The Problem with Camels

Recently, the Australian government proposed that killing camels should be an officially recognized means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The country down under has the world’s largest wild camel population; an estimated 1.2 million – and they consider this to be a growing environmental problem.

Every camel belches an estimated 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of methane per year; that is equivalent to a metric ton (1.1 U.S. ton) of carbon dioxide in its impact on global warming. This is roughly one-sixth the amount of CO2 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says an average car produces per year.

A bill to create a carbon credit regime will go to a vote in the House of Representatives on Wednesday and is expected to become law within weeks.

A government registry will be set up to determine what actions would qualify for carbon credits, and bureaucrats are expected to decide by the end of the year whether killing camels will be among them.

The government’s parliamentary secretary for climate change, Mark Dreyfus, said he hopes the proposal wipes out camels from the Australian wild.

“Potentially it has tremendous merit, because feral camels are a dreadful menace across the whole of arid Australia”.

Dreyfus said at an Associated Press meeting Thursday.

Kyoto Protocol Successor

Kyoto Protocol NewspaperTalks by the United Nations have run out of time to meet the December 2012 deadline to set the binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol on curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

After more than three years of talks, Christiana Figueres said countries could not agree in time a full deal to follow on from Kyoto targets, which bind nearly forty industrialized nations to emissions cuts in 2008-2012.

Nations would need to ratify any new deal in national parliaments for it to have equal legal force with the Kyoto Protocol.

For now, this is considered impossible in the time frame, given the earliest that a deal could be agreed to in Durban will not be until the end of this year.

“Even if they were able to agree on a legal text for a second commitment period (of Kyoto), that requires an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, it requires legislative ratifications on the part of three-quarters of the parties, so we would assume that there’s no time to do that between Durban and the end of 2012…Countries have realised this, that they actually stand before the potential of a regulatory gap, and are involved in constructive negotiations as to how they’re going to deal with that…”

The chief climate negotiator for the European Union told reporters that 2014 or 2015 is a more realistic target for a full legal framework.

Greenhouse Gas and the Courts

Despite the seethe of fringe scientists and conservative politicians, it remains a fact that greenhouse gases produced by mankind are among the main contributors to global warming.

The week before last, the Supreme Court considered one such way that emissions could be controlled, that’s through a huge and ungainly lawsuit filed by California and five other states against five different power firms as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority. A number of judges conveyed skepticism regarding the suit however should the court reject it there still won’t be opportunities for subsiding greenhouse gases.

While the lawyers and judges batted abstruse legal terms, the salient arguments regarding whether states had a right to sue and what the role of the courts should be in reducing emissions. One dilemma the states are faced with is the grounding of their suit not in the Clean Air Act but in the common-law idea that the courts should intercede to address the “public nuisance” made by the defendants’ emissions. The lawyer of the power companies mentioned — and the justices agreed —the court’s authority in the case is displaced by the Environmental Protection Agency.

A related weakness of the case is that the lawsuit would make the courts the regulator of first resort. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it, the states would “set up a district judge, who does not have the resources, the expertise, as a kind of super EPA.”

The case is different from a 2007 decision where the court ruled the EPA had the authority from Congress to control carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. In that case, regarding emissions from cars, the ruling was anchored to a statute and the court’s role was to interpret it. The finding that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases has had matter-of-fact consequences: The Obama administration commenced the rule-making process for such regulation.

Cowabunga: Is Pasturing Cattle Eco-Friendly as well as Cattle-Friendly

Some people, despite being meat eaters, insist that the animals, before slaughter, were treated humanely. My mother, who will eat a juicy hamburger, yet not veal, is one of these people.

In harmony with an age of relative environmental concern grass-fed beef is somewhat in vogue these days. The consensus is that it is more humane for the cattle and ultimately more yummy. But the main question is, is pasturing eco-friendly as well as cow-friendly?

Scientists at the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science of Japan estimate that producing one kilogram of beef releases more greenhouse gas than driving 155 miles. In Slate Magazine, Brian Palmer wrote:

“Since the average American covers 32 miles to and from work, your 8-ounce steak dinner might contribute to global warming as much as your daily commute.”

The various alternatives to consuming beef, be they grass-fed or corn-fed, are bad for the earth.

