Archive for September, 2006

Hired guns aim to confuse

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

Written by David Suzuki – July 21st, 2006

Al Gore once told me that to get politicians to listen, you have to engage the people first. The former vice president is attempting to do just that this summer with his critically acclaimed global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” But he’s up against some pretty powerful opponents.His movie, by most standards, is pretty good. Rotten Tomatoes, a website that compiles movie reviews from newspapers, television and the internet, shows that 92 per cent of critics liked it. A story by the Associated Press on experts who critiqued the science behind the movie found that they too gave it a thumbs up for accuracy. Personally, I thought it was brilliant.But shortly after the Associated Press article came out, other articles started popping up that said Mr. Gore’s science was shoddy. People claiming to be experts wrote opinion pieces in newspapers decrying the film, Mr. Gore, and the “theory” of global warming in general. Contrarians, it seemed, were coming out of the woodwork. What happened?

What happened was a well-funded campaign to discredit the film and carpet bomb North Americans with confusing and contradictory information about the science of global warming. It appears to be having an effect too. Recent polls I’ve seen indicate that while the public is very concerned about climate change, they are still confused about the science.

Those who read science journals probably find this public confusion, well, confusing. While there is plenty of discussion in scientific circles about what precisely a changing climate will mean to people in various parts of the world, there is no debate about the cause of global warming (human activities, mostly burning oil, coal and gas), or about the fact that it is already having an effect and that those effects will become more and more pronounced in coming years.

Yet, there they are in the editorial and opinion pages, supposed experts writing about the grand global warming conspiracy perpetuated by Europeans. Or socialists. Or European socialists. Those in the know can laugh off such nonsense. But the problem is, most people aren’t in the know. Average citizens are busy people and they are not experts in climate science, so naturally they tend to defer to people who appear to know what they’re talking about.

Unfortunately, masquerading as an expert in the media is pretty easy. All you need are a few letters after your name and a controversial story to tell. That makes news. And there’s no shortage of public relations people willing to spin a good tale – usually for a tidy profit. Companies pay big bucks to have these spin doctors work their magic and make sure the industry line gets heard.

But even some of public relations’ best-known spin doctors are disgusted by what’s going on right now over global warming. Jim Hoggan is one. He’s a personal friend who happens to be president of one of western Canada’s largest public relations firms, James Hoggan and Associates. And he’s so appalled at what he says is deliberate manipulation of public opinion about this issue that he’s started a website called to debunk the global warming skeptics.

Jim writes in his blog: “There is a line between public relations and propaganda – or there should be. And there is a difference between using your skills, in good faith, to help rescue a battered reputation and using them to twist the truth – to sow confusion and doubt on an issue that is critical to human survival. And it is infuriating – as a public relations professional – to watch my colleagues use their skills, their training and their considerable intellect to poison the international debate on climate change.”

Well said, Jim. His blog makes fascinating reading. It names names and follows the money trail – often leading back to big U.S. conservative organizations and fossil fuel giants. Jim’s making it his mission to expose the liars and the frauds and he’s doing a pretty good job.

Al Gore was right, the people do have to be engaged before politicians will listen. But engaging the people sometimes requires clearing the air first.

Original article…

Branson makes $3 billion climate pledge

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

Sir Richard Branson is to invest $3bn (£1.6bn) to fight global warming.

The Virgin boss said he would commit all profits from his travel firms, such as airline Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Trains, over the next 10 years.

“We must rapidly wean ourselves off our dependence on coal and fossil fuels,” Sir Richard said.

The funds will be invested in schemes to develop new renewable energy technologies, through an investment unit called Virgin Fuels.

One of the UK’s best known entrepreneurs, Sir Richard made the announcement in New York on the second day of the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual conference hosted by former US President Bill Clinton.Sir Richard, 56, said that transport and energy companies “must be at the forefront of developing environmentally friendly business strategies”.


Dobbs: Voting machines put U.S. democracy at risk

Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

NEW YORK (CNN) — Democrats and Republicans are desperately trying to nationalize the midterm elections, now only 48 days away.

Democrats are seeking to focus voter attention on President Bush’s conduct of the war in Iraq, while Republicans are trying to convince voters that the president and all Republicans should be given credit for the conduct of the war on terror, and the fact that there has not been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.

And voters will also choose which party to support on a host of other issues, local and national: illegal immigration, border security, the state of the economy, the escalating cost of health care, failing public schools, record budget and trade deficits, and the declining standard of living for the middle class.

Voters will be deciding whether the promise of challengers or the performance of incumbents merits their votes. The most recent polls reveal a national public mood that is now more supportive of a still unpopular president and about evenly divided over their preferences for, or tolerance of, congressional Republicans and Democrats. In other words, less than seven weeks before we go to the polls, there is every indication that the partisan quest for power on Capitol Hill will be close.

But there is additional uncertainty about the outcome of our elections that is intolerable and inexcusable, and which could make the contested 2000 presidential election look orderly by comparison. As of right now, there is little assurance your vote will count. As we’ve been reporting almost nightly on my broadcast for more than a year, electronic voting machines are placing our democracy at risk.


060919 – Tuesday – about New Zealand

Tuesday, September 19th, 2006

When we were in New Zealand, at the end of August, we spent a lot of our time in Christchurch and only a small amount of it was spent exploring the rest of the South Island.    One might have concluded that this was because we really liked Christchurch – and, in fact, we did!   But, there were other reasons for the time we spent there – we were looking for real estate.

I haven’t said anything about this until now because we wanted to make sure that the real estate deal we finally engaged in actually succeeded.   Well in the last few days, we’ve heard from New Zealand and the deal is good – the property belongs to us (and a New Zealand bank).

So, why real estate in New Zealand?   Well, partly as an investment (their real estate market is really hot) and partly as a retirement hedge which we might use at some relatively distant point in the future.

