Solar Project at Sonoran Sky Elementary

Today, I received a phone call from the PVUSD (Paradise Valley Unified School District) informing my family and I of the changes occurring at the local elementary school, Sonoran Sky Elementary. My mother works there and as I was listening to the recorded message, I heard something of interest: the school was investing in a solar panel project that is set to be completed this summer. APS Schools and Government Renewable Energy Incentive Program informed the school and it is one of nine elementary schools selected to receive the solar mounted panels.  The panels will be located in the back of the school over the pick up lane and panels will be placed on the roof on the back side of the school building. The District does not have any out of pocket expensive for these solar projects.

Although the news update is a month old, the call confirmed that the project is set to be completed before the fall school year begins. This is really exciting news! It will cut down on energy costs and save the schools a lot of money, which will help them with other related expenses. My mother also told me a story about how the custodian at the school turned off half of the lights in the cafeteria to save energy. I am happy to see that there are local changes taking place and it makes me think of how many other projects can be put into place to help out the education system.

Bridging the gap

Whenever the current state of climate climate change policy seems particularly frustrating, I like to imagine that our generation will handle things differently once we have more power and influence. There are a number of new climate lawsuits popping up around the country arguing the “public trust doctrine,” and, according to the New York Times, some are being filed by teenagers (perhaps strategically)! They argue the government agencies have failed in their duty to protect the atmosphere.

Most of the individual plaintiffs in the suit, filed in United States District Court in San Francisco, are teenagers, a decision apparently made to underscore the intergenerational nature of the public trust that the earth’s atmosphere represents. More novel, however, is the suit’s reliance on the public trust doctrine, which dates to Roman times.

That doctrine has been invoked in cases involving the protection of Chicago’s lakefront and of Mono Lake in the Sierra Nevada.

But in some ways the suit parallels a current case, brought by several states against the five largest utilities in the country, that frames greenhouse gas emissions as a public nuisance, legal experts noted.

The similar, and more prominent case (which was mentioned in class), is AEP vs. Connecticut, which argues the “public nuisance” of carbon dioxide emissions. Whether the public trust cases get thrown out or not, it is inspiriting to envision bridging an environmental generation “gap.”

Deadliest Air Pollution In U.S.: 10 Worst Cities

This is a slideshow illustrating the 10 most polluted cities in the country. It includes such demographic and health facts and statistics as:

Total Population
Under 18
65 and Over
Pediatric Asthma
Adult Asthma
Chronic Bronchitis
Emphysema
Cardiovascular Disease
Diabetes
Poverty

The list is a bit surprising, especially towards the end. I was not aware of how badly pollution was affecting the nation (13,000 die each year from pollution from power-plants). It also makes it worse for people who are affected with diabetes, asthma, chronic lung disease, and cardiovascular disease. Those who live in poverty face a higher risk from air pollution.

The Cube: Living Large In A Tiny Eco Home

This is a very interesting concept that I have heard about before, but this time there’s a twist: It’s eco-friendly! I had heard about an Italian designer who made space-saving furniture that was able to be compacted and transformed into different pieces, but I hadn’t heard about an entire home. The Cube is a living space that is only 10ft cubed (hence the name) and it contains the basic elements of a home. Personally, I was getting claustrophobic as I was watching the video, so it is definitely not the home for me. However, all of the appliances are very efficient, a low-energy tv (wow!), solar panels are used to heat the structure for most of the year with the excess energy feeding back to the national grid (Which means the inhabitants get paid over $1000/year from the UK feed in tariff for renewable energy). This is a pretty exciting innovation and I’d like to see if it catches on.

Big Words a Mistake

This article looks at how scientists at a major conference were told to use smaller works such as human caused rather than anthropogenic when speaking to wider audiences in order to properly convey when is going on.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/04/climate-scientists-conference-2011_n_857588.html

‘Greenest Cities’ in the US

In light of graduation and possible moving adventures, here is an interesting slideshow of the ‘Greenest Cities’ in the United States. You will see that they have categorized them by their:

  • Residents that think and act eco-consciously
  • Residents that are not eco-conscious
  • Residents that recycle
  • Average weekday trips on public transportation
  • Homes with solar heating

You may be surprised to find that New York City is the ranked #1 by the ‘Daily Beast’. Although the statistics are not cited to anything but the Daily Beast, the media gallery is interesting view.

Another interesting media gallery is the Newsweek Articles for Earth Day in 1970. Thank goodness times have changed–this media gallery is unreal!

Killer Tornadoes & Climate Change

The United States have been affected by a number of killer tornadoes within the last few months. With 337 fatalities in the South, this is another national crisis. Given the frequency and intensity of the previous storms, more than any that I remember happening in such a short amount of time, I was interested to see what scientists had to say about climate change and tornadoes. The article states:

As far as climate change and tornadoes go, there’s no clear expectation. The two most important large-scale variables severe thunderstorms are convective available potential energy (CAPE-a thermodynamic measure) and the vertical wind shear (magnitude of the difference between the horizontal winds near the surface and aloft, say, near 6 km above the ground.

