral questions as well as economic ones.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Environment and Economics: a hot topic.

It may be that economists and ecologists speak very different languages. The gap of understanding seems as big as that between Vulcan and Klingon. Nowhere does this seem more apparent than in the exchanges between Dr. Joseph Romm (Physicist, owner of the Climate Progress blog) and Dr. Matthew E. Kahn (Economics, Professor at UCLA and owner of the Environmental and Urban Economics blog.

At issue is the question of whether the capitalist system of markets will enable us all to adapt to the realities of climate change. Kahn's main thesis seems to be that, "cities and regions will adapt to rising temperatures over time, slowly transforming our everyday lives as we change our behaviors and our surroundings". Maybe Miami will be under water, but spring in Fargo might be nice. He has described this at some length in a recent book: Climatopolis.

This is beginning to look like a pissing contest between two academics intent on preserving their reputations. It would be a mistake to leave you with that impression. This is very serious and we had better get it right the first time. There might not be a second chance.

T split the rest of this comparison as well as some comments on what it means for Green Politics off the main page and you can read it here:

Romm has reviewed Kahn's book twice. After the first scathingly negative review
(Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future [Not!}), Kahn accused Romm of the sin of reviewing a book that he had not yet fully read. So, Romm read it cover to cover, and then wrote another review that was sharper than the first.(Review: Climatopolis: How our cities will thrive in the hotter future by Matthew Kahn is not a good book)

Kahn could hardly be expected to refrain from a reply.
Joe Romm is a smart angry man. He throws some new punches at my Climatopolis. Under the scenario that greenhouse gas concentrations reach 1000 ppm (which sounds high and if we reach that number this would take place in the year 2200?), some of the scenarios he sketches may play out. He makes some reasonable points about tightening some of the raw calculations but he ignores two key facts about my book. In the next edition of the book, I will address his points but in no way do his points detract from the book's core thesis. Capitalism will help us to adapt to climate change. Out of self interest, we will rebuild our future cities in places that are less at risk from climate change and we will be pro-active in embracing strategies to protect ourselves from different dimensions of climate change . (Bold emphasis is mine.)

In particular, Greens need to sort this out clearly and to put forward candidates who understand not only the science that is telling us why our climate is changing, but also the long range economic issues at play. I am not convinced that we have found or developed more than a couple of candidates who might qualify on both counts. That will have to be the subject of later posts.

I will admit that I too have not read Climatopolis. I do follow both Romm and Kahn's blogs on a regular basis, especially since Kahn did some of the best initial economic analysis of the effect of California's AB 32 (p.55 of the PDF linked.)
While I support the Governor’s broad AB32 goals, I am troubled by the economic modeling analysis that I have been asked to read. AB32 is presented as a riskless “free lunch” for Californians. These economic models predict that this regulation will offer us a “win-win” of much lower greenhouse gas emissions and increased economic growth.

Kahn describes himself as a rational expectations economist. That is where my gut tells me that he is wrong. His expectations are that people and companies will have the economic ability to adapt, making rational choices for long range gains rather than taking. The trouble with climate change is that it does not respond to quarterly report. If capitalism and it's response to market signals is going to determine how we adapt, we had better have a longer range view than that of a hedge fund supercomputer tweaking seeking advantage in a fraction of a point.

Kahn talks about how we make decisions when "we know that we do not know." It is my experience that most of us do not do that very well, especially when the goal is for some general greater good rather than being specific as to our selves, our families, our work. People tend to delay those decisions until the threat is imminent. By the, with climate change, it may be too late.

I don't have statistics to back up my conclusions, only some observation of human behavior through much of my 70 years. If we can not count on governments having the financial ability to provide for adaptation, and we also can not count on corporate long term decision making, we had better be building resilient local communities that can whether the storms to come.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Even Silence Has an End

It may seem like a rush to judgment, but I will recommend a book for all to read after completing less that half of it (220 of 528 pages).

