Παρασκευή, Σεπτεμβρίου 15, 2006

Press Releases September 2006 - Flying Around the Globe on a Time Machine - United Nations Environment Programme

Press Releases September 2006 - Flying Around the Globe on a Time Machine - United Nations Environment Programme: " Flying Around the Globe on a Time Machine

Flying Around the Globe on a Time Machine United Nations Environment Programme Partners with Google Earth

Nairobi, 12 September 2006 – 'Flying' around a virtual planet earth, zooming in on environmental hotspots and comparing today's crisis zones with yesterday's areas of natural beauty: All this has become a reality today thanks to a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Google Earth.

Images of retreating glaciers and melting ice in polar and mountain areas, explosive growth of cities such as Las Vegas, forest loss in the Amazon, rapid oil and gas development in Wyoming and Canada, forest fires across sub-Saharan Africa and the decline of the Aral Sea in Central Asia and Lake Chad in Africa: this and much more is being presented in a series of 'before and after' satellite images of our changing environment to over 100 million Google Earth users worldwide.

Beginning today, Google Earth – Google’s 3D virtual world browser – will feature UNEP: Atlas of our Changing Environment, offering satellite images of 100 environmental hotspots from around the world. The project builds on the success of UNEP’s very popular hardcover release One Planet, Many People: Atlas of our Changing Environment.

UNEP's Executive Director Achim Steiner said:” These satellite pictures are a wake-up call to all of us to look at the sometimes devastating changes we are wreaking on our planet. Through spectacular imagery, Google Earth and UNEP offer a new way of visualizing the dangers facing our planet today. By tapping into the global Google community, we are able to reach out to millions of people who can mobilize and make a difference."

The printed Atlas One Planet, Many People: Atlas of our Changing Environment was produced in cooperation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the University of Maryland, and launched on World Environment Day in June 2005.

UNEP: Atlas of our Changing Environment uses images from the 2005 publication together with satellite depictions of changes to African Lakes (based on the 2006 hardcover Africa’s Lakes: Atlas of our Changing Environment), along with several new images and updates, and brings them into the virtual world of Google Earth. Each location features multiple satellite images which are overlaid directly on Google Earth.

Most of the locations feature imagery from almost thirty-five years of global coverage produced by the Landsat programme. Using this invaluable record of our planet’s recent past, UNEP: Atlas of our Changing Environment documents hotspots of environmental change around the world.

The project coordinator, Ashbindu Singh, of UNEP's Division of Early Warning and Assessment said: "Google Earth technology already allows a more informative and accessible means of delivering information about our changing environment. By keeping pace with the changing world of technology and media, UNEP helps the environmental community keep pace with the real changes in our real world."

Google Earth enables users to put each image into a rich geographical context. At Lake Kivu, Uganda, an active volcano threatens to release a lethal cloud of carbon dioxide from the lake. The user can zoom into the city of Goma, caught between the volcano and the lake, and view the high resolution images showing its houses, roads and parks.

Lake Chad, a great shallow lake in West Africa which was once the sixth largest in the world, shrunk to a wetland one tenth its original size between 1963 and 2001. The user can follow the rivers that feed it to their sources, which no longer provide enough water to maintain the lake. Google Earth shows the countries and cities affected by the lake’s decline and offers the ability to search the internet for additional information about Lake Chad.

In the Trang Estuary along Thailand’s western shoreline, an explosion in shrimp farming can be seen cutting into the disappearing mangrove forests between January 1990 and October 2001. Jumping 500 km to the south, the user can see more mangrove forest being lost to agricultural conversion and urban expansion, as the population surrounding Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, spreads from 40 km inland in January 1974, west to the coastal mangrove forests in January 2005.

'Flying' 2,500 km north across Southeast Asia, China’s economic powerhouse, Shenzhen, can be seen growing from a small city in the coastal forest in October 1979 to a sprawling industrial city with a population approaching 5 million in the greater metropolitan area by September 2004. Spinning the globe around to North America, enormous open pit mines in the Athabasca region of Alberta, Canada, can be seen where vast low-quality reserves of oil are being extracted from 'oil sands'.

Some of the new images featured on UNEP: Atlas of our Changing Environment on Google Earth:

Kantang, Thailand

Two satellite images from 31 January 1990 and 22 October 2001 show mangrove forests in the Trang River estuary in Thailand that are being rapidly converted for aquaculture.

