Saturday, June 30, 2012

Climate Crisis Announces Its Presence With Authority

UPDATE 6/30: Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) reports 2.5 million customers are without power, the largest non-hurricane outage in Virginia history. Meanwhile in neighboring Tennessee, Nashville broke its all-time high - not its high for the day but its highest temperature ever recorded - by two full degrees.

After a record-melting day, we've had a night of extreme storms that have killed several people and left millions of people without power across the Mid-Atlantic region.

What's next? Forecast highs for Saturday & Sunday here in the DC area: 101 & 101. With yet another chance of strong storms each night.

And it's not even July yet.

To borrow a phrase from Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham, this is global warming announcing its presence with authority. We've spent the last 100+ years digging fossil fuels out of the ground and burning them as quickly as we can. We've added unfathomable amounts of energy to Earth's atmosphere in the blink of a geological eye.

Yet instead of acting at the first serious warnings of crisis back in 1988, we've spent another generation burning carbon-based fuels faster than ever. We've sat & listened to the CEO of Exxon Mobil ask if global warming will really be so bad - but now that it's here in full force, can we really comprehend how bad it might really be?

NBC4 Meteorologist Doug Kammerer explains how global warming is adding fuel to the atmospheric fire we've witnessed today:

Learn more about how global warming is causing extreme weather.

Friday, June 29, 2012

DC Breaks All-Time June High Temperature Record

Tian Tian enjoys a fruitsicleThe temperature at National Airport hit 104 this afternoon according to the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang.

"We are now experiencing D.C.’s hottest June temperatures in 142 years of record-keeping," says CWG's Jason Samenow. With the dew point at 70 degrees, it feels like 111 degrees.

How fast is global warming rewriting our temperature records? The old June record was just tied last year, a 102 degree day on June 9, 2011. Globally, 2012 has been nearly a full degree above the 20th century average.

Today's Evidence the "War on Coal" is as Fake as "Clean Coal"

The Obama administration is giving away access to a huge tract of Wyoming coal to Peabody Energy at the bargain price of $1.10 a ton. Peabody will then sell it on the global market to the highest bidder and keep the profits, while the rest of us will pay the price for the global warming pollution that burning coal emits.

If this is a "war on coal," what would an ongoing love affair with coal look like? Would we have to pay Big Coal to take America's irreplaceable natural resources & sell them to China?

Sign Credo Action's petition to tell the Bureau of Land Management to end dirty coal giveaways and stop subsidizing climate change.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Exxon Mobil CEO: Learn to Stop Worrying About Climate Bomb & Love My Oil

Rex Tillerson (Exxon Mobil)Rex Tillerson made $35 million last year selling you oil. Now he's urging you to invest not in clean energy but in helping poor people buy more of Exxon Mobil's oil.

Do you think his motivation is more about the poor people, or more about the $35 million?

Talking Global Warming-Fueled Sea Level Rise with Thom Hartmann

I joined The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann last night to talk about how climate change is fueling an acceleration in the rise of global sea levels, a phenomenon that's hitting especially hard on America's East Coast.

A lighter moment at the end when Thom asked me about "clean coal." Remember when people believed in that mythical creature? So ironic that the same people who screech the loudest about a similarly made-up "war on coal" now (Sen. Jim Inhofe, Sen. Jim Webb, etc.) were the same people who sealed coal's death warrant by blocking national clean energy & climate action legislation, which would've been loaded with carbon capture & storage subsidies.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New Poll: Only 1 in 7 Americans Support Inhofe Polluter Bill; Majorities Want EPA Mercury & Carbon Action

UPDATE 11:58am: Warner & Webb voted with Sen. Inhofe. Disgraceful. Fortunately, 53 other senators stood up for public health & killed the bill.

Stink EyeNot only is Sen. Jim Inhofe's bill to block new Environmental Protection Agency mercury standards horrible public policy that would kill a lot of people, a new United Technologies/National Journal poll finds it's wildly unpopular with voters:
A new United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll finds that 57 percent of the public supports a recently-finalized Environmental Protection Agency rule controlling mercury and other toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants as long as companies are given more time to comply.

The poll found that a similar majority—55 percent—thinks EPA should be able to control greenhouse-gas emissions that most scientists agree cause climate change. Just slightly more than one-third of the public—36 percent—said Congress should stop EPA from such regulation. A federal court is expected to rule soon on whether the agency is within its right to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions.

The poll’s findings put a majority of Americans out of step with Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., who is sponsoring a measure coming up for a vote on Wednesday that would nullify EPA’s mercury rule entirely. Just under 20 percent of survey respondents said the Senate should vote to uphold the rule as it stands now, while only 14 percent said the Senate should vote to get rid of it
Again, I'd ask Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb: This is a hard call? Really? Which part is a tough call, the part where it lets corporate polluters profit by treating America's air and water like an open sewer? The part where people with asthma die? Or the part where it's incredibly bad politics?

