Thursday, February 21, 2013



James Hansen of Columbia University had a wonderful Op-Ed in the NY Times on May 9, 2012 about the threat to the global climate posed by the mining and burning of Canadian tar sands.  He called it Game Over for the Climate.  It’s important because President Obama is considering whether to allow the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring the tar sands bitumen from Canada to Texas for refining.  If it is all burned, it would double the amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere from all past burning of conventional oil.  At: 
To convince the President to oppose the pipeline, the Sierra Club, and several other environmental and religious organizations carried an action in Washington DC on Feb. 17 - the largest rally for climate action in the history of the U.S.  See:

In July last year the American Museum of Natural History in NY City posted an 8.2 minute video titled, Shrinking Glaciers - A Chronology of Climate Change.  (  Earlier, in May of 2007, the AMNH had another well done video (7.1 minutes) titled Melting Ice - Rising Seas ( showing how much land will be inundated if we lose the ice now on Greenland and Antarctica.  Both were funded by the National Science Foundation and are well worth watching. 
Another video (4.7 minutes), on YouTube from Chasing Ice shows the largest glacier calving event ever captured on film.  At:  It is both beautiful and terrifying.

In September TED posted an outstanding 14.6 minute video of Vicki Arroyo, a lawyer with a background in biology and ecology and the Director of the Georgetown Climate Center.  Her talk, titled, Let’s Prepare for Our New Climate, emphasizes adaptation to sea level rise, floods and storms, using her hometown of New Orleans as an example.  At:
In December the Institute for Local Self Reliance published an interactive map of the lower-48 states showing how much solar PV power can be expected to grow in each state over a range of costs of solar power on residences and businesses and with differing federal incentives.  It’s quite interesting and informative.  At: 

On January 27 Richard Lester had an Opinion piece in the Boston Globe titled, In the war against climate change, look to the states.  Lester heads the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT.  He sees innovators and progressive states like California and the those in the Northeast, which are already leaders in dealing with energy and climate, as laboratories for change, and suggests that these states could support the work with an innovation surcharge on retail electricity prices.  “More states will likely join as they become convinced of the environmental need and economic opportunity.”  At:

There’s a dramatic 5-minute YouTube video about our Earth Home, with wonderful photography and the title, She’s Alive… Beautiful… Finite… Hurting… Worth Dying for.  At:

Comedy Central has a 6.3 minute video for The Colbert Report for Jan. 28 titled, The Word - The New Normal, describing the conversion of Colbert and other climate skeptics to believers in global warming.  It’s good for a laugh, at: 

The Union of Concerned Scientists has blogs on “strong science and independent solutions” that you might want to sign up for.  A Jan. 29 post by Rachel Cleetus is
Rebuilding for Climate Resilience in the Wake of Hurricane SandyIn it she writes, “Our choices (in the face of sea level rise and coastal storms) are pretty stark: we can try to accommodate the rising seas, retreat from them, defend our properties with protective measures – or take the riskiest path and do nothing.”

Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian wrote an article on Feb. 14 titled, Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks.  She wrote, “Conservative billionaires used a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120m (£77m) to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change.”  The funds were passed along between 2002 and 2010 through two trusts - Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, to help build a network of thinktanks and activist groups  that oppose developing renewable energy and responding to climate change.  Whitney Ball, chief executive of the Donors Trust, said, "We exist to help donors promote liberty which we understand to be limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise."  At:
It’s no wonder that so many of the public have been confused.

The following items are from the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Carol Werner, Executive Director. Past issues of its newsletter are posted on its website under "publications"
EESI’s newsletter is intended for all interested parties, particularly the policymaker community. 