There are important caveats, however. First, it is possible that initiation of thunderstorms won’t follow that trend (we can’t model it well at this point) and that the atmosphere won’t ‘take advantage’ of the favorable conditions at the same rate as it does now. For tornadoes, a second important issue is that tornadoes are much more dependent on wind shear that non-tornadic severe storms. As a result, the increased thermo/decreased shear implies that the fraction of storms that are tornadic could decrease. How that compares to a increase in the base rate of severe storms is unknown, but does imply tornado frequency is less likely to increase than non-severe storms.

You’ll see that there are a lot of ‘unknowns’ in this article, but I thought it was an interesting read and gave me a better understanding of how and why tornadoes occur. Time will tell if there is a direct correlation with climate change and tornadoes!

Animal Extinction

Here’s an interesting article that discusses species’ vulnerability to climate change, the rate at which it is likely to happen and the debate going on in science community about how species’ vulnerability should be measured. It is important to note though that they are not debating that it is likely that extinction will happen, rather they are debating how, when and to what species.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/05/science/earth/05climate.html

Update on CA’s cap and trade

The NYT has an article on the status of California’s cap and trade systems, set to start Jan 1, 2012, here. The article discusses the recent court case against the initiative:

What is surprising is that the most serious legal challenge to the market so far has come from the left.

A group of environmental justice organizations banded together and successfully sued the state in March, saying the regulators at CARB had failed to consider alternatives to a carbon market adequately.

The state plans to appeal the ruling, and at this point, few expect that the case will amount to much more than a headache for the already overstretched state officials.

Still, the ruling by a state Superior Court judge worried many supporters.

“This case does not send a message other than that lawsuits can delay things,” said Judi Greenwald, vice president of innovative solutions at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

That message might resonate with power companies in neighboring states like Arizona and Nevada that send electricity across their borders into California and would thereby be subject to the regulations.

Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, said California’s carbon market would “run afoul of the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution,” as it would amount to a tax between states.

Although no legal challenge has yet been filed on these grounds, most believe it is only a matter of time.

California officials have insisted they are on solid legal ground if such a case goes to court.

The person with the most power over whether the carbon market gets established is Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, who has been quiet on the issue so far. CARB officials have said that if Mr. Brown wants to delay the start of the market for any reason, he will have the power to do so.

Do Americans Care About Climate Change Anymore?

Did they ever?  Yes, they did (well at least half of them did according to the article!)

According to the article, climate change has taken a back seat to talk of clean technologies and energy security.  TV network news coverage of the issue in the United States reached its peak around mid-2006 with major media outlets including print media mentioning climate change as much as they did in 2004. “And the issue’s lower profile seems to be having an effect on public opinion. Polls from George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication show that Americans’ worry about climate change was at a zenith around November 2008, with 54 percent saying that it should be a high priority for the government. Last June, however, only about 44 percent said it should be a high priority. A Gallup poll from last month found that Americans rated global warming as the environmental problem they worry about the least.”

Pretty scary stuff.  Any ideas why the media is talking less and less about climate change?  Even though, they should be talking about it more and more!

Here are links to some interesting slide shows that are included in the article:

http://www.usnews.com/news/slideshows/10-reasons-america-talks-less-about-climate-change http://www.usnews.com/news/slideshows/the-10-states-that-use-the-least-energy-per-capita

Changing weather from the casual observer

While this article makes the classic beginner’s mistake of conflating weather with climate, it does give an insight into how climate change may actually impact the average American in some way.

Status of international climate legislation

A new report was just issued by the Global Legislators Organization assessing climate change policies in the world’s largest economies. The report can be downloaded here. The study revealed that:

  • Legislation is being advanced, to varying degrees, in all of the study countries
  • Most of the legislative activity has taken place over the last year and a half – contrasting sharply with the difficulties experienced by the international negotiations over the same timeframe
  • This demonstrates that the shape of the debate is changing from one about sharing a global burden – with governments naturally trying to minimize their share – to one of a realisation that acting on climate change is in the national interest
  • It is particularly encouraging that the large developing countries of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa – who together represent the engine of global economic growth – are developing comprehensive laws to tackle climate change.
  • Current legislation does not yet, cumulatively, add up to what is necessary to avoid dangerous climate change
  • However, this legislation is putting in place the legal and policy frameworks to measure, report, verify and manage carbon
  • An international climate change agreement will only be possible when countries are already committed to taking the necessary action rooted in self-interest.  In other words, an international agreement will only reflect political conditions, not define them.

NYT Editorial on Carbon Pricing

The New York Times had an editorial yesterday about carbon pricing by the head of Connecticut’s Environmental department. The authors argue:

The best way to drive energy innovation would be an emissions charge of $5 per ton of greenhouse gases beginning in 2012, rising to $100 per ton by 2032. The low initial charge, starting next year, would make the short-term burden on consumers and businesses almost negligible.

An emissions charge is not a radical idea; making people pay for the harm they cause lies at the heart of property rights. European countries participate in a cap-and-trade system that effectively imposes a carbon charge. Even China is pushing to shut down inefficient coal-burning plants by imposing emissions charges. Thus, instituting a carbon charge would have only a minimal impact on American competitiveness — and might even improve it as the incentive for efficiency and innovation kicked in.

