Tag Archives: New York Times

Climate change is ignored no longer–that’s good news

People tend to avoid facing huge problems requiring years of planning and dramatic changes in systems, so of course we’d rather not think about climate change, by all accounts humankind’s biggest challenge. But it’s impossible to ignore in the short term, given news about the havoc climate change is causing worldwide. The world’s people are being plagued not only by heat and drought but extremes of flood, wind, and fire. Hurricane Sandy is now seen as a harbinger of super storms to come. An article in Rolling Stone refers to “the End of Australia.” Climate Change is a topic everywhere you look–on the cover of news magazines, TV specials, podcasts (see Best of the Left, an anthology of progressive voices, on 12/5, 12/8, 1/14), and alternative weeklies (the Honolulu Weekly headline was “Climate Change: Now Showing on an Island Near You“). And although we were holding our breath in fear that President Obama would ignore the problem in his second inaugural address so as not to offend Republicans whose votes he needs for other items on his agenda, he did put  it front-and-center. We’re waiting for action to follow closely on those words.

In the meantime, we can take heart from the fact that most Americans are convinced that climate change is real and must be dealt with. In a January 24 Times Opinionator column on how out of step Republicans are–they’re labeling Obama’s inaugural address and his policies “liberal” as though it were a dirty word–Timothy Egan counters with evidence that if Obama’s positions on immigration, gay marriage are liberal positions, then liberalism is winning. What’s more:

On climate change, a Pew poll at the height of last’s fall’s election found strong bipartisan support for taking steps against many of the effects of global warming. There was a significant increase in those who say the storms, fires, droughts, record-high-temperatures and ice-melting of the last decade or so are human-caused. Only 12 percent — and here’s where the talk radio and Fox wing of the Republican party are glaringly out of step — believe it’s some kind of hoax.

Only 12 percent have swallowed the deniers’ propaganda! And people from both sides of the political spectrum want their leaders to solve the problems associated with climate change. That’s a reason to celebrate in the short term, before turning our energy to working toward long-term solutions.

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Climate Change Is Hot Topic at Last

All it took was a $50 billion “super storm” and hundreds of blog posts, articles, and columns–and, let’s face it, a presidential election with the right outcome. Already on November 7, calls for Obama to put climate change high up on his agenda abounded. One that struck me: In a letter to the New York Times editor  Peter Kalmus of Altadena, CA, called for the President to make climate change his legacy: “A Green New Deal would be America’s ticket to jobs, security, economic recovery and renewing our position of global leadership. . . . Here’s hoping that Mr. Obama finally finds the courage to stand firm against the oil and coal barons and lead us, our children and future generations away from the brink of climate disaster.”

What an excellent idea: a new New Deal for the environment, with climate change as the focus. I planned to post links to many other calls for the President to make slowing global warming a priority,  by celebrities, columnists, and politicians, even some conservative ones, But Grist beat me to it by listing and quoting the highlights of the most important bandwagon-riders in a post by Lisa Hymas on November 12 titled “Climate should be Obama’s No. 1 priority, say lots of people who aren’t tree-hugging enviros.” Those quoted and/or cited include The New Yorker‘s editor, David Remnick; Republican and former EPA head Christine Todd Whitman; former Obama official Cass Sunstein; and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Hymas ends by asking, “Might climate change break out of the environmental ghetto for good this time?” We can help to keep it front and center.

A positive sign is that even conservatives are discussing the idea of a tax on carbon. See the AP story entitled “Global Warming Talk Heats Up, Revisits Carbon Tax,” which includes this news: “On Tuesday, a conservative think tank held discussions about it while a more liberal think tank released a paper on it. And the Congressional Budget Office issued a 19-page report on the different ways to make a carbon tax less burdensome on lower income people.” Stay tuned. And do what you can to keep the pressure on Obama–insist that he reject the Keystone Pipeline for starters.

Federal Court Ruling a Victory for EPA–and the Planet

A third big court ruling this week that you may have overlooked in the drama over the Supreme Court decisions on the Affordable Care Act and Arizona’s immigration law: a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on June 26 upheld the right of the EPA to control greenhouse gases as pollutants and harmful to Americans’ health. Industry groups and 14 states had sued, hoping to not be bound by regulations put in place by the EPA in desperation at Congress’s foot-dragging over any effective climate legislation. But really: if legislators were doing their job in protecting the people, the executive branch would not have had to step in. The brilliance of the EPA’s regulation is revealed in labeling global-warming emissions “pollutants”; the fossil-fuel industry thus became polluters. In more formal language, the basis for the rules that emissions were pollutants and could be controlled is the agency’s finding that “carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions constitute a danger to public health and [can] thus be regulated under the Clean Air Act.” And so by supporting the EPA’s authority to regulate emissions, the court dealt what a New York Times editorial called “a devastating blow to polluters.” Science and rational thought were also victors, as the federal court found that “the agency had based its case on careful research and sound science.”

iPad and iPhone users*–use Zite to read climate news

Zite (rhymes with “kite”) is an app that creates a customized magazine for you, depending on topics you choose and your interests as indicated by  your online reading and social networking habits. Get it for free on iTunes or the app store; see this review from its early days, headlined “A Digital ‘Magazine’ with One Subscriber.” Choose “climate change” as a topic and you’ll get 3 dozen articles and posts from all over the web. I would have missed many of the climate articles I’ve posted about if I hadn’t been reading it–even the Times op-ed on my June 20 post, because there’s simply too much to read and if it isn’t among the “most emailed” on the NYT site I may miss it.