We bought a small apartment overlooking Hagley Park in Christchurch’s Central Business District.   It’s a one-bedroom on the 6th floor of a ten story apartment high-rise.   It’s a very pretty and modern place and we expect it will be an excellent investment – given their market and the unit’s location.

Most winters, I go off on retreat to read and write and in previous years, I’ve gone out to La Push on Washington State’s Olympic Coast.   This year, however, I’ll be returning to New Zealand in November to stay in our new apartment.   I’m very excited about the prospect.   The idea of leisure time in a foreign society is really appealing to me.  Luckily, for me, Sharon has a huge amount of frequent-flyer airline miles stacked up from her many years of flying the world on international business so the trip down and back won’t be expensive.

So, come November, this Blog will be posted from Kiwi-Land.

Al Gore’s speech at NYU September 18th, 2006

Tuesday, September 19th, 2006

Al Gore is an amazing figure in American political history. He’s a politician, he’s an individual who clearly sees and understands the world’s global climatological and ecological problems and he is willing to spend his political capital by speaking clearly and directly about them to the American public at a time when virtually every other politican skirts and avoids these issues. At the risk of sounding over-the-top, I’d say that implementation of the ideas he’s pushing by him or someone else similarly motivated represent just about our last serious chance to avoid severe global problems. Here’s his speech in full:


Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you Paul and Jim for those kind introductions. I would especially like to thank our host, New York University and the President of the College John Sexton and the Dean of the Law School Richard Revesz. I am also grateful to our co-sponsors, the World Resources Institute and Set America Free.

A few days ago, scientists announced alarming new evidence of the rapid melting of the perennial ice of the north polar cap, continuing a trend of the past several years that now confronts us with the prospect that human activities, if unchecked in the next decade, could destroy one of the earth’s principle mechanisms for cooling itself. Another group of scientists presented evidence that human activities are responsible for the dramatic warming of sea surface temperatures in the areas of the ocean where hurricanes form. A few weeks earlier, new information from yet another team showed dramatic increases in the burning of forests throughout the American West, a trend that has increased decade by decade, as warmer temperatures have dried out soils and vegetation. All these findings come at the end of a summer with record breaking temperatures and the hottest twelve month period ever measured in the U.S., with persistent drought in vast areas of our country. Scientific American introduces the lead article in its special issue this month with the following sentence: “The debate on global warming is over.”

Many scientists are now warning that we are moving closer to several “tipping points” that could — within as little as 10 years — make it impossible for us to avoid irretrievable damage to the planet’s habitability for human civilization. In this regard, just a few weeks ago, another group of scientists reported on the unexpectedly rapid increases in the release of carbon and methane emissions from frozen tundra in Siberia, now beginning to thaw because of human caused increases in global temperature. The scientists tell us that the tundra in danger of thawing contains an amount of additional global warming pollution that is equal to the total amount that is already in the earth’s atmosphere. Similarly, earlier this year, yet another team of scientists reported that the previous twelve months saw 32 glacial earthquakes on Greenland between 4.6 and 5.1 on the Richter scale — a disturbing sign that a massive destabilization may now be underway deep within the second largest accumulation of ice on the planet, enough ice to raise sea level 20 feet worldwide if it broke up and slipped into the sea. Each passing day brings yet more evidence that we are now facing a planetary emergency — a climate crisis that demands immediate action to sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions worldwide in order to turn down the earth’s thermostat and avert catastrophe.

The serious debate over the climate crisis has now moved on to the question of how we can craft emergency solutions in order to avoid this catastrophic damage.

This debate over solutions has been slow to start in earnest not only because some of our leaders still find it more convenient to deny the reality of the crisis, but also because the hard truth for the rest of us is that the maximum that seems politically feasible still falls far short of the minimum that would be effective in solving the crisis. This no-man’s land — or no politician zone –falling between the farthest reaches of political feasibility and the first beginnings of truly effective change is the area that I would like to explore in my speech today.

T. S. Eliot once wrote: Between the idea and the reality, Between the motion and the act Falls the Shadow. … Between the conception and the creation, Between the emotion and the response Falls the Shadow.

My purpose is not to present a comprehensive and detailed blueprint — for that is a task for our democracy as a whole — but rather to try to shine some light on a pathway through this terra incognita that lies between where we are and where we need to go. Because, if we acknowledge candidly that what we need to do is beyond the limits of our current political capacities, that really is just another way of saying that we have to urgently expand the limits of what is politically possible.

I have no doubt that we can do precisely that, because having served almost three decades in elected office, I believe I know one thing about America’s political system that some of the pessimists do not: it shares something in common with the climate system; it can appear to move only at a slow pace, but it can also cross a tipping point beyond which it can move with lightning speed. Just as a single tumbling rock can trigger a massive landslide, America has sometimes experienced sudden avalanches of political change that had their beginnings with what first seemed like small changes.

Two weeks ago, Democrats and Republicans joined together in our largest state, California, to pass legally binding sharp reductions in CO2 emissions. 295 American cities have now independently “ratified” and embraced CO2 reductions called for in the Kyoto Treaty. 85 conservative evangelical ministers publicly broke with the Bush-Cheney administration to call for bold action to solve the climate crisis. Business leaders in both political parties have taken significant steps to position their companies as leaders in this struggle and have adopted a policy that not only reduces CO2 but makes their companies zero carbon companies. Many of them have discovered a way to increase profits and productivity by eliminating their contributions to global warming pollution.

Many Americans are now seeing a bright light shining from the far side of this no-man’s land that illuminates not sacrifice and danger, but instead a vision of a bright future that is better for our country in every way — a future with better jobs, a cleaner environment, a more secure nation, and a safer world.

After all, many Americans are tired of borrowing huge amounts of money from China to buy huge amounts of oil from the Persian Gulf to make huge amounts of pollution that destroys the planet’s climate. Increasingly, Americans believe that we have to change every part of that pattern.