I'm currently reading "Even Silence Has an End" by Ingrid Betancourt. You may remember that Betancourt was the Green Party candidate for President of Columbia is 2002 when she was captured and held hostage by the FARC. This book tells of her 6 and a half years of captivity in Columbia's jungles and her final rescue.

More that a mere chronicle of events, or a political statement, Betancourt has written a spiritual memoir detailing her times of self examination and her effort to not merely survive, but to survive with her soul intact.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

At least Greens take a stand

I have seen multiple appeals for telling the California Air Resources Board to put some teeth into the regulations to implement SB 32's Cap and Trade program.  They have come from:

Now, you can add the Green Party of California to that list. 

If I get any calls on this, since I am so freely quote, I hope that I am equal to the task.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Giving away your future.

When the California Legislature passed AB 32, it was heralded as ground breaking and promising to be the model for other states, or countries, to follow.  In last month's election, the citizen's of California had to vote to protect the provisions of AB 32 from attack by unified oil interests (Valero, Tesoro and the Koch Brothers empire).

Having accomplished that much we seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief and turned our attention to the next crisis du jour.  Wrong choice!  While we were media fed British Royal pablum or questioned whether Sarah Palin's visit to Haiti was intended to give her foreign policy credibility, California's Air Resources Board (ARB), the organization responsible for defining the rules under which polluters would be permitted to continue business as usual, was giving away those permits.  They make that intention clear on their web site as they publish the background information for Thursday Dec. 16 Board Meeting.  You can read the description of the free allocations here.

Next10 has posted the results of a recent study of implementation scenarios.  They find that "The research shows that giving away allowances for free helps energy-intensive industries, but this
strategy actually hurts the CA economy overall."  In fact, they find that both strategies will have a positive effect on employment in California, but that the free allocations will significantly reduce the number of net new jobs created.

I am increasingly doubtful that the public input will have much of an effect.  However, like chicken soup for the flu, it can't hurt. Contact your state legislators, and make sure that you have made it clear to the ARB that California jobs are more important than the financial health of major polluters but giving your comments here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Climate Zombies

Think Progress has a list of the Climate Zombies in the 112th Congress. Not surprisingly, all of the CA list are Republicans.

There are some, like CA-02's Wally "Walleye" Herger who are so ineffective that the Washington Press named him as the Congressman who could disappear and no one would know. That is not the case with a few others.

Dana Rohrabacher
(CA-46) was considered for the Chairmanship of the House Committee on Science and Technology. The one selected, R. Holt from Tx. is marginally better in that he is a not a buffoon. We know that Rohrabacher got his political start with money from the Charles Koch of Koch Industries.

Darrell Issa CA-49 will likely be the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee. He has stated that he will frequently subpoena members of the Obama Administration to challenge their direction and how they are wasting spending public money.

Brian Bilbray was recently announced as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.  Here, he could easily use hearing after hearing to ask stupid questions in order to re-state long debunked ideas.

This is all the more reason that Green Climate Hawks need to take to the air… even to the airways if we can raise enough money… and make sure that our local communities are ready to transition to the new reality of 21st Century Climate.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Chronicles of the Hydraulic Brotherhood

If you are a Green, live in California and care about the quality of water that you drink, you should get to know Lloyd G. Carter. Actually, if any of the above conditions, you should probably learn more about Lloyd and his Chronicles of the Hydraulic Brotherhood.

More than anything, I really want you to follow the leads that he has put in this post. Lloyd has pointed out the work of the Environmental Water Caucus to bring some sanity and common sense to the issues of the Sacrament / San Joaquin Delta, California Water, etc. Right now, all we have is corporate agriculture playing political games and sorting out their favorite legislator while the rest of us are forgotten.

I am of the opinion that CA legislators, especially the LA based Democrats, are too beholden to the contributions of Stewart and Linda Resnick to be very anxious to do what needs to be done.

I would not feel too badly for some of the farmers who might just have an out by taking their selenium befouled land and transforming that acreage into a solar farm.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

California's climate is changing. Will we?

