Monday, May 31, 2010

Industry priorities versus public interest

I have talked about the need to limit carbon emissions, and a part of that process is putting a price on those emissions because they have a cost that we have basically ignored. Check out the following quotes from a recent newspaper article...

But the industry is working overtly and behind the scenes to fend off these attacks, using a shifting set of tactics that have defeated similar efforts for 30 years, records and interviews show. Industry insiders call the strategy "delay and divert" and say companies have a powerful incentive to fight back...
Now, the industry is blaming consumers for resisting efforts to reduce...
The broadside on the ... industry was taken seriously ... and touched off a scramble by producers to head off regulation, confidential company records and interviews show.
Robert I-San Lin, who was then overseeing research and development..., said in an interview that he had been caught between corporate and public interests.
Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg... said in an interview that... “We will use a variety of strategies, including education, voluntary reduction and potentially regulation,” she said, adding that "we are really at the beginning of the process of shaping our blueprint for action."

As you might guess from the parsing, the article is not about fossil fuels. The quotes are from an article in the New York Times about salt and the food industry. The tactics taken by the food industry as described in the article mirror the industry efforts to avoid decreased carbon emissions. This is illustrated by additional quotes from the article that are less ambiguous but could be just as applicable if the topic was not salt but carbon.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hennessy-ing is not believing

This past Thursday in the Herald there was some theme to the published letters to the editor. One from Repower North Dakota director Eric Mitchell countering the earlier letter from the ND Chamber of Commerce. Another from Betsy Perkins expressed the same desire the Chamber focus on "clean, inexpensive, non-polluting sources of energy" rather than try to keep the world held hostage to fossil fuels and their cheerleaders. Nice to see that sentiment, but nothing so exciting in the letters - mentions of how there are jobs and a better future down the path of clean energy.

But between those letters we had one from Dan Hennessy that is a rambling political diatribe that represents much of how discussion of climate science and thus the process of trying to maintain a livable climate has become polluted by some warped supposedly conservative ideology.

Here I want just to rap back on the various absurdities in Hennessy's letter. But more discussion is deserved by the woefully common phenomenon seen within it - the apparent inability to wield any tool besides political ideology when it comes to climate and energy as well as the projection that everybody else operates on the same level.

Hennessy at first ignores CO2 from fossil fuel use but criticizes construction and mining for clean energy projects as if only for clean energy projects are construction and mining dirty or dangerous. If he cared about the landscape around mines, he might speak out about coal mining. But no, all he wants to do sling some mud (or is it carbon?) to keep us bogged down in the status quo. It is no news that human activities adversely affect the environment, even those to develop a clean energy infrastructure. But that does not mean solar and wind energy is not cleaner than fossil fuels nor that we will not learn how to do it even more cleanly with time.

More importantly remember that spinning wind turbines and functioning solar collectors are much cleaner energy acquisition processes than shredding the landscape for coal or accidentally spilling some oil. Plus there is that whole issue of CO2 emissions - remember that.

Before that though Hennessy fires at "clean coal". But his is not a criticism like I would have, that "clean coal" means removing impurities to decrease pollution but is being sold like it addresses carbon emissions and climate change when it does not. No, Hennessy actually laments that coal is supposedly becoming too clean. I would like to see the research on which his point that more fertilizer is needed around where coal-burning pollution has decreased is based. By his reasoning we should be considering burning our houses to fertilize our yards with the smoke. Hennessy does bizarrely throw in that a little scrubbing is good when it takes out mercury, but he mentions no other negative by-products of coal-burning such as involved with acid rain.

Next Hennessy drags out the ridiculous "[c]arbon dioxide is a nutrient that life on this planet needs in order to exist." As long as Hennessy and others use that argument to excuse fossil fuel burning, I will counter that water is necessary for life too, so those people oppose flood control and support flooding. Even a necessary item can have a point of too much. Drinking too much water is dangerous, too many kiddie vitamins can cause iron poisoning, and injecting massive amounts of fossil carbon into the biosphere and atmosphere a geological blink of an eye can wreak massive havoc.