The mangroves are under threat from upstream discharge of wastewater, industrial facilities and unsustainable aquaculture practices – particularly commercial shrimp farming. From 1975 to 1993, it is estimated that about half of Thailand's mangroves along its 2,560 km coastline were lost. The larger area of the Had Chao Mai Marine National Park, the Ta Libong Island Non-Hunting Area and the Trang River Estuaries has been designated a Ramsar Wetland Site and supports over 200 bird species including many 'critically endangered', 'endangered', 'vulnerable' and 'threatened' species.

Mangrove ecosystems are the interface between the marine and terrestrial ecosystems and provide important services to both. The fallen leaves and branches contribute important nutrients, making healthy nursery areas for the breeding of many marine species and in turn creating healthy fisheries. They are also prime habitat for migratory birds, amphibians and terrestrial species.

The international market for shrimp will likely continue to drive the development of commercial shrimp farming. Protection of areas such as Kantang will become increasingly important to preserving the dwindling areas of viable mangrove forest throughout the tropics.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

With a population over 1.4 million (and approximately twice that number in the greater metropolitan area), Kuala Lumpur is the largest city in Malaysia and is growing rapidly. Its sprawl is now encroaching on the mangrove forests at the coastline (approximately 35 km to the west of the city centre).

Landsat satellite images from 1974 through 2005 show the gradual spread of development and the loss of mangrove forest that has resulted. By 1975, many areas of mangrove had already been converted to agriculture. As thirty years passed, the agricultural areas expanded and more mangroves were converted to farms. At the same time, the images show the agricultural areas being converted to industrial and urban land use. Elsewhere along the Malaysian coastline, mangroves are rapidly being converted to commercial shrimp farms. Forestry Department statistics show that peninsular Malaysia had 85,800 hectares (214,500 acres) of mangrove swamp forests in 2003, down from 86,497 hectares just one year earlier.

Mangrove forests are biologically diverse and highly productive ecosystems that offer valuable habitats to a wide variety of both marine and terrestrial species. They are being lost at an alarming rate throughout the tropics. Protection of these areas may be needed to ensure the survival of this valuable natural resource.

Shenzhen, China

The city of Shenzhen is located just across from Hong Kong and southeast of the Zhujian (Pearl) River Delta Region in China. The city has been the focus of intense urbanization, known as the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone (SSEZ). Comparison of satellite images shows the dramatic change in the landscape from 1979 to 2004, as thousands of high-rise buildings and factories have replaced earlier agricultural and vegetated areas.

It is estimated that over the next quarter-century, almost all population growth will occur in cities, most of it in less developed countries. By 2030, more than 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Already, one of every three urban dwellers lives in a slum. And in too many of the world’s expanding towns and cities, environmental safeguards are few and planning is haphazard.

The environmental consequences of urban growth are considerable. Cities are prolific users of natural resources and generators of waste. They produce most of the greenhouse gases that are causing global climate change. They often degrade local water quality, deplete aquifers, pollute the marine environment, foul the air and consume the land, thereby devastating biological diversity.

Athabasca Oil Sands, Alberta, Canada

Vast reserves of low quality oil underlie the boreal forest surrounding Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, Canada, in the form of 'Athabasca oil sands'. While these reserves have been known since the early 20th century, the high cost of extracting usable oil from these 'oil sands' has limited the development of a viable oil sands mining industry. In 2003 the rising cost of crude oil led to Canada reevaluating the oil sands as a viable resource.

Canada's National Energy Board predicts $125 billion in investments for creation and expansion of oil sands mining in the Athabasca area between 2006 and 2015 which will take production to around 3 million barrels per day. Local people including the Native American population are concerned that exploitation will come at too great a cost to the environment. The government of Alberta plans to propose a surface mining area of 280,000 hectares, an area approximately four times the size of the City of Calgary.

In 1967 The Great Canadian Oil Sands Company began construction at its Mildred Lake site. In 1974 they were joined by the Syncrude Corporation which began construction of a mine in the same area. By early 2006 the mining operations had expanded to cover an area roughly 30 km by 20 km. Syncrude operates a second mine, the Aurora, approximately 30 km to the north of Mildred Lake.

Manaus, Brazil

Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonia, is located on the north bank of the River Negro at its confluence with the Solimoes River, which extends eastward as the Amazon River. The population of Manaus grew by more that 65 per cent between 1993 and 2003 to its current population of over 1.5 million.

Two Landsat images document the conversion of forest areas due to logging and urbanization between 1987 and 2001. In addition to the urban expansion evident in the area surrounding the city, increased logging and road construction can be observed in the 2001 image.