Since my pessimistic post on dot earth's interview with Bill McKibben, I have been challenged by Gerry Gross to explain why he should listen to yet another session of gloom and doom Jeremiad. It made me do some additional thinking about what we should be doing. So this may ramble, but it hopefully provides energy of some kind for the work that needs to be done.

"more than anything, it's just a question of power." Another quote from McKibben that starts to explain why he started If it is a question of power… the fossil fuel companies have it and we don't… then McKibben wants to build an organization large enough to have power.

I see two problems here. The first is that McKibben has chosen not to come forward with a firm statement of policy. What changes do we need to make? When do we make them? How might government provide incentives to change in the right way? In one way McKibben is right. There are many solutions and every country, state, province, group has to find the one that works locally. One of the reasons that Copenhagen failed, and that Cancun promises to just a disappointing, is that there is no solution that works for everyone. That is addressed in the video segment I linked.

The other problem is essentially one for Greens to deal with, but also seems to apply to other progressives and independents. People don't really trust those in power. This distrust is one of the reasons for a lack of cohesion within various Green organizations. The devolution of power to the people rarely results in a unified sense of direction.

Let me ramble back to Gerry's original question. Should we be supporting the Million Letter March… an effort to send a million letters to Congress underscoring the need to act on climate change now. I guess that it is like eating chicken soup to fight a cold… it can't hurt but I would not expect it to cure H1N1. As it is, even with the names of Bill McKibben, Dr. James Hansen and Lester "Plan B" Brown attached to the effort, they have so far generated less than 400 letters from US Sources.

We have to acknowledge that our Federal government is not going to act at least for the next 2 years, since any action will be blocked in a Republican controlled House of Representatives. An examination of the people that are being selected to head committees in a Republican House makes it abundantly clear. A good example is the selection of Oil-Industry cheerleader Ralph Hall to head the House Committee on Science and Technology. Whatever action takes place will have be local, or at least at the state level.

For example, we should learn more about the Panoche Valley Solar Farm Project in San Benito County. This is a photovoltaic installation designed to eventually supply 420 megawatts of power when completely built out. There are pros and cons for the project, and some environmental groups would like to stop it over the question of habitat loss. You can read the draft Environmental Impact Report here. The scope of this project is such that we can not allow a mistake through ignorance or indifference.

Let me underscore the fact that most Greens acknowledge the importance of climate change. The draft of the 2010 version of the GPUS Platform clearly states that "Climate change is the most grave environmental, social and economic peril that humanity has ever met." On it's own, that will have as much political effect as a Million Letter March that only generates 400 letters.

If we believe, as I do, that the formulation in the platform is correct, then we need to organize around that fact. It is time for California's Green Climate Hawks to get together and start having an impact.

Monday, December 06, 2010

There’s no happy ending

There’s no happy ending where we prevent climate change any more. … Now the question is… is it going to be a miserable century or an impossible one and what comes after that. - Bill McKibben in an interview with Revkin(dot earth) in Cancun,
This is where I begin to sound like a broken record. But more and more I am convinced that McKibben is right. You can listen to the full segment below. This is his conclusion some 8 min. in.

I am also convinced that there will be no action from the U.S. Congress for the next two years. That means we have to focus what strength we have on local actions and supporting CA organizations that are doing things. If the Federal Government takes any action, it will be through Carol Browner's pushing the EPA to regulate GHG's. Congressional Republicans will try to defund the EPA. That can not be allowed to happen.

Then, we need to begin now targeting those legislators, State or Federal, who have the worst records and to keep up a relentless attack. It should start with Orange County's idiotic Dana Rohrabacher.
Memo to self: Start a target list.

Too much of what we work for is rather like re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It might make life pleasant if we survive. If Greens can not lead on this, we should rename our party.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Gassed by ethanol

If Greens want to start making changes, especially as regards green house gas emissions, one way is to pop the corn lobby out of Washington. There are two distinct, but related issues we need to fight: subsidies for commodity crops including corn and renewable fuels standards that mandate the use of ethanol.

