Tag Archives: Climate change policy

Climate Sense: So much is still about politics

Climate change is finally being discussed in Congress and by the Trump administration, but not necessarily in a good way. This week I share some of the things I’ve been reading with regard to the politics of climate change. If there’s a silver lining, it could be that climate change is getting some attention among politicians. I’m holding some interesting scientific studies for another week.

Item 1: Concerns about politicizing climate change

In a letter to President Trump (PDF 192 kb), 58 former national security leaders have voiced their concerns about a committee being formed by the Trump administration to question whether climate change is a national security threat.

“It is dangerous,” the letter says, “to have national security analysis conform to politics. Our officials’ job is to ensure that we are prepared for current threats and future contingencies. We cannot do that if the scientific studies that inform our threat assessments are undermined. Our national security community will not remain the best in the world if it cannot make decisions based on the best available evidence.”

Among the leading signators are President Obama appointees John Kerry, former Secretary of State; Chuck Hagel, former Secretary of Defense; and Ray Mabus, former Secretary of the Navy. Their letter is posted on the website of the Center for Climate and Security, which includes other information about climate change.

CNN’s Christine Amanpour interviewed retired Rear Admiral David Titley about why the 58 security officials feel the need to speak out on the issue. Check out the video on CNN.

The letter was prompted by a discussion within the administration about forming a panel called the Presidential Committee on Climate Security. William Happer, a national security adviser in the Trump administration, could be chosen to lead the panel. Happer has been downplaying concerns about climate change and is often labeled a “climate denier.” Check out a story in “The Hill” by Miranda Green.

Item 2: Avoiding the trap of the Green New Deal

I thought that David Roberts, climate reporter for Vox, made some good points about the maneuvering being done by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer with regard to a vote on the Green New Deal:

“Schumer is now trapped in a familiar bind: He has to decide whether to vote on something bold and ambitious, which could divide his caucus, or to continue dodging clear votes and rallying behind nonthreatening statements of purpose that will receive the full backing of his caucus but won’t excite anyone,” Roberts writes.

“This is just another version of the trap Democrats have been in since 2010. Since there is zero prospect of Republican cooperation, being ‘realistic’ about legislative goals means crafting them so they are acceptable to the rightmost member of the Democratic caucus. (Recall when Joe Lieberman single-handedly killed the public option in Obamacare.)”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t seem to care about climate change, but he wants a vote on the Green New Deal, which calls for major changes in the country’s energy system.

Politico Reporter Anthony Adragna lays out the political drama this week in an article titled, “Democrats seek to evade GOP trap on Green New Deal vote.”

Despite McConnell’s political games, some Republicans are beginning to look for more conservative ways of addressing climate change, as reporter Mark Matthews describes in E&E News. If the discussion can begin in earnest among members of both parties, there might be hope of taking steps toward reducing the impacts of climate change.

The political dynamics is interesting, but David Roberts of Vox remains skeptical that the Republicans in Congress intend to do anything at all. He called the U.S. political system a “dumpster fire.”

“There’s no prospect of any cooperation from the right on any climate response of any remotely appropriate scale,” he wrote in his column. “The only way to change the status quo is through power, and the only power available to progressives on this issue is people power — bodies in the streets, in congressional offices, and in voting booths. Any plan to address climate change must involve not just policy but the question of how to build people power around it and thus change the status quo.”

Item 3: How will Jay Inslee handle the Green New Deal?

Gov. Jay Inslee, who is now officially running for president, has been saying that climate change is part of every major issue, from health care to education to jobs and the economy. His vision is clearly separate from the Green New Deal, but he won’t escape questions about its specific goals.

When Inslee appeared on “The View,” Meghan McCain began by telling him, “Maybe I am just a unicorn from another planet, but climate change doesn’t even hit my top 30 of how I vote for somebody. I do think I am on this panel to say that (climate change) isn’t what is selling me on you beating Trump. I say that with respect. What also isn’t selling me on you beating Trump is the Green New Deal…”

How well Inslee handles these kind of exchanges could make a difference among people who still need to be “sold” on climate change.