Our proposal would apply to all greenhouse gas emissions, so that everybody, and every fossil-fuel-dependent form of energy, would be included. Coal-burning power plants would pay based on the emissions measured at their smokestacks. Oil companies would pay for every gallon of gas or oil delivered. Yes, these costs would be passed on to consumers, but this is what motivates changes in behavior and technological investments.

Some will say that even the modest emissions charge we propose is politically impossible, given the death of the cap-and-trade bill that the House passed in 2009. But the ballooning federal deficit has created a new political imperative. A modest emissions charge will look attractive compared with raising individual income taxes or burdening the economy with new corporate or payroll taxes.

In honor of the Royal Wedding on Friday….

Despite all the pomp and ceremony, Prince William and his bride-to-be Kate Middleton are expected to host a “low-carbon wedding” next week, equipped with all the sustainable trimmings, including seasonal flowers and food, and facilities powered in part by renewable energy….

These include printing all documents on recycled paper and using FSC-certified wood and scaffolding in the building of the media stands. The carbon emissions of the wedding will also be offset as part of the royal household’s annual carbon footprinting exercise.

The rest of the article is HERE.

International Trade May Offset Reported Carbon Emission Reductions

This is an interesting article showing how developed countries are hiding their carbon footprint. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110426071143.htm

April 19th: The Economics of Climate Change

Introduction:

When trying to pass laws that will mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, one of the biggest constraints against these laws is that they will have negative impacts to the United State’s and the World’s economies.  The argument basically goes, regardless of whether climate change is anthropogenic or not, society cannot afford to spend money to reduce or prevent the effects of climate change because if we do so, then productivity and our economy will atrophy as a result.  However, there are some economists that say the initial cost that we incur today, will be less than the costs of not doing anything tomorrow: monetarily, socially, and environmentally.

Review of the Stern Review:

Some economist from Britain had these concerns and tried to look at climate change with an economic perspective, while still effeciently reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.   What they wrote was called the Stern Review, and has become one of the major documents that sway climate change policy. While most economists looked at the situation from a short term/initial cost standpoint, the Stern Review tries to look at short and long term cost and benefits to try and decided whether mitigation is in the best economical interest of society.  The focus on the term mitigation, which they define as “taking strong action to reduce emissions – must be viewed as an investment, a cost incurred now and in the coming few decades to avoid the risks of very severe consequences in the future” (Stern, N., 2006, p.1).  The key word in this is, investment.  This means that we should get returns on these investments, even if those returns cannot be measured in monetary language.

The first part of the Stern Review focuses on their estimates of the effects of global climate change will be correlating with temperature change.  The next part focuses on putting numbers on the effects to see if mitigation is economically feasible.  They also try to take into consideration other factors that usually do not get calculated in current climate change estimates.  These are the direct health impacts from the environment, the feedback loops which accelerate climate change, and how these effects are disproportionate on lower income countries (p.10)  After taking into consideration all of these variables, the Stern Review estimates that there will be a 20% reduction in consumption per head which could have dramatic negative impacts to the world economy.  According to this report, a business as usual approach to climate change does not increase actually increase production and consumption around the world, but severely diminishes economic growth. 

However, some people have pointed out that the Stern Review used to low of a discount rate, which shows the value of things in the future compared to how they are valued today. This will make the costs and benefit estimates seem more dramatic than they really are.  Different, critics have also pointed out that we should not put a price on human health because we should do everything in our power to make sure we are kept healthy.  Therefore, measuring the monetary costs and benefits from short and long term climate change policy would be moot because staying healthy requires as much money that is needed, and not the amount of money that is economically efficient.

Kyoto Protocol:

Another look into the economics of climate change can be found within the Kyoto Protocol.  The Kyoto Protocol tries to use a market solution, Cap and Trade, to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an economically efficient way.  Cap and Trade was first used with the SOx and NOx program in the United States (Hepburn, C., 2007, p.2).  Basically, the United States government auctioned off a certain amount of permits to utility companies which allocated them sulfur and nitrogen emissions.  If a company needed more credits because they emitted more sulfur and nitrogen, then they could buy credits from a company who did not use their distributed credits.  In addition to this, if it is cheaper to invest in alternative energies, than produce emissions, then the companies could sell their credits to receive additional funds to pay for alternative energy projects.  If the company emitted a certain amount of credits, and emitted more than they were allocated, then there were to be additional fees from the government.  This would make it increasingly more expensive to emit sulfur and nitrogen.  Fig.1 shows the amount of sulfate emitted per year, compared to the cap of sulfate allocated for that year.

 

As one can see, the total amount of emissions decreased as a result of this policy (McElwee, P., lecture, 4/19/2011, sl. 10). The SOx and NOx program was considered successful because it reduced emissions of sulfur and nitrogen while adhering to the rules of the market and economic efficiency.  If the same theory was applied to carbon emissions, why would not this work in a practical setting?  This is what the Kyoto protocol has tried to do over the past decade.  The Kyoto Protocol uses three mechanisms based credit trading to reduce emissions. 