About 15 km from Manaus, Rio Negro (Black River) meets Rio Solimoes to create an amazing confluence of the brownish white water from the Saliomes joining the black water (caused by the very high acidity from tannin) from the Rio Negro.

Notes to Editors:

One Planet Many People: Atlas of Our Changing Environment and African's Lakes: Atlas of Our Changing Environment are available to view on http://www.unep.org or directly on http://www.na.unep.net/OnePlanetManyPeople/index.php and http://na.unep.net/AfricaLakes/

Both are available to purchase from UNEP's online bookstore earthprint.com

More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: +254 20 7623084 or E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Ashbindu Singh, Regional Coordinator North America, Division of Early Warning and Assessment, on Tel: +1 202 785 0465, E-mail: AS@rona.unep.org

Or Elisabeth Waechter, Associate Media Officer, on Tel: +254 20 7623088, E-mail: Elisabeth.waechter@unep.org

Google and Google Earth are trademarks of Google Inc.

Google Contact:

Megan Quinn




Print Story: UN, Google team up to highlight global environment crises on Yahoo! News

Print Story: UN, Google team up to highlight global environment crises on Yahoo! News

Rampant forest destruction, retreating glaciers and explosive urban growth became a visual reality for millions with the launch of a new partnership between the United Nations and internet search giant Google.

Under the scheme announced by the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme, bird's eye before-and-after views of 100 UNEP-identified global environmental hotspots were posted to Google's popular Google Earth browser.

"These satellite pictures are a wake-up call to all of us to look at the sometimes devastating changes we are wreaking on our planet," UNEP chief Achim Steiner said in a statement Wednesday.

He described the selection photographs as "spectacular imagery" that offered a compelling "new way of visualizing the dangers facing our planet today" and would lead to greater awareness and concern about ecological damage.

"By tapping into the global Google community, we are able to reach out to millions of people who can mobilize and make a difference," Steiner said.

Google Earth, which offers satellite views of the planet, has about 100 million users worldwide who will now be able to access UNEP's "Atlas of Our Changing Environment" under the program, the agency said.

Among the 100 "hotspots" included are the dwindling Amazon rainforest, melting polar ice caps, the startling declines of Central Asia's Aral Sea in Russia and Africa's Lake Chad and rapid urbanization of the US city of Las Vegas and southern Chinese metropolis of Shenzen, it said.

Other crisis points highlighted include the rampant destruction of mangrove forests in Southeast Asia, notably in Thailand and Malaysia, and the effects of open-pit oil exploration in the Athabasca region of Canada's Alberta province, it said."

In Gamble, Calif. Tries to Curb Greenhouse Gases - New York Times

In Gamble, Calif. Tries to Curb Greenhouse Gases - New York Times: "In Gamble, Calif. Tries to Curb Greenhouse Gases

SACRAMENTO — In the Rocky Mountain States and the fast-growing desert Southwest, more than 20 power plants, designed to burn coal that is plentiful and cheap, are on the drawing boards. Much of the power, their owners expected, would be destined for the people of California.

But such plants would also be among the country’s most potent producers of carbon dioxide, the king of gases linked to global warming. So California has just delivered a new message to these energy suppliers: If you cannot produce power with the lowest possible emissions of these greenhouse gases, we are not interested.

“When your biggest customer says, ‘I ain’t buying,’ you rethink,” said Hal Harvey, the environment program director at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, in Menlo Park, Calif. “When you have 38 million customers you don’t have access to, you rethink. Selling to Phoenix is nice. Las Vegas is nice. But they aren’t California.”

California’s decision to impose stringent demands on suppliers even outside its borders, broadened by the Legislature on Aug. 31 and awaiting the governor’s signature, is but one example of the state’s wide-ranging effort to remake its energy future.

The Democratic-controlled legislature and the Republican governor also agreed at that time on legislation to reduce industrial carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent by 2020, a measure that affects not only power plants but also other large producers of carbon dioxide, including oil refineries and cement plants.

The state’s aim is to reduce emissions of climate-changing gases produced by burning coal, oil and gas. Other states, particularly New York, are moving in some of the same directions, but no state is moving as aggressively on as many fronts. No state has been at it longer. No state is putting more at risk.

Whether all this is visionary or deluded depends on one’s perspective. This is the state that in the early 1970’s jump-started the worldwide adoption of catalytic converters, the devices that neutralize most smog-forming chemicals emitted by tailpipes. This is the state whose per capita energy consumption has been almost flat for 30 years, even as per capita consumption has risen 50 percent nationally.