President Obama Underlines Importance of Climate Change in Inaugural Address

In his January 21 inaugural address, President Barack Obama spoke strongly about the moral imperative of climate change and devoted significant time to the issue. The president vowed that, “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure -- our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
More details about a potential climate agenda are expected in the February 12 State of the Union Address, but it is believed that the president will focus on using his executive powers to deal with climate change, rather than attempting to move legislation. It is possible that President Obama will use regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to restrict emissions from coal-burning power plants and use executive authority to create new energy efficiency standards for home appliances and buildings. In addition, the president will likely attempt to reduce carbon emissions produced by the federal government, especially the Department of Defense, which is one of the nation’s largest energy users. It is still uncertain if President Obama will approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which many environmental groups believe will be the first test of his commitment to climate change action. Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for The Union of Concerned Scientists, said Obama and his team will need “a sustained campaign” to “overcome the opposition of entrenched interests to the rapid transition away from fossil fuels that's needed to stabilize the climate.”

For additional information see: New York Times, Washington Post, The Hill, Speech Transcript

Congress Responds to President Obama’s Statements about Climate Change

Several Senate members responded positively to President Obama’s mention of climate change in his inaugural address. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) released a statement saying, “The way the President spoke about climate change in his remarks today was exactly right. Addressing the threat of climate change is about protecting the future for our children and future generations, our most sacred obligation.” In a separate interview, Sen. Boxer, who serves as chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, stated that she will use her position to focus on passing small bills aimed at creating positive climate mitigation effects. On January 22, Boxer introduced a bill (S.52) to improve energy efficiency in federal buildings. In addition, Sen. Boxer stated she planned to block attempts to repeal already existing environmental protections and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate carbon dioxide. “A lot of people don’t recognize that EPA has huge authority here to reduce carbon in the air,” she said. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) also had a positive reaction to President Obama’s remarks, saying that, “President Obama has it right: the U.S. must take practical steps on climate change. [. . .] Moving to a low-carbon economy isn't just vital for our environment, it will also strengthen America's economy and make our employers more competitive internationally.” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) agreed, stating that, “It really is a moral issue and one we cannot ignore.” Congress to go down that path again.”
On the House side, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) spoke up at a House Energy and Commerce Committee meeting, stating that, “As Superstorm Sandy demonstrated, we are facing a large and growing threat from climate change. [. . .] I know this is a difficult issue for [Republicans], but it is one we cannot ignore. I hope we will be able to have a constructive dialogue this Congress about the pre-eminent energy challenge of our era.” However, not all responses were positive. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), chair of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, said, “Cap-and-trade legislation already failed in the Democrat-controlled Senate and there is currently no appetite in Congress to go down that path again.”

For additional information see: The Hill, Politico, The Oregonian, Platts, Los Angeles Times

Sen. Kerry Discusses Importance of Climate Change during Confirmation Hearings

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) discussed the importance of climate change during his January 24 confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – which he currently chairs – for the cabinet position of U.S. Secretary of State. “The solution to climate change is energy policy,” Kerry said in response to a question from Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) on climate. “And the opportunities of energy policy so vastly outweigh the downsides that you’re expressing concerns about. And I will spend a lot of time trying to persuade my colleagues about this. You want to do business and do it well in America, we gotta get into the energy race. [. . .] I’ll be a passionate advocate, but not based on ideology, based on fact, based on science. This $6 trillion market is worth millions of American jobs and we better go get it.” Kerry has a long record of championing climate action (see January 2 issue).
For additional information see: Politico, Washington Post

UN Secretary-General Says Climate Action a Top Priority

In a January 21 interview with the Associated Press before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon laid out his top priorities for 2013; at the top of the list was a global agreement on climate change. “The world is now experiencing unprecedented challenges . . . Climate change is happening – much, much faster than one would have expected,” Ban said. “Climate and ecosystems are under growing strain.” In response, Ban said, “I will do my best to mobilize the political will and resources so that the member states can agree to a new legally binding global agreement on climate change.” The Secretary-General also plans to have priorities that tie climate change mitigation to economic growth and sustainable development. “We have to have sustainable development . . . That’s our number one priority together with climate change.”
For additional information see: AP

