global warming

2013: Breakthrough Year On Climate?

My first "local" friend, sweetest lady ever!

According to the Sierra Club, 2013 has the potential to be a breakthrough year on climate, and they are calling on the president to use his full executive authority. The Sierra Club believes Mr. Obama was largely silent on climate change during the presidential campaign, much to the dismay of supporters in the environmental movement. After winning reelection, the president promised to make climate change one of his top three priorities. The president, in an interview for TIME's Person of the Year award, said the economy, immigration, climate change and energy would be at the top of his agenda for the next four years.

Sierra Club wants to see those words translate into action, and will pressure the Obama Administration during the first 100 days of his second term with a series of town halls, rallies, reports and letter-writing events. The Sierra Club states that while Mr. Obama “gets” climate change, a “considerable gap” still exists between words and deeds. Further stating that Mr. Obama should use his State of the Union address in February to "talk very clearly about both the threats and the opportunities posed by climate change and clean energy." In Monday's inaugural address he gave what some say may be the primer version of what is yet to come. 
One of my favorite photos from Nepal, Boy fishing .

There is new political backing for action on global warming in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.That storm has sparked debates in Congress about coastal infrastructure and the long-term impact of rising sea levels. 

I would ask, “how much longer can we drag our collective feet on changing our behavior when it comes to climate change?"

Passing a large climate bill during the new Congress would be difficult, given the strong GOP opposition in both chambers. Many Republicans are skeptical that global warming is occurring, while others attribute the trend to non-human factors which leads them to oppose the emissions rules and emphasis on costlier clean-energy technology. While the House is still under GOP control, the Sierra Club argues we should be urging President Obama to take matters into his owns hands; President Obama could bypass Congress by issuing regulations to enhance clean-energy investment and curtail carbon emissions. 

Waterfall that only a year prior was known as a stream.
I wonder how feasible this actually is, but most of all, how likely is it to happen? 

If we don’t do something in 2013 are we past the point of no return?

I’m counting on the California Leadership to pave the way for sensible climate legislation. I realize that climate change is not a fun topic, but it is one that I have witnessed firsthand while in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal, leaving NO questions in my mind about the legitimacy of the issue itself.

Photo Credits: Deanna Fernandez

You dirty rat: Global warming's fossil fuel friends

The temperature is a little warm.

The forecast for this early August day called for 111 degrees in Fresno/Clovis, Calif. where I live. That's relatively common in this region, where 40 or more days above 100 is common for summer. But it appears more of the United States is in for similar treatment.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center says July was the hottest month in recorded history.

In fact, its State of the Climate report says, January through July was the warmest first seven months of any year on record for the contiguous United States. The national temperature of 56.4 degrees was 4.3 degrees above the long-term average, with only the Pacific Northwest, which was near average, bucking the trend.

And of course Alaska's a bit cooler. My friend Steve likes to post data on his runs in Anchorage's scenic Kincaid Park. The latest was 55 degrees. Sweltering.

Superheating the atmosphere

This temperature stuff is more than just fodder for oblique discussions of the weather. The ramifications are huge, and most scientists predict dire consequences should the trend not be reversed.

Author and climate activist Bill McKibben spells out the scenario in stark terms. In a piece for Rolling Stone, which has some of the best investigative journalism in the country, he highlights three numbers to watch.

The first is 2 degrees Celsius, which refers to the window the world has before it succumbs to significant effects of climate change. The second is 563 gigatons of carbon dioxide, which refers to the amount of climate warming pollutants that can be released before we hit that two degree threshold.

Carbon dioxide, public enemy

The third, and perhaps most significant McKibben number, is 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide. That's the amount of carbon locked up in all the known reserves of oil and coal. Should those reserves be exploited and the fossil fuels burned, we'll be well on the path to universal environmental destruction.

The cost would be astronomical, the devastation unparalleled.