When I visit port cities like Seattle, New Orleans, or Baltimore, I find massive ships, running low in the water, heavily burdened with foreign cargo or foreign oil arriving by the thousands. These same cargo ships and tankers depart riding high with only ballast water to keep them from rolling over.

One-way trade is destructive to our economic future. We send money, electronically, in the opposite direction. But, we can change this by inventing and manufacturing new solutions to stop global warming right here in America. I still believe in good old-fashioned American ingenuity. We need to fill those ships with new products and technologies that we create to turn down the global thermostat. Working together, we can create jobs and stop global warming. But we must begin by winning the first key battle — against inertia and the fear of change.

In order to conquer our fear and walk boldly forward on the path that lies before us, we have to insist on a higher level of honesty in America’s political dialogue. When we make big mistakes in America, it is usually because the people have not been given an honest accounting of the choices before us. It also is often because too many members of both parties who knew better did not have the courage to do better.

Our children have a right to hold us to a higher standard when their future — indeed the future of all human civilization — is hanging in the balance. They deserve better than the spectacle of censorship of the best scientific evidence about the truth of our situation and harassment of honest scientists who are trying to warn us about the looming catastrophe. They deserve better than politicians who sit on their hands and do nothing to confront the greatest challenge that humankind has ever faced — even as the danger bears down on us.

We in the United States of America have a particularly important responsibility, after all, because the world still regards us — in spite of our recent moral lapses — as the natural leader of the community of nations. Simply put, in order for the world to respond urgently to the climate crisis, the United States must lead the way. No other nation can.

Developing countries like China and India have gained their own understanding of how threatening the climate crisis is to them, but they will never find the political will to make the necessary changes in their growing economies unless and until the United States leads the way. Our natural role is to be the pace car in the race to stop global warming.

So, what would a responsible approach to the climate crisis look like if we had one in America?

Well, first of all, we should start by immediately freezing CO2 emissions and then beginning sharp reductions. Merely engaging in high-minded debates about theoretical future reductions while continuing to steadily increase emissions represents a self-delusional and reckless approach. In some ways, that approach is worse than doing nothing at all, because it lulls the gullible into thinking that something is actually being done when in fact it is not.

An immediate freeze has the virtue of being clear, simple, and easy to understand. It can attract support across partisan lines as a logical starting point for the more difficult work that lies ahead. I remember a quarter century ago when I was the author of a complex nuclear arms control plan to deal with the then rampant arms race between our country and the former Soviet Union. At the time, I was strongly opposed to the nuclear freeze movement, which I saw as simplistic and naive. But, ¾ of the American people supported it — and as I look back on those years I see more clearly now that the outpouring of public support for that very simple and clear mandate changed the political landscape and made it possible for more detailed and sophisticated proposals to eventually be adopted.

When the politicians are paralyzed in the face of a great threat, our nation needs a popular movement, a rallying cry, a standard, a mandate that is broadly supported on a bipartisan basis.

A responsible approach to solving this crisis would also involve joining the rest of the global economy in playing by the rules of the world treaty that reduces global warming pollution by authorizing the trading of emissions within a global cap.

At present, the global system for carbon emissions trading is embodied in the Kyoto Treaty. It drives reductions in CO2 and helps many countries that are a part of the treaty to find the most efficient ways to meet their targets for reductions. It is true that not all countries are yet on track to meet their targets, but the first targets don’t have to be met until 2008 and the largest and most important reductions typically take longer than the near term in any case.

The absence of the United States from the treaty means that 25% of the world economy is now missing. It is like filling a bucket with a large hole in the bottom. When the United States eventually joins the rest of the world community in making this system operate well, the global market for carbon emissions will become a highly efficient closed system and every corporate board of directors on earth will have a fiduciary duty to manage and reduce CO2 emissions in order to protect shareholder value.

Many American businesses that operate in other countries already have to abide by the Kyoto Treaty anyway, and unsurprisingly, they are the companies that have been most eager to adopt these new principles here at home as well. The United States and Australia are the only two countries in the developed world that have not yet ratified the Kyoto Treaty. Since the Treaty has been so demonized in America’s internal debate, it is difficult to imagine the current Senate finding a way to ratify it. But the United States should immediately join the discussion that is now underway on the new tougher treaty that will soon be completed. We should plan to accelerate its adoption and phase it in more quickly than is presently planned.

Third, a responsible approach to solutions would avoid the mistake of trying to find a single magic “silver bullet” and recognize that the answer will involve what Bill McKibben has called “silver-buckshot” — numerous important solutions, all of which are hard, but no one of which is by itself the full answer for our problem.

One of the most productive approaches to the “multiple solutions” needed is a road-map designed by two Princeton professors, Rob Socolow and Steven Pacala, which breaks down the overall problem into more manageable parts. Socolow and Pacala have identified 15 or 20 building blocks (or “wedges”) that can be used to solve our problem effectively — even if we only use 7 or 8 of them. I am among the many who have found this approach useful as a way to structure a discussion of the choices before us.

Over the next year, I intend to convene an ongoing broad-based discussion of solutions that will involve leaders from government, science, business, labor, agriculture, grass-roots activists, faith communities and others.