Most ethanol is manufactured from corn. That process is neither economic nor ecologically sound. It takes too much water and energy to produce the ethanol for the benefit received.

Most of you probably did not realize that ethanol was such an issue in California, but industry is at work lining their pockets with yet another bad idea. Haven't you heard of the California Ethanol Vehicle Coalition? Now, they even have announced a partnership between NASCAR and American Ethanol, all for the promotion of ethanol as a "healthy fuel."

Note, the featured photo is of the President of the National Corn Growers Association. This is very good. We subsidize corn production and then mandate the use of 45 cents/gal. subsidized corn based ethanol in our fuels. It would be a humorous sidelight of Washington Politics if it were not that Energy Secretary Chu has a very different opinion.
“Ethanol is not an ideal transportation fuel,” Chu said during a question-and-answer session at the National Press Club. Chu said synthetic fuels don’t require the specialized infrastructure, such as pumps and pipelines, that are needed for ethanol.
Green need to support policies that end both commodity crop subsidies and the support of dead-ended technologies.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

LATimes: 'Brown May Find It's Not Easy Being Green'

PRINCE EDMUND GERALD BROWN, JR has been elected the next Democratic governor of the great state of California. The long, expensive, insipid, 2010 election is over and so what's the first order of business? Screw the "tree-huggers" on green jobs for green energy. In a front page story the Los Angeles Times reports the Sacramento crowd is already nervous about green energy.
Published in the Los Angeles Times, December 2, 2010
Brown May Find It's Not Easy Being Green
By Anthony York

Jerry Brown ran for governor promising to revive the economy through an aggressive expansion of California's green-energy industry — but that agenda could prove costly to consumers.

Brown wants the state to make major new investments in solar and wind power: building large-scale power plants that run on renewable resources and placing solar panels on parking-lot roofs, school buildings and along the banks of state highways. Although advocates of renewable energy tout the long-term savings of going green, billions of dollars would be required to reach the governor-elect's green-energy goals.

Nobody knows if the program would produce the "more than half a million green jobs" Brown promised during the campaign, but many experts agree that it could lead to sharply higher utility rates.

How much higher is unclear, because the eventual cost of Brown's plan would depend in part on the mix of wind, solar and other renewable energy used. Other factors may lower that estimate, said Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford. It depends on "what kind of cost savings can be realized through reducing the regulatory hurdles, it depends on how quickly we can ramp up job creation…. All of this is somewhat speculative at the moment."

But state regulators have already crunched some numbers associated with the linchpin of Brown's plan: to generate one-third of the state's power from renewable sources by 2020. That could require rate hikes of as much as 14.5%, in addition to billions of dollars in private investment, according to an analysis by the state's Public Utilities Commission.

Staff at the commission, which regulates Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric and a handful of smaller utilities and sets rates for most Californians, estimates the cost of the plan at roughly $60 billion over the next decade. That is more than state taxpayers will spend on the University of California and California State University systems combined over the same period.

Clifford said the PUC analysis is not complete.

"One of the things that estimate does not take into account is the thinning of the regulatory thicket when it comes to renewable energy," he said. "We want to simplify the process by which renewable projects can be approved."
. . .
Clifford said the jobs plan is a priority for the incoming administration but promised that Brown would be "methodical" in setting its course.

"We want to do it, but that means doing it right — studying potential effects of legislation and regulation, figuring out which rules can be streamlined and which can't, ensuring an effective oversight process that allows for reasonable progress on construction projects," said Clifford.

Notice how defensive, even apologetic Brown's spokesman is about the Green energy agenda. There is no self doubt on the part of business interests adamantly opposed to the plan:
Meanwhile, a coalition of business groups that has fought Schwarzenegger's renewable energy proposal also opposes Brown's. "There is a lot of pure cost anxiety on our side," said Dorothy Rothrock, vice president of the California Manufacturers & Technology Assn.