Photo courtesy Flickr's Symbiosis

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Warner & Webb Undecided on Whether to Let Polluters Keep Killing People

Treating Kids with Asthma (2)Today, the Senate is expected to vote on a bill by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) to block the Environmental Protection Agency from setting science-based standards for mercury and other toxic pollutants. That Sen. Mark Warner & Sen. Jim Webb are considered "swing votes" by the coal mining industry is a sad statement about how the Democratic Party of Virginia remains pathetically in the back pocket of the coal industry.

Pollution from coal-fired power plants is a major cause of asthma attacks. Historically in America, rather than address those causes, we enjoy "cheap" electricity, then let people get sick - 20 million Americans a year have asthma attacks, with 2 million of those being treated in the emergency room, and 5,000 people a year dying. Economists call those people externalities - costs that don't show up on your power bill.

Thirteen years after public health and conservation groups started pushing the Clinton administration to strengthen clean air standards, the Obama administration finally delivered last December, unveiling new rules. But electric utilities and their allies, led by Sen. Inhofe, are trying to block the rule, giving $9,313,822 to Congress so far this cycle alone (61% to Republicans).

Virginia parents, despite their inability to write the large checks demanded in this post-Citizens United world, are fighting back:
Kim Meltzer, a Charlottesville mother who has rushed her two-year-old son to the ER because of asthma attacks, hopes politicians will do the right thing for those who don't have a voice in Washington. "I'd like the environment to be one in which my children and all people can live in and not worry about breathing toxic fumes."
What's most pathetic about Sen. Inhofe's effort is that coal's enemy isn't clean air regulations - it's the rising cost of digging the last bits of coal out of the ground compared to natural gas that's cheap now and renewables that are falling in price every day. "Even without the EPA rules, coal is not really competitive," says one energy industry analyst.

And for all the squawking in Congress about creating jobs, cutting mercury and other toxic pollution does create jobs:
The EPA has estimated that as many as 15,000 construction jobs lasting several years will result.

[NRDC Clean Air Director John] Walke says this is a win-win for the American economy and the health of the American people. "It's finally time to clean up these dirty power plants, they are being given plenty of time to clean up, and it's a tremendous health gain for Americans that we finally clean up these dirty plants."
And what about coal? Virginia just invested billions in a new coal-fired power plant in Wise County ... which a Virginia State Corporation Commission analyst has testified (PDF) that, because the higher rates needed to pay for it, will actually result in a net loss to Virginia of 1,474 jobs.

And yet Senators Warner & Webb have to be talked into standing with public health and against giving coal plants a free pass to foul our air with mercury, sulfur oxides, nitrous oxides, and other toxic pollutants. Shameful.

Saudi Arabia Aims to be the Saudi Arabia of Solar Power

Parabolic trough power plant MojaveWhen an opponent of renewable energy claims North Dakota is the Saudi Arabia of oil shale, or Canada is the Saudi Arabia of tar sands, it's a dead giveaway they don't know what they're talking about.

You know who's the Saudi Arabia of oil? Saudi Arabia. And considering the United States has just 2% of the world's oil reserves while consuming 20% of the world's produced oil, we're stuck buying lots of oil from whoever will sell it to us at whatever price they demand.

Now here's the kicker: Saudi Arabia knows it won't be the Saudi Arabia of oil forever. That's why it's taking our oil money and spending it on becoming the Saudi Arabia of solar power.

Meanwhile, Republicans like Mitt Romney, George Allen and Scott Brown are trying to cut renewable energy subsidies and count on that 2% to meet our energy needs. It's a plan to drill to nowhere.

Monday, June 18, 2012

David Roberts: Progressives Shouldn't be Afraid to Talk Climate

Some progressives say they're afraid to talk about climate science and the urgent need for climate action because it's too complicated.

In this TED Talk, Grist's David Roberts says climate science easy to understand, it's simple to communicate the danger of climate inaction, and he'll convince you if you give him 17 minutes of your day:

You can follow David on Twitter and subscribe to his Grist feed on Google Reader.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dept. of Irony: Team USA, Sponsored by BP

Rebecca Soni – U.S. Olympic Gold MedalistThe U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Teams receive no federal funding. I understand they need to raise money and can't be too choosy about the sources.

But ... the 2012 and 2016 U.S. teams are sponsored by BP? Really?

BP is already deploying team members to the Gulf Coast on public relations trips.

As Karen Dalton Beninato tweeted, "Hence this year's 50 Yard Oil Slide."

And Robert Loerzel tweeted, "New event: The Junk Shot."