I am convinced that it is possible to build an effective consensus in the United States and in the world at large on the most effective approaches to solve the climate crisis. Many of those solutions will be found in the building blocks that currently structure so many discussions. But I am also certain that some of the most powerful solutions will lie beyond our current categories of building blocks and “wedges.” Our secret strength in America has always been our capacity for vision. “Make no little plans,” one of our most famous architects said over a century ago, “they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”

I look forward to the deep discussion and debate that lies ahead. But there are already some solutions that seem to stand out as particularly promising:

First, dramatic improvements in the efficiency with which we generate, transport and use energy will almost certainly prove to be the single biggest source of sharp reductions in global warming pollution. Because pollution has been systematically ignored in the old rules of America’s marketplace, there are lots of relatively easy ways to use new and more efficient options to cheaply eliminate it. Since pollution is, after all, waste, business and industry usually become more productive and efficient when they systematically go about reducing pollution. After all, many of the technologies on which we depend are actually so old that they are inherently far less efficient than newer technologies that we haven’t started using. One of the best examples is the internal combustion engine. When scientists calculate the energy content in BTUs of each gallon of gasoline used in a typical car, and then measure the amounts wasted in the car’s routine operation, they find that an incredible 90% of that energy is completely wasted. One engineer, Amory Lovins, has gone farther and calculated the amount of energy that is actually used to move the passenger (excluding the amount of energy used to move the several tons of metal surrounding the passenger) and has found that only 1% of the energy is actually used to move the person. This is more than an arcane calculation, or a parlor trick with arithmetic. These numbers actually illuminate the single biggest opportunity to make our economy more efficient and competitive while sharply reducing global warming pollution.

To take another example, many older factories use obsolete processes that generate prodigious amounts of waste heat that actually has tremendous economic value. By redesigning their processes and capturing all of that waste, they can eliminate huge amounts of global warming pollution while saving billions of dollars at the same time.

When we introduce the right incentives for eliminating pollution and becoming more efficient, many businesses will begin to make greater use of computers and advanced monitoring systems to identify even more opportunities for savings. This is what happened in the computer chip industry when more powerful chips led to better computers, which in turn made it possible to design even more powerful chips, in a virtuous cycle of steady improvement that became known as “Moore’s Law.” We may well see the emergence of a new version of “Moore’s Law” producing steadily higher levels of energy efficiency at steadily lower cost.

There is yet another lesson we can learn from America’s success in the information revolution. When the Internet was invented — and I assure you I intend to choose my words carefully here — it was because defense planners in the Pentagon forty years ago were searching for a way to protect America’s command and communication infrastructure from being disrupted in a nuclear attack. The network they created — known as ARPANET — was based on “distributed communication” that allowed it to continue functioning even if part of it was destroyed.

Today, our nation faces threats very different from those we countered during the Cold War. We worry today that terrorists might try to inflict great damage on America’s energy infrastructure by attacking a single vulnerable part of the oil distribution or electricity distribution network. So, taking a page from the early pioneers of ARPANET, we should develop a distributed electricity and liquid fuels distribution network that is less dependent on large coal-fired generating plants and vulnerable oil ports and refineries.

Small windmills and photovoltaic solar cells distributed widely throughout the electricity grid would sharply reduce CO2 emissions and at the same time increase our energy security. Likewise, widely dispersed ethanol and biodiesel production facilities would shift our transportation fuel stocks to renewable forms of energy while making us less dependent on and vulnerable to disruptions in the supply of expensive crude oil from the Persian Gulf, Venezuela and Nigeria, all of which are extremely unreliable sources upon which to base our future economic vitality. It would also make us less vulnerable to the impact of a category 5 hurricane hitting coastal refineries or to a terrorist attack on ports or key parts of our current energy infrastructure.

Just as a robust information economy was triggered by the introduction of the Internet, a dynamic new renewable energy economy can be stimulated by the development of an “electranet,” or smart grid, that allows individual homeowners and business-owners anywhere in America to use their own renewable sources of energy to sell electricity into the grid when they have a surplus and purchase it from the grid when they don’t. The same electranet could give homeowners and business-owners accurate and powerful tools with which to precisely measure how much energy they are using where and when, and identify opportunities for eliminating unnecessary costs and wasteful usage patterns.

A second group of building blocks to solve the climate crisis involves America’s transportation infrastructure. We could further increase the value and efficiency of a distributed energy network by retooling our failing auto giants — GM and Ford — to require and assist them in switching to the manufacture of flex-fuel, plug-in, hybrid vehicles. The owners of such vehicles would have the ability to use electricity as a principle source of power and to supplement it by switching from gasoline to ethanol or biodiesel. This flexibility would give them incredible power in the marketplace for energy to push the entire system to much higher levels of efficiency and in the process sharply reduce global warming pollution.

This shift would also offer the hope of saving tens of thousands of good jobs in American companies that are presently fighting a losing battle selling cars and trucks that are less efficient than the ones made by their competitors in countries where they were forced to reduce their pollution and thus become more efficient.

It is, in other words, time for a national oil change. That is apparent to anyone who has looked at our national dipstick.

Our current ridiculous dependence on oil endangers not only our national security, but also our economic security. Anyone who believes that the international market for oil is a “free market” is seriously deluded. It has many characteristics of a free market, but it is also subject to periodic manipulation by the small group of nations controlling the largest recoverable reserves, sometimes in concert with companies that have great influence over the global production, refining, and distribution network.

It is extremely important for us to be clear among ourselves that these periodic efforts to manipulate price and supply have not one but two objectives. They naturally seek to maximize profits. But even more significantly, they seek to manipulate our political will. Every time we come close to recognizing the wisdom of developing our own independent sources of renewable fuels, they seek to dissipate our sense of urgency and derail our effort to become less dependent. That is what is happening at this very moment.

Shifting to a greater reliance on ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, butanol, and green diesel fuels will not only reduce global warming pollution and enhance our national and economic security, it will also reverse the steady loss of jobs and income in rural America. Several important building blocks for America’s role in solving the climate crisis can be found in new approaches to agriculture. As pointed out by the “25 by 25″ movement (aimed at securing 25% of America’s power and transportation fuels from agricultural sources by the year 2025) we can revitalize the farm economy by shifting its mission from a focus on food, feed and fiber to a focus on food, feed, fiber, fuel, and ecosystem services. We can restore the health of depleted soils by encouraging and rewarding the growing of fuel source crops like switchgrass and saw-grass, using no till cultivation, and scientific crop rotation. We should also reward farmers for planting more trees and sequestering more carbon, and recognize the economic value of their stewardship of resources that are important to the health of our ecosystems.