“The first mechanism, emissions trading, can occur between countries with binding targets, so that countries can meet their domestic targets by purchasing credits from other countries that have exceeded their targets. The largest implementation of emissions trading to date has been the EU ETS. Second, the [clean development mechanism] CDM is a project-based mechanism that allows credits from emission reduction projects in poorer countries to be used by rich countries to meet their own commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Third, [Joint Implementation] JI is also a project-based mechanism that enables countries with binding targets to get credit from projects carried out in other countries with binding targets” (Hepburn,  C., 2007, p.5).

This would allow for a fairer trading system that would benefit rich and poor countries depending on what stage the policy was at.

Unfortunately, a global carbon trading policy would not be as easy to implement as the SOx and NOx program in the US and the CO2 trading program in the EU.  First of all, there are 6 main emissions that would need to be traded and regulated in this program, as opposed to the 2 with the US and 1 in the EU programs.  Secondly, the US SOx and NOx program only regulated the utility companies, while an effective global policy for greenhouse emissions would need to encompass all industries that emit greenhouse gasses.  Thirdly, there are some countries that do not have the resources or governmental abilities that would warrant effective internal regulation on greenhouse gas emissions.  This especially poses a problem since for the first time in history, developing countries are emitting more greenhouse countries than developed countries (McElwee, P., lecture 2011). 

Conclusion:

While human health is very important to society, so is the economy. “climate change economics has focused on diagnosing the economic underpinnings of climate change and offering positive and normative analyses of policies to confront the problem” (Goulder & Pizer, 2006)It would be naïve to focus on greenhouse gas reductions in nonmonetary terms without considering the effects of the economy.  While some have said that it does not matter how much money it costs ensure the quality of human health, if we focus policy in these terms, then that means the foundation of our society will be put at unrest.  This would cause sweeping policy change that would cause instability within the system.  This is why market based policies are so important for the mitigation of greenhouse gases.  Hulme suggests in his book, Why We Disagree on Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction, and Opportunity, that we should change the way we measure development, Gross Domestic Product or GDP (2009, p.139). There is such an emphasis on GDP and increased production that other values tend to be pushed aside.  That means we should define how we consider what to be economics.  Education rates and health can certainly be defined in economic terms and can be very useful parameters when implementing policy.  One thing is for sure is that we need to actually do something to decrease the effects of climate change, or the quality of our lives may severely diminish.

Vocabulary:

Cap and Trade: Market based policy where a ceiling amount of credits can be traded between stakeholders and gives them options to emit more or invest in new technologies depending on their economic means

Cost and Benefits: Economic tool used to measure the amount of money flow within a policy, company, etc.  This measure does not have to be in monetary terms either

Kyoto Protocol: An international policy that tries to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere using various mechanisms

Stern Review: A British document that tries to look at mitigating climate change in economic terms while focusing on the power of investments.  

Questions:

Should we use market based policies?

How should we measure development?

What are the negative remifications of using short term economic theory and policy?

Readings:

Goulder, L., Pizer, W. (2006). The Economics Of Climate Change. Resources for the Future.

Heburn, C (2007) Carbon trading: a review of the Kyoto mechanisms. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2007. 32:375–93

Hulme, M (2009). Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-72732-7.

McElwee, P., (2011). Coping with Climate Change lecture. Arizona State University.

Stern, N. (2006). Executive Summary of the Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change

Supreme Court indicates it will dismiss 6-state global warming lawsuit

The suit, filed by California and others, seeks limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. Justices say the EPA, not the courts, should regulate greenhouse gases.

This article discusses the outcome of one of the California court cases we were discussing in class last Tuesday.  That is, the lawsuit brought by California and five other states that seeks limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants in the South and Midwest.  The justices claimed that the case was too complex and unwieldy to be handled by a single federal judge acting on a “public nuisance” lawsuit; they also said that the decision of this case would be about who should regulate greenhouse gases with implications in politics, economics, and science.  Basically, they did not want to deal with this case.  Do you think it is the responsibility of the Supreme Court to determine who should regulate greenhouse gases or the EPA?  I am interested to get your opinions on this!  Especially after everything we have learned…

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-court-warming-20110420,0,5463771.story

For Earth Day: The Challenges of Carbon Labeling

The Washington Post has an article today for Earth Day on the challenges of carbon labeling:

Two years on, handicapped by uncertainties about how to calculate those ratings — or whether it’s even possible — carbon-footprinting schemes struggle to be recognized as the standard stamps of eco-consciousness that the FairTrade, Energy Star and LEED systems have become.

One of the biggest problems is how to actually calculate carbon emissions from products; there is a lot of guesswork involved sometimes, as this article on beef carbon footprinting makes clear. The other problem is if consumers will actually care; the Post article mentions that New Belgium brewing company carbon footprinted its beer and in the end decided not to put it on the label as they thought consumers would just be confused. But this editorial in Nature Climate Change argues that labeling is better than nothing, and that over time individuals can be persuaded to use it to make consumer choices that are more carbon-friendly.

