Monthly Archives: May 2012

Hawai’i becomes first state to ban plastic bags (by 2015)

I was hoping the statewide throwaway bag bill would pass the state legislature because, even though it was not a ban, it would have reduced the number of both plastic and paper bags clogging our waters and parks and provided funds (from hefty user fees collected) to improve the watershed. But at least the Honolulu City Council passed a bill that will first charge fees and by 2015 ban plastic bags in the City and County of Honolulu, which means that Oahu finally joins the Neighbor Islands (Maui, Molokai, Kaua‘i, and the Big Island), in stopping the distribution of single-use plastic bags by retailers–therefore becoming in effect the first state to “ban the bag.” The news site msnbc.com used that very headline: “Hawaii First State to Ban Plastic Bags at Checkout.” For details on this “first”–such as the fact that Hawai’i County’s ban goes into effect in January 2014–and a complete list of what bags are exempt from the ban, read this green-buzz.net post.

Tar Sands Oil Must Be Left in the Ground!

“If Canada proceeds [to exploit its vast tar sands reserves], and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.” So writes Jim Hansen of NASA in a May 9 New York Times op-ed. (If you’re not a Times subscriber, read it here.) He was responding to President Obama’s comment that we can’t do much because Canada will get the oil out even if we don’t build a pipeline to bring it down to the Gulf for refining and export. Examples of apocalyptic game-enders that would result if we ignore the warnings and do not insist on true, game-changing leadership are “the disintegration of the ice sheets,” rising sea levels that would destroy coastal cities, “intolerable” global temperatures, extinction of up to half of the world’s species, and economic meltdown that would put civilization at risk of breakdown. Even in the short term, Hansen predicted, if the Tar Sands oil is extracted and we do not drastically reduce emissions, “More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.”

Do I have your attention?

Even if you know what’s behind this dire warning but have pushed it to the back of your mind, you need to bring it front and center, for Hansen is not just crying doom; he has a solution, but we must all put pressure on our leaders to make it happen. He proposes that President Obama first prevent any pipeline that would carry tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast and then introduce “economic incentives to leave tar sands and other dirty fuels in the ground.” His recommended method is to institute a tax on carbon that would come back to all Americans every month.

This is the latest of a perfect storm of calls for action to slow the warming we are causing: the May 5 Connect the Dots campaign demonstrating the causal link between extreme weather events and climate change, the EPA’s recent landmark proposal to set the first nationwide emissions standards to slow carbon pollution, and a new bill launched May 10 in Congress to end $113 billion worth of subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry.

Another important point of the op-ed: the science is settled. There’s no use wasting time trying to convince deniers. Here are Hansen’s final sentences:

Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action. The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.

This conclusion is not controversial; what is debatable is Hansen’s solution, a tax on carbon, which many economists and scientists say (a) can’t get enacted and (b) won’t work. They counter with a call for so-called cap-and-trade legislation. Watch for the resurfacing of the old argument between proponents of the two approaches from a few years ago, when Congress was considering–and we almost got–a cap-and-trade bill. I’ll link to those posts as they are available. Meanwhile, here are highlights of the earlier debate: Times columnist Paul Krugman said on his blog that Hansen “doesn’t understand the economics of emissions control” and took him to task for closing the door on cap and trade in late 2009, when such a bill seemed a real possibility. (Hansen had just published an op-ed calling for a fee on carbon instead.) The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists invited advocates for both systems to weigh in; nearly a dozen did so in 2008. In 2009 McKinsey Publishing invited two experts to argue the two sides and then invited comments from readers; those led to expansion of the argument, which is  summed up here. Back in 2007 Grist posted a guest essay by  Bill Chameides, chief scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund, in which he too argued for cap-and-trade over a carbon tax, giving these reasons:

Unlike a tax, [cap-and-trade] encourages innovation by creating incentives and rewarding those who lower emissions at the least cost. And most importantly, a cap — unlike a tax — guarantees the necessary cuts to stabilize the climate. All a tax does is discourage emissions; it doesn’t specify an emissions target that must be met.

Finally, he argued from history: there was a precedent for a cap-and-trade system, for that’s what brought about the reduction of the sulfur oxide emissions that lead to acid rain. And, he added, ” we were able to do it quickly and cheaply.”

Note: At Think Progress, Joe Romm quotes large chunks of Hansen’s op-ed as he emphasizes the attack on Obama for failing at leading on climate change; he doesn’t go into the proposed solution, but he provides a graph that supports Hansen’s doomsday scenario.

Global Climate-Action Day

May 5, 2012, was the day to “Connect the Dots.” As 350.org explained on Saturday, “Today the world is stepping up to connect the dots between climate change and extreme weather – because climate change is too real and happening too fast to let our leaders continue to ignore it.” That was the motive. The method was to take a photo that illustrated the effect of climate change in your locale and to feature prominently a dot, so that others viewing the 1,000-plus photos on the Climate Dots website would see what havoc weather extremes–record droughts and floods, increased intensity and frequency of tornadoes and hurricanes, and rising sea levels here in the Pacific and in island nations–have already wrought.

Bill McKibben, of 350.org, which organized this, the third annual international day of action on climate change, once again draws out the significance of the mass protests in a blog post that appeared first on Tom Dispatch and was re-posted on Yes!  Originally titled “Too Hot Not to Notice? A Planet Connected by Wild Weather” and in Yes! headlined “A Worldwide Effort to Make Climate Change Visible,” the essay makes not just the connection between climate change and its effects but an analogy between this causal connection and tobacco and lung cancer. There is the same denial (termed “skepticism” by the industry that stands to lose in each case–oil and coal now, the tobacco companies then) and a similar lack of in-depth coverage by the news media–until in the case of tobacco evidence was so overwhelming that the media got on board. McKibben makes it clear that despite the recent polls showing that a majority of Americans accept the reality that a warming planet is unleashing unprecedented disasters and want leaders to do something about it, a very real obstacle is the disinformation campaign emanating from the fossil-fuel corporations and the stonewalling of initiatives (such as a cap-and-trade bill) by the legislators they have bought with campaign contributions.

Therefore May 5 was not a culmination but a beginning. As McKibben writes, “It’s time for each of us to get involved in the full-on fight between misinformation and truth.”  Tom Engelhardt of Tom Dispatch predicts that doing something about climate change may be a campaign issue, because people are starting to demand controls on carbon emissions (63%, according to a recent poll) and fully three-fourths of Americans support “regulating carbon dioxide as a ‘pollutant.'” When the president brings it up, you know he has read the polls. He quotes the president as saying, “I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way.”  Engelhardt suggests that taking a strong position might help Obama get re-elected “if this summer and fall prove just as weather-freaky as our North American winter and spring have been, leaving Republican climate-change deniers and prevaricators in the dust.”

It won’t happen if we don’t keep the issue front and center. Join the movement at 350.org; there are several other projects in the works, including 350 Earth ART, which uses art to spark a global climate movement, and a campaign to end fossil fuel subsidies. A good description of 350.org: “our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by people in 188 countries.”