Green energy rules rhetoric, but will it stick?

Everybody's going green or says so.

Green light bulbs, CFL or LED, take up shelf space in the corner store, companies talk sustainability, even grandma buys the green brand of tissue paper.

This is all well and good, but it's substance that changes behavior on a grand scale. And perhaps that's happening. Here's an example of the little clues I keep seeing.

At the start of a briefing this week with U.S. Embassy officials in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought up green energy. It was expected somewhat as she was there to recognize an international institution set up to promote development of renewable energy.

But that the Secretary of State of the world's greatest power is focusing attention on alternative energy at all during this time of unrest and economic instability says a lot to the level of attention green has attained.

"I’m delighted that we’re here in this beautiful embassy compound for us to celebrate the greening of our Embassy and to recognize what a leader the UAE is in renewable energy," Clinton said Tuesday.

Can anybody imagine Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State under President Carter, doing that while on a trip to the Middle East back in the 1970s? He may as well have said he supports cold fusion. (Maybe he did, but I think not.)

Yet, Clinton's embrace of green activities isn't all that unusual anymore. The rhetoric appears just about everywhere, a stark contrast to just a few years ago when energy efficiency, renewables and sustainability circulated mainly in conversations by true believers. But this transformation raises questions, at least in my head.

Will renewables go beyond talk? Will solar and wind energy reach parity with that fueled by fossil fuels? Can going sustainable simply be considered simply another method of extracting power and achieving energy independence?

Check back in another year. At the rate this business is experiencing metamorphosis, we could be awash in electric cars and putting photovoltaics on every California rooftop. Then again, Massey Energy Co. may succeed in getting coal named as the U.S. No. 1 priority fuel.

I hope not. Statements like Clinton's and others encourage optimism for the former.

Just last month at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, clean energy frequently dominated discussion. In fact, at least one high-placed comment singled out the San Joaquin Valley's green credentials, according to a post by Gabe Dillard of

Dillard wrote that a Siemens executive said California is attracting green investment "and that Fresno, California is at the epicenter of this movement as a vocal proponent of clean energy and the high speed rail." Dillard pointed out that Siemens had some insight as it was the title sponsor of an Economic Development Corp. serving Fresno County's event in October focusing on high-speed rail.

The same day she made her comments at the embassy, Clinton commended the activities of the International Renewable Energy Agency, or IRENA, which was formed two years ago, has 149 member countries and has established its headquarters in Abu Dhabi.

"We must develop sustainable energy sources to address the main challenges of our planet," she said at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. "The status quo today is unsustainable."

IRENA has an ambitious charter. Its mission is to promote "the rapid development and deployment of renewable energy worldwide." Officials say that energy demand will skyrocket with continued development and a global population projected to reach 10 billion in 2050. With vast renewable energy resources largely untapped, they say, recognizing that huge potential will make a "significant contribution to the world’s growing demand for energy."

One can hope. We also would like to foster renewable energy growth here in the San Joaquin Valley, which is a veritable Petri dish for the development of clean energy with its access to biogas, biomass, solar and wind. At least that's what my co-worker Sandy Nax says, and he never lies.

Photo: Clinton with Interim Director General of IRENA Adnan Amin.

Cancun Talks End With Modest Resolutions

The final hours of the 12-day Cancun climate talks ended with what many media outlets, including The New York Times, describe as "modest" results.

"The agreement sets up a new fund to help poor countries adapt to climate changes, creates new mechanisms for transfer of clean energy technology, provides compensation for the preservation of tropical forests and strengthens the emissions reductions pledges that came out of the last United Nations climate change meeting in Copenhagen last year," The Times said.

The fate of Kyoto Protocol, which expired in 2012, was delayed until next year. But, as this Time article makes clear, there is now a formal commitment by big and emerging nations to make climate action transparent.

Not everyone approved. Bolivia's chief climate guy objected, saying the emissions reductions weren't enough, and actually pave the way for global temperatures to increase to the point where the most vulnerable nations are threatened.

Gretchen Weber of ClimateWatch was a little more upbeat, saying the pact sets the table for more discussions, and quotes Elliot Diringer, Vice President for International Strategies at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, as saying the talks were "the most tangible progress in the UN climate talks in years."

