An Explosive Idea

Are volcanoes the cure for global warming?

By now everyone has seen the devastating havoc wreaked by the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland And I’m not just talking about the impacts on the careers of TV journalists trying to pronounce the Icelandic tongue-twister of a volcano.  The eruption cloud has shut down air travel in Europe and has led to massive speculation on the climate impacts of the spewing ash and sulfur dioxide.

Most scientists say the eruption is having minimal climate change impacts. (With an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide per day, the volcano would rank about 50th in a list of nations by average emissions-per- day.)  Others say that the beneficial impacts of ash and sulfate in the air will temper the impacts of climate change.

So volcanic eruptions may be just what the doctor ordered to adapt to the high CO2 levels from manmade impacts.  Some scientists that favor geoengineering have suggested creating sulfate aerosol clouds in the stratosphere or maybe even trillions of small mirrors in space as a sunshield.  Why go to all of that trouble when we can just trigger extensive volcanic eruptions across the planet? 

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Just drill, baby!

Obama's call for expanded offshore drilling in U.S. sends a mixed message to green energy investors.

So the Obama administration has proposed to open the Atlantic coast from Delaware to northern Florida for offshore oil exploration. That’s up to 167 million acres of ocean floor.  And now that the pesky polar ice cap is melting away, the entire northern slope of Alaska can open for business, up to 130 million acres.

Heck, the administration gave Copenhagen the old college try, so I guess it was time to appeal to all of President Obama’s Tea Party followers. Time to drill, baby, drill.

The extra oil will make such a difference for America. Alaskans will get a little extra in their annual petroleum dividend check. That will come in handy for those that have to relocate their homes because of sea level rise and permafrost melt associated with global warming and greenhouse gases.

Of course, all of this American oil will help us quickly move to the green energy economy many of us have been clamoring for. I’m sure the U.S. will get right on it once we’ve drained all our offshore and onshore resources (don’t forget shale!). As my Dad always used to say: Waste not, want not! (The rallying cry may have led to the Gold family addiction to massive burritos.)

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In Credible

Melting glaciers speak for themselves. There's no need for so-called experts to embellish the truth in soundbites.

Overly zealous scientists, politicians and enviros embellish the truth in order to make a point all too frequently. The controversy over exaggerated or incorrect facts and dates on the global impacts of climate change is just the latest example. The truth twisting has to stop.  It hurts the cause.  It creates distractions and inertia in a time when degradation is the dominant direction of most ecosystems.

The environment is screwed up enough that there’s no need to stretch the truth. I first shared that thought with Heal the Bay’s founding president, Dorothy Green, following a press conference on sewage spills in the late 1980s. Dorothy overstated the impacts of sewage spills in Santa Monica Bay at the event. The Bay was a mess. Large sewage spills and beach closures were commonplace, even during the summer. Bottom-dwelling fish like white croaker and Dover sole had tumors and fin rot.  A dead zone sat in the middle of the Bay.  She didn’t have to exaggerate. The horrific facts were enough to inspire people to take action.

That advice I gave to Dorothy long ago still rings true.

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The Pelican Mystery

Sick brown pelicans at local rescue center

The International Bird Rescue Center has been overrun by starving pelicans this winter. Speculation about what’s sickening birds from Southern California to Oregon has ranged from El Nino conditions to climate change to polluted runoff.

The bottom line is that hundreds of Brown Pelicans have ended up sick and malnourished. Many birds stayed too long in the frigid coastal waters off Oregon and Northern California in search of fish prey that just weren’t present in high densities. By migrating late, many pelicans were buffeted by major storms and they didn’t build up the fat reserves to withstand the inclement weather.

Cal Fish and Game on Monday pegged the die off and strandings on starvation. But bird rescue volunteers and scientists have brought up the issue of polluted runoff, which can damage feathers and lead to hypothermia in the recently endangered birds.

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Smoke on the Water

Current and former UNEP Executive Directors (seated).<br> Photo: Mark Gold

Current and previous UNEP Executive Directors (seated). Photo: Suzanne Biegel

Over the weekend, I went down to Montreux on the Lake Geneva shoreline. I didn’t see Zappa, but I did witness environmental history. For the first time ever, all five people who have served as executive directors of the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) attended the same event.

Maurice Strong, the founder and father of the Stockholm Conference and the Rio Earth Summit, is in Montreux. He’s joined by current director Achim Steiner, and past directors Klaus Topfer, Mostafa Tolba and Elizabeth Dowdeswell.

They are joined by a who’s who of UN environmental dignitaries to discuss the future of global environmental governance. With the Copenhagen climate change summit just around the corner in December, there’s an urgency to coming up with real, tangible recommendations to fix the ineffective, fractionalized system we have in place right now.

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Mountain Highs and Lows

2008-03-29-aefI just got back from the Aspen Environmental Forum and there’s a lot to share.  The only thing more depressing than mulling National Geographic’s presentation about the oil sands of northern Alberta (50 square miles of tailings ponds) was watching “Extreme Ice.”  The haunting film by James Balog depicts how quickly the world’s glaciers are disappearing, with the Columbia Glacier in Alaska receding an astounding half mile a year.  His footage of ice shelf melt on Greenland is beyond extraordinary.

A heated plenary with barbs galore involving James Rogers from Duke Energy, Elizabeth Cheney from Shell, Randy Udall the resource efficiency advocate, and Chris Flavin from WorldWatch both entertained and frustrated. The dubious highlight? Udall asking Rogers how he could sleep at night and, without missing a beat, Rogers answering, “Lunesta .” Clearly Rogers asked if Lunesta was right for him! On the optimistic side, Daniel Nocera from MIT seems genuinely excited by his breakthrough on low cost hydrolysis, the critical stumbling point to the mass proliferation of affordable fuel cells.

Don’t get me going on the curious choices for the Aspen Institute Energy and the Environment Awards — Continue reading

The New EPA

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. Click image to view video of speech.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. Click image to view video of speech.

On Wednesday night, I found myself on top of a mountain in Aspen, listening to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson give the kickoff keynote at the Aspen Environmental Forum. Speaking in a deliberate style that reflects her Southern roots, Jackson made it clear to the 300 people assembled that the days of Environmental Destruction Agency in the Bush era are now officially over.

Jackson emphasized that the Obama administration’s top priorities are climate change and building a green economy led by sustainable energy policies.  She pledged support for renewables that reduce our dependence on foreign oil from politically charged nations, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the creation of tens of thousands of new green jobs, and improved public health of communities suffering from the impacts of dirty fossil fuels.

Money talks, so it’s worth noting that the Obama administration has called for the largest EPA budget in the 39-year history of the agency.

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