Cap-And-Trade Still A Work In Progress

Since this issue has been brought up in class several times, I wanted to look into it more and to see what progress is being made. Currently, Europe has been making steps towards cutting down on carbon emissions by their big companies with a cap-and-trade program,  but this article addresses many of the flaws in their plan. However, the end of the piece provides a note by Sanjeev Kumar (a member of an environmental group) that can help increase the success rate of the program:

“We now have all the key bits of architecture in place,” he said. “You just need to tighten the cap.”

Coffee tragedy

I think that this could catalyze the concern with global warming.  Apparently coffee production has atrophied and shows no sign of slowing down.  This is due to a fungus that thrives in warmer conditions.

http://www.enn.com/agriculture/article/42555

Cool slideshow

Here’s a slideshow from time.com showing the 10 greenest buildings in America!
http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2065341,00.html

Paralysis Above

Todd Stern, the State Department official who heads the U.S. delegation in UN climate negotiations, doesn’t

think it’s necessary that there be internationally binding emission caps as long as you’ve got national laws and regulations.

The full article is here. Is this another attempt at diplomatic delay? Justification to move away from the UNFCCC and guard state sovereignty?

Germany and nuclear power

Although the article claims that Germany has decided to replace nuclear power with other renewables, nuclear power is convenient because it is cheaper than most renewable energies.  I find that this will be a tough transition and Germany will instead invest in coal or natural gas to make up the difference in energy supply since it is cheaper and more readily available.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110323/ap_on_bi_ge/eu_germany_abandoning_nuclear_power

Wind Turbines Negatively Affect Bat Populations

As we saw in the film last week, Age of Stupid, wind turbines are valuable source of renewable energy, but are often protested against purely for aesthetic reasons by locals who live near proposed building sites. However, I recently noticed an article about how wind turbines are costing farmers a lot of money in pesticides because local bat populations that they relay on to eat pests are declining due to turbine-related deaths. Apparently, the change in the air pressure created by wind turbines causes bats’ lungs to collapse and internally hemorrhage. They are more susceptible than birds (who are usually killed by the blades themselves) because they are smaller and have more fragile lungs. Here is an article from Scientific American.

It is unclear what measures, if any, can be taken to eliminate this pressure problem other than stopping turbines from spinning during times of lighter winds at night when bats tend to be most active. Of course, that would also curtail their electricity production: An experiment in August 2007 that stopped 19 of Summerview’s turbines when winds fell below 18 feet (5.5 meters) per second cost TransAlta at least $50,000 in lost electricity production.

While I think the fact that wind turbines are damaging a local ecosystem is extremely important to take notice of, I couldn’t help but observe that many of the reader comments from the first article (from the UK’s Daily Mail) reminded me a lot of the turbine protesters from the movie as they immediately jumped on how “ineffective” and “ugly” wind turbines are and that they should all be taken down. In contrast, the reader comments from Scientific American suggest modifications that might be made to the turbines to make them more visible to bats and provide sonar warning systems. Whether these alterations are realistic or not, I do think it would behoove the builders of wind turbines to take this environmental impact into consideration and find a way of reducing the death of local species without completely shutting down the system. That being said, although this kind of ecological impact is a bit sad and shocking, I probably can’t even start to imagine the scale of more subtle animal fatalities other forms of electrical production cause.

Apr 5: How do values and risk assessment influence our willingness to act to mitigate climate change?

This week we looked at how values and risk assessment influence our willingness to act to mitigate climate change. This subject is one that we have touched on repeatedly, specifically when we have had the scientific data presented to us, we frequently ask ourselves collectively why people would choose not to act to stop something preventable. In this week’s readings and movie, we were introduced to the factors that work to shape our understanding of the risks of climate change and how the filters through which we engage with the information and risks greatly changes one’s willingness to mitigate, or even believe in, climate change. While I personally found the readings to be more informative than the movie, which was perhaps a bit too dramatic for my liking, all of these combined conveyed effectively the myriad of ways that we perceive risk.

Before continuing it is important to define risk which, according to dictionary.com, means: exposure to the chance of injury or loss. According to our readings as a whole, risk perception, and therefore our willingness to act, is defined by numerous factors including religion, society, the media, and other factors such as demographics and if they view society as a collective or as a collective of individuals.

What shapes what people believe?

There are multiple factors that go into shaping what people believe including the media, religion and political views. The three Hulme chapters we read (5-7) engage with religious values, social and cultural values, as well as they way risk is presented to communities at large, all of which shape our motivation to act to mitigate climate change.

Religion, particularly its foundational beliefs, our relationship to nature and our duty to our deities shape our understanding of the risk of climate change. This is sometimes clear in Christianity, for example, which has a strong nature/culture divide making nature a wild force that is not in the control of humans. Hulme illustrated this divide through the example of Hurricane Katrina in which 23 percent of Americans believe that the hurricane was an act of God, despite more Hurricanes like Katrina being made more likely through climate change. This view of nature/culture divide leaves many Christians, especially Americans, unwilling to act to mitigate climate change since they believe their actions will have no impact, and those who do wish to care for “creation” are unlikely to be able to make climate mitigation behavior actually come to fruition on a large scale due to their inability to bridge gaps between divergent groups such as religious divides.