Similarly, we should take bold steps to stop deforestation and extend the harvest cycle on timber to optimize the carbon sequestration that is most powerful and most efficient with older trees. On a worldwide basis, 2 and ½ trillion tons of the 10 trillion tons of CO2 emitted each year come from burning forests. So, better management of forests is one of the single most important strategies for solving the climate crisis.

Biomass–whether in the form of trees, switchgrass, or other sources–is one of the most important forms of renewable energy. And renewable sources make up one of the most promising building blocks for reducing carbon pollution.

Wind energy is already fully competitive as a mainstream source of electricity and will continue to grow in prominence and profitability.

Solar photovoltaic energy is–according to researchers–much closer than it has ever been to a cost competitive breakthrough, as new nanotechnologies are being applied to dramatically enhance the efficiency with which solar cells produce electricity from sunlight–and as clever new designs for concentrating solar energy are used with new approaches such as Stirling engines that can bring costs sharply down.

Buildings–both commercial and residential–represent a larger source of global warming pollution than cars and trucks. But new architecture and design techniques are creating dramatic new opportunities for huge savings in energy use and global warming pollution. As an example of their potential, the American Institute of Architecture and the National Conference of Mayors have endorsed the “2030 Challenge,” asking the global architecture and building community to immediately transform building design to require that all new buildings and developments be designed to use one half the fossil fuel energy they would typically consume for each building type, and that all new buildings be carbon neutral by 2030, using zero fossil fuels to operate. A newly constructed building at Oberlin College is producing 30 percent energy than it consumes. Some other countries have actually required a standard calling for zero carbon based energy inputs for new buildings.

The rapid urbanization of the world’s population is leading to the prospective development of more new urban buildings in the next 35 years than have been constructed in all previous human history. This startling trend represents a tremendous opportunity for sharp reductions in global warming pollution through the use of intelligent architecture and design and stringent standards.

Here in the US the extra cost of efficiency improvements such as thicker insulation and more efficient window coatings have traditionally been shunned by builders and homebuyers alike because they add to the initial purchase price–even though these investments typically pay for themselves by reducing heating and cooling costs and then produce additional savings each month for the lifetime of the building. It should be possible to remove the purchase price barrier for such improvements through the use of innovative mortgage finance instruments that eliminate any additional increase in the purchase price by capturing the future income from the expected savings. We should create a Carbon Neutral Mortgage Association to market these new financial instruments and stimulate their use in the private sector by utilities, banks and homebuilders. This new “Connie Mae” (CNMA) could be a valuable instrument for reducing the pollution from new buildings.

Many believe that a responsible approach to sharply reducing global warming pollution would involve a significant increase in the use of nuclear power plants as a substitute for coal-fired generators. While I am not opposed to nuclear power and expect to see some modest increased use of nuclear reactors, I doubt that they will play a significant role in most countries as a new source of electricity. The main reason for my skepticism about nuclear power playing a much larger role in the world’s energy future is not the problem of waste disposal or the danger of reactor operator error, or the vulnerability to terrorist attack. Let’s assume for the moment that all three of these problems can be solved. That still leaves two serious issues that are more difficult constraints. The first is economics; the current generation of reactors is expensive, take a long time to build, and only come in one size — extra large. In a time of great uncertainty over energy prices, utilities must count on great uncertainty in electricity demand — and that uncertainty causes them to strongly prefer smaller incremental additions to their generating capacity that are each less expensive and quicker to build than are large 1000 megawatt light water reactors. Newer, more scalable and affordable reactor designs may eventually become available, but not soon. Secondly, if the world as a whole chose nuclear power as the option of choice to replace coal-fired generating plants, we would face a dramatic increase in the likelihood of nuclear weapons proliferation. During my 8 years in the White House, every nuclear weapons proliferation issue we dealt with was connected to a nuclear reactor program. Today, the dangerous weapons programs in both Iran and North Korea are linked to their civilian reactor programs. Moreover, proposals to separate the ownership of reactors from the ownership of the fuel supply process have met with stiff resistance from developing countries who want reactors. As a result of all these problems, I believe that nuclear reactors will only play a limited role.

The most important set of problems by that must be solved in charting solutions for the climate crisis have to do with coal, one of the dirtiest sources of energy that produces far more CO2 for each unit of energy output than oil or gas. Yet, coal is found in abundance in the United States, China, and many other places . Because the pollution from the burning of coal is currently excluded from the market calculations of what it costs, coal is presently the cheapest source of abundant energy. And its relative role is growing rapidly day by day.

Fortunately, there may be a way to capture the CO2 produced as coal as burned and sequester it safely to prevent it from adding to the climate crisis. It is not easy. This technique, known as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is expensive and most users of coal have resisted the investments necessary to use it. However, when the cost of not using it is calculated, it becomes obvious that CCS will play a significant and growing role as one of the major building blocks of a solution to the climate crisis.

Interestingly, the most advanced and environmentally responsible project for capturing and sequestering CO2 is in one of the most forbidding locations for energy production anywhere in the world — in the Norwegian portions of the North Sea. Norway, as it turns out, has hefty CO2 taxes; and, even though there are many exceptions and exemptions, oil production is not one of them. As a result, the oil producers have found it quite economical and profitable to develop and use advanced CCS technologies in order to avoid the tax they would otherwise pay for the CO2 they would otherwise emit. The use of similar techniques could be required for coal-fired generating plants, and can be used in combination with advanced approaches like integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC). Even with the most advanced techniques, however, the economics of carbon capture and sequestration will depend upon the availability of and proximity to safe deep storage reservoirs. Nevertheless, it is time to recognize that the phrase “clean coal technology” is devoid of meaning unless it means “zero carbon emissions” technology.