Taking on global warming is a tougher challenge. Though California was second in the nation only to Texas in emissions of carbon dioxide in 2001, and 12th in the world, it produced just 2.5 percent of the world’s total. At best, business leaders asked in a legislative hearing, what difference could California’s cuts make? And at what cost?

California, in fact, is making a huge bet: that it can reduce emissions without wrecking its economy, and therefore inspire other states — and countries — to follow its example on slowing climate change.

Initiatives addressing climate change are everywhere in California, pushed by legislators, by regulators, by cities, by foundations, by businesses and by investors.

Four years ago, California became the first state to seek to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide from automobile tailpipes. Car dealers and carmakers are challenging the law in federal court.

In late August, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a measure requiring builders to offer home buyers roofs with tiles that convert sunlight into electricity. Homeowners in some communities are already choosing them to reduce their electric bills.

California, which has for decades required that refrigerators, air conditioners, water heaters and other appliances become more energy efficient, just added to the list: first, chargers for cellphones or computers; second, set-top boxes and other remote-controlled devices. Those categories consume up to 10 percent of a home’s power.

Last fall, California regulators barred major investor-owned electrical utilities from signing long-term contracts to buy energy unless the seller’s greenhouse-gas emissions meet a stringent standard.

“We are dealing with it across the board,” said Michael R. Peevey, the president of the Public Utilities Commission. By contrast, the Bush administration has been averse to any legislative assault on climate change.

Opponents say California may hurt its own residents with its clean-energy mandate. Scott Segal, a lawyer for Bracewell & Giuliani who represents electric utilities, summarized California’s policy as: “All electrons are not created equal. We’re going to discriminate against some of them, and create artificial barriers in the marketplace for electricity.” California consumers could end up paying more for their energy and struggling to find enough, Mr. Segal said.

Is California dreaming? Can its multifaceted approach become a toolkit for other states? Will investors make the state the incubator for clean-energy technologies that will reduce its energy bills and buoy its economy? Or will all this turn California into a stagnating economic island of ever-rising electricity prices and ever-rolling blackouts?

One thing is certain: The issue will not go away. This summer, a brutal California heat wave killed roughly 140 people. A 2004 National Academy of Sciences report predicted that, at the current growth rate of emissions, there would be at least five times as many heat waves in Los Angeles by 2100 compared with the current historical average, and twice as many heat-related deaths.

The study predicted that at least half the state’s alpine forests would disappear by century’s end, and that the Sierra snowpack — crucial to California’s water supply — would decline by at least 29 percent and as much as 70 percent.

There seems to be political support, in California and nationally, for action on climate change. Statewide, a July 26 poll from the Public Policy Institute of California showed that 79 percent of 2,051 people surveyed said that global warming was a “very serious” or a “somewhat serious” threat to the state’s economy and quality of life. The findings mirrored those of a national poll of 1,206 people conducted in mid-August by The New York Times and CBS News.

But polling organizations have asked little about the potentially painful sacrifices that may be required.

The Car Culture

Back in the 1950’s, when the movie director George Lucas was growing up, cars rocked around the clock in Modesto, and they were so enshrined in his 1973 hit, “American Graffiti.” The movie reaffirmed what much of the nation knew — there was no car culture like California’s. Sleek convertibles? Muscle cars? Sport utility vehicles? Many were hatched in the design studios of Detroit, but popularized by Hollywood movies and celebrities, and by plain old California consumers.

Fast forward to August. In the middle of the sales lot at Modesto Toyota sat a long row of sport utility vehicles the dealership had acquired as trade-ins in previous weeks. Leaning on a 2006 Ford Expedition, George S. Ismail, a sales manager, said, “We’re getting a lot of people trading in their sport utility vehicles for smaller cars.” Even heavily discounted, the used S.U.V.’s sit for weeks.

Yet Modesto Toyota is breaking records, Mr. Ismail said, selling about 400 vehicles a month, up from 260 a year ago. Most are small cars — Camrys and Corollas. Some are hybrid vehicles that use even less fuel, like the Prius. One-quarter of 200,000 new hybrid vehicles registered nationwide in 2005 belonged to Californians, according to the automotive analyst R. L. Polk.

With smaller cars increasingly popular, California now burns less gasoline per capita than all but six states. Burning less gasoline cuts carbon dioxide. Tailpipes account for more than half the state’s carbon dioxide emissions, federal figures show.