World Economic Forum Finds that Overcoming Climate Impacts Requires $700 Billion Annual Global Investment

On January 21, the Green Growth Action Alliance released a study commissioned by the World Economic Forum (WEF) stating that a global annual investment of $700 billion is required to displace fossil fuels and combat the effects of climate change. The report concluded that the extra $700 billion a year was needed to promote investment for energy alternatives, along with greater energy efficiency in the building, industry, and transportation sectors. The Alliance also suggested that governments should use public money to provide incentives for low-carbon investments, while phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. “Greening global economic growth is the only way to satisfy the needs of today’s population and up to nine billion people by 2050, driving development and well-being while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing natural resource productivity,” said former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and chair of the Alliance. “Economic growth and sustainability are interdependent, you cannot have one without the other, and greening investment is the prerequisite to realizing both goals,” he added.
For additional information see: The Independent, Reuters, Bloomberg

Study: Climate Change Impacting Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon Rainforest has been severely affected by a recent “megadrought,” according to a report published January 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences by an international group of researchers led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The megadrought began with major drought in 2005 which affected 270,000 square miles in the Southwest Amazon Basin area. In 2010, a second major drought hit much of the same area, causing widespread changes in the canopy and harming many of the older and larger trees that cover the newer growth in the forest. According to study co-author Yadvinder Malhi, professor of Ecosystem Science at the University of Oxford, “The biggest surprise for us was that the effects appeared to persist for years after the 2005 drought [. . .] We had expected the forest canopy to bounce back after a year with a new flush of leaf growth, but the damage appeared to persist right up to the subsequent drought in 2010.” The research group believes these persistent effects occurred because of an earlier, long-term decrease in rainfall in the Amazon caused by the warming of the Atlantic Ocean. Between 1970 and 1998, the area saw over a three percent loss in rainfall, which meant that by 2005 there was less water available and growth was already stressed. Researchers are concerned that continued droughts may cause permanent and lasting damage to the rainforest.
For additional information see: NASA Press Release, Study Abstract

Secretary Chu Calls for Climate Action in Resignation Letter

On February 1, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced that he intends to step down from his position. In a resignation letter to colleagues that highlighted the successes of his tenure, including ARPA-E and the SunShot Challenge, Chu had strong words about the importance of climate change. He stated, “Ultimately we have a moral responsibility to the most innocent victims of adverse climate change. Those who will suffer the most are the people who are the most innocent: the world’s poorest citizens and those yet to be born. There is an ancient Native American saying: ‘We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.’ A few short decades later, we don’t want our children to ask, ‘What were our parents thinking? Didn’t they care about us?’”
For additional information see: TIME, Resignation Letter

White House Targets Oil and Gas Subsidies

At a press conference on January 30, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney offered a plan to stop automatic spending cuts from sequestration by targeting nearly $4 billion in annual tax breaks given to the oil and gas industry in the United States. Carney stated, “The idea that you need to subsidize an industry that has enjoyed record profits – that taxpayers have to subsidize it – just doesn’t make sense in a time when we have to make choices about how best to use our resources.” While some Republicans and oil-state Democrats oppose cutting these subsidies, noting that it would single-out the industry, others support it only as part of a larger tax code overhaul. If Congress does not come to an agreement on sequestration by March 1, the government will face $110 billion in automatic spending cuts across all federal programs.
For additional information see: The Hill, Press Conference Transcript

Stern: Climate Change Is Worse than I Thought

Lord Nicholas Stern, who served as an economic adviser to Tony Blair and a chief economist at the World Bank, said that he underestimated the risks of climate change in the 2006 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, commissioned by the United Kingdom. Speaking in an interview in Davos, Switzerland January 26 at the World Economic Forum, Stem said, “Looking back, I underestimated the risks. The planet and the atmosphere seem to be absorbing less carbon than we expected, and emissions are rising pretty strongly. Some of the effects are coming through more quickly than we thought then." Models in the 2006 report had suggested that there was a 75 percent chance of temperatures rising two to three degrees above pre-industrial levels, but Stern says that it now looks like the change will be closer to four degrees. Stern said that countries will need to invest more in clean technology and renewable energy to mitigate the likely negative effects of climate change on national and international economies.
For additional information see: Guardian, MIT Technology Review