CCS is only one of many new technological approaches that require a significant increase by governments and business in advanced research and development to speed the availability of more effective technologies that can help us solve the climate crisis more quickly. But it is important to emphasize that even without brand new technologies, we already have everything we need to get started on a solution to this crisis.

In a market economy like ours, however, every one of the solutions that I have discussed will be more effective and much easier to implement if we place a price on the CO2 pollution that is recognized in the marketplace. We need to summon the courage to use the right tools for this job.

For the last fourteen years, I have advocated the elimination of all payroll taxes — including those for social security and unemployment compensation — and the replacement of that revenue in the form of pollution taxes — principally on CO2. The overall level of taxation would remain exactly the same. It would be, in other words, a revenue neutral tax swap. But, instead of discouraging businesses from hiring more employees, it would discourage business from producing more pollution.

Global warming pollution, indeed all pollution, is now described by economists as an “externality.” This absurd label means, in essence: we don’t to keep track of this stuff so let’s pretend it doesn’t exist.

And sure enough, when it’s not recognized in the marketplace, it does make it much easier for government, business, and all the rest of us to pretend that it doesn’t exist. But what we’re pretending doesn’t exist is the stuff that is destroying the habitability of the planet. We put 70 million tons of it into the atmosphere every 24 hours and the amount is increasing day by day. Penalizing pollution instead of penalizing employment will work to reduce that pollution.

When we place a more accurate value on the consequences of the choices we make, our choices get better. At present, when business has to pay more taxes in order to hire more people, it is discouraged from hiring more people. If we change that and discourage them from creating more pollution they will reduce their pollution. Our market economy can help us solve this problem if we send it the right signals and tell ourselves the truth about the economic impact of pollution.

Many of our leading businesses are already making dramatic changes to reduce their global warming pollution. General Electric, Dupont, Cinergy, Caterpillar, and Wal-Mart are among the many who are providing leadership for the business community in helping us devise a solution for this crisis.

Leaders among unions — particularly the steel workers — have also added momentum to this growing movement.

Hunters and fishermen are also now adding their voices to the call for a solution to the crisis. In a recent poll, 86% of licensed hunters and anglers said that we have a moral obligation to stop global warming to protect our children’s future.

And, young people — as they did during the Civil Rights Revolution — are confronting their elders with insistent questions about the morality of not moving swiftly to make these needed changes.

Moreover, the American religious community — including a group of 85 conservative evangelicals and especially the US Conference of Catholic Bishops — has made an extraordinary contribution to this entire enterprise. To the insights of science and technology, it has added the perspectives of faith and values, of prophetic imagination, spiritual motivation, and moral passion without which all our plans, no matter how reasonable, simply will not prevail. Individual faith groups have offered their own distinctive views . And yet — uniquely in religious life at this moment and even historically — they have established common ground and resolve across tenacious differences. In addition to reaching millions of people in the pews, they have demonstrated the real possibility of what we all now need to accomplish: how to be ourselves, together and how to discover, in this process, a sense of vivid, living spirit and purpose that elevates the entire human enterprise.

Individual Americans of all ages are becoming a part of a movement, asking what they can do as individuals and what they can do as consumers and as citizens and voters. Many individuals and businesses have decided to take an approach known as “Zero Carbon.” They are reducing their CO2 as much as possible and then offsetting the rest with reductions elsewhere including by the planting of trees. At least one entire community — Ballard, a city of 18,000 people in Washington State — is embarking on a goal of making the entire community zero carbon.

This is not a political issue. This is a moral issue. It affects the survival of human civilization. It is not a question of left vs. right; it is a question of right vs. wrong. Put simply, it is wrong to destroy the habitability of our planet and ruin the prospects of every generation that follows ours.
What is motivating millions of Americans to think differently about solutions to the climate crisis is the growing realization that this challenge is bringing us unprecedented opportunity. I have spoken before about the way the Chinese express the concept of crisis. They use two symbols, the first of which — by itself — means danger. The second, in isolation, means opportunity. Put them together, and you get “crisis.” Our single word conveys the danger but doesn’t always communicate the presence of opportunity in every crisis. In this case, the opportunity presented by the climate crisis is not only the opportunity for new and better jobs, new technologies, new opportunities for profit, and a higher quality of life. It gives us an opportunity to experience something that few generations ever have the privilege of knowing: a common moral purpose compelling enough to lift us above our limitations and motivate us to set aside some of the bickering to which we as human beings are naturally vulnerable. America’s so-called “greatest generation” found such a purpose when they confronted the crisis of global fascism and won a war in Europe and in the Pacific simultaneously. In the process of achieving their historic victory, they found that they had gained new moral authority and a new capacity for vision. They created the Marshall Plan and lifted their recently defeated adversaries from their knees and assisted them to a future of dignity and self-determination. They created the United Nations and the other global institutions that made possible many decades of prosperity, progress and relative peace. In recent years we have squandered that moral authority and it is high time to renew it by taking on the highest challenge of our generation. In rising to meet this challenge, we too will find self-renewal and transcendence and a new capacity for vision to see other crises in our time that cry out for solutions: 20 million HIV/AIDs orphans in Africa alone, civil wars fought by children, genocides and famines, the rape and pillage of our oceans and forests, an extinction crisis that threatens the web of life, and tens of millions of our fellow humans dying every year from easily preventable diseases. And, by rising to meet the climate crisis, we will find the vision and moral authority to see them not as political problems but as moral imperatives.

This is an opportunity for bipartisanship and transcendence, an opportunity to find our better selves and in rising to meet this challenge, create a better brighter future — a future worthy of the generations who come after us and who have a right to be able to depend on us.

Ice core analysis adds to climate concern

Saturday, September 16th, 2006

Ice core records from Antarctica show the current levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are higher now than at any time in the past 800,000 years and increasing at an unprecedented rate.