Under USDA regulations, cattle bearing the “grass-fed” label only are permitted to eat foods known as “forage” once they’ve been weaned. Forage comprises hay, grass, brassicas (a group of plants including turnips, kale, and cabbage) and the stems and leaves of young shrubs and trees. The cattle must have pasture access. Unless the beef bears an organic label, they might receive hormones and antibiotics, although most producers trying to capture the high-end market avoid such drugs.

When standard cows are ready for fattening, they usually move into a pen with 10 to 14 other animals. Every cow, measuring around five feet long and two feet wide, gets a 16-by-16-foot space.

The objective of adding 1,000 pounds of weight on an animal in a few months takes a formidable amount of grain. During its finishing period, the average beef cow eats 2,800 pounds of corn.

Be that as it may, many researchers claim that cattle fattened at a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) are better for the environment than free-range cattle. Grass-finished cattle, according to recent research, require about two-and-a-half times as much energy to produce as grass-fed ones.

Cows that live in quarters, shoulder-to-shoulder are the same as humans crammed into small urban spaces: Transporting food to the animals, and then the animals to the slaughterhouse, takes less energy for CAFO-raised cattle.

Add to this, cows hopped up on hormones and eating calorie-dense grain grow two to three times as fast, thereby making it easy for ranchers to crank out more beef with fewer resources. And while finishing a 1,200-pound corn-fed cow requires three acres of land, finishing a grass-fed cow, however, requires nine acres.

The Strange Discovery of Dr. Keeling

Scientists have long been hip to the fact that carbon dioxide traps heat at the surface of the planet. The unstoppable rise of the gas alters the climate in ways which threaten human welfare. This is called, among other things, the Greenhouse effect.

Dr. Keeling

“Fossil fuel emissions, they say, are like a runaway train, hurtling the world’s citizens toward a stone wall,” writes Justin Gillis of the New York Times, “A carbon dioxide level that, over time, will cause profound changes.”

He continues,

“The risks include melting ice sheets, rising seas, more droughts and heat waves, more flash floods, worse storms, extinction of many plants and animals, depletion of sea life and — perhaps most important — difficulty in producing an adequate supply of food.”

In 1992, then-President of the United States, George Bush, pledged to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Then, in 1998, when it was time to commit to details in a document called the Kyoto Protocol, Congress recoiled. Last year’s Senate rejection of a Cap and Trade bill was a further disappointment.

However, while the government continues their restless non-action, two silent gray machines atop Mauna Loa, Hawaii, sit inside giant gray boxes and check the carbon dioxide level in the air, every hour. The machines are the brainchild of the late, Dr. Keeling, whose ken confirmed global warming even back in the ’50s. As the decades went on, his precise measurements continued to confirm that indeed the earth was heating up. In a 1998 essay he addressed claims that global warming was a myth, saying the real myth is that “Natural resources and the ability of the earth’s habitable regions to absorb the impacts of human activities are limitless.”

Dr. Keeling’s widow, Louise, honors both him and his scientific discoveries:

Carbon Graphic

“He was a registered Republican,” she said in an interview “He just didn’t think of it as a political issue at all.”

In recent years, researchers have put the Keeling measurements into a wider context:

“Bubbles of ancient air trapped by glaciers and ice sheets have been tested, and they show that over the past 800,000 years, the amount of carbon dioxide in the air oscillated between roughly 200 and 300 parts per million. Just before the Industrial Revolution, the level was about 280 parts per million and had been there for several thousand years.”

Reported Justin Gillis, “The gas seemingly played a major role in amplifying the effects of the ice ages, which were caused by wobbles in the earth’s orbit.”

He continued:

“The geologic record suggests that as the earth began cooling, the amount of carbon dioxide fell, probably because much of it got locked up in the ocean, and that fall amplified the initial cooling. Conversely, when the orbital wobble caused the earth to begin warming, a great deal of carbon dioxide escaped from the ocean, amplifying.”

I Thought We Had a Promise: Tough Days Ahead for the EPA

“Cap-and-trade was just one way of skinning the cat; it was not the only way.”

Said the American president at a news conference Wednesday – the day after Democrats lost control of the House.

“I’m going to be looking for other means to address this problem.”