The path to dealing with this appears obvious. Or relatively. Fossil fuels stand as the most costly fuel on the planet. But society would prefer to kick the can to the next generation.

Who's the bad guy?

Pushing fossil fuels

McKibben says it's obvious.The bad guys are coal and oil executives.

"Climate change operates on a geological scale and time frame, but it's not an impersonal force of nature; the more carefully you do the math, the more thoroughly you realize that this is, at bottom, a moral issue; we have met the enemy and they is Shell," he says.

Unfortunately, the oil companies hold the enviable position of having more money than their critics. While BP reported a loss of $2.2 billion for the second quarter of 2012, it's still doing fine. That compares with net profit of $5.7 billion for the same period a year earlier.

The Associated Press reports BP's revenue for the quarter declined 9 percent and the company set aside another $847 million for the Gulf of Mexico oil rig disaster and cleanup, "taking the total provision to just over $38 billion."

Money is the game

Not a problem. BP can afford it. In fact, it's created an ad campaign that portrays the company in such beneficent terms, its past fades to distant-memory status. Says Hamilton Nolan of "Remember how BP's relentless pursuit of profits at the expense of safety caused the Gulf of Mexico to be flooded with oil a little while ago? No. I don't remember that. Do you? Hmm. What I do remember is BP's absolutely awesome Olympic spirit!"

Earnings-wise, Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil fared better with Shell posting second quarter profit of $5.7 billion, down 13 percent from the same period a year earlier, and Exxon showing $8.4 billion, down 22 percent, according to the New York Times. Reporter Clifford Krauss quotes Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson saying, “Despite global economic uncertainty, we continue to invest throughout the business cycle, taking a long-term view of resource development.”

Talk like that drives McKibben nuts. "There's not a more reckless man on the planet," he says of Tillerson. He adds that Tillerson told Wall Street analysts he plans to spend $37 billion on a year on exploration through 2016.

Averting disaster

The problem is that oil companies hold the future of the planet in their hands, and as long as they keep making scads of money, they won't be backing away from extracting, refining and burning as much of their fossil fuel reserves as possible. McKibben says the only way to deal with this is to tax carbon, making alternative energy more economical.

Of course, alternative energy is currently struggling its way to fossil-fuel parity already. But it could use a boost.

In the meantime, McKibben says the best recourse is moral outrage for those who would like to stop this pell-mell push to global warming. Enemy No. 1 is not Jimmy Cagney, nor is it Snidely Whiplash (both personal favorites). It's a bunch of rich executives ruining the globe for a few dollars more.

Biogas industry seeks to clear the regulatory air

Fresno, Calif. and the rest of the San Joaquin Valley share some of the worst air in the United States.

A bootstrap industry, still trying to gain a toehold in the state, can remove tons of those pollutants and produce renewable energy at the same time. The concept would appear to meet the goal of the state's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which seeks to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

So what's the holdup?

Part economics, part regulatory. Five of the top people in the state's biogas industry met recently in Fresno with members of the California Public Utility Commission to explain the difficulties in getting bio-digesters up and running. The meetings were in Fresno City Hall. Each commissioner and his or her staff listened and gave feedback to various groups.

Making the case for biogas

The small but friendly renewables group spelled out all the potential a viable biogas industry could bring. But the group, who represented five companies, also explained the turmoil their operations face breaking into the market in a substantial way. And by and large, the commissioners, who met them one by one, appeared to see the merits of their cause.

The biogas representatives' plan is simple. The Valley is also home to 1,700 dairies, the most productive and largest milk production region in the country. These dairies also produce a huge amount of methane, mostly through cow poop.

Their companies, with the exception of one that uses agricultural waste, take what the cows discard and convert it to energy. However, to do this they need a little help. Because the industry is so new, development and operation costs somewhat exceed current return. The biodigestion process removes pollutants, which could improve the health of millions of people, but that benefit -- at this time -- isn't worth anything to banks. The fact that the industry could divert a huge amount of the state's greenhouse gas and create a renewable resource can't be monetized. And that means the projects don't look good to traditional financiers.

