Thursday, October 7, 2010

Is the World Finally Waking Up To the Need to Begin Shifting to New -- and Green -- Energy Sources? A Hearty . . . Maybe.

Anyone who knows me knows that on the one hand I'm a pragmatist who knows we're stuck with fossil fuels for at least the next several decades. After all, the U.S. gets around half its energy from coal, while in China that figure climbs to around 70%.

However, a realization that we need to be planning for a post-oil world is clearly spreading, partly as the acceptance that serious anthropogenic climate change grows. For instance, the respected Swedish geologist and physicist Nils-Axel Mörner long challenged the concept, often focusing on long-range forecasts of rises in sea levels. However, just within the past few weeks, Dr. Mörner has changed his stance, and now is warning against climate change, specifically the dominant warming trend. Formerly a poster boy for skeptics and deniers, Dr. Mörner's switch has been greeted so far by those skeptics and deniers with a . . . big, fat silence, at least in the many sources I regularly read.

Not that their silence os a surprise, mind you. After all, last northern hemisphere they were besides themselves with joy when a major snowstorm struck the U.S. Atlantic seaboard from south of the nation's capital north and when the non-event, as it turned out, of so-called "Climategate" hit the press, yet this just-ended northern summer, they were strangely mute as, most notably (if only because of the press coverage), Moscow suffered day after day of record-high temperatures for two months. The City of the Tsars sees an average August daytime temperature of around 72F; this summer (and not just in August, by the way), the temperatures averaged much higher -- from between about 20 degrees to 30 degrees (both F). Wildfires raged throughout western Russia and parts of Europe.

Other parts of the world were affected too, some with heat, others by, for example, floods. Japan, for instance, had its own weeks-long heat wave; well over 40,000 Japanese sought treatment for symtoms of possible heat stroke. Meanwhile, as much as 1/5th of the entire country in Pakistan was underwater from unprecedented flooding. I remember reading that one city received more rainfall in a single 24-hour period than it normally receives during that day's entire month. China, too, was struck by severe flooding. All of these events were caused by the same thing, a stalled high-pressure system that re-routed the jet stream, significantly affecting the weather over a vast area.

But back to this entry's headline. As I write, China is hosting a major meeting on the climate in Tianjin, a major city, a port, southeast of Beijing. China. Further, as reported in the New York Times """Businesses Seek Clarity on Climate Goals," a group calling itself "Business for the Environment" is holding a summit in Mexico City this week -- in part to call upon next month's U.N. meeting in Cancun, Mexico to establish a goal of cutting greenhouse emission by at least 50% -- from 1990 levels, no less -- by 2020. So, whose attending the summit in Mexico City? "
blog "Green" in a story headlined "

Among the companies attending the Mexico City meeting were global corporations including Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, I.B.M., Siemens, and Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping companies. Wal-Mart sent somebody for the first time," according to the article, which goes on to note,  "But no one was there from any of the global energy companies. I'm particularly struck by the participation of Maersk, since shipping by sea is a huge contributor to greenhouse emissions. Good for Maersk -- and the rest of the companies participating.

Of course, the usual suspects continue their tricks. For instance, there is a proposition, Proposition 23, on California's ballot that is being strongly pushed by two Texas oil companies (Valero Energy, Inc. and Tesoro Corporation, both headquartered in San Antonio), each of which have two refineries in California, and both of which would have to take environmental measures at those refineries under California law AB32. Proposition 23, which masquerades as a job-protection bill (yeah, right), would block implementation of AB32 until after California has had four consecutive quarters with unemployment standing at 5.5% or less.

California is currently struggling with an unemployment rate well over 12% -- around 12.5%, according to most calculations. Proposition 23 would contribute to that by threatening as many as 500,000 green-sector jobs. Further, businesses and investors have plowed billions into California, to a degree on the basis of AB32 (passed in 2006, the bill seeks to cut California's greenhouse emissions by 30% by 2020). Further, California's unemployment rate has dropped to 5.5% just three times in over 30 years, making Proposition 23's requirements unrealistic. Green jobs have been one of the few bright spots in the state's badly troubled economy.

But companies such as Valero and Tesoro are beginning to find themselves with decreasing support, despite the tens of millions they've poured into fear-based lobbying and advertising to California. Even Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate for governor, has expressed some opposition to Prop 23 (though she still supports delaying implementation of AB32 one year to give time for a complete re-write -- read, "gutting" -- of that assembly bill). George Schulz, Secretary of State 1982-89 under President Reagan, and hardly a tree hugger, opposes Prop 23. (Schulz isn't a one-shot wonder; he served as Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of Labor during the Nixon and Ford Administrations.)

Yes, there appears to be a slow drift as climate-change skeptics' and deniers' claims are increasingly debunked. But there are some who apparently won't be convinced until, for example, an island nation disappears beneath the waves. And even then, some of them will claim the islands sank, and continue to deny the seas rose.

There's room for hope yet. . . .