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Coming to terms with our obsessions: time to ban car commercials?

Bob Ecker, San Francisco Chronicle
Social engineering is a concept many Americans naturally abhor, because it attacks our deeply held freedom, and we have always believed in doing virtually anything we want. Free-market capitalists feel this way, and most citizens usually go along for the ride.

But our country’s obsessive consumption of oil to fill the tanks of our auto-centric culture may eventually kill off the world, and believe it or not, Mr. and Mrs. America, you and I will go down, too. Our love affair with cars has to change, sooner rather than later. The hubris of excess (see Hummer) has gotten our society into a pickle, and it’s time to take a novel approach with this problem.

Let’s tamp down the future demand side — to put it another way, like a diet, we must somehow decrease our appetite. Cars are wonderful machines, I’ll freely admit, and powerful tools that help us maintain our modern lives. But this obsession has gotten way out of control and threatens the very air we breathe, the earth beneath our feet, our overflowing landfills and even the worldwide political landscape. If every American drove less, kept the same car longer or thought about cars as a well-being issue, then perhaps we can yet avert catastrophe.

I suggest looking at a successful model from our past that effectively tackled a serious societal problem. This drastic transformation eventually brought about positive social change, despite the bleating of mega-corporations. I am referring to the tobacco industry and its cigarette advertising on TV and radio. Until 1970, U.S. consumers were bombarded by advertisements in all forms of mass media, including the most popular, television. People knew that something had to change and lobbied the government hard.
(6 Feb 2006)

California tries to get a jump on global warming

Glennda Chui, Knight Ridder via Contra Costa Times
Scientists say California’s iconic landscapes — from beaches to snow-capped mountains and fog-shrouded redwoods — are in for dramatic changes as the world gets warmer. Now, with a new generation of computer models, they’re trying to pinpoint to within a few miles what those changes will be:

Less snow? More wildfires? Fewer native oaks in places such as Henry W. Coe State Park?

Scientists want to understand how warming will affect the state’s people, its economy, and the thousands of species, from giant sequoias to Sonoma chipmunks, that live in the state — and nowhere else.

“Is our water supply going to become more limited?” said Edwin Maurer, a hydrologist at Santa Clara University. “Well, yes, especially in dry years.”

The goal of the research is to limit the impact of such changes. The focus is on three areas:
(5 February 2006)

Lobster boil: the curious response to global warming’s arrival

Kurt Cobb, Resource Insights
…How curious then that the response of many Minnesotans to the warmest winter in decades was to say how lovely the weather is. There are those like my friend, of course, who are disappointed that all their usual winter activities are curtailed. But even an ice-skating instructor whom I met at a coffee shop complained on the one day it got below freezing that it was too bad the weather had suddenly gotten so cold! This from a Minnesotan for whom 20 degrees can seem like a heat wave in the dead of winter.

The proximate cause of this warm weather has been the failure of the jet stream to dip down from Canada into the United States. But the longer-term cause can no longer be ignored as we have just concluded the warmest year on record. Global warming has arrived in Minnesota, and the consensus opinion is in: It’s great!

It is here where the troubling tale of delayed feedbacks enters the story. The global warming we are experiencing today is the result of greenhouse gasses spewed into the atmosphere as of 30 years ago. And, since the rate of release for such gasses has only increased since that time, we can expect some rather nasty results 30 years hence. Perhaps Minnesotans believe that three decades from now they will be celebrating their state’s new status as a tropical paradise. More likely, they will wonder about the grain harvest which is so critical to the Minnesota economy, a harvest increasingly likely to be devastated by droughts. They will wonder whether the mild winters are worth the exceedingly hot summers that will regularly take the lives of many who are frail but cannot afford the mandatory air-conditioning. They will wonder whether they should have looked so idly upon the myriad coal trains that passed through the state every day en route to the Midwest’s many coal-fired power plants.
(6 February 2006)

Lester Brown – price tag for global survival: $161 billion a year

Terrence McNally, AlterNet via The Tyee
Of all the resources needed to build an economy that will sustain economic progress, none is more scarce than time. That is one of the key messages of Lester Brown’s new book, “Plan B. 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble.” The world may finally be listening.

China now consumes more grain, meat, coal and steel than the United States. If China’s income grows as projected, in 2031 its income per person will match incomes in the United States today. At that point, it will be consuming the equivalent of two-thirds of the current world grain harvest, driving 1.1 billion cars (versus 800 million in the world today) and using 99 million barrels of oil per day, well above current world production of 84 million barrels. That’s Plan A.

New threats — climate change, environmental degradation, the persistence of poverty and the loss of hope — call for new strategies. Brown — who left World Watch in 2001 to found Earth Policy Institute — says it’s time for Plan B — a renewable-energy-based, reuse-recycle economy with a diversified transport system: time to build a new economy and a new world. The world is now spending $975 billion annually for military purposes. Plan B — social goals and earth restoration — requires an additional annual expenditure of $161 billion.
(3 February 2006)

Is it possible to ski without ruining the environment?

Simon Birch, Independent
As millions of us prepare to jet off to the slopes, many resorts are finally taking responsibility for the fragile ecosystems they depend on. But, as Simon Birch reports, it may be too little too late

…Luckily, Europe’s ski industry is waking up to its environmental responsibilities – just in the nick of time. The spectre of global warming, which has already pretty much seen off the Scottish ski industry, is now stalking the Alps. Scientists have found that rising temperatures are already leading to changes in snowfall patterns. “Alpine areas below 1,600m are now receiving 20 per cent less snow,” says Birgit Ottmer from the Davos-based Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research.

This is bad news for Princes Charles, Wills and Harry, who’ll find that their favourite Swiss ski resort of Klosters, at just 1,300m, will soon be surrounded by muddy fields in the depth of winter.

The long-term forecast is even bleaker. “Within 50 years all ski resorts below 1,200m won’t have a chance and will go out of business,” says Michel Revaz of the Liechtenstein-based Alpine conservation society Cipra. This warning is setting off alarm bells right across Europe’s lower-altitude ski resorts, no more so than in Austria where 75 per cent of the ski lifts are built below 1,000m.

The threat posed by global warming to the European ski industry is now being felt right across the Alps.
(6 February 2006)
Related: Ski Bummer: As snowy peaks get warmer, ski industry tries to stave off extinction. (Grist)

Annan urges action on climate change
UN News Service via
As he accepted a top global award in Dubai for his work with the environment, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged world leaders to use the United Nations-backed Kyoto Protocol to move on climate change and called for governments, businesses and citizens to adopt a new mindset on energy resources.

…The Secretary-General warned that the world remains “perilously wedded to oil and other fossil fuels,” and called for the use of cleaner technology. “All humankind must get the maximum benefit from every barrel, gallon or litre consumed – much as we try to do with water, where ‘more crop per drop’ is our mantra,” he said.

At the same time, Mr. Annan advocated alternative, renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind and biofuel. “The soaring demand for oil is concentrating the minds of the world as never before,” he pointed out.
(6 February 2006)