But will he? It seems President Obama has no problem leaving his one-time donors and supporters feeling, well, used and abused.

The Republican-controlled House will surely take a “fresh look that will get at a lot of questions” dealing with the EPA’s role in regulating greenhouse gas emissions said John Engler, the former Michigan governor who leads the National Association of Manufacturers.

Obama’s Cap and Trade program passed tightly in the House in 2009 but was stalled in the Senate.

The EPA is placing to regulate greenhouse gases for the first time since a 2007 Supreme Court ruling: that it could treat heat-trapping gases as pollutants. They are targeting congress. But their defenses are down.

Obama said, “I don’t think … the desire is to somehow be protective of their powers here.” alluding to the EPA – surely a Republican House will look to limit the EPA’s authority.

Last June, the Senate rejected by a slim 53-47 vote a proposition brought by Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski to deny the EPA the authority to move ahead with the serious greenhouse gas legislation.

At that time, six Democrats voted with Republicans to advance the “resolution of disapproval.” The White House threatened to veto that move, yet did nothing.

Obama outlined climate concerns, in rhetoric that was bankrupt of fresh ideas, essentially leaving the EPA defenseless:

“One of the things that’s very important for me is not to have us ignore the science, but rather to find ways that we can solve these problems that don’t hurt the economy, that encourage the development of clean energy in this country, that, in fact, may give us opportunities to create entire new industries and create jobs.”

And Now, Just To Play It Safe

Of all the summer news splashes the weather has managed to dominate the major headlines lately: Floods on the East Coast and down south in the United States, not to mention Deadly Deluges inundating parts of Pakistan, for instance. All of this while, Droughts in an excessively hot Russia have killed acre upon acre of wheat and human lives lost and then the formidable wildfires which ensued too.

Whether it is global warming related or not, though, remains to be determined. In Sunday’s New York Times, Justin Gillis seems sold on the idea that the Green House effect is to blame.

He wrote:

“Thermometer measurements show that the earth has warmed by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the Industrial Revolution, when humans began pumping enormous amounts of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.”

This is true, though he also realizes that:

“Most climate scientists are reluctant to go that far, noting that weather was characterized by remarkable variability long before humans began burning fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”

Now, what could he have meant by that?

In the 70’s a Global Freeze was the focus of fear for those few who bought into the front-page claims of scientists; whereas at present we are told that the greenhouse effect is causing our planet to roast at a wretched risk. But the skeptics are here to provide the checks and balances to our assumptions before we go colonize the moon and Mars as suggested by Stephen Hawking and even a prophetic Ray Bradbury. For instance, an incredulous cynic might cite the heat and drought in 1930s America, as a reason to remain skeptical – and they might be correct.

Writes Justin Gillis:

“Those were indeed dire heat waves, contributing to the Dust Bowl, which dislocated millions of Americans and changed the population structure of the United States.”

But was this related to the Green House effect or not? Gillis guesses, yes. And many scientists today are quick to attribute global warming to various natural disasters…For instance the recent Russian heat wave would have been less severe had Green House gases been less abundant in the atmosphere, is the hypothesis of some.

According to those who swear by the religion of Global Warming the evidence seems to be there: heavier rain downpours, shorter winters – however even this evidence is contentious; for is it not in the feasible region that El Nino is to blame? That mysterious child of the Doppler – whatever happened to that little devil?

So let us conclude in the ambiguous words of the New York Times’ Justin Gillis from last Sunday:

“It will be a year or two before climate scientists publish definite analyses of the Russian heat wave and the Pakistani floods, which might shed light on the role of climate change, if any.”

In the cautious meantime, let’s continue to love ourselves and in doing so, our planet.

Slow To Fall in Line: Oil Sand Extraction In Canada

One environmentally destructive practice, onto which a light has been shed due to the BP oil spill in the gulf is Oil Sands Development in Alberta, Canada.

Tar Sands CanadaOil Sands Extraction, according to a 2008 report, leaks approximately three million gallons of contaminated water into surrounding rivers and groundwater each day. Well, in addition to this, it emits high levels of greenhouse gases.