Religion, while playing a role in what people believe and how they act towards climate change, does not appear to be as significant as other factors. Risk assessment is a cultural process in which one’s values interpret the risks of climate change. The “Cultural Theory Model” can be used to assess whole societies or individuals, and works well to explain one’s risk perception in regards to what they believe to be true about society and nature. One’s perception of nature as “ephemeral” can make them extremely likely to act on the risks of climate change since nature is delicate and sensitive to human aggravators, whereas viewing nature as “capricious” makes a person/society unlikely to see climate change as a risk worth acting on because nature is unpredictable and unchangeable.

Also, it is proving difficult to collectively frame the “danger” that climate change poses since everyone has different personal values, from valuing biodiversity to economic growth/loss, making it difficult to convey the risk of climate change in a manner that will convince everyone to take action. Another important definer in the perception of risk, as well as the willingness to take action, is whether or not one perceives climate change as posing a risk to oneself. As an additional reading shows (the one by Whitmarsh), natural disasters likely linked to climate change do not change people’s behavior or risk perception if they themselves do not see the connection to climate change and the disaster just experienced. Rather, one must be convinced that climate change is what actually caused their negative experience in order for them to feel a sense of urgency to stop climate change from worsening.
The media also plays a fairly large role in shaping our understandings of the risks of climate change. Media is notorious for being able to spin the same story multiple ways and the science on climate change is sadly no different. The media, such as newspapers and news shows, often have well known biases, and these are shown in their reports on climate change, since they are the ones who interpret the result of scientific studies for the common person. One such example of a bias is from Fox News (perhaps they were too easy of a target), which made journalists and staffers mention that climate change data has critics which may not sound completely bad, but the direction was sent in an e-mail entitled, “Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data…” implying that their reason for forcing everyone to mention the “critics” was because there was a wide scale controversy over the data, which there is not. Another way in which we are subtly manipulated is through the specific words used, an example would be that “alarmist” speech scares most people away and makes them less likely to actually change any of their behavior, so in order to effectively communicate the risks of climate change one must walk a tight rope. And lastly, another way in which climate change’s risks are conveyed to us is through imagery, which is also selective. Attached is a photo from Greenpeace which clearly attempts to convey the seriousness of climate change as well as what is at risk of not changing out large scale and local behavior.
Through interpreting the studies on and risks of climate change, we are effectively told whether or not we should work to stop climate change by the media, and sadly for most people the media is the only place where their knowledge on climate change comes from.


Why we live in “The Age of Stupid”

While Hulme’s book gave us a broad look at what influences and shapes our understanding of climate change, the movie we watched focused predominately on the West and our impacts at home and abroad that cause and worsen climate change. In this movie, which takes place after we have destroyed the planet through our failure to stop climate change by 2015 when the window to stop runaway climate change closed, the West is displayed accurately as unwilling to change our habits of gas guzzling, wastefulness of items such as shoes, and worse. It is our unwillingness to change what we value, that is cheap oil and a capitalistic market economy, that dooms the earth even though we were frequently warned in varying ways about the risks of our behavior. For years we had been privy to the retreating glaciers of the alps, we had engaged ourselves in a resource war (Iraq), and we had less than 1% of scientists doubting the veracity of climate change and yet we still did not see the risks of climate change as being high, so we did nothing to mitigate what was to come. An example of ways in which we actively chose not to mitigate climate change includes not allowing wind turbines to be placed because they will degrade the aesthetic value of the land. Another way the West doomed the planet is by not cutting down on our consumption of plastics, oil, cars and more (if everyone lived like an American/Canadian/Australian we would need 5 Earths to support us). Sadly our “wonderful” lifestyle pressured developing societies to emulate us, meaning that they want to play “catch-up” and recreate all of the environmental damages we have already created. This movie’s goal was clearly to scare people into action since it based itself in a completely destroyed future, and it made constant reference to all the times and ways we could have acted, such as protesting our government to force them to create more environmental regulations, but “did not,” giving us the chance to see what we can still do to avoid this future. As compared to the readings this was a much more cynical view on how we decide whether or not to act to mitigate climate change. Here our choices not to act seem to be motivated by pervasive greed and laziness and the societal and individual level, despite knowing the potential consequences, versus the readings by Hulme which seemed to just explain the filters our risk perception goes through. Overall, the movie’s motive seemed to be to convey a sense of urgency, whereas Hulme’s chapters look more at how we arrive at our decisions and how to speak to varying groups in order to convey a message properly.

What shapes what Americans believe?

Our last readings looked at risk perception and willingness to act to mitigate climate change at the American level. These articles found that Americans as a whole believe in climate change and that it will have some impacts, however it is viewed largely as a moderate risk. Climate change is perceived as being of only a “moderate risk” to the American public because Americans collectively believe the following: impacts of climate change will not occur in America but in distant places, it will have no negative effects on human health, and it will effect non-human nature the most. Americans are also supportive as a whole of funding further research on renewable energies and tax benefits for people who purchase solar panels or fuel-efficient vehicles.
Americans can be broken up into six groups based on their stance on climate change, and which group they fall into greatly impacts how they view the risks of climate change and how much action they are willing to take to mitigate those risks.