"We need a stable program to launch the industry," says Neil Black, president of California Bioenergy.

Industry could use a hand

There are a lot of details involved with getting a biodigester up and running. Suffice to say that most of them boil down to price per kilowatt hour. Utilities pay something like 8.9 cents, while the standard biodigester coupled to a energy-creating turbine needs something more, like 15 to 17 cents, at least at this early stage.

It's not uncommon for a developing energy source to get regulatory assistance. In the energy business, it's understood that every new resource needs some sort of subsidy to get started and eventually become profitable. Even oil.

Black says there only 11 biodigesters operating in California. He says about that many went out of business, unable to make the economics work.

"We're operating in five different states now, and all are easier than California," says Bob Joblin, who represents AgPower Group. He says he's had a project fully permitted for a year and a half, just waiting on assistance to unravel regulatory red tape.

Nettie Drake of Ag Power Development says she's working on her second digester, but it hasn't been easy. She says her business finds nothing but hurdles.

The cost of clean air

The difficult part is that of air quality. Because there is no viable methodology for trading carbon credits, where one company pays another to offset its pollution, there is no method for companies like Black's or Drake's or Joblin's to leverage those credits.

Congress has failed to pass cap-and-trade, meaning no sales of credits for biodigesters. However, California does show some promise -- but not until next year, when it's due to launch what Peter Weisberg of says is "the nation’s most comprehensive cap-and-trade program."

Weisberg says digester and composting project developers interested in generating carbon credit revenue "must now turn their attention to the intricacies of the emerging California carbon market."

Timing is key. The group at the CPUC meetings in Fresno says the opportunity for getting their current projects established and successful is limited. Expired permits, missed financing or mounting debt could sour farmers on the concept.

And it's farmers who take the risk.

Renewable energy

These projects could make a big difference. Black says the potential in California for all digesters, including waste water and ag waste is 3 gigawatts of power.

That's a pretty big deal. For example the twin reactors at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant near San Luis Obispo produce about 2.2 gigawatts.

And it would remove greenhouse gases from the worst air in the nation. Fresno and other cities in the Valley are good at getting on lists no city wants any part of. For instance, Fresno has the distinction of having the nation's highest concentrated poverty and a number of Valley cities found their way onto the Top 10 residential foreclosure list over the past few years.

Bye bye brown haze?

The American Lung Association's 2012 State of the Air Report lists primarily Valley cities in its top 10 most polluted. One of the reasons for this airborne nastiness has to do with the region's geographic configuration (basin surrounded by two mountain ranges) its lack of wind and rain and the fact that everything from Los Angeles and the Bay Area migrates east and hangs out.

The biodigester industry is poised to do its part. And there's this: Biogas doesn't operate at the whim of mother nature like wind and solar. Hook it up to the grid and it could even out the highs and lows of other renewable power sources.

Energy Efficiency: The Low-Hanging Fruit That is Sometimes Hard To Pick

U.S. Department of Energy chief Steven Chu and others are fond of calling conservation and efficiency the "low-hanging" fruit of the clean-energy movement. But, as this international report points out, fruit that is ripe for the picking often remains on the tree.

And that's a problem. Energy demand worldwide is expected to increase 40% by 2050, and the projected cost of meeting that increase is $26 trillion. But the incentives for business and consumers to invest in the necessary efficiency measures aren't always in place.

People and businesses invest in assets they can see, feel and touch. As a result, energy-efficiency measures get lost in a myriad of more tangible priorities. "Today, the polices and market structures in place are currently not robust enough to support energy-efficiency scale-up," the 40-page report concludes.

Some of the barriers have been mentioned before: Investing in new products and buildings is often easier than retrofitting existing ones; the entity paying for the upgrades is sometimes not the same one benefiting from the investment; and combining a bunch of little projects is challenging.