Item 4: ‘Inoculation’ against climate change misinformation

I’ve listed some articles and videos that could help people talk to their friends and family members about climate change (Water Ways, Feb. 16). Now a group of researchers led by Justin Farrell, a professor of sociology at Yale University, describes some strategies that might be used on a wider scale.

Writer Kevin Dennehy of Yale News describes four of the strategies, including the notion that “society can ‘inoculate’ against misinformation by exposing people to refuted scientific arguments before they hear them, much like one can prevent infection through the use of vaccines.”

The paper was published in the journal “Nature Climate Change.”

“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Climate Sense: Public opinions shift; economic experts propose plan

I would like to share five items related to the Australian summer, medical doctors’ responsibility, public opinions and an approach to carbon taxation favored by many leading economists.

Item 1: Australian weather

It’s summer in Australia, where temperatures in the town of Adelaide reached 115.9 degrees — the hottest temperature ever recorded for a major Australian city. See Associated Press story.

Records were shattered in cities throughout South Australia, as the nation heads toward what could be the hottest January ever for the country. In at least one location, temperatures exceeded 120 degrees F. (49 degrees C.), according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

In Tasmania on Friday, the heat wave combined with a prolonged drought left Australia struggling with more than 50 wildfires, and at least two homes were burned down, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Item 2: Health emergency

“As physicians, we have a special responsibility to safeguard health and alleviate suffering. Working to rapidly curtail greenhouse gas emissions is now essential to our healing mission,” says an editorial by two doctors in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Doctors can encourage lifestyle changes that reduce the environmental footprint, but they can also play a role in educating people about the health consequences of climate change, say Dr. Caren G. Solomon, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Regina C. LaRocque, an assistant professor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“We can help motivate people to act by clarifying the links between environmental degradation and tangible problems, such as air pollution, insectborne diseases and heatstroke,” they write. “We can also emphasize the health benefits that will accrue as we move to alternative sources of energy.”

The editorial was written in relation to an article in the same Jan. 17 edition of NEJM, a report by Drs. Andy Haines and Kristie Ebi titled “The Imperative for Climate Action to Protect Health.”

Item 3: Public opinions on climate change and carbon pricing

Nearly half of Americans (48%) think people in the United States are being harmed by global warming “right now,” according to the latest survey by the Yale Program on Climate Communication. That’s an increase of 16 percent since March 2015 and 9 percent since March 2018.

Read the executive summary or the full report, “Climate Change in the American Mind: December 2018” by going to the Yale website.

In a different survey, Americans demonstrated growing support for a carbon tax to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provided they are given sufficient details on how the revenues would be used, according to November’s National Survey on Energy and the Environment, which has been tracking public opinions for the past 10 years.

A majority (60%) of Democrats said they would support a carbon tax even when given little information about how that tax would be designed. But the same is true of only 30% of Republicans, according to the summary of findings.

Yet a majority of both groups are more supportive of a carbon tax when details are given about how the revenues would be used. Among Democrats, 85 percent would support a tax that directs revenues to clean energy projects or to improve energy efficiency, while Republicans support those concepts at 66 and 69 percent.

Item 4: Economists favor carbon dividend

A growing number of economists from both political parties — including four former Federal Reserve chairmen — favors a carbon dividend plan to “send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future,” they wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

The plan has such broad appeal because it would be “revenue neutral” by giving rebates to all Americans while reducing regulatory uncertainty, according to the group.

In addition to the former Federal Reserve chiefs, the list includes 27 Nobel Laureate economists, 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers and two former U.S. Treasury secretaries, George Shultz and Lawrence Summers. Schultz and Summers authored a seven-page outline of the plan called “The Dividend Advantage (PDF 1.3 mb).

“For the first time, there’s consensus among economists on what to do with the money, and the answer is to give it back to the American people,” said Ted Halstead, head of the Climate Leadership Council backing the plan, as quoted in Bloomberg.

Item 5: Explaining carbon pricing with chickens

If carbon pricing has you confused, it may be time to return to basics with a video featuring chickens as a way to understand the economic forces that could bring greenhouse gases under control. The video focuses on the two major pricing mechanisms — carbon tax and cap and trade. The “carbon dividend plan,” supported by the economists mentioned above, would simply redistribute the tax to everyone, regardless of how much tax they paid.