It "wasn't enough to save the climate," noted Alden Meyer of the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists in this CBC News piece. "But it did restore the credibility of the United Nations as a forum where progress can be made."

Photo: in

Cancun Climate Talks Ebb, Flow In Final Hours

There are hints in the final hours of the Cancun climate conference that modest resolutions could result, but as of 5 p.m. no sweeping changes were in store. Even the issue that seemed to have the best shot at succeeding - protecting forests - appeared to be lagging.

A draft text over REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) has been prepared, but CNN is reporting a lackluster response to it, in part because some nations fear the specter of land grabs to capitalize on a proposed carbon market.

There is hope that feverish negotiations through the night will lead to accords on a proposed Green fund to help developing nations fight global warming, extension of the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 and emissions monitoring. Deadlocks had stalled progress, but late Friday afternoon there were hints of possible compromises on Kyoto and other aspects.

It could be that the 2010 conference will be best remembered for the rising profile of big business. Corporate America is flexing its muscles and taking a leadership role in climate change.

That could be good or bad, as this New Republic story points out. As the story suggests, if world leaders can't agree on how to cut carbon emissions, maybe business will.

The next few hours will tell the story of climate talks 2010.

(photo by climatechangesocialchange)

Cancun Talks Continue Behind-The-Scenes In Final Hours

The closed-door and behind-the-scenes negotiations that mark any summit such as the Cancun climate talks are reaching the urgency stage as the final hours near. The event ends Friday, and participants are eager to reach some sort of consensus - on anything.

It is ironic that talks on global warming are occurring when Cancun is suffering through temperatures that are at 100-year lows. In other irony, officials from the United States are anxious for some movement in climate control while back home in Washington D.C. legislators are waffling over whether to pull the plug on a Treasury grant program vital to producers of solar and wind energy.

The grant, which expires this month unless it is renewed, is responsible for about 1,100 solar and 200 wind-power projects, according to the Los Angeles Times. It was not included in the newly announced tentative tax deal, but new efforts to keep it are apparently making progress in the Senate, according to The Hill.

Still, efforts to formulate an international plan on climate change forge ahead in this Mexican resort. This Vancouver Sun story notes the current "delicate" phase of the talks involving representatives of some 200 nations, including China and the U.S., the world's two biggest emitters of emissions.

While negotiators - or Negotiators, with a capital "N," as this Washington Post story calls them - stay behind closed doors through the night, demonstrators are adding some spice to the event. Some of them represent local groups from Mexico that resent the international intrusion and don't want any resolutions from the talks. Others, as this KQED Climate Watch report says, are protesting inaction.

Business To Government: "Go Big Green"

One thing the Cancun climate talks is making clear is that big business and the military may have to take the lead in the fight against global warming.

Even the lure of a Mexican resort wasn't enough to entice as many government representatives as last year's event in Copenhagen. Jonathan Wootliff, in this account in Huffington Post, notes the "diminished" number of politicos and the beefed-up business contingent. The conference ends Friday.

Insurance companies and corporate leaders are sounding a common mantra: "Climate change is bad for business," Wootliff says in his article.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón emphasized the importance of the business community in developing climate change solutions, according to this report in Reuters. Business titans Richard Branson, Ted Turner, Walmart honcho Robson Walton and financier George Soros are at the climate confab, and Google Earth, which recently announced a $5 billion investment in a 350-mile undersea cable in the Atlantic Ocean, is also represented.

The business leaders are supporting a pact to decrease deforestation, while one of the reports released at the summit is entitled "Innovating for Green Growth: Drivers of Private Sector RE&D." It was released by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development."

The green growth report says businesses understand that an "unsustainable world is not a good place for doing business," and that "business is the main source of innovation, financing and solutions for the growth required. It must continue to play a strong role in the future climate regime."

The study talks about a "green race" between countries and companies, and suggests governments leverage research, development and demonstration to drive private-sector investments.