Wildlife Struggling to Adapt to Warming World

A report released January 30 by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), “Wildlife in a Warming World: Confronting the Climate Crisis,” concludes that the habitats and behaviors of animals are greatly impacted by rising temperatures. This includes the thousands of fish dying from droughts and heat waves, birds and bees who have had to adjust their migratory patterns and breeding time with changing seasons, and a decline in food sources for polar bears that rely on arctic ice to hunt. Many species are migrating to new habitats, with these changes occurring two to three times faster than scientists had predicted, and several of these species are facing localized extinction. The study finds that this has far-ranging impacts for the United States economy, which relies heavily on the services provided by these species. Mark Shaffer, national climate change policy advisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says that the services contributed by wildlife provide “hundreds of billions of dollars each year to the U.S. economy.” The report states, “Without significant new steps to reduce carbon pollution, our planet will warm by seven to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with devastating consequences for wildlife. America must be a leader in taking swift, significant action to reduce pollution and restore the ability of farms, forests, and other natural lands to absorb and store carbon.” Measures outlined in the study include increasing deployment of renewable energy and significantly reducing carbon emissions.
For additional information see: USA Today, Study

Expanding Fossil Fuel Projects to Increase GHG Emissions 20 Percent

On January 22, Greenpeace released a study performed by British consultancy Ecofys, “The Point of No Return,” warning that 14 oil, gas and coal projects would increase fossil fuel emissions 20 percent by 2020. This is equal to 6.3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, or as much as the United States releases each year. The report showed that Australian coal production is predicted to expand substantially in the next several years, leading to an increase in annual CO2 emissions of 759 million tonnes over 2011 levels by 2020. Annual emissions increases from the Chinese coal industry are expected to top those of Australia, reaching 1,400 million tonnes by 2020. Other locations for proposed new projects include the Arctic, the United States, Canada and Indonesia. The report states, “It is more than likely that these new emissions will cause the global average temperature to soar to four degrees Celsius and quite possibly to six degrees Celsius of global warming.” In an e-mail to reporters, Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo wrote, “We are running out of time to prevent catastrophic climate change. . . The companies promoting, and the governments allowing, these massive climate threats must replace them with renewable energy right away.” The authors note that the estimates for increasing emissions reflect current industry plans to expand fossil fuel production, rather than the most likely outcome.
For additional information see: The Age, Bloomberg, Guardian

Tens of Thousands March on the White House for Climate Action

An estimated 35,000 people marched on Washington on February 17 to call on the president to fulfill his promise for climate action and to deny approval for the Keystone XL pipeline. The “Forward on Climate” rally, organized by the Sierra Club,, the Hip Hop Caucus and many other environmental and social justice groups, was the largest climate event ever in the nation’s capital. At the rally, Bill McKibben, founder of, said, “For 25 years our government has basically ignored the climate crisis: now people in large numbers are finally demanding they get to work.” He continued, “We shouldn't have to be here – science should have decided our course long ago. But it takes a movement to stand up to all that money."
In related news, 48 environmental activists were arrested on February 13 after cuffing themselves to the White House fence. The protest, which took place the morning after the State of the Union Address, was part of an effort calling on President Obama to deny approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. If it goes ahead, the pipeline will carry over 500,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to Texas, which environmentalists suggest would significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions. Among the protesters were actress Daryl Hannah, founder Bill McKibben, and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. also took part in the act of civil disobedience, stating, “I don't think President Obama is going to permit this pipeline to happen. . . I think President Obama has a strong moral core, he is not going to do something that is immoral, that is reckless and that is going to impose the costs of our joyride for these wealthy oil companies . . . on future generations of Americans and citizens all across the planet.” Proponents of the pipeline say it will provide thousands of jobs and create energy security for the United States.