The Alarmed (18%): They know about global warming, know it is happening, know that it is human caused, know the risks and are taking action on multiple levels (political, individual) to mitigate the impacts of climate change. They are positive that taking action can reduce the effects of climate change and they are mostly female Democrats who hold egalitarian views, and are the least likely of any group to be evangelical Christian.

The Concerned (33%): This group knows and believes in climate change and wants the government to take action to stop it but they have not taken individual action. They believe that we can stop climate change and that stopping it will have positive impacts. They are largely representative of America as a whole, but tend to be Democrats and hold moderate egalitarian views.

The Cautious (19%): This group knows that global warming is a problem but they do not feel a sense of urgency to deal with it since they do not view it as a personal threat. They believe that some sort of widespread individual action can reduce climate change and they tend to be split evenly politically between the Republican and Democratic parties. Their demographics and values are aligned closely with American averages, including holding traditional religious values.

The Disengaged (12%): This group knows very little about climate change and they have not thought much about the issue. They also believe that some sort of collective individual action can reduce climate change. They tend to be politically inactive moderate Democrats and are more likely than average to be minority women with less education and income who tend to hold traditional religious values.

The Doubtful (11%): This group is split down the middle with half believing that climate change is happening and half that do not believe climate change is happening. They believe that if it is happening that it is a natural occurrence, that America is already doing enough to stop it and that widespread individual action would only impact it a little. They are more likely than average to be male, better educated with a high income, white and Republican. They tend to hold strongly individualistic values and are more likely than average to be evangelical Christians.

The Dismissive (7%): This group does not believe in climate change whatsoever and are politically active to convey this message. They are more likely than average to be well-educated, high-income, white males. They hold strongly individualistic values and most likely to be evangelical Christian of all segments.

Conclusion:
Overall, this week’s readings and movie provide a wide spectrum understanding of how individual values and understandings of risk get shaped and manipulated, both at a worldwide scale and at the national level. Through the use of differing forms of media, religion, gender and lifestyle choices, our willingness to work to mitigate climate change varies greatly. People who have a stronger sense that people on this planet are a community, that individuals can have an impact on climate change, and that nature is not outside of the hands of humans are more likely to work to mitigate the risks than others. That being said, there is sadly still too large a segment of the human population, including a fair segment of the United States population, who either do not believe in climate change, feel morally responsible and therefore obligated to change, or who understand the risks but do not change their actions, to actually stop climate change. If we do not act quickly and align our risk perceptions with a willingness to act we may soon inhabit the world portrayed in the movie we watched. However, there is hope because the book discusses ways to effectively communicate to different groups and the Leiserowitz article discusses ways in which to more effectively communicate climate change and its risks and reality to the American public.

Class Readings:

Hulme Ch 5, The things we believe, Ch 6, The things we fear & Ch 7, The communication of risk

Leiserowitz, A. (2007) Communicating the risks of global warming: American risk perceptions, affective images, and interpretive communities. In S. C. Moser & L. Dilling (Eds.), Creating a climate for change: Communicating climate change and facilitating social change (pp. 44-63). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Yale Project on Climate Change (2009). Global warming’s six Americas 2009.

Extra reading:

Adger, W. N., Dessai, S., Goulden, M., Hulme, M., Lorenzoni, I., Donald, N.R., . . . Wreford, A. (2009). Are there social limits to adaption to climate change?. Climatic Change 93, 335-354.

This article looks at risk perception’s involvement in limiting a society’s self-perceived ability to adapt to climate change.

Etkin, D., & Ho, E. (2007). Climate Change: Perceptions and Discourses of Risk. Journal of Risk Research, 10(5), 623-641.

This article looks at why it has been hard for people to accurately gauge risk when it comes to climate change based on factors such as the knowledge gap between scientists and the general public.

Lorenzoni, I., & Pidgeon, N.F. (2006). Public views on climate change: European and USA perspectives. Climatic Change, 77, 73-95.

This article looks at the similarities differences between how the European public and American public conceptualize climate change and their perception of risk from climate change.

Weber, E.U. (2006). Experience-based and description-based perceptions of long-term risk: why global warming does not scare us (yet). Climatic Change, 77, 103-120.

This article looks at how proper risk perception comes from a place of fear and experience, which makes statistics as motivators to avoid climate change largely ineffective. This article suggests that we come up with new ways to convey the actual risks of climate change to the general public.

Whitmarsh, L. (2008). Are flood victims more concerned about climate change than other people? The role of direct experience in risk perception and behavioural response. Journal of Risk Research, 11(3), 351 – 374.

This article looks at flood victims’ response to climate change and whether first hand catastrophe experience is a factor in the perceived risk of climate change.

Article discussing Fox News:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/15/fox-news-climate-change-email_n_796963.html

And so no one forgets the importance of climate change:

Remember the Polar Bears!

Bolivia, a canary in the coal mine

Bolivian President Evo Morales - Copenhagen. Source: Sabinabecker.com

Bolivia is about to pass a “radical” new law that grants nature equal rights to humans. The law

“has been heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual world view which places the environment and the earth deity known as the Pachamama at the centre of all life. Humans are considered equal to all other entities.”