The report does not reference the military, but its influence can't be ignored. The U.S. Department of Defense recognizes the the need to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and to conserve energy. It is bad foreign policy and leaves us vulnerable, according to this report.

Thus, the military is using its formidable resources to really go Big Green. If big business and the military recognize the importance of controlling climate change, then government ultimately has to fall in beside them.

Bigger Names Show Up at Cancun Climate Talks

Much of the most promising talk at the Cancun climate talks has focused on REDD instead of Green.

It's hard to tell from reports - this one says an accord is near but this one highlights some remaining issues - what the outcome will be, but it's clear that REDD, or "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation," is an important piece of the International climate conference in Mexico.

In fact, Chris Huhne, the UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary, is quoted in The Telegraph of London as saying REDD is a Green necessity.

“Success in cutting carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation will not just be a vital part of the fight against climate change; it will also be an important marker of success for the UN process itself,” he says in the article.

About 50,000 square miles of forest are cut down each year – the equivalent of the size of England – for timber or grazing land. It is estimated that deforestation accounts for about 20% of global greenhouse emissions.
Brazil is a leading advocate for preserving rain forests, but there are representatives of more than 190 nations in Cancun to frame an international plan for tackling global warming. The talks have been going slow, but were expected to gain urgency with the arrival this week of more high-powered officials. Those include Japan Environment Minister Ryu Matsumoto, Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela, Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, and Bolivia's Evo Morales.

Time magazine notes that this session, which is the 16th annual, attracted fewer participants and lower expectations. Some draft resolutions are on the table, but there hasn't been any resolution of the big issue - the extension of the Kyoto emissions Protocol, which expires in 2012. On the other hand, agreements at these kinds of conventions come toward the end, which is Friday.

Meanwhile, the two big dogs, China and the United States, are dancing around a plan to monitor emissions. China says it has ambitious volunteer goals to slash emissions, but, considering the amount of poverty in the nation, can't be held to legally binding standards. The United States has said it wants a commitment from China before it agrees to conditions.

photo by

Renewable Standard Put On The Table At Climate Talks

A measure to set a global renewable energy standard of 25% was introduced at the Cancun climate talks at the same time progress appears to be inching forward on other objectives: establishing a $100 billion a year fund to help poorer countries adapt to climate change and emissions monitoring.

Forbes has the energy standard story , Associated Press issued the update on the climate fund and Huffington Post has some stuff. The 12-day 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference wraps up Friday, and it is too early to determine probable outcomes. However, negotiations may pick up this week as countries send in more high-powered officials.

But the New York Times said this year's event is notably calm, possibly because expectations are low, although some Greenpeace members stuck their heads in the sand to mock climate skeptics.

"No mob of activists dressed as polar bears has blocked the entrance to the negotiating hall. No country has brought a plenary session to a standstill over a pitched procedural battle. And at least one hyperventilated rumor of a 'secret text' (an apparent reference to an accord reached in secret last year) was batted down almost as quickly as it began," The Times story states.

The United States has pledged $300 million to invest in renewable-energy projects in developing countries (but will it live up to that pledge?), and Canada has said it will dedicate $400 million to help emerging nations. India has emerged as a broker to bridge a narrowing gap between China and the U.S. when it comes to measuring emissions, while cities and some regions are taking it upon themselves to set serious emission standards.

Many people deny or question the evidence around climate change, but that hasn't slowed down the release of some rather dire reports.

Those include this one that predicts more violent wildfires; fears that small island countries will disappear under rising seas ("Even when we're underwater, when the bubbles pop, you'll hear us yelling," said one representative of an island nation who was peeved at slow progress toward consensus); and this from scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The Scripps scientists say more CO2 in the atmosphere is making oceans more acidic - and threatens sea urchins and sea animals with shells.
(photo by

Climate Talks Make Progress As Skeptics, Activists Abound

As you would expect, a confab such as the Cancun Climate Conference attracts a wide range of people. There are representatives from some 190 nations, a strong contingent of students, activist groups and climate skeptics, including a Republican senator who likes to stir things up.

Oklahoma senator James Inhofe makes it a habit to visit these types of events. Last year, he showed up at a press center in Copenhagen (calling himself a "one-man truth squad") and called global warming a hoax.

