Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Cowboy in a Straitjacket

The thing about binding agreements is that...well, they're binding. In this case, an international protocol was deemed "unfair" by George Bush because it excluded developing nations. That's kind of like complaining that your neighbor's Fiat emits more pollution than your John Deere...yet you have three SUVs in the garage and heat your house by burning coal. Once again Mr. Bush fails to see the bigger picture here. Maybe that explains why he feels like a cowboy in a straitjacket when dealing with global warming?

Today, Harlan Watson , the Chief Climate Negotiator for the U.S. in Montreal (talk about a dubious title), ruled out making pledges to fight global warming beyond 2012 which happens to be precisely when the Kyoto Protocol runs out. You just have to be skeptical of a guy who was recommended by Exxon-Mobil to be the U.S. Chief Climate Negotiator. Here's my favorite part:
Up to 10,000 delegates are meeting in Montreal, Canada, from November 28-December 9 to discuss new ways to fight a build-up of gases released mainly from burning fossil fuels in factories, power plants and cars.

"The United States is opposed to any such discussions," Watson told a news conference of Canadian proposals to launch talks under the U.N.'s climate convention about new actions to combat global warming beyond 2012.

I gotta ask: Harlan, if you have no interest in these discussions why are you up in Montreal freezing your cheeks off? I can't figure out if you're wasting our time or your own. While Harlan shuffles his feet the rest of country is taking steps forward. While U.S. CO2 emissions were lower than the EU's between 2000-2003, what they aren't telling you is that the U.S. was almost %14 higher in '03 than in 1990 while the EU was a mere %1.4 higher for the same period.

Back at COP10 our friends at Greenpeace showed the weak argument Harlan and other Bush science whizzes were making. Either way the defense the WH puts up continues to get more and more lame. Aren't leaders supposed to step up in times like this?

Monday, November 28, 2005

New York Steps Up

When California decided to set its own air quality standards back in 1970 it had no idea what impact that action would take years down the line. Now, states like Vermont and New York are jumping aboard the clean air bandwagon and snubbing federal EPA standards, establishing their own stricter, safer and more demanding emission regulations. The rules, laid out by California, are expected to be followed by as many as 10 other states including New York in the coming year.

Automakers continue to complain (and sue) that these new regulations will limit the availability of many of our favorite trucks, SUVs and larger sedans as well as force them to curb sales of more powerful engine vehicles in the state. If these 10 states (including California) succeed in passing these new regulations they'll be an amazingly powerful regulatory bloc that automakers will have to contend with. Even more important, these markets will account for over a third of the nation's auto sales.

AAM (which has a virtually identical slogan to Ford Motors) says the California legislation will hurt SUV, truck and large car owners the most:
"The California legislation would hurt the most the people that rely on large cars, pickups, S.U.V.'s and minivans," Ms. Bergquist said.

Environmental groups say the rules can be met with technology already on the shelf.

"They said that seat belts would put them out of business; they said that air bags would put them out of business; they said fuel economy and emissions regulations would all put them out of business," said David Friedman, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"It turns out it's their unwillingness to innovate that's putting them out of business right now," he added, referring to the current struggles of General Motors and Ford Motor Company.

It seems like America's best automanufacturers are ignoring innovation not adopting it. If anything, American auto companies are busy working to paint every vehicle they produce as a green one.

The push for states to inact their own emission regs will only continue. California, Vermont and New York are on the list...keep your eyes on the others (RI, ME, NJ, MA, OR, WA, CT, PA).

*Point of Irony: the ads on the page linked to above on the NY Times website? Ford's innovation campaign. Can't say that ad space is doing much good.

Montreal Conference on Climate Change

I may be heading up to Montreal this week to analog the festivities going on around the world's most wonkified conference concerning climate change. It also happens to be THE most important meeting of the parties (i.e. those that signed the Kyoto Protocol) ever. Why? Because this is the meeting where everyone sits down to discuss how they're (I use "they" because the U.S. never signed it---but thank god for Russia) going to implement the rules and regulations agreed upon. More importantly, they're going to layout a plan for post-Kyoto which runs out in 2012.

This is fairly significant and over 10,000 dignataries and representatives from over 150 countries will be flying in to take part. Of course, the U.S. will have a delegation that's chief job will be to monitor the actions of our allies (and enemies) to see what type of trade regulations may be impacted as a result various restrictions that come out of the conference.

And while the wonks and dignataries sit inside discussion numbers and objectives, thousands of activists from all over the world will be gathered (actually, they've been there for weeks already) weighing in on the public conversation taking place. Hundreds of side events around the conference will be open to the public and anyone who wants to hear the stories behind global warming and climate change.