Much of this change in driver taste is attributable to the higher price of gasoline. But what if gasoline prices fall again and bigger, less efficient vehicles become more popular? California has an answer.

It came from Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, a Democrat and former schoolteacher who drives a Prius and whose South Coast district has a bird’s-eye view of the smoggy Los Angeles basin. Four years ago Ms. Pavley wrote the first state law regulating carbon dioxide emissions from cars and trucks. It requires vehicle makers to eventually reduce the average emissions of carbon dioxide of the mix of cars it sells in California by 30 percent, beginning with the 2009 model year. Light trucks, including sport utility vehicles, must meet the same standard by the 2016 model year.

Ten states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, have followed suit. Canada instituted voluntary emissions reductions at similar levels, which major automobile manufacturers have agreed they can meet. “We think that, coupled with Canada, we’re now over one-third of the market,” Ms. Pavley said in an interview.

But automobile manufacturers and some dealerships have vowed to wipe her law from the books. Their lawsuit’s central assertion is that, by regulating carbon dioxide emissions, California is using a backdoor means to control fuel efficiency, which, under the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act, is the exclusive preserve of the federal Transportation Department. To produce less carbon dioxide, cars would have to be more fuel efficient.

On Sept. 15, Judge Anthony W. Ishii of Federal District Court in Fresno will hear arguments on California’s request to dismiss the case. If the lawsuit survives, the first hearing is set for January. This schedule overlaps with that of another case with direct bearing on this issue. The Supreme Court, petitioned by a dozen states, led by Massachusetts, and three cities, including New York, will decide whether the law requires the Environmental Protection Agency to declare carbon dioxide a pollutant and to regulate it. The Bush administration contends it has no authority to do either.

If the Supreme Court accepts the administration’s arguments, it will not help California in its legal fight against Detroit, because a key to the state’s case is the contention that carbon dioxide is in fact a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

Hungry Electronics

Imagine all the small electronic devices in a modern home — iPods and handheld organizers, cellphones and laptops — charging at a power strip.

Arthur H. Rosenfeld, a member of the California Energy Commission, knows how much electricity is wasted when people unplug the devices but leave the charger plugged in. Dr. Rosenfeld estimates that such chargers — along with appliances like televisions that draw power even when they are off because they are designed to respond to remote controls — use up to 10 percent of an average home’s power.

He calls them “vampires” — things with teeth that suck power at night.

Recently, Dr. Rosenfeld proudly held up a small green cellular phone charger that consumes less than half a watt of electricity — a fifth as much as its predecessors — when left plugged into an outlet. It meets state standards that take effect in 2007. The same standards will require sharp power cutbacks from audio and video equipment, both when the devices are in use and when they are standing by for a remote signal.

Since the 1970’s, California’s energy-efficiency standards have reduced electricity consumption by the equivalent of the output of more than 20 average power plants, Dr. Rosenfeld said. And the standards have become templates for other states and Washington. Nationally, Dr. Rosenfeld added, energy-efficiency policies have saved the economy $700 billion since the 1970’s.

But why would utilities, which sell electricity, have any interest in seeing sales diminish? In 1982, the Public Utilities Commission decoupled utilities’ sales and their profits by allowing rate increases for utilities that helped customers cut energy use.

The logic was that for every dollar the consumer did not spend on energy, the utility would get real income — say 15 cents, which would exceed the profit the utility could have made on that dollar. For consumers, efficiency savings more than offset the rate increases. “Even though rates go up, bills go down,” said Mr. Harvey of the Hewlett Foundation.

Ralph Cavanagh, the co-director of the energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, said: “Every other state in the country rewards utilities for selling more energy. It’s a perfectly perverse incentive.”

Mr. Peevey, of the utilities commission, said he expected new efficiencies to absorb half the increase in demand as the state grows to 40 million people, from 38 million.

Mr. Peevey’s commission has also been a prime mover in increasing state support for residential solar power. Solar energy remains four times as expensive as electricity produced by conventional fuels. But, he said, “the idea is to make the solar industry a self-sustaining, economically viable industry,” and to make the cost come down.

California businesses and investors, public and private, are getting into the act. The state’s huge pension fund, Calpers, is committing just under $1 billion to renewable-energy investments. Among the early incentive-driven ventures in solar power are the homes in the Carsten Crossings subdivision in Rocklin, a Sacramento suburb. In August, Mr. Schwarzenegger signed legislation making solar panels a standard option for new-home buyers by 2012 and ensuring that utilities reduce homeowners’ bills based on the electricity returned to the grid.