He isn't physically at Cancun, but that didn't stop him from appearing via video, where, according to this report in The New York Times, he attacked "global warming alarmists" and the efforts to curtail climate change.

"Nothing is going to happen in Cancun this year and everyone knows it," The New York Times quoted him as saying. "I couldn’t be happier and poor Al Gore couldn’t be more upset."

At the other end of the spectrum and in attendance is Bill McKibben, author of the best-seller, "EAARTH." He claims global warming has already changed the planet and that bad things are on the horizon if temperatures increase.

He is quoted in this Voice of America story as saying, "The arctic is melting quickly, Russia caught on fire this summer, Pakistan drowned (in floods), the ocean is 30 percent more acid than it used to be. We are in tough shape with less than a degree of temperature increase."

Along those lines have been a litany of studies release in Cancun that are gloomy scary: the latest came out today and proclaims 2010 one of the three top hottest years on record and this decade as the hottest 10-year period ever.

That followed one on Wednesday that predicted a doubling of grain prices by 2050 if emissions follow on the current path.

So, there is incentive to press for significant results at Cancun. The Guardian issued a first-week recap - a scorecard if you will on progress so far.

Here it is in brief form.


Objective: holding emissions to a maximum temperature rise of 2C.
Progress: Little. Outlook: bleak.

Objective: Reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, with $30 billion going to developing nations to protect and restore forests.
Progress: little. Outlook: Good.

Objective: Set up $100 billion fund by 2020 to help developing countries affected by climate change.
Progress: Good. Outlook: Outlook: Close to agreement.

Objective: To get rich countries to extend the Kyoto protocol, and state plans for emissions cuts.
Progress: Backwards; Outlook: Critical.

Objective: Countries commit to monitor, report and verify progress on emissions reduction.
Progress: China and the US say they could compromise on India proposal; Outlook: Breakthrough possible.

The Light Bulbs Come On In Cancun

Lofty discussion is not all there is at the 2010 climate meeting in Cancun. Representatives of the 190 nations in attendance also are talking light bulbs. Specifically, incandescent bulbs.

A United Nations study released at the conference concluded the world's electrical lighting demand would fall 2% - equivalent to saving 800 million tons of emissions - if every nation switched from incandescent lamps to more energy-efficient alternatives, such as compact fluorescent lamps, according to this report in The Telegraph of London.

The study was designed to show how easy it is to cut emissions if nations took a unified approach. It also points out that simple, and often relatively inexpensive measures, can lead to big results. As we at the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization tout, energy-efficiency is the low-hanging fruit of the green-energy movement.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu takes that analogy one step further: "When it comes to saving money and growing our economy, energy efficiency isn't just low hanging fruit; it's fruit laying on the ground," he has said in interviews.

The talks, which are expected to last through Dec. 10, are being held in a hotel resort under a solar-powered roof , near a new power-generating wind turbine and in a region where beaches are eroding in part due to global warming. However, all that may have little influence in a conference where progress comes in tiny increments.

Brazil's president has basically pooh-poohed the conference, Japan stunned participants when it opposed extending the Kyoto emissions protocol (which commits major emitting countries to 1990 emission levels) and observers say the U.S. position has been weakened by mid-term elections that rolled a slew of climate-change skeptics into office.

However, Mexico's environmental minister said he is confident that agreements will be reached for a financing fund and for protection of forests. And, late today, there was some indication that the gap between China and the United States over emissions monitoring may be narrowing.

Baby steps. But at least they are forward.

Cancun Climate Talks Progressing Slowly

Many people deny the existence of climate change, but insurance companies are not among them. One of the reporters covering Cancun Climate Conference 2010 took a side trip to hurricane magnet Grand Bahama, where he visited with locals and talked global warming with insurance consultants Caribbean Risk Managers.

Marketplace reporter Scott Tong says the insurance industry ended the debate some time ago. "Industry has accepted absolutely that climate change is real," Tong quotes insurance company official Simon Young as saying. "There is no debate either at the management level or at the technical level as to whether climate change is going to have an impact on their industry. "

Of course, insurance companies have a vested interest in the issue. After all, they stand to absorb billions in damage claims if the seas rise and coastal regions flood. Here is Tong's story.