Lastly, if you can't go there in person, why not watch from the web? Energy Action and Rainforest Action Network established a hub where everyone and their mother will be working to post updates on whats going on from the ground in Montreal both inside and outside the conference. Should be we think Nelly will endorse this?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Carbon Footprints and BP Oil

As more and more people begin to see how oil is no longer a viable resource they will begin to seek out companies that offer alternatives. One of the few oil companies that is beginning to shift in an acceptable direction for research and implementation of alternative energy sources is British Petroleum (BP). BP is the largest investor of all the major oil companies in solar, wind and geo-thermal industries. However, they are also heavily behind clean coal like their competitor Chevron and have been ridiculed for recent environmental "dodgings" in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay involving oil spills. Plus, parts of their "Renewables" section of their website doesn't work and investors and users can't really find out anything about where BP stands on solar and renewable energy. Not a good start.

Yet, there was one piece of the website that I thought was interesting: the Carbon Footprint indicator. Its a online tool that assigns values to certain activities/items in your household like taking a bath vs. taking a shower or how many cars you have and their mileage, all to show a user what their carbon footprint is on the earth. It also includes plane travel which is something often forgotten in a world focused on the vehicle.

Most of what these oil companies are marketing in their P.R. efforts is a type of greenwashing. It's telling citizens that they are working hard to focus on renewable energy resources and growing them when in reality they're still focused on age-old practices of ploughing and plundering land and sea-bed for hidden oil reserves (which is why oil and gas careers are booming right now). While showing people their carbon footprint is a fun and educational way of communicating the effects of an oil economy, remaining unchanged in company practices and treatment of the natural environment brings to light a larger issue based on integrity within that corporation. Yes we know progress is slow, but progress is also taking a step forward and not trying to cover up or lead astray your investors, clients and customers.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Fox For the Environment?

Looks like Fox News is starting to see the light. Tonight Fox National is running a special on global warming and its surrounding effects. While it seems to be a dramatic step for a media conglomerate dedicated to conservative issues and ideals, it is, it does seem to be scraping just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to issues around climate change. However, FOX's look into the culture behind the "disbelievers" is key. The fact that the title of the piece is the same as one of the most prolific books on the subject doesn't seem to be a coincidence either.

Also on TV tonight of note, a 60 minutes piece on eco-terrorism.

Happy viewing.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Role Reversal

The folks over at Amazon are doing some pretty incredible things of late. Artificial intelligence (AI) has long intrigued humanity as a way to subsitute flesh and blood humans with machines capable of making decisions and completing tasks that might otherwise be boring, overwhelming or just plain dangerous. Well, now we have Artificial Artificial Intelligence. Amazon's Mechanical Turk does exactly the opposite by creating AAI in computer software that enables them to make requests of humans. Why and how is this useful? Think about all the tasks that we have to have do in a typical business day that computers can't. Everything from information requests to judging the best photo for a marketing firm's campaign are jobs that people like you and me can do without too much trouble. What Mechanical Turk does is bring the needs of business to the solutions of millions of virtual workers who can work from anywhere there is an internet connection.

Michael Silberman over at EchoDitto makes some great points on why this is big:
This investment is a Big Deal because it speaks volumes about the company's appreciation for (a) the online multiplier effect, where many small, individual actions add up to a larger whole, and (b) the proven nature of distributed and decentralized processing via the 'net.
Basically, Amazon has created a tool that enables you to export your simpler (but more challenging) tasks to an army of willing workers online. Using this new API you can submit requests and tasks to the Amazon Turk website, approve completed tasks, and then incorporate those solutions into your own software. On the other end, humans can select HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks) to complete. You get paid once the person who listed the HIT approves your solution or work. So in a sense this is what happens when open-source idealogy mixes into the online job market.
For businesses and entrepreneurs who want tasks completed, the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service solves the problem of getting work done in a cost-effective manner by people who have the skill to do the work. It does this by ccessing a vast network of human intelligence with the efficiencies and cost- ffectiveness of computers. Oftentimes people do not move forward with certain projects because the cost to establish a network of skilled people to do the work outweighs the value of completing it. By turning the fixed costs into variable costs that scale with their needs, the Amazon Mechanical Turk web service eliminates this barrier and allows projects to be completed that before were not economical...For people who want to earn money in their spare time, the Amazon Mechanical Turk website solves the problem of finding work that they can do wherever and whenever they want.

But don't get too excited. At the moment you'd be hard pressed to find a gig for more a few bucks. You'd still have to file for unemployment if you took this on full time.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

House Rules

Just when you thought drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was money in the bank...those moderate republicans do us all a favor. Today, the House of Representatives decided to remove the drilling measure from the now tabled budget bill that cuts over $54 billion from federal benefit programs. Over 12 moderate GoOPers played a key role in helping to keep the bill off the floor after expressing concern over cutting extensive social programs that would hurt the elderly and poor. This means is that when the Senate and House meet next week to reconcile their differences on the proposed budget bills there's going to be a battle. Drilling in ANWR has been a major piece of the Bush Energy Plan and as Scott McClellan says, "We continue to urge passage of that initiative."