The Pembina Institute, a Canadian organization focused on society’s transition to sustainable energy consumption and production, reported that green house gas emissions from oil sands extraction increased by 121% from the year 1990 to 2008. And oil sands extractions are going to triple between the years 2008 and 2020.
Well, in Copenhagen last December, the Canadian government committed to a 17% decrease in green house gas emissions by the year 2020.

Canada, however, has yet to produce an actual concrete plan for meeting this deadline. According to a report:

“If emissions rise as projected under Environment Canada’s business-as-usual scenario, they will reach 28 percent above 2005 levels by 2020, with oil sands expansion accounting for nearly half of the projected increase.”

And on top of this, in Alberta, the government:

“Has released draft standards that would allow combustion on dirtier sources of fuel for oil sands,” which, if put into practice, “could lead to a 66% increase in greenhouse gas emissions per barrel produced,”

According to the report.

The Dangers of Tomb Sweeping in Taiwan

On Friday Taiwan’s government urged their public to stop burning incense sticks and ritual money to honor the dead and instead to opt for online worshipping as it fares better with Mother Earth.
public burning incense sticks and ritual money
The announcement by the cabinet-level Environmental Protection Administration came ahead of Monday’s Tomb Sweeping Festival, when ethnic Chinese traditionally visit the grave sites of their ancestors to burn incense and paper offerings. Such practice not only worsens the island’s air pollution but also cause fires.

The statement said:

“We can now choose to pay homage to our ancestors in a modern and environmentally friendly way by worshipping online or donating the money meant for the offerings to charities.”

Taiwan who has vowed to cut its greenhouse gases to 2008 levels by the year 2020, conducted studies which found that the burning of paper money releases a large amount of carbon dioxide, benzene, methylbenzene and ethylbenzene. These chemicals contribute to global warming and can cause cancer and other diseases.

The practice, originating in Taoism, results from the belief that burning paper money, as well as everything from paper cars to paper Viagra ensures their deceased ancestors will be comfortable in the after-life.

Environmental agencies have offered to collect the paper money from households and temples to burn in state incinerators which can treat the exhaust.

Tribute to a Green Pioneer

Byron Washom Since taking the job as UC San Diego’s first director of strategic energy initiatives in September 2008, Byron Washom has worked to turn the 1,200-acre campus into a model of sustainability, a “living laboratory” he calls it.

This includes renewable energy, greenhouse-gas reduction, energy management, energy storage systems and greening the campus transportation fleet. The university impressively generates 80% of its own electricity.

“The only thing we’re looking at, at the campus, are quantum improvements…It’s not just to install the next incremental step; it’s to put in the next breakthrough. What I’m doing with my colleagues is going to have a global impact…I’m so anxious to put the different pieces of the puzzle together…Learning patience is the only negative part of the job.”
Though born in Maryland, Washom was raised in Hawaii and on the isolated Midway Atoll. His father, a retired naval officer, went into the electric-supply business distributing utility products and his mother worked as an account executive for a newspaper agency.

Living in the middle of the Pacific on a bird and marine sanctuary roughly the size of UC San Diego was for him a firsthand education in sustainability. The 400 residents of the atoll relied on a monthly supply ship, diesel generators and a desalination plant. With only two passenger cars, most people rode on bikes. “Using renewable systems was a way of life…You lived within your means. It was a radically different world.”

Washom, now 60, graduated from Honolulu’s Punahou School in 1967, more than a decade before Barack Obama graduated from the same school. He left for USC just as Hawaii was opening its first freeway. He earned a bachelor’s degree in management and finance (with a minor in oceanography) in 1971, and then an MBA the next year. In 1976, he completed his postgraduate studies in ocean engineering at MIT.

After working on solar energy for Fairchild Stratos Corp., Washom founded Advanco Corp. in 1980. Four years later, Advanco set the world record for the most efficient rate of converting solar energy to electricity, using a technology that NASA later considered using to power the International Space Station.
In 1989, Washom founded the energy and environmental technology consultant firm Spencer Management Associates and served as president for 20 years.

He has also advised the World Bank, the Energy Department and the International Finance Corp.

An avid surfer since childhood, Washom credits this sport for his risk-taking business style:

“That’s when my greatest genius comes out, at the end of the branch of a tree…It’s a culture to me. The element of risk was also combined with the grace and athleticism of surfing a wave, so you were scared and performing at the same time.”