Add to those such things as regulatory issues, a lack of international standards and the complexity of consumer behavior and you have a brake on the ability to make the needed changes.

Thus, some recommendations are put forth in the study: create innovative financing mechanisms, increase access to capital, ease regulations and focus attention on the benefits of efficiency are just some of them.

However, it should not be assumed that all energy-efficiency programs are not working. In fact, the European Union lowered consumption 40% between 1990 and 2006, and Japan has slashed use 37% since the 1970s.

The report also shines a spotlight on successful efficiency programs. Japan has the lowest energy consumption per GDP, a decrease sparked by the effects of two oil shocks. Japan, which was importing large amounts of energy, was persuaded to pursue efficiency measures.

The star in Japan's energy policy is its Top Runner Program, which selects certain suppliers and manufacturers as "Top Runners" and then challenges others to exceed those standards. Japan also is testing four "smart cities" that integrate efficiency and renewable energy throughout the entire power chain - from generation to appliances.

And then there is London's RE:FIT program. It uses preselected energy service companies to retrofit government buildings. The public sector finances the improvements and the servicers take on construction and performance risk and guarantee expected savings.

The pilot program retrofitted 42 public buildings and cut power consumption an average of 28%. At that rate, the return on investment is seven years. The program has been spread nationwide, with a $100 million Green Fund spurring investment.

Across the pond, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Environmental Energy Technologies Division in California studied new standards for appliances and calculated consumers would save $240 billion by 2030.

The evidence is clear: energy efficiency pays in the long run. How we get there is the issue.

High School Students Can Compete In Climate Program

The deadline for the first Climate Generations program, a
competition that challenges high school students to connect environmental school work with their daily lives, is fast approaching.

February 1 is the deadline for participation. The Climate Generations competition is a chance for students to gain real-world experience in project-management and leadership by requiring them to design and set in place programs that reduce their school’s carbon footprint.

“The name ’Climate Generation’ says it all,” said California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary D. Nichols. “This is an opportunity for young people who will be living with the effects of climate change to focus their passion and enthusiasm on real-world projects and solutions in their school today. It will also help us identify our new Climate Champions, the leaders who will express the concerns of California’s youth about climate change.”

The Climate Generation Program, an outgrowth of the British Council’s Climate Champions program, is underway in a network of 60 countries. Its goal is to encourage young people to engage climate issues at local, national and international levels.

The program is being launched in California and Minnesota. ARB, the lead agency for implementing AB 32, California’s landmark climate change law, is overseeing the state’s competition.

The California Education and the Environment Initiative, a new curriculum comprised of 85 units teaching select Science and History-Social Science academic standards will be promoted as an important element of the new Climate Generation program.

The new curriculum, the result of a multi-agency education and environmental partnership, was developed to help students discover how science, history and social science relate to individual lives and connect to the world around them, focusing on their relationship to the environment. It was designed to engage students in a way that makes learning relevant and fun.

High schools in California and Minnesota are eligible to participate in the 2010-2011 Climate Generation Program. The classroom projects must benefit the school and relate to one or more of the following topic areas:

* Energy Conservation;
* Renewable Energy;
* Water Conservation;
* Transportation;
* Purchasing;
* Facilities; and/or,
* Awareness/Communication (Outreach).

For more information on the Climate Generation Program go to:


Could Fuel Cells Power The Green Movement In California?

Fuel cells aren't new - electricity aboard the Gemini 5 spacecraft in 1965 came from one - but they aren't so space age anymore.

More businesses and local governments are relying on them to help reduce their carbon footprint, capitalize on renewable fuels and to generate power. At least four systems are in the San Joaquin Valley and, as this Los Angeles Times story notes, they are "popping up" throughout the state.