The analysis, announced by researchers with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), is further evidence that humans are adding large amounts of the heat-trapping gas to the planet’s atmosphere and causing significant changes to the climate.

The 3.2-kilometre East Antarctica ice core is the deepest ever removed and its air bubbles provide evidence of the composition of the atmosphere over the past 800,000 years ago. BAS scientists report the core shows there have been eight cycles of atmospheric change in that time frame when levels of carbon dioxide and methane, another greenhouse gas, peaked – and each has been accompanied by warming in the climate.

But the current peak levels are far above anything seen in past cycle and the rate of change is alarming, the scientists said.


Study acquits sun of climate change

Saturday, September 16th, 2006

OSLO, Norway (Reuters) — The sun’s energy output has barely varied over the past 1,000 years, raising chances that global warming has human rather than celestial causes, a study showed on Wednesday.

Researchers from Germany, Switzerland and the United States found that the sun’s brightness varied by only 0.07 percent over 11-year sunspot cycles, far too little to account for the rise in temperatures since the Industrial Revolution.

“Our results imply that over the past century climate change due to human influences must far outweigh the effects of changes in the sun’s brightness,” said Tom Wigley of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Most experts say emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels in power plants, factories and cars, are the main cause of a 0.6 Celsius (1.1 Fahrenheit) rise in temperatures over the past century.

A dwindling group of scientists says that the dominant cause of warming is a natural variation in the climate system, or a gradual rise in the sun’s energy output.


Today’s Fiscal Policy Remains Unsustainable

Friday, September 15th, 2006

This is from the United States Government Accountability Office and it is entitled:Â The Nation’s Long-Term Fiscal Outlook September 2006 Update

GAO’s current long-term simulations continue to show ever-larger deficits resulting in a federal debt burden that ultimately spirals out of control. The timing of deficits and the resulting debt build up varies depending on the assumptions used, but under either optimistic (“Baseline extended”) or more realistic assumptions, current fiscal policy is unsustainable.

Simulations are not forecasts or predictions. They are designed to ask the question “what if?” GAO’s “what ifs” are that discretionary spending may grow faster or slower, and tax cuts may be renewed or allowed to expire – but in both cases, the Nation’s long-term fiscal future is “at risk.” Under any reasonable set of expectations about future spending and revenues, the risks posed to the Nation’s future financial condition are too high to be acceptable.

By definition, what is unsustainable will not be sustained. The question is how our current imprudent and unsustainable path will end. At some point, action will be taken to change the Nation’s fiscal course. The sooner appropriate actions are taken, the sooner the miracle of compounding will begin to work for the federal budget rather than against it. Conversely, the longer action to deal with the Nation’s long-term fiscal outlook is delayed, the greater the risk that the eventual changes will be disruptive and destabilizing. Acting sooner rather than later will give us more time to phase in gradual changes, while providing more time for those likely to be most affected to make compensatory changes.

What Drives Our Nation’s Bleak Long-Term Fiscal Outlook?

The long-term fiscal outlook results from a large and persistent gap between expected revenues and expected spending.

The spending that drives the outlook is primarily spending on the large federal entitlement programs (i.e., Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid). The retirement of the baby boom generation is one key element of this. In 2008 the first boomers will be eligible to draw “early retirement” Social Security benefits, and in 2011 the first boomers will become eligible for Medicare. Over the following 2 decades America’s population will age dramatically, and fewer workers will be asked to support ever larger costs for retirees.

Although Social Security is a major part of the fiscal challenge, contrary to popular perception, it is far from our biggest challenge. Spending on the major federal health programs (i.e., Medicare and Medicaid) represents a much larger and faster growing problem. Over the past several decades, health care spending on average has grown much faster than the economy, absorbing increasing shares of the Nation’s resources, and this rapid growth is projected to continue. For this reason and others, rising health care costs pose a fiscal challenge not just to the federal budget but to American business and our society as a whole.


Amazing Suddenly Huge Stories

Friday, September 15th, 2006

by Thom Hartmann

I was on the air doing my radio program two weeks ago when the story came down the wire that the killer of JonBenét Ramsey had been captured in Thailand just hours earlier. I opened the microphone and said words to the effect of, “Today there must be something really awful going down for the Republicans. Maybe Rove really will be indicted. Maybe Cheney. Maybe some terrible revelation about Bush. And if there isn’t, today will be the day they’ll toss out the unsavory stories – like gutting an environmental law or wiping out pension plans – that they don’t want covered.”

Apparently it was worse than I’d imagined.

That same morning – just hours after the JonBenét information hit the press and just after I got off the air – it was revealed that US District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor had ruled that George W. Bush and now-CIA Director Michael Hayden had committed multiple High Crimes, Misdemeanors, and felonies, both criminal and constitutional. If her ruling stands, Bush and Hayden could go to prison.

As Judge Taylor said in her “ACLU v. NSA” decision (available here): “In this case, the President has acted, undisputedly, as FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] forbids.”

When somebody acts “as FISA forbids,” the law is pretty clear about the penalties. As you can read here, when somebody – anybody – breaks the FISA law, they are subject to “a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.”

Further, in the case of a president or NSA director, the law specifies that federal agents and courts have the authority to arrest and prosecute: “There is Federal jurisdiction over an offense under this section if the person committing the offense was an officer or employee of the United States at the time the offense was committed.”

Judge Taylor went on to point out that Bush had not only broken the law, but that he had also violated the Constitution – which many legal scholars would suggest is clearly an impeachable offense. In Judge Taylor’s words:

“The President of the United States, a creature of the same Constitution which gave us these Amendments [the Bill of Rights], has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders as required by FISA, and accordingly has violated the First Amendment Rights of these Plaintiffs as well.”