Some of those incentives were available when construction started. Now four families have moved in. They see themselves as pragmatists, not crusaders. “This is the next logical step” in construction, said one of the homeowners, Lt. Col. Thomas Sebens, a specialist in drone aircraft at Beale Air Force Base.

Their roofs show how public and private decisions, markets and government, have meshed. T. J. Rodgers, a fiercely anti-regulatory entrepreneur, underwrote the solar cells’ production. The PowerLight Corporation, based near San Francisco, bought the cells from Mr. Rodgers’s company, the SunPower Corporation, and turned them into roof tiles. The tiles ended up on houses built by Grupe Homes, based in Stockton, because state utility regulators established a $5,500 state-financed rebate for builders who install similar systems, which cost $20,000. Federal law gives home buyers a $2,000 tax credit; state law guarantees lower electric bills as utilities buy back power homeowners do not need.

The July utility bills, the new homeowners’ first, were the talk of the neighborhood.

Larry Brittain, an office products salesman with a four-bedroom, 2,400-square-foot home, was the winner at $73.27 for electricity in the month ending July 25 — the hottest July on record. For the last 10 June days in a similar house nearby, his bill was $103.

“This is a bet with a winning hand,” Mr. Brittain said. “You can’t lose.”

Pressure on Suppliers

In Gerlach, Nev., 100 miles north of Reno, a high desert butte was made ready two years ago for its wedding to the Granite Fox Power Project, a plant designed to burn pulverized Western coal. Electrical transmission lines were close by.

But, like Miss Havisham in Dickens’s “Great Expectations,” Gerlach waits for a groom that may never arrive. The plant was a certain source of significant new carbon dioxide emissions. Mr. Cavanagh predicted that it “would wipe out all the carbon dioxide savings from California’s spectacularly successful efforts to save electricity during 2001 and 2002.”

Southern Californians would likely be the eventual customers. But last fall, the California Public Utilities Commission barred the investor-owned utilities it regulates from signing long-term contracts for electricity if the emissions exceeded those of the cleanest gas-driven plants. The only technology that could accomplish that with coal is expensive and has not been perfected.

Said Mr. Peevey of the commission, “All we’re saying is, Fine, you send it here, but it has to be, in terms of air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, it has to be comparable to the newest combined-cycle gas turbine.” One fifth of California’s electricity comes from coal, the vast majority of it from outside the state.

This past winter, Sempra Energy, the parent of San Diego Gas & Electric and Sempra Generation and the developer of Granite Fox, put the project up for sale. Neal E. Schmale, Sempra’s president, said the ruling had had a negligible impact on the decision. High natural gas prices prompted the company to invest in gas storage and terminals instead, Mr. Schmale said.

Among California environmentalists, however, the “for sale” sign on Granite Fox was taken as a victory for a pioneering policy that reaches beyond the state’s borders. V. John White, an environmental lobbyist in Sacramento, compares building a Southwestern power plant to building a mall: California is a desirable anchor tenant.

But California is also the state where electricity deregulation foundered in 2000; bills soared and an economic crisis ensued. Even without a crisis, Californians’ electricity rates are about 40 percent above the national average.

Robert McIlvaine, a coal industry consultant from Northfield, Ill., said, “If you are going to generate electricity from gas, the cost of doing so is going to be considerably greater than coal — 50 percent more or 100 percent more.”

But, Mr. Harvey said: “People don’t pay rates. They pay bills. You can have twice the rate and half the consumption and be just as happy.”

On Aug. 31, legislators enacted the bill sponsored by the State Senate president, Don Perata, Democrat of Oakland, and extended the commission’s rule to all power providers.

Business people ask if this could provoke another crisis. Power-plant siting experts, like Thomas A. Johns, the vice president of development at Sithe Global Power, a New York company, say that, in the short term, the loss of California business may not matter much to the merchants of power in the Southwest. Fast-growing cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas are ready markets.

In the long run, however, “California is a big piece” of the total consumption in the West — 40 percent, Mr. Johns said. “If 40 percent of the Western load will not buy coal, you will have less coal.”

The risk, both Mr. Johns and Mr. Schmale said, is in increasing the state’s reliance on natural gas, whose price has been extremely volatile in recent years. (California law bars construction of nuclear plants until the questions of waste disposal are resolved.)

