A Split Congress

Within the next hour of writing this blog entry, President Barack Obama will be sworn in for his second term.  I will be sitting at my computer watching the event unfold.  I don’t typically discuss my political leanings, but one major factor in my vote for Obama was because I felt most hopeful that under his leadership there might be movement on climate change legislation. Previous posts in this blog have noted my disappointment in the lack of engagement on this issue by the President and his opponent, Mitt Romney.

However, with NOAA stating the 2012 was the warmest year on record, a record that dates back to 1895, Senator Barbara Boxer is expected to place new vigor on getting something done.  As the Chair on the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee she has the power and influence to draw attention to the threat that inaction on climate change would pose.

Now, this is the United States, and not to be too cynical, but if there weren’t disagreement we would have had climate change legislation at the national level decades ago.  While Senator Boxer is committed to championing the issue, the House of Representatives is gearing up for passing legislation on ‘improving’ the Environmental Protection Agency.  Critics point out that this legislation would essentially open the doors for industry (fossil) to be allowed to sit on the Science Advisory Board which approves/disapproves risk assessments.  I am not against having a cadre of scientists that have opposing views analyzing something as important as risk assessments, but I do scratch my head at who thinks letting industry researchers approve of projects that would benefit them is a good idea.

I do think there are good ideas out there.  Long ago, I stopped putting so much faith in having an international agreement on climate change.  I also became less convinced at agreement might be had at the national level (thinking primarily of the U.S.), but I am hopeful that change can occur at the local and regional level.  Several regional and provincial governments have implemented climate change legislation (British Columbia Carbon Tax, RGGI, etc.).  I was also encouraged to see that Dawson Creek, a small town in BC, was pricing carbon emission at $100 a ton, far above the provincial tax of $30.

While 2013 is still rather young, I am encouraged that further action will occur.  Small changes can build up into something larger.  I am sure President Obama never thought that after being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006, he would become President only 2 years later.  Change can come quickly.


What’s it going to take to avoid 6 degrees?

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) a UK based professional services conglomerate which also include energy and technology investments released a new report.  The findings are almost knee-jerk.  Previously discussions on climate change began with mitigating all affects, then progressed to preventing a 2 degree change, then a 4 degree change.  PwC is now warning that a 6 degree change might be coming and in order avoid this catastrophe, a drastic decrease in carbon intensity is needed.

Punting on Climate Change

President Obama appears to be punting the issue of climate change until after the Congress handles the “fiscal cliff” situation and instead prefers an educational strategy. You can read a transcript of the news conference here.

As you can read in the transcript President Obama is putting the economy ahead of climate change, even though the two should not be separated.  Hurricane Sandy and other severe weather events have a huge economic toll.  Instead of addressing the issue of climate change when most necessary, President Obama prefers to address the issue of jobs, although he talked plenty about green jobs throughout his first 4 years.  It will be interesting to see how the next 4 years unfolds, but punting on addressing climate change and instead relying on an educational process is an easy out.  I don’t expect there to be a drastic shift in Obama’s policies, however, he could have taken the opportunity to note that the State of California began selling permits for the nation’s largest cap and trade program.   I hope that Obama can quickly outline what measures he hopes his administration will take in addressing the threat of climate change.

Obama’s Re-election and Climate Change

Something interesting happened last night.  Not only did President Obama win another four years as President of the United States, but in his acceptance speech he mentioned for the first time in several weeks, months even, the direct threat that climate change poses (See Acceptance Speech Below, 11:56).  This is a welcome public acknowledgement by the President to an issue that has been largely ignored even though it could be strongly argued that it is the greatest threat to not only the U.S., but humanity.  The next four year could prove pivotal in the U.S. taking the lead on climate change legislation.  If certain policies can’t be passed through the U.S. Congress, President Obama may use executive orders in order to move forward on addressing the threat of climate change.  President Obama could also encourage the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to move forward on regulating CO2 and other GHG’s, which the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA could do under the Clean Air Act (CAA).  Republicans and those opposed to regulation of GHG’s could try and pass legislation making it illegal for the EPA to regulate GHG’s.  Even if this were to pass through the Congress, it is highly likely that the President would veto the effort and without a 2/3 majority in the House and Senate, the veto would hold.  The next four years surely looks more promising and I am hopeful that the U.S. will act.