Bloom Energy, a young Bay area company, has received lots of press lately for its fuel cells. Coca Cola announced this year that it would test fuel Bloom Energy cells powered by biogas at an Odwalla plant in Dinuba, in Tulare County. The five cells could produce almost one-third of the plant's power, and cut its carbon footprint 35%.

Fuel cells also generate power at a 400,000-square-foot cold storage warehouse in Stockton; use methane gas created from a wastewater treatment facility to provide power to the Turlock Irrigation District; and use biogas as an onsite renewable energy source at a regional wastewater plant in Tulare.

The California Stationary Fuel Cell Collaborative, administered by the Air Resources Board, has information on more projects throughout the state.

It remains to be seen how popular fuel cells become - they can be the size of a vehicle and cost a bundle to install - but, if they work as intended, could make a substantial dent in an entity's carbon footprint and power bills.

The federal government has an ambitious agenda for fuel cell research, appropriating $74 million over three years. "The investments we're making today will help advance fuel cell technology in the United States," U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Wednesday. "This is part of a broad effort to create American jobs, reduce carbon pollution, and help ensure the U.S. stays competitive in the growing clean energy economy."

Fuel cells use the chemical energy of hydrogen or other fuels to cleanly and efficiently produce electricity or heat with minimal byproducts, primarily water. They can produce power in large stationary systems such as buildings or for vehicles such as commercial forklifts, buses and automobiles.

Lewis Nelson, public works director in Tulare, says fuel cells are well suited for wastewater treatment plants. They take biogas from anaerobic treatment of wastewater solids or animal manure and generate electricity. In 2010, Tulare is expected to save about $570,000 with the system.

"A treatment plant uses a lot of electricity, and can generally use all the electricity a fuel cell generates internally, saving the cost of purchasing electricity from a utility," Nelson says. "I think that biogas fuel cells are an excellent renewable electricity technology for wastewater treatment plants."

Tulare is currently installing its fourth fuel cell. The city's investment after a $4 million incentive was $3 million, which means it could recoup its costs within five years.

(Photo of Tulare fuel cell by

UC Merced Study: Higher Greenhouse Gases Could Alter Oceans

UC Merced, the newest University of California campus, is rapidly gaining cred for its research in, among other things, energy and the environment. As evidence, note a just-released study that concludes increased greenhouse gases could make oceans more acidic, and could profoundly affect marine life.

The study concludes that rising greenhouse gases, caused in part by the burning of fossil fuels and human activities, could alter nitrogen cycles in the ocean. Nitrogen is a vital nutrient for organisms, so the impact could be substantial. The result could be an altered food chain - and unknown consequences.

"There is growing concern about this issue because human activities are modifying ocean pH so rapidly," said UC Merced biologist and researcher Michael Beman. "While we do not know what the full effects of changing the nitrogen cycle will be, we performed experiments all over the world and believe that these changes will be global in extent."

The report stems from the latest research at UC Merced, which has recorded more than 50 breakthroughs and discoveries, including 16 inventions related to solar energy and 12 related to health research.

California Adopts Ambitious Cap And Trade Program

California regulators have approved an ambitious carbon-trading program in a move that some businesses fear will increase their costs, but also could be a potential revenue boon to the financially struggling state.

The 9-1 vote by the California Air Resources Board - at a packed meeting that featured climate skeptics with signs reading, "Global Warming: Science by Homer Simpson," according to Huffington Post - creates a complicated market for carbon credits effective in 2012. It allows big emitters, such as power plants, refiners and other industries, to buy carbon credits as a way to comply with mandatory emission cuts.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, the regulations come on the heels of the Cancun climate talks and six weeks after voters in California kept AB 32, the state's landmark climate law - of which cap and trade was a portion. Attempts to create a national cap and trade program have not been successful.

Supporters hope the California program will be a model for other states to follow.
There also is talk of linking it to cap and trade programs in New Mexico and Canada.

Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols said the state will create mechanisms to prevent manipulation of the carbon market, and wants a fund that uses carbon auction funds for energy-savings programs for low-income families.