“When you exclude coal and nuclear from your base load,” Mr. Johns said, “you’ve only got one option, and that’s natural gas.” Another measure awaiting the governor’s signature toughens standards by requiring that by 2010, 20 percent of the energy sold in California comes from a portfolio of renewable sources, like geothermal and wind. Last year, 10.7 percent of California’s power came from renewable sources.

New renewable energy sources could make prices less volatile, but Mr. Schmale of Sempra said California’s policy makers need to muster “the political will” to build transmission lines and “all those other things that would be necessary to make the environmental things work.”

Caps, Costs and Credits

Perhaps the most ambitious measure California has undertaken is the newly mandated 25 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. “If we do it right,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said at a news conference, “it can be an example for the rest of the world and the rest of the country to see.” If not, the concept could be discredited.

The law, sponsored by Ms. Pavley and the Assembly speaker, Fabian N??ez, Democrat of Los Angeles, gives the California Air Resources Board authority to set industry-specific targets for emissions reductions, effective in 2012, and to establish mechanisms — including the creation of emissions allowances that companies might trade or bank — to facilitate compliance. These targets would be adjusted from 2012 to 2020 to meet the 25 percent goal.

Those who have studied the question agree that the new system will cost consumers more. “A cap-and-trade system will raise the cost of electricity to consumers to some degree,” said Lawrence H. Goulder, a professor of environmental and resource economics at Stanford University.

As the European Union found after the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, figuring out how to assign emissions credits is not easy.

Whatever the decisions, chances are that they will be met by a lawsuit. Margo Thorning, the chief economist at the American Council for Capital Formation, a group supporting business interests, argues in a study that “sharp cutbacks in California’s energy use would be necessary to close the 41 percent gap in 2020 between projected emissions” and the cuts the law requires. Dr. Thorning added in an interview, “The technologies that will enable us to move quickly in a cost-effective way away from fossil fuel just aren’t there yet.”

Allan Zaremberg, president of the state Chamber of Commerce, predicted that businesses would flee to unregulated areas and continue to emit climate-changing gases.

Dr. Thorning’s study was countered in mid-August with a study by David Roland-Holst, an adjunct professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Professor Roland-Holst argued that the new law would add $60 billion and 17,000 jobs — in fields like alternative energy — to the California economy by 2020 by attracting new investment.

James D. Marston, the head of state global warming programs for Environmental Defense, the New York group that helped lead the fight for California’s new carbon cap, said, “We’ll look back in 10 years and say this was the final breakthrough and the final political consensus that we have to do something meaningful on global warming.”

Τρίτη, Σεπτεμβρίου 12, 2006

How To Survive Global Warming - David Shenk - Slate Magazine

How To Survive Global Warming
Saturday, Sept. 9, 2006
"Ιnconveniently, the earth is getting warmer. Polar ice caps are melting, oceans are rising, coasts are eroding, and weather patterns may be shifting. Scientists are predicting increased droughts, floods (not a contradiction), wildfires, a massive disruption of agriculture and the food chain, and more severe storms—especially hurricanes. The sea level might rise by several feet in this century alone. The best-case scenarios look pretty awful.

This is what we might call a slow-motion catastrophe—the proverbial frog in the slowly heated pot. It happens so insidiously, we never quite have that impulse to react. It also sounds innocuous on its face—average temperatures higher by a few measly degrees? So we turn our air conditioners up a notch in the summer and buy more property in northern Canada. What's the big deal?

The problem is that each tiny increase brings on a cascade of effects in weather, crops, migration, species interdependence, and so on. More rain here, less rain there. Hotter, drier earth means fewer microscopic worms fertilizing the soil, lower crop yields, and on and on and on. One quick glimpse at the minimum of devastation: The British government's chief scientist recently estimated that an increase of 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) was the minimum we could hope for, even if we managed to stabilize carbon dioxide emissions in the near future, and that this temperature increase would result in a decrease of 200 million to 400 million tons of grain production throughout the world—and subsequently threaten starvation for 400 million people.

Other possible inconveniences coming our way include landslides, sewage overflows, insect plagues, forest-fire epidemics, and massive coastal erosion (according to a recent EPA study, my own in-laws' Delaware beach cottage stands a decent chance of being underwater before the end of the century). The American Great Plains will suffer diminished crop yields, while some Canadian regions become more productive. We'll lose a massive number of high alpine areas, salt marshes, and wetlands. Enormous human migrations could disrupt cities and nations. Smog and asthma could increase, fish stocks could decrease. Malaria and dengue fever could become prominent in the United States. Mosquitoes are going to love the 21st century.