Schwarzenegger vetoed a 2009 bill that would have required utilities to buy a third of their electricity from renewable sources in the next decade, saying the measure relied too heavily on creating expensive new power sources within California. In his veto message, he cited the "negative impact it would have had on California's energy markets and ratepayers."

So far, big labor is supporting Brown, but only so long as Brown delivers on high-paying power plant contruction jobs:
Schwarzenegger's plan opted for more power produced outside California, which he says is cheaper. That angered labor unions eager for power-plant construction jobs as well as environmentalists who say there's no way to prove that electricity generated outside California comes from renewable energy plants.
. . .
During the gubernatorial campaign, Brown called for developing 20,000 megawatts of new, renewable energy in California. Each megawatt of power would be enough to serve up to 1,000 Southern California homes. Brown said this new green power would be at the heart of his plan to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the state.
. . .
"We totally support Jerry Brown's initiative … but you simply can't get there without" in-state renewable energy, said Scott Wetch, a lobbyist for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which supported Brown's campaign for governor.

This is a beautiful example of why California needs a green political force independent of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Our friends in the labor movement, God bless 'em, have come a long way since the "bad old days" when labor was routinely trotted out by big business to say environmentalism was bad for jobs. Unfortunately, the Democrats and their labor supporters, no less than the Republicans and their business supporters, are still organized around the old paradigmwhere "progress" is the work of big industry and big labor for the sake of short term profit. They cannot yet get their brains around the idea of building a green future with decentralized sustainable, local industry with green jobs for all, including chronically underemployed folks in inner-city neighborhoods like mine in Los Angeles.

One result of the 2010 election is that California stands out like a "green thumb" against the retro Republican wave. Greens must seize this unprecedented opportunity to go way beyond the Brown Democratic agenda and go all the way to making California a model for a new paradigmfor America and the world.

A climate of Green Change

One year ago almost all of mainstream media was focused on the Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen. Even Obama attended. The primary action was to kick the can down the road, promising solutions to be developed later.

This week, we have caught up to the can and climate change negotiators are meeting again in Cancun. The choice of location is much better in the winter than was Copenhagen. But there was a special irony in that an unusual number of tropical storms and hurricanes have just about washed away the beaches in Cancun and the loss of land mass threatens the existence of some of the hotels that are housing the conference's guests.

Much has happened in the mean time. Little of it was reported in the mainstream media and almost none of it has to do with the Green Party. Have we gotten so tired of this story that the have collectively decided that the world is not worth saving? Is it a only a ploy to allow for creative destruction of the existing culture? I hope that neither of these is truly what is happening.

The facts of climate change are becoming more certain with every new report that comes out, no matter that we are having a La NiƱa year cooling CA for 2010. Mother Nature bats last.

I would argue that climate change and its associated economic effects will create opportunities for the GPCA if we organize to take advantage of them. The economic effects of climate change will first be noticed in the agricultural sector and California has the largest economy in the USA.

Such changes have already been noted by agriculture in other states. The best example is from this NY Times OpEd by a farmer from Minnesota.
THE news from this Midwestern farm is not good. The past four years of heavy rains and flash flooding here in southern Minnesota have left me worried about the future of agriculture in America’s grain belt. For some time computer models of climate change have been predicting just these kinds of weather patterns, but seeing them unfold on our farm has been harrowing nonetheless.
Callifornia will see the flip side of what is happening in the upper Midwest, drought rather than heavy, flooding rains. It may be that the major basis of the current water war is that everyone wants to grab all of the water they can now because they know in their gut that that the current largess can not last.

If there was ever an issue for which the Green Party truly has the natural answer, it is climate change as it forces us to re-think, agriculture, plowing new political ground as it were. We have had relatively good success with voter registration drives in the Central Valley. We need to put more organizational focus on building the party there while the duopoly panders to the money from Big Ag donors.