At this point Hennessy loses any pretense of science and starts swinging at political boogeymen.
  • He claims cap-and-trade will triple energy costs and that it is nothing but "feel good legislation".
  • He claims, "'Green' is code for 'bankrupt America.'"
  • He says other countries, in particular the whipping boys China and India, "truly pollute", though not America because he erroneously claims that reforestation takes more carbon out of the air than we emit. (Did he forget he just said CO2 is a good thing?)
  • He tries to use the results from one debunked analysis of a Spanish green jobs initiative to lash out at the supposed evils of government.
I wish I could say Dan Hennessy was a serial liar, but unfortunately it is more likely he and so many others believe the misinformation they lap up that produce illogical rantings like in Hennessy's letter. He probably really thinks climate scientists are corrupt and after his money, that CO2 emissions are of no concern, and that private companies like BP that focus on short-term profit can be trusted to protect and maintain the environment for all future generations. Unfortunately earnest can still be quite wrong, and that tends to be more difficult to counter. The blatent liars are relatively few, but the ignorant who will grab onto the lies are many.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

For richer or poorer

"Like it or not, we’re more or less married to fossil fuel," [American Crystal Sugar Co. president and chief executive David] Berg said.

So concludes an article in the May 24 Herald (non-Herald link here) reciting Berg's claim that "[i]f 'cap-and-trade' legislation were to move forward as currently framed, it would be the death knell to the 'world-class efficient' sugar beet industry in the Red River Valley, and much of the rest of the country." Hmmm.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is it for real

Another few-day-old item from the Herald on which I wanted to comment - a letter from a Blair Henry who among other things has been a professor at UND.

Basically the letter opens by lamenting that misinformation traceable to the fossil fuels industry is polluting the process to produce climate/energy legislation, suggests readers check out a relatively brief summary document on climate change, then offers up less reading by citing the recognition by a wide range of prominent groups that anthropogenic climate change is real. Included in the list of the last part are oil companies, coal companies, and electrical utilities.

This leads to a very interesting point - the tendency for some companies and groups to talk out of both sides of their mouth on the issue of climate change.

There is a range to this. The US Chamber of Commerce seems to mention climate change only perfunctorily and because it is like a brand from which maybe money can be made, but they clearly push strongly against action to address climate change with cries that doing anything will hurt business.

Others make more of an effort to at least appear to not be so blatently short-sighted and narrow-minded. Take the last decade of BP attempting to sell itself as "Beyond Petroleum". Even before the current Gulf oil-cano began erupting over a month ago, the sheen was wearing off that greenwashing. Similarly the coal industry likes to throw out "clean" every other word trying to get people to confuse regulation-driven decreases in the likes of sulfur and mercury emissions with not-decreasing carbon dioxide emissions.

On one hand it is a good thing to have the likes of fossil fuel companies acknowledging that carbon emissions and the subsequent climate change are real threats. It leaves that much less cover for the rejectionists and deniers to try to hide behind. On the other hand though there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to taking actual steps away from the business-as-usual fossil fuel use and emissions. For each positive by say the likes of Duke Energy, there is still way too much inaction to downright opposition. Recognition that trying to deny or ignore climate change is untenable is a start, but there needs to be wider recognition that simply talking the talk on climate change without walking the walk is not acceptable.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A dream of a filter

This past week the Herald had a story about an event to discuss the threats and implications of climate change. What was notable from the write-up in this case was that apparently it was not a debate nor all-opinions-fine roundup where bows to the supposed requirement of continuing massive fossil fuel use were required. And it was not sponsored by simply some advocacy group but rather led by a government official.

Which member of the ND Congressional delegation or other local leader brought this to Grand Forks? Uh, that would be the Norwegian Ambassador to the US, Wegger Strømmen. Thank you for your leadership Ambassador Strømmen - you have my vote in the next election! Or maybe not.

Again though, the lack of nonsense and focus on the threat of climate change is only based on my not seeing any mention of it in the Herald article. Not to say diversionary nonsense would have been good in that setting, but in a way I somewhat wish there had been some of that - like someone claiming we do not actually know if human activities are affecting climate or more concerned with fossil fuel industry profits than a livable climate.

I only say that because it actually occurring but not being mentioned in the write-up could be considered a nice step forward. It would demonstrate journalism beyond mere transcription. It would show desire to not just tell readers what happened but to inform them, to not give equal status to everything anyone says but to point out that some ideas carry the weight of evidence and expert support while some are just driven by political opinions and/or financial interests.

Friday, May 14, 2010

ND Chamber of Commerce does some recycling

The North Dakota Chamber of Commerce does little to hide their ignorance involving and opposition to efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions to maintain a livable climate. On the front of their webpage they have a link to a page with a lot of frankly wrong and seemingly made-up information.

