Gone Green
Nov 16, 2009
By Sean Piazza

COP15As the numbers on the Copenhagen Countdown clock continue to shrink, so too do expectations for a legally binding agreement among the 192 nations attending December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 15). Recent polls show wavering support among the American people for drastic action on climate change, implying that a collective rain check may be required to avoid another Kyoto-style failure.

Oct 09, 2009
By Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica

natural gas activistsA preliminary report from a consultant hired by New York City warns that "nearly every activity" associated with natural gas drilling could potentially harm the city’s drinking water supply and that while the risk can be reduced with strict regulations, "the likelihood of water quality impairment…cannot be eliminated." 

Sep 28, 2009
By Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica

hydrofrackingPennsylvania environment officials are racing to clean up as much as 8,000 gallons of dangerous drilling fluids after a series of spills at a natural gas production site near the town of Dimock last week.

Aug 26, 2009
By Sean Piazza

lawnmowerIn the Berkeley Public Library in Berkeley, Calif., readers can expand their minds free of charge with books by literary icons like Balzac, Faulkner and Shelley. But for those looking to expand their backyards, the works go by different names: Deere, Stihl and Husqvarna.

Aug 21, 2009
By Beth Anne Macaluso

Tunisia desertificationA recent report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—the government agency responsible for tracking ocean and atmospheric conditions—paints a grim picture of the state of today’s global climate.

Aug 07, 2009
By Drew Stoga

Long Meadow RanchLong Meadow Ranch’s national sales manager, Chris Hall, describes his three favorite vintages from his Napa Valley winery.

Jul 08, 2009
By Lindsey Schneider

hydraulic fracturingBack in 2005, a process used by 90 percent of all gas drilling projects called hydraulic fracturing was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, was pioneered by Halliburton and involves injecting a “secret sauce” of chemicals, sand and water into cracks in the ground in order to pull out the natural gas therein. Now, Congress is being persuaded to back away from regulating the fracking industry by industry insiders.

Mar 01, 2009
By Alan Stoga

The New Scientist recently reported that Australian scientists are connecting the dots between climate change and February’s devastating wildfires—and those dots could have important consequences for parts of California, Texas and the Southeast.

Dec 08, 2008
By Alan Stoga

Usually global negotiations have to start before they fail, even if they’re never quite declared dead. Think about the seven year-long (and counting) Doha Round of trade negotiations that most recently “failed” in July, or the UN Security Council reform, which has been a work in progress at least since 2004.

However, it looks like the effort to negotiate a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change could fail long before negotiators (now meeting in Poland) even get to Copenhagen a year from now, when they are supposed to agree on a new treaty.

That’s the conclusion of “Grasping the Climate Crisis” which has just been written by three Swedish climate experts and published by the Tällberg Foundation. “Even the best possible agreement signed in Copenhagen is likely to fail…because of the lack of political will to prioritize environment over short-term economic and geopolitical strategic interests.”

The basic problem is simple: reality is moving much faster than most of the people who are thinking about the issue. (See “We’re Melting” in FLYP’s current issue.) Since the climate isn’t as forgiving as a trade deal gone bad, the result of a failure at Copenhagen could spell planetary disaster.

The authors of “Grasping the Climate Crisis” include a research scientist, a strategist and a member of the European Parliament who have been deeply engaged with the climate issue for many years. According to the Swedes, the approach to the Copenhagen negotiations suffers from four problems:

•    Climate negotiators are focused too narrowly on carbon emissions, despite growing evidence that the earth’s ecosystems are nearing tipping points.

Remember the Dust Bowl of the 1920s? Scientists are increasingly worried that the Amazonian rainforest could follow a similar path and become a dry savannah. That would not only have profound consequences for Brazil, but would dramatically worsen the global emissions problem since the rainforest absorbs substantial amounts of carbon.

•    Negotiators are ignoring the most recent science that demonstrates that the pace of global warming is accelerating, which means the emission targets being discussed are inadequate.

For example, latest measurements show that the Arctic Ocean is losing summer ice more than 30 years ahead of the consensus scientific predictions. Barack Obama’s commitment to reduce U.S. emissions in 2020 to 1990 levels and even more ambitious European commitments were based on those now outdated predictions.

•    Countries like China and India are understandably intent on following the same path that produced wealth in the U.S., Europe and Japan. For their part, the industrial countries are equally intent on retaining the wealth and economic growth rates they are used to. Unfortunately, everybody’s economic model is based on burning more and more fossil fuel—which is why atmospheric emissions are accelerating.

That contradiction essentially explains why the Bush administration opted out of Kyoto—but also why emissions have risen 35 percent since 1990, despite Kyoto. The Swedes argue that ethics and equity demand the industrial countries finance more energy efficient development in emerging countries. However, it’s hard to imagine there will be any progress on that agenda while the industrial world is plunging deeper into recession (or while China is America’s largest creditor).

•    Climate negotiators are looking at only one aspect of the larger systemic question of how global political and economic decisions are made.

Any far reaching climate deal would inevitably be as much about politics and economics as it would be about carbon. The trade and the UN reform negotiations have failed—and international monetary reform discussions haven’t even started—because the world is frozen in a post-World War II global political framework. Global governance has not kept up with globalization.

In short, the Copenhagen negotiating process is fundamentally—and fatally—flawed. The only way to avoid a non-outcome like Doha or, even worse, an agreement like Kyoto that promises much more than it delivers would be to launch a truly global negotiation: global in scope and global in reach.

The alternative, suggested in a quote from Albert Schweitzer which appears at the start of “Grasping the Climate Crisis,” is pretty grim: “Man has lost the capacity to forsee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.”

Download “Grasping the Climate Crisis” here (PDF).

Aug 07, 2008
By FLYP Staff

Every year, a dead zone forms in the Gulf of Mexico as nitrogen from fertilizer used throughout the Midwest washes down the Mississippi River. More nitrogen in the water encourages the growth of more algae, zooplankton eat the algae and the algae excretes organic matter that decays and depletes the oxygen in the water. No oxygen, no life: fish and other marine life either move away or die.

Because of the massive flooding in Iowa and Illinois earlier this summer, the dead zone this year is estimated to be 8,000 square miles—bigger than the state of New Jersey, and tied for the second largest since scientists began measurements in 1985.

In a press release, the Louisiana State University Marine Consortium scientists who measured the zone this year (PDF) said that “the nitrogen loading to the Gulf of Mexico in May of this year was 37 percent higher than 2007 and the highest since measurements began in 1970. The intensive farming of more land, including crops used for biofuels, has definitely contributed to this high nitrogen loading rate.”

Ironically, only the violence of Hurricane Dolly seems to have prevented this year’s dead zone from getting even bigger.

But this isn’t just a problem in the Gulf. Smaller dead zones are regularly forming off the coast of Washington and Oregon, as well as along the entire Atlantic coast. A team of scientists from the World Research Institute has identified about 415 such zones around the world.
Nitrogen flow is one of the planetary boundaries discussed by the scientists who gathered in Sweden last month by the Tällberg Foundation. As Swedish scientist Johan Rockström told FLYP, it is one of the boundaries that has already been dangerously exceeded. And, if increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere lead to more violent storms and more flooding—which most scientists seem to accept as a given—then more nitrogen is likely to end up in the Mississippi and the Gulf.

And that will mean more dead zones.