The video, seen on this page, was posted on EarthFix Media, a partnership of Oregon Public Broadcasting, Idaho Public Television, KCTS9 Seattle, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, Northwest Public Radio and Television, Jefferson Public Radio, KLCC and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Climate Sense: Ice at both poles keeps melting at a faster and faster rate

I would like to share five items about climate change:

Item 1

Antarctica is losing six times more ice per year than it did 40 years ago, according to a new study by glaciologists at the University of California, Irvine; NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and the Netherlands’ Utrecht University.

Antarctic ice // Photo: Joe MacGregor, NASA

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak,” said lead author Eric Rignot, quoted in a news release. “As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-meter sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries.”

The study, “Four decades of Antarctic Ice Sheet mass balance from 1979–2017,” was published yesterday ahead of print in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Item 2

National Public Radio’s David Greene speaks with marine biologist James McClintock via telephone from Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula. McClintock, who is associated with the University of Alabama, Birmingham, conducts research on climate change. Here he describes some stunning personal observations during summer at the South Pole.

Item 3

In the Arctic, melting ice from glaciers and surface ice is adding about 14,000 tons of water into the ocean every second, according to a study by researchers in the U.S., Canada, Chile, The Netherlands and Norway.

Over the past 47 years, that melt water has caused the sea to rise by nearly an inch — an estimated 23 millimeters.

Read the article in Fortune magazine by Kevin Kelleher, or check out the scientific paper in Environmental Research Letters.

Item 4

Greenland’s ice sheet appears to be an overlooked source of methane releases to the atmosphere, according to researchers at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom, who camped out for three months to measure the release.

Methane analysis by Guillaume Lamarche-Gagnon in Greenland. // Photo: Marie Bulinova

“A key finding is that much of the methane produced beneath the ice likely escapes the Greenland Ice Sheet in large, fast flowing rivers before it can be oxidized to CO2, a typical fate for methane gas which normally reduces its greenhouse warming potency,” Bristol Professor Jemma Wadham said in a news release.

The paper was published Jan. 2 in the journal Nature.

Item 5

In Washington state, climate change in the form of “clean energy” leads the list of four legislative priorities submitted by the Environmental Priorities Coalition, which includes more than 20 environmental organizations and related interest groups.

“Washington is uniquely positioned to achieve a fossil free, clean, and renewable electricity grid,” according to the coalition website. “Urgent action is needed to address climate change, and we have a critical opportunity to phase away from dirty fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and fracked gas, and toward clean and sustainable energy sources like solar and wind.” Check out the fact sheet (PDF 2 mb) on the topic.

Climate-change bills promoted by the coalition include:

HB 1110, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation fuels;
HB 1113, amending state greenhouse gas emission limits for consistency with the most recent assessment of climate change science;
SB 5115, concerning appliance efficiency standards;
SB 5116, supporting Washington’s clean energy economy and transitioning to a clean, affordable, and reliable energy future; and
SB 5118, concerning the right to consume self-generated electricity.

The other three priorities listed by the coalition are orca emergency response, oil spill prevention and reducing plastic pollution. A “partnership agenda,” supporting environmental progress outside the coalition, will be announced soon, according to the coalition website.

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“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Climate Sense: The last four years are the warmest four on record

I would like to share five items about climate change.

Item 1

“The website you are trying to access is not available at this time due to a lapse in appropriation,” states several websites about climate and climate change managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

I hit that dead-end trying to find out how the year 2018 stacked up for global warming. It would also be nice to report data on national, regional and state trends collected by NOAA and NASA, which usually announce their findings about this time of year. It appears that this year we’ll need to wait. As an alternative, I turned to the Climate Change Service of the European Union.