Talks are in the early stages and India has proposed a plan that could lead to progress, but few people expect significant results. Incremental steps seem to be the best the 190 countries represented hope for. Mexican officials are pressing for the best possible outcome, but getting a commitment to cut emissions significantly has proved elusive.

President Barack Obama has proposed reducing U.S. emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, a target that Mexican climate envoy Luis Alfonso de Alba declared as "modest." And he doesn't see much improvement in the wake of midterm elections that favored Republicans.

Today, the United Nations envoy acknowledged that an extension of greenhouse gas emissions set in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, won't happen in Cancun. “It is very clear that given the diversity of positions on the Kyoto Protocol it is not going to be possible for Cancun to take a radical decision one way or the other on the Kyoto Protocol,” Christiana Figueres said in this report by Bloomberg.

As a result, the world's second-biggest market for emissions credits could be at risk.

Nonetheless, India is pushing ahead with an ambitious plan that, according to ClimateWire, has the potential to move talks forward. The proposal is for a global monitoring system, but requires stiffer emissions requirements from the United States. And the U.S. has said it will accept binding restrictions only if China does.

It remains to be seen if the gap between China and United States can be bridged.

"The End" Is Not Good In Global Warming

By definition, "the end" is pretty final.

In a movie, there's nothing more to see. In a book, you run out of words to read. In climate change, "The End" is a little more serious: “We are facing at this moment the end of history for some of us,” a representative of the 43-member Alliance of Small Island States said at the Cancun climate conference being held in Mexico.

Antonio Lima, representative of Cape Verde and alliance vice chairman, said Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, Marshall Islands and Maldives are the most threatened. “All these countries are struggling to survive. They are going to drown. I have mountains in my country. I can climb. They cannot climb," Bloomberg Businessweek quoted him as saying.

Obviously, small island nations have much to lose if global warming is not restricted. Members of the alliance want temperature increases limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but representatives of the United States and European Union said they don't expect a treaty from the talks - settling instead for verifying actions to cut emissions, creating a $100 billion green fund to help finance clean energy projects and protecting forests.

The U.S. delegation, according to this account in The Guardian, is taking a firm stance on some of those issues, and has threatened to leave the talks early if developing nations don't agree.

About 190 nations are represented at the 12-day conference. Among the representatives from the United States are 40 students from Yale. They are from The School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Yale Climate and Energy Institute and the Yale Law School - and are attending as observers and delegates, The Yale News reported.

Cancun Climate Talks Open With Space-Age Solutions

The expectations for any sort of meaningful result from the Cancun Climate Change Conference are low, but that doesn't stop talk of some high-flying measures. Really high-flying - like in space.

United Nation scientists are looking at what they call "geo-engineering" options to reverse global warming. That could include putting mirrors in space to reflect sunlight or sprinkling iron in the oceans to fertilize algae and suck up CO2, according to reports in The Telegraph.. It sounds pretty futuristic, but that might be what it takes to combat the possibility of what one scientist called "catastrophic warming within the next 50 years."

Worst-case scenario studies, released Sunday, say world temperatures could climb 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2060, and result in an annual investment of billions of dollars to contain rising sea levels.

The goal of the conference, which representatives of some 190 countries are attending under heavy security, is to reach agreements that lead to significant investment for developing nations and green technology that helps shift away from fossil fuels. The 12-day session concludes Dec. 10. Here is a link to the conference Web site.

It didn't take long for the first fissures to appear. African nations are taking a hard stance against the European Union because they believe the more developed nations are too wishy-washy when it comes to climate change. Meanwhile, the U.S. and China are taking fire because they can't or won't commit to legally binding targets on cutting carbon, according to reports.

So, it is up to other nations to take charge without the United States, scientists said, adding that the political situation in the U.S. prevents any kind of comprehensive program out of Washington, at least in the near term, although the government did say it will adhere to an earlier pledge to cut emissions 17% by 2020.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press lists some of the impacts of global warming in this story.