The good news is, everyone reading this will be dead before nature's wrath is fully revealed. The bad news is, most of us have children, or hope to. A couple of generations down the line, Disney kids may ride on crazy underwater rides like Atlantis! and Boston! College girls will go wild on the spring break beaches of Pittsburgh and Albany. Don't even think about New Orleans being around. (Visit this clever adjustable map to see how ocean rises of 1-14 meters will affect your region in centuries to come.)

Even today, you may be more exposed than you think you are. I was surprised to learn that New York City once again pops up on the vulnerable list, not just for future sea rises but for right now. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a Category 4 storm making landfall at just the right spot could put Kennedy airport under 20—no typo, 20—feet of water, bury New York's tunnels and subways, and flood out portions of residential Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Because of its high bridges and population mass, the city would need far more evacuation time than any other American city, but since Atlantic hurricanes tend to move much more quickly than Gulf hurricanes, such lead time simply might not be available.

What can one do? First: Vote. Global warming may or may not be a disaster we can avert, but we certainly have no chance if we continue to steer the wheel right into it. The United States ought to have signed on to the Kyoto Protocols years ago, and we ought to be leading the way in exploring alternative, renewable sources of energy.

Second: Act. There are already several painless ways for consumers to be dramatically more energy efficient and environmentally friendly: fuel efficient cars, Energy Star appliances, fluorescent bulbs, etc. One intriguing new experiment is TerraPass, a voluntary program that enables car owners to be "carbon neutral" by paying between $30 and $80 annually to remove roughly the same amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that their car emits. Buy a TerraPass for each of your cars, and buy an extra for your stubborn father-in-law who still thinks recycling is a bad idea.

Third: Brace yourself. No matter what we do, increasingly severe hurricanes and beach erosion are on their way. Current coastal property owners should buy whatever insurance they can and look seriously at the long-term forecasts. Think Katrina. Would your beach cottage survive a Category 4 hurricane? Is there anything you can do to prepare for one? Prospective owners should think very carefully before they sink the family fortune into a plot of land that may eventually be home to living coral and sea algae. If you build a new house in a hurricane-prone region, consider new superstrong fortifications such as concrete walls and roofs, deep reinforced structural columns, frames bolted to the foundation, and impact-resistant windows.

On the flip side, consider investing in cooler climates and inland property. While it's impossible to predict precise outcomes from major climate change, it is fair to infer that elevation will be good, that the northern portion of North America will become more and more hospitable, and that tomorrow's new coastline will be every bit as desirable as today's,"

Σάββατο, Σεπτεμβρίου 09, 2006

WorldChanging: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future: California Passes Law to Cap CO2 Emissions

WorldChanging: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future: California Passes Law to Cap CO2 Emissions: "California Passes Law to Cap CO2 Emissions | WorldChanging Team
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Alana Herro writes for Eye on Earth (e²), a service of World Watch Magazine in partnership with the blue moon fund. e² provides a unique perspective on current events, newly released studies, and important global trends.

On August 31, the California legislature passed a bill establishing the most extensive carbon dioxide (CO2) emission controls yet in the United States. The law requires a 25 percent reduction in state CO2 emissions by 2020, with the first major controls taking effect in 2012. The California Air Resources Board, the agency that enforces the state’s air pollution controls, will be the main authority in establishing emission targets and noncompliance penalties for the law, which also allows for business incentives to reach the goals.

Several northeastern U.S. states signed a regional agreement to reduce CO2 emissions in December of 2005 but their target would reduce emissions by only some 24 million tons. The California mandate, which aims to cut emissions to their 1990 level, will result in cuts of some 174 million tons.

Opponents worry the new law will hurt California businesses and actually contribute to global warming by raising compliance costs to prohibitive levels. “If our manufacturers leave, whether for North Carolina or China, and they take their greenhouse gases with them, we might not have solved the problem but exacerbated it instead,” warns Allan Zaremberg of the California Chamber of Commerce.

Supporters hope that the legislation will instead inspire other states—and eventually the federal government—to follow suit. “The success of our system will be an example for other states and nations to follow as the fight against climate change continues,” noted California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on August 30. And some business leaders believe the law will actually benefit the state economy by creating industries and jobs. “The issue of climate change is important and needs to be dealt with,” explains Peter Darbee of Pacific Gas and Electric, echoing arguments at an April U.S. Senate hearing on mandatory federal carbon caps. “Since the bill has a market-based program, it will work efficiently and effectively for businesses. "