(A sometimes weekly, no pretense at comprehensive, occasionally opinionated scan of some of the week's key events in carbon emissions and climate crisis.)
And what a week it was!
In what the SF Chronicle labelled corporate climate change on climate change,
[t]op executives from 10 of the nation's largest companies called on President Bush Monday to fight global warming by limiting greenhouse gases, funding research into renewable energy and creating a market for carbon dioxide emissions.
The players in the US Climate Action Partnership: Alcoa, BP America, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, DuPont, Environmental Defense, FPL Group, General Electric, Lehman Brothers, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Center on Global Climate Change, PG&E, PNM Resources, and the World Resources Institute.
The partnership proposes:
- Setting targets for greenhouse gas reductions -- 10 percent to 30 percent below today's levels within 15 years.
- Creating a national carbon market.
- Giving businesses hit the hardest by emission limits free carbon dioxide credits to trade in the market, at least at first.
- Establishing a public/private effort to fund low-carbon energy research and development.
They were quickly attacked by some -- in the strange moral compass that seems to afflict both left and right, that only the poor and self-sacrificing can be virtuous -- as "only in it for the money" -- as if we'll ever get the changes we need without harnessing the power of self-interest. (This need not be done by subsidy, imho, but by enabling markets -- by monetizing "externalities" -- to get the prices right. Which reminds me of my Quote of the Day from May 31, 2005, from Oystein Dahle, former VP of Exxon Norway: "Socialism collapsed because it did not allow prices to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow prices to tell the ecological truth.")
Some observe -- correctly -- that PG&E, as one the the country's cleanest utilities, stands to benefit in any cap and trade scheme. But Duke Energy, a primarily coal-burning utility, is at the opposite end of the cap-and-trade opportunity spectrum, as was still at the table along with PG&E. (In fact, Duke's CEO announced his support for carbon taxes nearly two years ago.) Perhaps these CEOs are not as blindered as some of their critics.
The Chronicle also notes that there are "plenty of signs that industry will fight regulations is sees as going too far. Automakers that brag about environmentally friendly models
are still fighting California in court over a 2002 law requiring them to sell cleaner vehicles," [while] oil company officials who applauded Schwarzenegger's executive order this month also just spent more than $90 million last year successfully opposing a California ballot initiative that would have taxed oil producers to pay for investment in alternative fuels.
President Bush's State of the Union address was notable too, if only for its gradual but continued rhetorical shifts. In last year's SOTU, he called the US addition to imported oil buy name. (He wasn't the first, of course; Kurt Vonnegut nailed that one back in the 1980s: "Hereâ€™s what I think the truth is: we are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.") This time, he spoke the dread "global warming" words that werre never to pass conservative lips. In neither case would I expect all that much action. But the utterances are significant, if only as grudging bows to the looming reality. (Samuel Johnson's admiration of the dancing dog comes to mind: "It's not that he does it well. It's that he does it at all...")
Among the critics: California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Linda Adams, who said â€œWe think it not only does not go far enough but may actually, in some cases, if not done right... increase greenhouse gas emissions.â€
The BBC's preview to the World Economic Forum at Davos predicted that "Climate change, the rise of Asia and the next web revolution will dominate the agenda when the World Economic Forum starts [last] Wednesday in Davos."... and observes that "Participants can expect a daily reminder of what global warming could mean: usually the Davos valley is buried under a metre or two of snow at this time of year, but until Tuesday the mild winter left the hills mostly green."
Cap & Trade
With the cap-and-trade debate about to launch into full gear, it's worth taking a second to point out that there is an often overlooked feature of these systems. In general, cap-and-trade systems involve handing handing out the credits which represent the right to pollute. Who do we give the most credits to? To those who've been polluting the most in the past! Check out Sky Trust for an alternative viewpoint. There's not much current discussion of it, but it's worth keeping in mind as this giant handout is debated.
Joel Makower offered a long and, as usual, throughful overview of carbon offsets, wondering is carbon neutral good enough.
What, exactly, does "carbon neutral" mean? There's no viable definition.... Beyond that are questions about how companies are achieving their carbon neutrality -- not all commercial offsets are equal, as I've previously noted... [and] a bigger concern: that carbon neutrality could be seen as a cover-up for real action. As such, there would be a backlash against companies making carbon-neutral claims without having taken the appropriate precursory steps to maximize their energy efficiency and use the highest percentage possible of energy derived from clean, renewable resources. As I've previously suggested: "buying offsets for an energy-wasteful home or business and calling it environmentally responsible is akin to buying a Diet Coke to go with your double bacon cheeseburger -- and calling it a weight-loss program. Efficiency (and calorie reduction!) comes first."
And speaking of cheeseburgers: New to me this week (thought not new to the blogosphere): Jamais Cascio's running analysis of cheeseburger footprints, which concludes that "the greenhouse gas emissions arising every year from the production and consumption of cheeseburgers is roughly the amount emitted by 6.5 million to 19.6 million SUVs." I haven't checked his math, but you might want to have a look -- and get back on that diet!