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Climate & environment - May 14

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage

Researchers predict that 100 million early deaths could be prevented by cutting global emissions by 50% by 2050

Adam Vaughan, Guardian
Tackling climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions could save millions of lives because of the cleaner air that would result, according to a recent study.

Researchers predict that, by 2050, about 100 million premature deaths caused by respiratory health problems linked to air pollution could be avoided through measures such as low emission cars. The economic benefits of saving those lives in developing countries such as China and India could also strengthen the negotiating hand of the UK and Europe at a crucial UN climate summit in Copenhagen this December.

Johannes Bollen, one of the authors of the report for the Netherlands Environment Agency, said the 100 million early deaths could be prevented by cutting global emissions by 50% by 2050, a target consistent with those being considered internationally. "

The reports warns that if governments continue with business-as-usual energy use, then population growth, ageing demographics and increased urbanisation will cause premature deaths from pollution to increase by 30% in OECD countries, and 100% outside the OECD.
(12 May 2009)

Bill McKibben in Australia
Phillip Adams, Late Night Live, ABC (Australia)
Al Gore said it was the work of environmentalist Bill McKibben that first alerted him to the dangers of global warming. McKibben is in Australia talking about the rapidly evolving politics of climate change and why the world should be aiming to reduce the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million.

Bill McKibben is a US journalist, environmental activist, and best-selling author
(5 May 2009)
Phillip Adams is one of my favorite interviewers. I notice he was co-founder of the Australian Skeptics. -BA

Michael Lardellin from Australia writes:
Philip Adams is a great radio interviewer and essay writer and his podcast is the most downloaded in Australia. It also gets significant international attention. However, he has been quite shy on peak oil (since it is such a
pessimistic topic) and was, until recently, anti the anti-population growth people. He is probably Australia's greatest "intellectual".

Kurt Cobb: Geoengineering the Climate: Bad for You and Our Energy Future

Kurt Cobb, Scitizen
Proposals to reduce global warming through giant engineering projects or so-called geoengineering abound. Almost all are in the idea stage. But even if they were ready to deploy today, they would be dangerous for the planet, counterproductive for our energy future and unfair to the public.

... 1. None of the proposed fixes are actually ready to go.

... 2. The risks of geoengineering the climate are little discussed, but they are legion.

... 3. No one in the fossil fuel industry is offering to pay the costs of these projects.

... 4. Geoengineering the climate implies that we have vast reserves of readily available hydrocarbons left for society to burn.

... 5. One of the main reasons that limits on greenhouse gas emissions have been so difficult to enact is the lavishly funded campaign to confuse the public and corrupt the world's legislatures by the very fossil fuel industry that now claims it's impossible politically to enact such limits.

... Conclusion

It is conceivable that human society may find itself in such danger from climate change that it will have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and engage in some kind of geoengineering of the climate in order to survive. But the path of least danger lies with reducing drastically our emissions. For those who believe technology should play a central role in addressing climate change, this will give them plenty to do. But even so, the key to changing our energy system into one that is sustainable and that doesn't threaten the climate will be to alter our expectations about how much energy we need and what we need it for.
(3 May 2009)
Kurt Cobb is a regular contributor to Energy Bulletin.

Mission to break up Pacific island of rubbish twice the size of Texas

Frank Pope, Times (UK)
A high-seas mission departs from San Francisco next month to map and explore a sinister and shifting 21st-century continent: one twice the size of Texas and created from six million tonnes of discarded plastic.

Scientists and conservationists on the expedition will begin attempts to retrieve and recycle a monument to throwaway living in the middle of the North Pacific.

The toxic soup of refuse was discovered in 1997 when Charles Moore, an oceanographer, decided to travel through the centre of the North Pacific gyre (a vortex or circular ocean current). Navigators usually avoid oceanic gyres because persistent high-pressure systems — also known as the doldrums — lack the winds and currents to benefit sailors.

Mr Moore found bottle caps, plastic bags and polystyrene floating with tiny plastic chips. Worn down by sunlight and waves, discarded plastic disintegrates into smaller pieces. Suspended under the surface, these tiny fragments are invisible to ships and satellites trying to map the plastic continent, but in subsequent trawls Mr Moore discovered that the chips outnumbered plankton by six to one.
(2 May 2009)

Jeffrey Sachs on Taxing Carbon

Kevin Drum (blog), Mother Jones
A few days ago I took Jeffrey Sachs to task for a post he wrote supporting a carbon tax in preference to cap-and-trade. Over the weekend he sent me a response. I'll probably have a reply later today, but in the meantime, here's Sachs:

Kevin Drum is certainly right that a cap-and-trade system potentially can look a lot more like a carbon tax than actual cap-and-trade systems have done in the past. My worries are about the reality of such systems, not the theory. Both the Waxman-Markey draft bill and the actual experience of the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) give me concern for the reasons that I mentioned. While a tax can be levied at a few upstream points, the EU ETS involves around 12,000 enterprises and the draft Waxman-Markey bill would apparently involve several thousand US sites as well (essentially all industrial units which emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases). We would create for essentially no reason a highly expensive, Wall-Street-based system of permit trading and enterprise compliance that could be substituted by an easy-to-implement upstream tax. Mr. Drum correctly notes that the Waxman-Markey proposal is both upstream and downstream. I do indeed like the upstream part. The fact, however, that it is also a downstream system, which is the administratively cumbersome part that would be avoided by an upstream carbon tax.

As for the lack of price predictability, the price fluctuations of the EU ETS are notorious. Emissions prices actually collapsed for Phase I permits at the end of that phase (2007), and recently emission permit prices have declined from more than 30 euros per ton in 2008 to less than 15 euros this year. Some European economists are arguing for a floor price in the EU ETS, which indeed would make it much more like a tax. I disagree with Mr. Drum that we should see the trading system as a helpful macro stabilizer and therefore like the fact that the price on carbon emissions has collapsed. We need a stable carbon price into the future to give the right incentives for a new generation of low-emissions technology development and adoption, and should use other economic instruments for cyclical policies.

... Finally, I would like to remind Mr. Drum and his readers that I stated clearly in my brief Yale article cited by Mr. Drum that either a tax or a cap-and-trade system is far superior to the status quo. We are arguing about matters that are less than essential. If Congress actually adopts a cap-and-trade system, that would be a huge advance. In fact, putting a market price on carbon emissions (through either a tax or permit system) is just one modest part of a truly comprehensive and effective carbon mitigation strategy, that must involve standards, R&D, demonstration projects, and many other kinds of incentives and public policies.

Sachs is, among other things, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and author of The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time.
(11 May 2009)
A succinct argument for a carbon tax. -BA

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