For additional information see: New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CNN, Guardian

Senators Sanders and Boxer Introduce Carbon Pricing Legislation

On February 14, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the Climate Protection Act of 2013 (S.332) to put a price on carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane emissions – 85 percent of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation would set a price of $20 per ton of carbon equivalent the year after the legislation was enacted, and the rate would increase at 5.6 percent for the subsequent 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the fee would raise $1.2 trillion in revenue over a ten-year period. The majority of the revenues (60 percent) would be returned to U.S. residents through monthly rebates to help offset any rise in gas and electricity costs. A quarter of the revenue would be used to reduce the federal debt and the remaining 15 percent would be invested in developing and deploying renewable energy and improved energy efficiency projects. Sen. Sanders said, “[The bill will] actually address the crisis and . . . reverse greenhouse gas emissions in a significant way.” Sen. Boxer, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, stated that she intends to take up the legislation as soon as her committee finishes dealing with the Water Resources Development Act. Sen. Sanders also introduced S.329 that extends the major tax incentives for renewable energy technologies and removes tax breaks for fossil fuel technologies.
For additional information see: Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, Bill Summary, Legislation

Government Accountability Office Adds Financial Risk from Climate Change to “High Risk List”

In a report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on February 14, climate change was ranked among the High Risk List because of the significant financial risk it poses to the U.S. government. To justify adding climate change to the list, the GAO – the investigative arm of the federal government – stated, “Climate change poses significant financial risks to the federal government, which owns extensive infrastructure, such as defense installations; insures property through the National Flood Insurance Program; and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters.” The GAO concluded that “federal government is not well positioned to address the fiscal exposure presented by climate change and needs a government-wide strategic approach with strong leadership to manage related risks,” and called for better weather predicting satellites. Recent extreme weather events, such as Superstorm Sandy and widespread drought that has brought lower crop yields, cost the government a significant amount of money through federal disaster relief programs. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 25 extreme weather events over the past two years have been responsible for 1,100 deaths and economic costs that are projected to be over $180 billion. “It really highlights the true cost of climate change on federal assets, as well on other national interests like agriculture and responding to disasters,” said Bruce Stein, director of climate change adaptation at the National Wildlife Federation.
In response to the announcement, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Ranking Member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said, “Let’s assume for a moment that there is no such thing as climate change. . . If we see an escalation in these types of catastrophes, we need to be prepared because it’s going to cost [the government] money.” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ranking Member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said, “Congress can’t ignore an issue that its own auditors say is a top risk to taxpayers. . . When GAO concludes that climate change is high risk, it becomes a fiscal imperative for the federal agencies and Congress to respond. The costs of inaction on climate change will be much higher than the costs of responsible action.”

For additional information see: Washington Post, USA Today, The Hill, GAO, Rep. Waxman Statement

UN Secretary General Calls for Two Degree Celsius Limit to Temperature Increase

On February 11, United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon delivered a statement pinpointing climate change as a major issue facing the international community. The statement, delivered as part of the Sorensen Distinguished Lecture on the UN at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, reiterated previous calls about climate change and the Syrian crisis as major issues deserving global attention (see January 28 issue). Specifically, the Secretary General urged countries to work together to limit temperature rise to two degrees Celsius, noting that American involvement is instrumental. “Scientists have long sounded the alarm. Top-ranking military commanders and security experts have now joined the chorus,” stated Ban-Ki Moon. “Yet the political class seems far behind.” He also acknowledged Obama’s resolve to tackle climate change, and noted the steps many countries are taking towards reducing their carbon emissions, such as adding renewable energy capacity. “It is time to move beyond spending enormous sums addressing the damage, and to make the investments that will repay themselves many times over.”
For additional information see: Transcript

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Chad A. Tolman
New Castle County Congregations of Delaware Interfaith Power and Light

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