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What Does Peak Coal in America Mean for Appalachia?

rear viewAmerica is forecast to get less than 40% of its electricity from coal this year, mostly replaced by cheaper, less polluting natural gas and to a lesser extent by emerging renewables like solar & wind. That would be coal's lowest level in more than 60 years:
Just five years ago, coal was flourishing in the U.S. With electricity demand and the price of natural gas both rising, coal was viewed as essential to keeping power costs under control. Utilities drew up plans to build dozens of coal-fired plants.

But around the same time, a revolution was under way in the natural gas industry. Drillers figured how to tap enormous deposits of previously inaccessible reserves. As supplies grew and the price of natural gas plummeted, the ground shifted under the electric-power industry. [...]

Power plants that burn coal produce more than 90 times as much sulfur dioxide, five times as much nitrogen oxide and twice as much carbon dioxide as those that run on natural gas, according to the Government Accountability Office, the regulatory arm of Congress. Sulfur dioxide causes acid rain; nitrogen oxides cause smog; and carbon dioxide is a so-called greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.
For coal apologists, here's the real kick in the pants: "Even without the EPA rules, coal is not really competitive," says Jone-Lin Wang, head of Global Power for the energy research firm IHS CERA. So much for coal executives' fever dreams of a "war on coal."

So if America really has put coal in its rear view mirror, what does it mean for Appalachia? Countries like Saudi Arabia are taking their oil profits and pouring them into renewable energy to prepare for the inevitable decline of their oil reserves. Is there a similar plan to prepare Appalachia for a world where its coal is too expensive and too dirty? Or any plan at all?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Big Wins in Alexandria City Council for Smart Growth, Sierra Club

Waterfront ParkSmart growth was a big issue in Tuesday's Alexandria City Council race - and candidates who supported transit-oriented development won big:
Democrats in the city had split into factions in recent weeks leading up to the primary, with some opponents of the waterfront redevelopment plan and other development proposals throwing support behind a swath of new blood for the city council. But those forces of opposition weren't enough to carry the day.

"I had a positive message about how to deal with development pressures, and I think people appreciated that," [Tim] Lovain said.

"This anti-development attitude, I don't think was really that loud and strong," said Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille after the votes were tallied. "But yet, I think people are pleased with direction of the city simply because our quality of life, and we are doing all the right things and will continue to do all the right things."
Mount Vernon Sierra Club-endorsed Tim Lovain, Del Pepper, Paul Smedberg and Justin Wilson all won (and a fifth candidate, Sean Holihan, fell just short as he dealt with an unrelated problem).

Monday, June 11, 2012

Virginians: Vote Tuesday!

Virginians will go to the polls on Tuesday for Congressional and certain local primary elections. I'll be working the polls on Tuesday morning for Rep. Jim Moran in Falls Church's Oakwood precinct, if you're voting there, say hello! And if you're still not sure you should go all the way to the polls to cast your vote for Rep. Moran in Virginia's 8th Congressional district, check out Lowell Feld's endorsement of Rep. Moran at Blue Virginia.

The other big election in Northern Virginia is in Alexandria where 14 candidates are competing for 6 Democratic primary endorsements. The Mt. Vernon Sierra Club has endorsed Donna Fossum, Sean Holihan, Tim Lovain, Del Pepper, Paul Smedberg and Justin Wilson.

If you need to know who's on the ballot in your local race or where to vote, visit the Virginia State Board of Elections.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sea Level Rise Denial Comes to Virginia

Remember how everyone was laughing at North Carolina for pretending they could solve the problem of global warming-fueled sea level rise by ordering state workers to pretend it doesn't exist? Ha ha, said Virginians! Stupid North Carolina!

Except Virginia is denying sea level rise as well, reports Scott Harper of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot. I'm not sure who to be most upset at - Republicans like Del. Chris Stolle for pushing sea level rise denial, scientists quoted in the article for cowardly refusing to stand up for facts, or the reporter for repeating Tea Party myths like "environmentalists stopped saying global warming" as fact (dear Scott Harper: see my previous paragraph).

For more in-depth analysis, see ClimateProgress on the reality rejection, Blue Virginia's Kindler on Del. Stolle's Orwellian tactics, and Climate Central on how 58,000 Virginians would be flooded out of their homes by the scientifically expected three feet of sea level rise this century.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

2012 Shatters Record for America's Hottest Spring

This just in from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
According to NOAA scientists, the average temperature for the contiguous U.S. during May was 64.3°F, 3.3°F above the long-term average, making it the second warmest May on record. The month's high temperatures also contributed to the warmest spring, warmest year-to-date, and warmest 12-month period the nation has experienced since recordkeeping began in 1895.