I found this a refreshing deviation from current policy discourse. This video and article highlight the politics surrounding the new rule.

One of our readings this week mentioned that Bolivia was one of six countries to object to the Copenhagen Accord.  Importantly, Bolivia has spearheaded a movement advocating more effective international action on climate change. Revealingly, this stance looks to have had political repercussions. As Bolivia objects to proposed policy, many have been skeptical of the nation’s dissent, including Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees.

One of Lynas’s arguments is that Bolivia is opposing the international climate change regime in part of a “broader ideological crusade” against industrial nations. Capitalism is the crux. Lynas’ argument makes Bolivia’s drive for more effective policy seem misled. However, it is clear that Bolivia’s policy push is more reactionary than ideological.

Recently, Bolivia has been experiencing the complete portfolio of climate impacts. In the past few years, Bolivia has faced record-breaking mudslides, a deceased glacier, soaring food prices, extreme droughts and frosts, and environmental-induced migration. As one might expect, the impacts Bolivia faces have a causal relationship to the nation’s policy stance. It is hard to imagine a country so uprooted by the effects of climate change signing on to an agreement which has been predetermined to be incapable of achieving its goals.

It’s an unsettling thought that admits some level of defeat, but perhaps populations need to experience, on a local level, the impacts of climate change before they are willing to act upon them.  Will Bolivia’s struggle soon be our own?

U.S. House ready to bar EPA from regulating emissions

This article discusses the Upton-Inhofe bill that came before the U.S. House of Representatives early last week.  If passed, the bill would bar the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California from regulating tailpipe emissions.  The government officials who created the bill claim that by allowing the EPA and California able to regulate emissions in their own way, Americans are being harmed i.e., they are losing more of their jobs.  The article also discusses how opposed automakers are to a “patchwork of separate state and federal emissions limits”.  The author does point out that the Obama administration is very much against the bill demonstrating how the Obama administration reached a deal with California and automakers in 2009 to set nationwide standards for new car models to increase efficiency.

http://www.detnews.com/article/20110406/AUTO01/104060428/1361/U.S.-House-ready-to-bar-EPA-from-regulating-emissions

Interesting article!  This article kind of goes into what we were discussing in class earlier i.e., that more local approaches to combating and preparing for climate change may be necessary in terms of adaptation, but a more global approach may be best for mitigation.  However, this bill just completely does away with the U.S.’s EPA as a governing body over emissions leaving us exactly where we started, that is, not doing anything.  This theme of inaction in our government is really getting old.

Cassava root used for biofuel & rise in food prices

The New York Times recently published an article about the cassava root and it’s detrimental affects it has had on global hunger, poverty, and trade. Cassava is a tropical root vegetable, also known as yucca, and it is grown in temperate regions in Asia, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. Besides being a food source, it is now used for bio-fuel production. Given that bio-fuels are high in demand due to laws mandating that countries lessen their use of fossil fuels, cassava have become increasingly demanded in the market. However, experts claim that the production of bio-fuels are resulting in “high prices, hunger, and political instability”.

With a drastic increase in food prices, poverty and hunger is on the rise. Many blame the biofuel tragets that developed countries are mandated to follow:

“While no one is suggesting that countries abandon biofuels, Mr. Dubois and other food experts suggest that they should revise their policies so that rigid fuel mandates can be suspended when food stocks get low or prices become too high.

“The policy really has to be food first,” said Hans Timmer, director of the Development Prospects Group of the World Bank. “The problems occur when you set targets for biofuels irrespective of the prices of other commodities.”

The article details the trade implications of the cassava root, in addition to the harsh realities of higher food prices and its negative affects on international aid from the World Food Programme. In short, this article has an interesting perspective of how policies can be beneficial, but also detrimental to crops and food sources.

For an interesting perspective about bio-fuels, check out the Bio-Wealth Resource, LTD site. Very interesting, especially since they are a private investment banking advisory firm and Oil and Gas commodity trading organization. Check it out!

Flagstaff Snowmaking: It’s happening!

As of April 1st, an injunction filed by the Save the Peaks Coalition was denied by the 9th circuit U.S Courts Appeal. The injunction regarded the environmental impacts of snow making at Flagstaff resorts. Given our discussion last week, snow making can have serious impacts on the environment. Although the U.S. Forest Service supports the claim since they will be using waste water, rather than pumping new water, this calls for a greater understanding of the environmental, but also social impacts (especially for the native land in Flagstaff) and health risks as a result of the waste water.

You can also find a video here and here is a site that trails news articles regarding the deve
lopment of snow making in Flagstaff. Unfortunately I don’t think our Peaks will be saved–there will soon be man-made snow!

Climate Change Could Leave 1 Billion Urbanites High and Dry by 2050

This article reports a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that argues that at the current rate of urban growth, 993 million people are expected to be left without enough water to survive with climate change adding an additional 100 million.  The author delves into detail about the projected water shortages claiming that the study projects 3.1 billion people will be dealing with seasonal water shortages by 2050.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=climate-change-one-billion-urbanites-water-shortage