Today Chamber President Dave MacIver had a letter in the Grand Forks Herald throwing the usual maybe-something-will-stick arguments against dealing with carbon emissions. Despite apparent disregard for the future state of the biosphere, the Chamber at least does some recycling, though unfortunately it is only recycling of the assertions we should do nothing about carbon emissions.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Pomeroy of No

Previously I suggested Rep. Earl Pomeroy may be doing nothing more than paying lip service to wanting to avoid disruptive climate change. Well, after seeing his latest commercial (those must be okay, though this is too early to debate), maybe he does not even actually get the concept of anthropogenic climate change at all. That may seem bad, but it would still be better than another possibility I will not rule out - perhaps Pomeroy is deliberating muddying the issue for short-sighted and political reasons. Actually, I cannot even say Pomeroy is not just plugging his ears, closing his eyes, and pretending climate change does not even exist.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spending all that money might be tough

After yesterday's excusing of whatever faults of fossil fuels by Tom Dennis in a Grand Forks Herald editorial, today we get another editorial pushing the idea of a "Commission on the Future" to tie North Dakota even more tightly to oil and figure out how to spend the decades-long jackpot oil is supposedly going to provide.

I have heard that all energy sources have risks, so maybe this commission should consider the risks that the oil fields will not pay off as much as dreamed. There is a chance through some combination of lower usage, greater energy efficiency, intelligent transition away from high oil usage, a forced rapid shift away from high oil usage, and other possible factors that the goose will not lay as many golden eggs as hoped. Ah, that is no fun. We want to just fill out the Christmas list. Hey, maybe there will be tons of coal in our stockings too!

The Herald mentioned tax cuts, university funding, road-building, even direct payments to residents - so many possible stops for the gravy train! What else might we want?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New UND nickname - I think I have the answer

Obviously the rigamarole involving the the nickname and logo used by University of North Dakota athletics has been a huge story lately in this neck of the woods. It looks like a new nickname will be coming down the line in the near future. But what to choose? There have been plenty of suggestions bandied about, but I think I have a good option. It is something many North Dakotans view as integral to the state, and as the editorial from Tom Dennis in today's Grand Forks Herald demonstrates it is something for which there is already plenty of cheerleading in the region...

North Dakota Fossil Fuels

The Herald has been recently scheming for how we can spend the continuing monetary windfall from fossil fuel extraction, so it is not surprising that in the wake of the oil-cano in the Gulf of Mexico we get something saying essentially we just have to accept such events. The supposed concept behind the editorial is about risk & trade-offs, which could also be views as cost & benefit. The problem with it is the woefully skewed descriptions of the risks/costs when it comes to energy. In particular there is not even a mention of climate change, which is like talking about the Red River impacts in this region and ignoring flooding.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Fossil Fuel Lobby that Cried "Tax"

Average US regular gasoline cost over the past year from (See current graph or for other timeframes here). More on this at the end.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Grand Forks April 2010 temperature almost matched May 2009

The preliminary climate data for both the airport and NWS sites for Grand Forks had everyday of April 2010 with a daily temperature above average.

Were the people who want to believe every cold snap they see or snowstorm somewhere using this April in the Red River Valley to continue to claim there is no global warming or even that there is current global cooling? I actually have no idea because I have not paid so much attention lately to such scientifically ignorant sources. Typically such folks simply shut up when it is warm, but surely some people are still echoing such nonsense.

The point here however is not to say that the every-day-above-average April 2010 in Grand Forks is some sort of proof of global warming. It would maybe be a drop in the filled pool of evidence that establishes the reality of climate change. That is the point. A warm or cold month or a few days of excessive rain, heat, or snow at your house tells you nothing conclusive about long-term global climate trends.

Despite the protests of the denialists and rejectionists the general long-term trend of global warming is well-established. That has been done by strongly supported theory as well as copious amounts of data from decades from across the world. You thinking it has been warm lately where you live is not needed to confirm it, and you thinking it has been cold lately in no way undermines it.

The thing to recognize is that months like April 2010 around Grand Forks are creeping toward being more common and closer to a new and gradually warming "normal". Relatively cold months will still occur (the forecast for the first week of May 2010 looks points to below average temperatures similar to May 2009), they will just not happen as often as relatively warm months. Instead of being evenly split between cool and warm compared to normal, years may average more like 5 cool months and 7 warm months. What we consider notably warm now may be considered simply typical in a couple generations.

Remember, an outdoor thermometer you put up around your home is fine for deciding what to wear any day, but that tool that will neither prove nor overturn the science of climate change.