You can personalize Zite even further by saying “No, I didn’t enjoy reading this [rant] from Fox.com,” and please block that source. You can share the articles via Twitter, Facebook, or email. There’s no archive, so create your own using Instapaper or other reader. Zite was recently bought by CNN, and so some users are a bit worried that it will become CNN-heavy. Zite’s CEO insists that its algorithm will continue to be “source neutral.” Let’s hope so.

*It’s also available for Android users.

Don’t let good news on one climate-change front cause neglect of the main chance

It’s probably human nature to seize on stories that provide even a glimmer of hope to counter the relentless warnings about the short time we have to act on prevent irreversible climate change. No wonder news accounts of a new study in Science suggesting how to cut warming in the near term buoyed our spirits with rosy headlines like “Climate Proposal Puts Practicality ahead of Sacrifice” in the Times (January 17) and  “Groundbreaking New Study Shows How to Reduce Near-Term Global Warming” over a post by Andrew Freedman on Climate Change (January 12). Besides, in the journal scientists, led by NASA researcher Drew Shindell, not policymakers, told us how to seize the moment by cutting the amount of methane and black carbon (aka “soot”) spewed into the atmosphere. Both are short-lived pollutants, and it is estimated that they account for about half of the warming the earth has experienced so far. The good news is clear. According to Freedman, “Shindell and his colleagues found that the 14 emissions reduction actions they zeroed in on would be relatively cheap, and can be implemented with existing technologies.”

There is a potential downside to the report, however, or rather to seizing on its good news as an answer to our problems. It sounds like we can buy some time, but that’s not the case, according to Lou Grinzo on Planet 3.0; it’s telling that the headline to his post ends in a question mark: “A shortcut to restraining climate change?” Grinzo cautions that the Times news story put too optimistic a face on the study and that although Freedman’s headline sounds pie-in-the sky as well, his post emphasizes the need to do both: reduce CO2 and the shorter-lived gases. (Burning soot-producing fuels such as wood and dung in developing countries causes many health problems, providing another incentive to  eliminate that contribution to warming.) For example, Freedman quotes the lead researcher as saying, “It would be a bad thing if this were a substitute for action on CO2.”

Grinzo notes that even though the solutions to methane and black carbon seem practical, they will not be put into place without resistance,  political and economic as well as practical. While we can tackle the leaks from natural gas lines, mines, and landfills, what about the significant  amounts of methane emitted by the agriculture industry? As he says, “Enteric fermentation (i.e., farm animal belches and flatulence), manure management, and wastewater treatment all present challenging scenarios, to put it mildly.”

Still, I’ll end on a glass-half-full note, with Freedman’s last paragraph and a couple of links: “Given the seemingly endless stream of depressing climate change news, some confidence-building measures, such as the ones analyzed in the study, could be exactly what we need.” If you want to help, visit The Partnership for Clean Indoor Air (PCIA) media page to read feature stories about their work to improve efficiency of cookstoves used by billions of people worldwide and donate if you are convinced. Also, see Berkeley researcher Daniel M. Kammen’s paper  on the various stove models that have been tested (with illustrations).

Update (Jan. 29): The Feb. 3 issue of The Week summarized an Agence France-Pressestory in 200 words, with a sunny headline and a photo caption reading “Should we fight soot instead of CO2?”

                        A new strategy to slow climate change


The world could make a big dent in global warming without reducing fossil fuel emissions, says an international team of scientists. Given the strong resistance to curbing fossil fuels, they say, policymakers could buy some time by shifting their focus to reducing emissions of soot and methane. “In the short term, dealing with these pollutants is more doable, and it brings fast benefits,” Drew Shindell, a researcher at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, tells Agence France-Presse. Soot, or black carbon, is produced by unfiltered diesel engines, inefficient boilers, and, in the developing world, cookstoves and kilns. Particularly when it falls on snowpack and ice, soot helps heat the planet by absorbing radiation from the sun. Methane, which traps heat in the atmosphere far more effectively than carbon dioxide does, leaks in great quantities from oil- and gas-producing facilities, coal mines, pipelines, sewage plants, and farm ponds. Using existing technologies, we could capture much of this methane and soot before it reaches the atmosphere, and reduce projected warming by more than a third. As a result, the amount of warming expected by 2050 would be lower by about one degree Fahrenheit. Reducing soot and methane are “things we know how to do and have done,” Shindell says. “We just haven’t done them worldwide.”

This blog would be easier to write if I just linked to sunny digests like this, but it wouldn’t be the whole story, and we should be realistic about what we face.