But the media didn’t notice. They were too busy with the story of the child-killer who had finally, after a decade, been found and captured. As the Think Progress blog noted:

Yesterday, a federal judge in Michigan issued “a sweeping rebuke of the once-secret domestic-surveillance effort the White House authorized following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” The ruling was “a significant blow to Bush’s attempts to expand presidential powers,” but you wouldn’t know that by watching last evening’s network newscasts.

Think Progress went on to chronicle how much time the three big networks had devoted to the two stories that first night:

NBC – 7 minutes 39 seconds on the Ramsey story, only 27 seconds on the NSA

CBS – 3 minutes 23 seconds on the Ramsey story, only 25 seconds on the NSA

ABC – 4 minutes 3 seconds on the Ramsey story, only 2 minutes on the NSA

Within a few days, the story of the President being found guilty of both imprisonable felonies and impeachable violations of the Constitution had vanished from the mainstream media altogether.

This isn’t the first time bad news for Republicans has been coincidentally eclipsed by Suddenly Huge Stories.

Keith Olbermann first compiled, almost a year ago on his “Countdown” program on MSNBC, a list of ten “coincidences” wherein bad news for the Bush administration (or, during the election, good news for John Kerry) was immediately followed by terror alerts that grabbed the headlines and diverted the attention, Teflon-like, away from Republicans and into a media frenzy.

Olbermann’s list is now up to 13 of these odd “coincidences.” An administration that would out a CIA agent and bring down an entire counterterrorism operation just to punish a former ambassador who dared to speak out about administration lies may well be easily capable of cooking up news-grabbing “coincidences.”

And apparently there’s some fire to go with that smoke. As USA Today reported (“Ridge Reveals Clashes On Alerts” by Mimi Hall, 10 May 2005):

“The Bush administration periodically put the USA on high alert for terrorist attacks even though then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge argued there was only flimsy evidence to justify raising the threat level, Ridge now says. …

“‘More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it,’ Ridge told reporters. ‘Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don’t necessarily put the country on (alert). … There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, “For that?”‘”

By coincidence, when Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy made her first announcement, transcribed by the Rocky Mountain News, she mentioned her work with Bush’s Department of Homeland Security several times, naming agents of that department, and pointing out that her own investigator, Mark Spray, had been sent off to Thailand a week earlier “with little more than four hours notice.”

It probably took Judge Anna Diggs Taylor around a week to wrap up the wording of her decision, and if the NSA were spying on her without a warrant, the timing of sending off a Boulder agent just in time to generate a sensational headline a week later would be no problem.

In a way, it would be nothing new: Republican operatives working out of Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch’s office successfully hacked into the computers of and spied on several prominent Democrats, most notably Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, for over a year from the Spring of 2002 through April of 2003. As The Boston Globe noted on January 22, 2004, the memos were then leaked at useful moments to The Washington Times, Bob Novak, and others:

“Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media, Senate officials told The Globe.

From the spring of 2002 until at least April 2003, members of the GOP committee staff exploited a computer glitch that allowed them to access restricted Democratic communications without a password. Trolling through hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking points and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight — and with what tactics.

“The office of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle has already launched an investigation into how excerpts from 15 Democratic memos showed up in the pages of the conservative-leaning newspapers and were posted to a website last November.

“With the help of forensic computer experts from General Dynamics and the US Secret Service, his office has interviewed about 120 people to date and seized more than half a dozen computers — including four Judiciary servers, one server from the office of Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, and several desktop hard drives.

“But the scope of both the intrusions and the likely disclosures is now known to have been far more extensive than the November incident, staffers and others familiar with the investigation say.

“The revelation comes as the battle of judicial nominees is reaching a new level of intensity. Last week, President Bush used his recess power to appoint Judge Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, bypassing a Democratic filibuster that blocked a vote on his nomination for a year because of concerns over his civil rights record.”

Investigations into the “computer glitch” have been blocked by Senate Republicans for three years now, and the data was used to successfully torpedo several of Kennedy’s and other Democrats’ efforts against Bush’s federal judicial appointments of right-wing extremists.

So we have Republicans who have admitted spying illegally. Who brag about it. And who have evidently – according to Tom Ridge – played the media like a violin for years. Could it be that the Karr/Ramsey case is another Soviet-style manipulation of the media?

Or is that too paranoid to contemplate?

Tragically, there are virtually no investigative reporters left in America, and the few who are still working find incredible roadblocks – and over the past year the threat of imprisonment – when looking into the workings of the Bush administration’s intelligence services.

So, at the worst for Republicans who trot out “news” and “terror alerts” to misdirect our attention, this will probably just be chalked up as Coincidence Number 14 on Keith Olbermann’s list.

Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show carried on the Air America Radio network and Sirius. His most recent book, just released, is “Screwed: The Undeclared War on the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It.” Other books include: “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,” “Unequal Protection,” “We The People,” and “What Would Jefferson Do?

Original Story:

Research credit: Michael M

E-Voting Machine an Easy Hack

Friday, September 15th, 2006

Associated Press 14:00 PM Sep, 14, 2006

A Princeton University computer science professor has added new fuel to claims that electronic voting machines used across much of the country are vulnerable to hacking that could alter vote totals or disable machines.

In a paper posted on the university’s website, Edward Felten and two graduate students described how they had tested a Diebold AccuVote-TS machine they obtained, found ways to quickly upload malicious programs and even developed a computer virus able to spread such programs between machines.

The marketing director for the machine’s maker — Diebold Election Systems of Allen, Texas — blasted the report, saying Felten ignored newer software and security measures that prevent such hacking.

“I’m concerned by the fact we weren’t contacted to educate these people on where our current technology stands,” Mark Radke said. He also questioned why Felten hadn’t submitted his paper for peer review, as is commonly done before publishing scientific research.

Felten said he and his colleagues felt it necessary to publish the paper as quickly as possible because of the possible implications for the November midterm elections.