Richard Harris’ NPR story this week exploring how global temperatures stayed pretty constant over the last decade even as greenhouse gas concentrations increased reminded me of another important piece of research overlooked during last month’s global climate negotiations in Copenhagen:
Yale University researchers studying past warming episodes that didn’t get any help from the Industrial Revolution say the climate may be more sensitive to carbon dioxide than we previously understood.
The study by Yale’s Climate and Energy Institute found that about 4.5 million years ago, when the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was roughly what it is today, global temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Centigrade higher. This is a pretty big deal, recall, because we’re talking about global average temps. The extremes are higher and the effects are more far-reaching than, say, a simple bump in the mercury on a summer day of 2 to 3 degrees might suggest.
Mothers take great care to provide the best for their children, choosing nutritious formula and food for their young. So why is a chemical that may hinder a child’s development allowed in baby bottles and sippy cups?
That was the sentiment behind a 36-9 vote in the Washington state Senate today for a bill (SB 6248) to ban bisphenol A, or BPA, from food and drink containers for young children. Similar legislation passed the House earlier this week 95-1, but that bill (HB 1180) went further by also banning the chemical in bottles containing sports drinks such as Gatorade.
BPA is widely used in shatterproof plastic containers for food and drinks, as well as a plastic lining in cans for food and soda. Studies have shown that when these containers become hot, whether through microwaving or by pouring hot liquid into them, BPA can seep into the food or drink. This is also occurs when the plastics get scratched over time.
Federal safety regulators have expressed concern about the harmful effects the chemical could have on fetuses and young children’s brains, reproductive systems, pituitary glands, and behavior. The chemical has also been linked to a variety of cancers, diabetes, and obesity.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration “believes there are great causes for concern, especially among the youngest,” said Rep.
With 500 people in metro Vancouver, B.C., hunkering down without a roof overhead nightly, an advocacy group wants to distribute red tents to the city’s homeless to make shelter on the sidewalks — at the height of the Olympic games festivities.
The Tyee reports:
Picture homeless people camped on downtown sidewalks. Big yawns inside bright red tents as the sun rises on another Olympics day. Early next month, Pivot Legal Society hopes to ask city council’s permission to start handing out 500 collapsible shelters to Vancouver’s most needy. Pivot’s rights activists want to confront a city enthralled by Olympic jubilation with the reality of local poverty. And test the limits of constitutional law.
British Columbia Supreme Court rulings have upheld the right of the homeless to camp in public spaces when there is no other shelter. So Pivot is offering donors the right to “sponsor” a tent for $100 and shelter a homeless person. With world attention about to be focused on Vancouver during the Olympic games, the timing of the Red Tent campaign is no accident.
“We want the media to experience the most liveable city in the world and also see the contradiction — that this is a city that has a chronic problem with poverty and homelessness,” Pivot Executive Director John Richardson said. “We want them to ask, ‘What is the Canadian government doing about this?'”
— Rita Hibbard
In the Good News for Your Friday category comes this bulletin:
More than 38 million pounds of electronics otherwise headed for the landfill have been recycled during the first year of a new program in Washington state.
A similar program in Oregon collected nearly 19 million pounds of electronics in its first year. Go Washington recyclers! And you go Oregon recyclers too! Reports the Associated Press:
State Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant calls the E-Cycle Washington program “even more successful than we had hoped” and notes the total doesn’t include the thousands of still-working electronics units donated to charities.
The program, which keeps tons of heavy metals out of the environment, is paid for by manufacturers, and products can be dropped off at authorized collection points, which are listed at the program’s Web site, and are searchable by county. The Oregon E-Cycles program also provides free recycling of electronics at statewide collection points.
In the couple of decades I’ve watched environmentalists go to ever-greater lengths to get out their messages, I’ve seen few more wacky stunts than the one planned by two guys from Canada: Running the length of the world’s oldest and deepest lake, Lake Baikal in Siberia, in the wintertime. While pulling along 100 pounds of supplies behind them. And live-blogging the whole thing, of course. (What?!? No Twitter!?!)
Ray Zahab and Kevin Vallely — shall we just call them “the wackos” from now on? — plan to set off on March 1, which means the ice will still be plenty hard on Baikal. (Fun fact: Less than a decade ago, Zahab was a pack-a-day cigarette smoker and couch potato!)
Their cause: to highlight the value and scarcity of fresh water. Nowhere else in the world does a freshwater lake hold as many gallons as does Baikal. It has more of the wet stuff than all of America’s Great Lakes combined.
A proposal to increase the tax on petroleum, pesticides and other chemicals is being floated in Olympia as a way to raise as much as $250 million to clean up polluted stormwater. But so far, support the for the idea among leading lawmakers appears lukewarm at best.