Here are some of the findings announced yesterday by CCS in a press release:

  • The last four years have been the warmest four on record, with 2018 being the fourth warmest, not far short of the temperature of the third warmest year 2015.
  • 2018 was more than 0.4°C (0.72°F) warmer than the 1981-2010 average.
  • The average temperature of the last 5 years was 1.1°C (1.98°F) higher than the pre-industrial average (as defined by the IPCC).
  • Europe saw annual temperatures less than 0.1°C (0.18°F) below those of the two warmest years on record, 2014 and 2015.
Item 2

Washington Post reporters Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis report the findings by an independent research firm under the headline: “U.S. greenhouse gas emissions spiked in 2018 — and it couldn’t happen at a worse time.”

UPDATE, Jan. 9: I’m adding a second article on this topic by Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic: “U.S. carbon pollution surged in 2018, after years of stasis.”

Item 3

Maryland Sea Grant produced an eight-minute video (this page) about Smithville, a community on Maryland’s eastern shoreline that supported a population of more than 100 people a century ago. The loss of industry and advancing marsh waters has reduced the community to just two homes. The story of the changing waters and community response provides a perspective on conditions that could be in store for many communities as a result of climate change.

Item 4

In Washington state, the quest for national political leadership merges with efforts to address climate change, as Gov. Jay Inslee weighs the prospects of running for president while pushing ahead with a state initiative for climate change.

Check out the article by Edward-Isaac Dovere in The Atlantic titled “Jay Inslee is betting he can win the presidency on climate change” and watch the interview with Inslee by Chris Hayes on MSNBC.

Item 5

Looking back: Royal Society Publishing compiled an extensive description of feedback processes that increase or decrease the rate of global warming. Feedback effects are critically important aspects of climate change. A brief introduction to feedbacks was offered on the website “Carbon Brief” by Eric Wolff, a research professor at The Royal Society, which is Great Britain’s national science academy. Wolff is also the lead author for an introduction to a special issue of a journal called “Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A” dated Nov. 13, 2015. If you’re ambitious, you can read the details about various feedback responses in chapters of the journal itself.
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“Climate Sense” is my attempt to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading. For a further explanation, read my first Water Ways post of 2019: “Climate Sense: I would like to share what I learn during this coming year.”

Polls show support for state action on climate change — near and far

If the U.S. government fails to take action on climate change, a majority of Americans would like their states to pick up the ball and run with it.

Some 66 percent of those participating in a national survey agreed with the statement: “If the federal government fails to address the issue of global warming, it is my state’s responsibility to address the problem.”

Question: “Please identify your level of agreement with the following statement … If the federal government fails to address the issue of global warming, it is my state’s responsibility to address the problem.” (Click to enlarge)
Graphic: University of Michigan/Muhlenberg College

Residents of Washington state appear to feel even stronger about the need for state action, according to a survey by The Nature Conservancy, which is preparing for a statewide initiative to be placed on the 2018 general election ballot.

The national survey, by two University of Michigan researchers, demonstrates growing support among Americans for action on climate change, despite very little action by Congress. The last time the question was asked, in 2013, 48 percent of respondents wanted their states to take action. The latest results show an 18-percent increase in the number of people who support state action.

This and several other polls reveal growing concerns among Americans about the negative effects of climate change on human civilization as well as the environment.

Interestingly, the national survey was taken between April 17 and May 16 — before President Trump announced that he would withdraw U.S. support for the Paris climate agreement, which includes clear targets for greenhouse gas reductions. Respondents may have been aware of Trump’s executive order in March to dismantle former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Americans are still somewhat divided along party lines, with Democrats more supportive of state action than Republicans. But the latest national survey reveals that more Republicans may support state action than not, at least within the survey’s margin of error. The survey shows that 51 percent of Republicans believe that states should step up to climate change, compared to 34 percent four years ago.

Support among Democrats for state action went from 57 percent in 2013 to 77 percent this year.

Another survey taken after Trump was elected showed that nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of the people who voted for him support taxing or regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly half (47 percent) agreed that the U.S. should support the Paris climate agreement. See “Trump Voters and Global Warming.”

I will return to the national perspective in a moment, but first some almost-breaking news from Washington state, where The Nature Conservancy on Monday filed three petitions for possible ballot measures with the Secretary of State’s Office.