The state plans to give away most of the carbon allowances in the first few years, but, by some estimates, $7 billion of revenue could eventually be created through a market. Here is a Los Angeles Times story that gives a good analysis of the program.

Meanwhile, manufacturers weren't necessarily keen on the whole thing, this San Diego Union-Tribune story notes. Here's a quote: "It will hurt manufacturers hard — raising costs on all types of energy,” warned Dorothy Rothrock, their lead negotiator on the issue for a business organization. “Manufacturers can’t pass along the costs of cap and trade when prices are set in global markets.”

There also is some speculation that the program could lead to rate increases.
Good or bad, the new regulation is an indication that California is serious about climate change.

"Billions of dollars are being poured into California in clean technology venture capital investment," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in the Wall Street Journal story. "Of course, we have to be sensitive because it's an economic downturn, and this Air Resources Board knows they have to be sensitive. But we have to reach our goals by 2020."

Photo by

Report: Cap- And -Trade Could Create Jobs In California

A new report suggests a cap-and-trade program in California could be good for the state. Here's the story in The Sacramento Bee, along with a link to the study and related press release.

California voters signaled their support for green energy in the recent election, supporting AB 32, The Global Warming Solutions Act adopted in 2006, and sweeping Jerry Brown back into office. Brown, who faces a daunting deficit, has a strong green-jobs platform.
Graphic by

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

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.

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.

Global warming -- or cooling aerosols?

The subject of global warming remains a political hazard largely due to its perceived uncertainty and the drastic solutions proposed to keep it at bay.

Energy companies believe fossil fuels are king and reject measures that would hamstring their dominance, while renewable energy gurus say, "Too bad, it's gotta be done."

Meanwhile, J.Q. Voter, wavers. He likes clean air but wants a stable economy, jobs and the San Francisco Giants back in the World Series.

"Where the proof?" he asks.

The California Air Resources Board and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believe they can track down a piece of the answer through a relatively massive project measuring the pollutants and greenhouse gases fouling California's once azure skies. The $20 million CalNex project dispatched airplanes, ships and researchers to, as officials said, "examine the nexus between air pollution and climate change."

The project took three years to plan. Monitoring started in early May and continued through June, involving four airplanes, NOAA's ocean-going research ship the Atlantis, two land-based air monitoring super sites -- one in Kern County -- and more than 150 highly trained scientists.

Eileen McCauley, manager of the research division at the Air Board, said she expects some preliminary results from the CalNex 2010 study will be presented at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco in December. She said the California Air Resources Board plans to continue research to produce a report for policy makers on CalNex findings.

The follow-up report is meant to address "emissions (both greenhouse gases and ozone and aerosol precursors), important atmospheric transformation and climate processes, and transport and meteorology," according to documents.

Determining the effects of a warming environment is complex in the extreme. The white paper describing the CalNex project touches on the difficulty researchers have determining how to separate out the cloud of cooling aerosols over population centers from the warming swirling nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and microscopic particulates.

But just about anybody who spent any time around the subject realizes it won't be easy to solve or explain. Our habits as consumers, travelers and entrepreneurs have led us down a comfortable path. Now that road looks a little like the a highway in Canada's Yukon Territories at night in a snowstorm at 35 below -- uncertain at best. explains that scientists believe that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity, but the site places the current level at 388 ppm.

“The goal is to provide decision makers with the information they need to develop win/win strategies that address both climate and air quality,” said A.R. Ravishankara, director of NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Division, in a statement.

Officials said the CalNex data will help scientists better understand atmospheric-chemical transformations and climate processes and help the Air Board measure greenhouse gases, traditional air pollutants and their causes.

But don't expect miracles even after results are posted and regulations announced. Coming to terms with the state of the environment is something many of us would rather avoid. The answer might mean we'd have to adapt.

Not that it can't be done. It's just not easy.