Environmentalists are pushing the idea, which would mostly tax oil refineries to clean up stormwater runoff, the largest source of pollution to Puget Sound and other waterways in the state. The measure would sink money into the general fund initially to help meet the state’s $2.6 billion budget shortfall, with stormwater pollution getting a bigger share in future years. As key as stormwater cleanup is to the health of Puget Sound, the measure faces an uncertain future.
Gathered in a packed art gallery on Capitol Hill in Seattle, was a group of mostly young adults. They sat on stairs, the floor, and they stood. All eyes rested upon a pull-down screen that was displaying President Obama’s State of the Union address.
They did not assemble merely to watch the president speak from the nation’s capital, but to also discuss what was going on in their own capital, Olympia. The topic of the evening – higher education.
The event, “Olympia – In a Can,” was organized by the group the Washington Bus, a politically progressive non-profit organization aimed at raising political awareness among young adults.
Joining the group via Skype, were Rep. Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver, chair of the Higher Education committee, and Rep. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, vice chair of the Finance committee, to discuss and answer questions regarding funding for higher education in Washington. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties the legislators didn’t get to share much.
Filling in the gaps were Maggie Wilkens with the League of Education Voters, Mike Bogatay with the Washington Student Association, and David Parsons with the UAW Local 4121.
With the $2.6 billion deficit that the state faces, “cuts to higher education are inevitable,” explained Wilkens to the audience.
Well, President Obama certainly did go on at some length tonight in his just-concluded State of the Union address. But he once again failed to elevate the climate issue to urgency. I have to agree with David Roberts over at Grist.org: “Pretty weak tea.” (Hat tip to Roberts for posting the transcript of that part of the speech before Obama was even done talking.)
Now, some of our faithful correspondents and even some friends thought it curious that Dateline Earth faulted Obama for falling short on the climate and energy issue in his inaugural address a year ago, after which we held forth thusly:
That is not the speech of a man who intends to launch a World War II-style domestic campaign — think Rosie the Riveter and the Manahattan Project. And that’s what scientists are saying we’ll need.
He did it again tonight. The president — wisely — started out talking about jobs or, as we’ve put it before, “Fighting climate change = ending the recession.” He was clearly aware that Americans are saying in polls now that climate is pretty low on their list of concerns. And just a day before the talk, Republican Lindsey Graham caved on Cap’n Trade, provoking Roberts, for one, to accept that we probably won’t be going down that road this year, if ever in Obama’s presidency.
But the sheer brevity of what Obama had to say tonight portrays a president so pummeled by problems that on climate, he punted.
In a vote closely watched by other states with budget woes, Oregon voters chose to impose corporate tax hikes and an income tax increase on the wealthiest of taxpayers to prevent mammoth cuts to public education and other state services. It had been eight years since Oregon voters last approved a statewide tax increase, and it was greeted with relief by education and public service advocates, The Oregonian reported.
The double-barreled victory is the first voter-approved statewide income tax increase since the 1930s. Other states, facing similar budget woes, are watching the outcome closely because Oregon, after all, is a state that capped property taxes and locked a surplus tax rebate program into the constitution.
The last time voters approved a tax increase was 2002, when they agreed to bump up tobacco taxes to help pay for the Oregon Health Plan. Voters rejected income tax increases twice in recent years.
Not only did the tax measures pass Tuesday, but they passed easily — by 54 percent. Multnomah County — home to Portland — went heavily for the measures, but support was also strong in more conservative parts of the state.
Campaign ads by supporters highlighted banks and credit card companies and showed images of well-dressed people stepping off private jets.
Richard Harris’ NPR piece today on methane’s climate-clobbering effects jolted me to remember a post I planned but that went by the wayside when I got so busy editing our coverage of last month’s big climate conference in Copenhagen.
During the big UNFCCC negotiations, an op-ed of huge import came out but didn’t get as much attention as you might think, considering it was co-authored by Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Mohamed El-Ashray, a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is important, they acknowledged, but a big focus in the next few years should be methane, because it traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere much more efficiently than CO2. And methane converts to carbon dioxide after 10 or 12 years — compared to CO2’s residence time in the atmosphere that’s measured in hundreds of years.
Methane’s quite a bit easier to control, too (for now — more on that shortly). So, to buy time to invent better ways to reduce CO2 emissions, focus on methane, Watson and El-Ashray argue:
If we need to suppress temperature quickly in order to preserve glaciers, reducing methane can make an immediate impact. Compared to the massive requirements necessary to reduce CO2, cutting methane requires only modest investment. Where we stop methane emissions, cooling follows within a decade, not centuries. That could make the difference for many fragile systems on the brink.
Both Harris’ piece and the op-ed point out that controlling methane also helps fight ground-level ozone, a public health threat.