All three petitions deal with possible state actions on climate change, but none of them are intended to be used for signature gathering, according to Mo McBroom, government relations director for TNC. The idea, Mo told me, is to see how the Attorney General’s Office writes the ballot titles for the three measures, which is what a voter would read on the ballot.

Polling of Washington state voters after the defeat of a carbon-tax measure in last fall’s election showed that most voters knew little about the content of Initiative 732 when they cast their ballots. Also contributing to the confusion was the ballot title itself, which mentioned taxes but failed to explain that increased taxes on fossil fuels would be offset by reduced sales and business taxes plus a tax rebate for low-income residents.

I should point out that a fair number of environmental groups voiced opposition to the measure, in part because it failed to provide money for clean-energy initiatives. And some worried that the measure would add to state budget problems. More than anything, the mixed messages probably killed the measure.

Now, all the environmental groups as well as business and government supporters are hoping to come together around a single initiative with a high likelihood of success, Mo told me. The specifics of the real initiative are still under review, she said, and one should glean nothing from the three different proposals submitted this week. Once the details are worked out, a final petition will be submitted next January.

“The most important thing is that we are looking to build the broadest base of support for solutions to climate change.,” Mo told me. “Whether it is a carbon tax or fee or a regulatory structure, it is about how we, as a society, make the investments that the public wants.” For further discussion, read Mo’s blog entry posted yesterday in Washington Nature Field Notes.

Personally, I will be watching for the transportation aspects of the coming initiative, since more than half of the greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state involve the transportation sector — and Mo acknowledged that incentives to encourage cleaner fuels will be essential.

“We want to create an approach that is technology neutral,” she said. “we’re not picking winners and losers. We are creating innovate solutions.”

The Legislature has been struggling for months with Gov. Jay Inslee’s carbon tax proposal (PDF 801 kb). If something good comes out of that process, Mo said, the initiative may not be needed. Reporter Phuong Le reported on this issue for the Associated Press.

According to polling last fall (PDF 596 kb), 81 percent of Washington voters believe climate change is happening; 62 percent believe it is caused by human activities; and 69 percent support state action to reduce carbon pollution. Support may be even higher today. The survey was conducted by FM3 Research and Moore Information for The Nature Conservancy and Vulcan.

The national survey by University of Michigan researchers this spring showed that 70 percent of Americans across the country believe that global warming is happening. Barry Rabe, one of the researchers, told me that public opinion has ebbed and flowed somewhat on this issue since these surveys were started in 2008. See the graphic below, or check out the details on the Brookings blog.

Question: From what you’ve read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past four decades?
Graphic: University of Michigan/Muhlenberg College

During the early years of former President Obama’s administration beginning around 2009, “there was a very aggressive effort by opposition groups that argued that climate change is a hoax,” Rabe said. “That probably had an impact (on people’s opinions).”

Now people seem to be returning to a stronger belief in climate change and tending to support the understanding that humans are responsible. Democrats and Republicans alike seem to feeling more urgency to take action.

“This may be a case where political figures are at variance with their base,” Rabe said, noting that most Republicans in Congress are showing no inclination to address the issue. But even in some conservative states, such as Texas and Kansas, state lawmakers are doing more than ever to address climate change, in part because of parallel economic interests involving renewable energy.

“Energy politics breaks down very differently depending on the state you are in,” Rabe said.

From a national perspective, all eyes will be on Washington state over the next year or two, as people throughout the country watch to see how people here address climate change, Rabe said. A lot of folks wondered about the rejection of the climate-change initiative in what many view as a pro-environment state, he added. People nationwide did not grasp the nuances of last fall’s vote, but they are interested in what comes next.

Gov. Jay Inslee joined with the governors of California and New York in signing onto a new U.S. Climate Alliance to help meet the goals of the Paris agreement in light of Trump’s efforts to withdraw from the pact. See Timothy Cama’s piece in The Hill.

California and New York have already passed climate-change-emissions legislation, Rave said, so people across the country are wondering how Washington plans to meet its commitment.

Mo McBroom of The Nature Conservancy said officials involved in the climate-change issue in Washington state embrace the leadership role that this state can play.