It's too bad that Bush and fellow republicans are appealing to America's lowest common denominator on this. Undoubtedly, we as a nation when facing challenges in the past relied on American ingenuity to bail us out. We are a nation that responds well to challenges and the current energy problem is one that drilling in another undeveloped pristine landscape will not solve. Conservation is certainly not the only answer. But forcing automakers (especially American automakers) to create cars and trucks that get 45 mpg while swapping our coal power plants for solar techonology and redesigning our cities and suburbs are all easy first steps that when combined with conservation will save us 10 times as much oil (and money) then ANWR would.

So when does AI (American Ingenuity) have a negative effect on national progress? See our esteemed former EPA Chief Gale Norton for a scary look on why AI is keeping people from believing in an energy crisis.

We're glad to see that some moderate republicans helped keep ANWR out of the House budget bill, but their motives for tabling the bill were much different than NRDC's or Sierra Club's. In the end though, its one more roadblock for the Bush Energy Policy. Bush is keeping America from paving the way to a sustainable energy program, one that would lead the world into the new eco-centric future. Instead, he wants us to keep sucking down the oil by drilling in a land untouched by development for enough black gold to last us all of two years.

Oh, and an interesting tidbit regarding our national leaders and ANWR. Checkout where Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) gets most of his money from.

Friday, November 04, 2005

You Can Run...

I'm glad to see the White House Press Corps has begun to find it's backbone. Helen Thomas can breathe a little easier as journalists have rallied to continue putting pressure on President Bush and the questions swirling around his administration's indictments and the CIA leak case. Karl Rove is in the sights of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and as the press fires questions to our fearless leader about his senior advisor, the President seems content with aloof replies like, "This is a serious investigation and I have a job to do, an agenda to stick to." Yes, Mr. President, it is a serious investigation, one that involves national security, which is why we're asking you to comment on it.

As Bush travels to Argentina this week for the Fourth Summit of the Americas he's been given anything but a respite from attacks and questions about his job as leader of the free world. Populist Venezulean President Hugo Chavez rallied 25,000 protestors in the region's largest soccer stadium declaring the free trade accord being proposed by Bush as "dead" and accused the Pentagon of having a secret plan to invade his oil-rich country. Well, the first one is probably true, but the second claim...yeah I wouldn't put it past us. If it did happen it would be under the guise of "saving Venezuela" for their own national security.

Polls show Mr. Bush to be the most unpopular American president ever among Latin Americans, and thousands of demonstrators, led by the soccer idol Diego Maradona, are flocking to the Argentine beach resort of Mar del Plata to protest his presence at a summit meeting of Western Hemisphere leaders. The greeting from his fellow heads of state, who have been complaining of his administration's neglect of and indifference to the region for five years, does not promise to be especially warm, either. "He doesn't have any money to offer, so the president doesn't really have any cards to play," said Riordan Roett, director of the Latin American studies program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "Nobody among the crop of fiscally conservative but socially progressive presidents that we now have around the region is going to go to his defense."

Yikes. Diego Maradona, in case folks didn't know, is a rather large popular figure to this region of the world. That'd be like...oh I don't know...Michael Jordan coming out publicly against President Bush. Add to the mix today's 1,200 protestors marching only blocks from where the President met with Argentinian leader Nestor Kirchener and we've got quite a little riot party going on in South America. Somehow I think the President is going to have to really push to sell his new FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) proposal, espeically if all of South America is questioning it. Mr. President, you can run from all the questions left unanswered by and your cronies...but you can't hide from them.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Gettin' Your Sprawl On

Via kottke, a picture of suburban sprawl in San Ramon, CA. I really hope we're not STILL doing urban planning like we did in 1950. Talk about a step backwards....

Vermont Leads Fuel Efficiency Charge

Finally, the northeast is getting its act together around tougher policies for vehicle emissions. Wednesday the State Legislature approved a rule stating that all 2009 car models sold in Vermont will be subject to strict new state emissions rules. What are those rules? Well, details to come later. Apparently the ruling is looking to target CO2 and make a real dent in the overall pollution that cars and trucks put out. Do we think that long-time Vermont progressives Ben and Jerry played a roll in this? Possibly, but regardless they make great ice cream.

Why is this big? Well, just ask any automaker. The possibility of not being allowed to sell their F-150s and Tundras isn't exactly going over well in the boardrooms of Detroit. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers ("Driving Innovation" is hardly a fair motto here) sued the state of California a few years ago charging that the "new rules" are unfair to consumers as it will increase the cost of the car, on average, about $3,000. California has been leading the charge and blazing a trail for other states to sign up. Vermont is one of the first to follow in the steps of the Golden State and New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine and the rest of the liberal nor'easters are close behind (oh wait...except for New Hampshire--you gotta question the intelligence of a state who places liquor stores the size of Wal-Mart on all their major highways to avoid paying high about a "sin tax"). Whats interesting is that the two different sets of rules allowed by the federal clean air act for governing emissions on cars are the California standard and the less-strict, industry-loving federal standard. So goes California, so goes the nation? Maybe...

As a Vermonter I'm slightly proud of my state for leading the country to follow in California's wake, especially with a moderate Republican Governor at the helm. So now, to go along with no billboards on highways, we're working on getting the CO2 out as well. Well done Green Mountain State.