I have talked with some friends who live in the U.S. and had similar concerns about the lack of climate change discussion in the recent Presidential Debates.  The lack of attention to this issue is underscored even more as a majority of the Eastern U.S. braces for what is being called ‘Frankenstorm‘ and ‘Superstorm‘.  Hurricane Sandy is continuing a disturbing trend, hurricane force storms heading towards the Northeast U.S., and will surely fuel further questions as to whether this is due to climate change.

While I will be watching the storm closely I am also looking forward to volunteering this upcoming weekend for a screening of Groundswell.  The film adds to the controversial Enbridge Pipeline.  If you are needing something to do this weekend come down to Science World in Vancouver and check out the film.

Patagonia Groundswell Trailer from george manzanilla @ rundfunk on Vimeo.

What happened to Climate Change?

Interested in hearing what the U.S. Presidential candidates had to say, I tuned in for the second of three debates.  The topic was domestic policy and I was hoping to hear what President Obama and Governor Romney had to say about energy issues.  Concern over gasoline prices have been a dominant theme among voters and with large issues (i.e. Keystone XL pipeline) that could go one way or another based on who is the next U.S. President, this would be an important debate to watch.

I was initially pleased with how the debate unfolded.  I believe both candidates did a good job answering the questions, given that this is typically not the case.  However, I was quite upset that when the topic of oil and energy came up neither candidate mentioned climate change.  When Obama made his case for alternative energies, it wasn’t for concerns over a warming global climate, it was for lowering oil prices and energy security.  Romney didn’t even attempt to wade into concerns over climate change.

Romney has switched positions on climate change and Obama has stated that he believes humans contribute to global warming.  I am fully aware of the controversy behind global warming with skeptics getting much more air play then they deserve and both men probably referred to their political aides who might have said something along the lines of, “play it safe and don’t bring up climate change.”  However, I look to the current President and then man that might be the next to be leaders who aren’t afraid to take an opportunity like last night to inform the public and take a position on climate change.

Cool Resource, Disturbing News, and Rio

I’ve come across some cool resources since the last post.  The first is a state-by-state climate map of the U.S. from the NY Times.  I just looked up Vermont and they’re the 5th fastest warming State, with an increase of 0.6 degrees F per decade.  What’s really worth noting is that if you check out other states (say Georgia) you’ll notice there was a decrease in temperature and the State is only slightly above where it was in the 1920’s.   This just goes to show you that scale matters and while warming is occuring everywhere, some places are experiencing higher rates of warming then others.

There was also a bit of disturbing news.  Global coal consumption for energy has increased to 30.3%, the highest percent since 1969.  Globally the use of coal is increasing, however, the increase is skewed to developing countries that rely on a cheaper energy source.  Developed countries, like the US, have decreased the amount of coal consumed for energy.  In fact the coal accounted for 34% of energy consumption just a few months ago.  This according to the article linked above was the lowest level since 1973.

The good news is that Rio+20 is right around the corner.  This gives countries from around the world an opportunity to address some of the disturbing trends in climate change.  We should all hope that agreements can be reached that will address some of the concerns around global warming.

My role as a scientist

One reason why I write and maintain this blog is in part because of my role in TerreWEB at UBC.  There are many reasons for why I decided to continue on in school, but few can be as adequately described as done by Neil Degrasse Tyson.  I also believe this is one of the underlying motives for TerreWEB and many other researchers alike.  It is more then communicating science.  It is about improving scientific literacy.

Communicating Science

A story from NPR beautifully describes what science is… describing how the world works.  Watch the video clip from Richard Feynman, one of the world’s greatest minds.

The benefits of char-energy

At a recent Dept. of Energy (DOE) meeting Steven Chu and Bill Gates both agreed that cheap energy would improve the world.  For many around the world, access to cheap and reliable energy is rare.  Improvements in energy intensification (energy per GDP) has resulted in the improvements we see today.  However, these improvements have not been equitable.  To this point Chu and Gates see varying future energy pathways.

One pathway that these two overlook is the role of waste-to-energy systems in developed and developing areas.  Many of these waste-to-energy systems incorporate some form of waste combustion to capture heat and other products that can then be used as forms of energy.  These types of systems are popular and are in wide use today, however, would a system that not only produces energy, but biochar be feasible?  Some researchers have already looked at this idea.  Questions do still remain as to what the economic cost and impact on climate change would be.