The spring season's (March-May) nationally averaged temperature was 57.1°F, 5.2°F above the 1901-2000 long-term average, surpassing the previous warmest spring (1910) by 2.0°F.
Data like this is why I don't use the term climate "skeptic." Who could rationally process America being five degrees above normal and shattering the record for hottest spring by two full degrees and think, "Meh, I'm not yet convinced"? This is what a climate crisis looks like, and if you can't accept that, you're denying reality.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

You Can't Get There from Here

Peter Pan bus station, ProvidenceThe Green Miles is on an Amtrak train on the way to Providence for this week's Netroots Nation. I'd been hoping to be able to visit my girlfriend in nearby New Bedford AND go without a car, but limited bus service makes that costly and inconvenient.

Downtown Providence, RI (population: 178,042) and New Bedford, MA (population: 95,072) are 33 miles apart, a 38 minute drive according to Google Maps. But if you don't have a car or want to drive, the only way to get between the two is a Peter Pan bus that only runs every two hours, takes 80 minutes, and costs $33 round-trip. (By comparison, a Megabus round-trip ticket from Providence to New York City costs $28.)

It's a combination of terrible planning, massive public under-investment in regional transportation, and inconvenient state borders. The main Providence bus station is located three miles north of downtown, so you have to take a bus from downtown to the main bus station, then on to New Bedford. SRTA, which serves New Bedford and Fall River, has an annual budget of only $14 million, barely enough to provide minimal intra-city service despite large rider protestsRIPTA only serves Rhode Island and even Massachusetts' next-generation commuter rail plan acts like Rhode Island doesn't exist.

But with a huge swath of Americans 16-34 driving much less and taking transit much more, you have to wonder how long the lonely driver transportation model can hold.

If you're wondering about the title, read this classic Saturday Night Live skit. (Yes, read it. SNL's video archiving sucks worse than NBC's ratings.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Do Not Let an Otter Give You Swimming Lessons

Watch this clip from the Columbus Zoo of a mama North American river otter "teaching her pup how to swim," which looks exactly like "doing her best to drown her pup." Holding her pup underwater? Dragging it back into the water by the foot as it tries to escape? What kind of a mother are you?

I once thought otters were cute and fun, but are they really history's greatest monsters? I'm just asking questions.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Fisherman's Brutally Honest Overfishing Analogy

As Mark Kurlansky detailed in Cod, fishermen often blame someone else for their own overfishing of their native stock. But are Massachusetts fishermen now becoming more accepting their role in the decline of New England fisheries?
"I used to be a hunter. I'd chase fish just like a guy on the plains hunted buffalo," said [Scituate, MA commercial fisherman Frank] Mirarchi, 68, "The solution to all my problems was to catch more fish. But now, with all the fish allocations, it's like trying to juggle a retirement portfolio."
A tough but fair analogy. In the late 1800s, Americans hunted the American buffalo to the edge of extinction. It's taken more than 100 years to bring American buffalo back from the brink, with bison finally returning to tribal lands just this year. Similarly, aggressive factory trawling targeting both big fish like cod and the little fish they eat like herring have devastated Atlantic fish populations (and global warming won't help their effort to rebound).

Fisherman have traditionally fought any limits on catch tooth-and-nail, derisively referring to any effort to manage a sustainable fish stock as "the anti-fishing movement," as if there are still plenty of fish it's only those pesky scientists holding them back. When the political debate's goalposts are "sustainable limits based on the best available science" on one side and "buffalo-style fish harvesting" on the other, whatever policy that fits in will inevitably be insufficient.

But conservation groups like Pew and the Environmental Defense Fund are increasingly working with fishermen to determine the most efficient ways to reduce take, and people like Frank Mirarchi are recognizing that denial won't preserve their way of life for future generations of fishermen.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Rep. Moran: Congress Has "Moral and Ethical Obligation" to Confront Climate Change

Gila National Forest Wildfire (Whitewater -Baldy Fire)With global warming-fueled wildfires sweeping through New Mexico, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) is urging Congress to face up to the growing problem:
Congressman Jim Moran, Northern Virginia Democrat and Ranking Member on the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, today introduced a resolution calling on Congress to take action on climate change. The Moran resolution is supported by a range of religious and faith groups.

“Climate change is already having a profoundly adverse impact on our environment and will affect our national security and the longevity and health of our children. Thus, there is a moral and ethical obligation to responsibly address this growing threat,” said Rep. Moran. “I am proud to join religious leaders and organizations calling for Congress to take timely and responsible action on climate change.”

The resolution acknowledges the impact of climate change on food stability, national security and welfare of future generations and the moral responsibility to be stewards of the environment.
But instead of tackling the climate crisis, Congressional Republican leadership is actually fighting to make it worse, trying to block the Environmental Protection Agency's effort to limit carbon pollution from the oldest, dirtiest coal-fired power plants.

Read Rep. Moran's full resolution here (PDF) and tell the EPA you support limits on industrial carbon pollution.