Paul Tullis's Grim Tidings

Bitter musings on politics and policy

Archive for May 2009

See, turning down the thermostat does make a difference

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Mild weather helped curb 2007 greenhouse gases

Reuters reports that emissions in Europe fell 1.2 percent in 2007 because the winter was relatively warm, meaning people used their heaters less. Keep your thermostat at 68 in winter (even 66 at night) and 75 (77 in the day) in summer; you’ll be comfortable and you’ll be doing the polar bears a favor. Painting your roof white, if you live below about the 5oth parallel, also makes a huge difference

Written by ptullis

May 29, 2009 at 9:24 am

If an ad for a hybrid flies overhead at 6a.m. on a holiday, does it have an impact?

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On Memorial Day my one-year-old and I went for an early-morning walk. We live in L.A. near Griffith Park, over which slow-moving small aircraft sometimes fly on the weekends, trailing banners with commercial messages behind them. In the quiet of a holiday just after 6:00 a.m., we heard the sound of an aircraft overhead. My daughter is fascinated by flying objects, and we looked up to see what it was.

Imagine my surprise at seeing one of these advertising planes at a time and place when hardly anyone was likely to see it. Imagine further my surprise at seeing that the advertisement was for the new hybrid-car offering from Honda, the Insight.

I drove the Insight at Honda’s press roll-out for the vehicle in December, and in the interest of disclosure I’ll mention here that I used to own a Honda Civic hybrid. The Insight seemed like a fine car, and I’d be happy to drive one; I got about 65 mpg on a 30-minute test route the company had set up around suburban Phoenix (which, when I visited the area about 15 years ago, was then the outskirts of Phoenix—but that’s a different story), and the price and styling of the car are improvements on the Civic hybrid I used to own.

But why was Honda burning fossil fuels for an advertisement few people were likely to see? The only people at Griffith Park that early (in my experience) are the birthday-party pioneers homesteading picnic tables to be used later in the day, and a few joggers.

I understand that emitting some greenhouse gasses now in order to prevent the burning of more greenhouse gasses in the future is a favorable calculation, and it is possible that 6:00 a.m. holiday-morning joggers are among the most likely possible purchasers of hybrid cars. It is also possible that the plane had just taken off from somewhere in the Valley and was headed to the beaches of Venice and Santa Monica, where more potential hybrid-buyers were getting their aerobic workouts.

But it’s also possible this was just a waste of CO2.

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Written by ptullis

May 28, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Posted in environment

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Renewable power mandate overcomes hurdle in Senate

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Renewable power mandate overcomes hurdle in Senate

Nice to see Mark Udall‘s life work has a future, but as the NY Times pointed out on Sunday, this kind of thing is often more easily passed than attained.

Written by ptullis

May 26, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Posted in environment

Climate change legislation now!

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Christ almighty, am I sick of industry and their paid minions in Congress complaining that now is not the time to mandate or even encourage meaningful reduction in greenhouse gas emissions—whenever “now” is.

Their delay, obfucation and lies have gotten us to the point that it in fact may already be too late. These are the same myopic ingrates whose three-month time horizon for their own companies contributed to the insane stock bubbles of the late 90’s and mid-00’s; we are supposed to trust their outlook on anything that happens later than their next quarterly report?

These people are so selfish they don’t even appear to care that their grandchildren be granted the same joy as they themselves have experienced in raising children; without meaningful reduction in GHG emissions, if their grandchildren are born in 2040 they will experience during middle age a planet that hasn’t existed in more than 10,000 years. Do these polluters think it was a coincidence that at the same time the climate settled into its current state, humans began tending livestock and tilling the soil? Do they seriously want their grandchildren to be hunter-gatherers? Because if global average temperatures continue to rise at current rates there will be a radical dislocation of food production on this planet.

The rhetorical device used by proponents of business-as-usual is to argue the most obvious and adaptable result as if it were their unique discovery and something about which nothing can be done: Cap-and-trade is going to result in increased energy prices. Yeah, no shit, homeslice.

But as we saw last summer with $4-a-gallon gas, and as we see every time the economy sags and GHG emissions go down with it, the only thing that gets people to reduce their energy use is its increased relative cost. It’s not like the amount of energy people use is fixed. People waste energy because it is cheap. Make its cost significant and watch people treat polluting with the respect it deserves.

A drive toward renewable energy will be a huge boon to the economy. If Clinton’s BTU tax has been enacted in 1993, do you think the leading wind-turbine manufacturer in the world today would be Danish? Opponents estimated the tax would have cost a family of four $300 a year; people spend much more money insuring against their house burning down—a far less likely, and far more adaptable, occurrence than the drastic planetary emergency we’re facing.

And this is not even taking into account the savings to the economy from the health care costs of asthma, skin cancer, lung disease, cholera, malaria (some now incurred, some bound to rise) from the burning of fossil fuels.

Where will you save money in reducing your emissions?

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What's wrong with banning plastic bags

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Ever since Gavin Newsom, the mayor who lost the 2004 presidential election for Kerry with his well-intentioned but illegal legalization of gay marriage in San Francisco, instituted a ban on plastic bags in his city, the idea has been popping up from North Carolina to India.  A recent poll in Australia showed 80 percent approval for the nanny-state measure.

Now the California legislature is thinking of charging 25 cents a bag; a different approach with the same effect.

The reasons cited for eradicating the scourge of plastic bags, once and for all, from whatever regional entity are always the same: the bags make an unholy mess; they kill seabirds; they’re expensive to recycle; they’re made from petroleum; they get stuck in trees. All of which, undoubtedly, sucks.

Here’s why plastic bag bans and taxes are not as simple as they seem: It takes about 1/10th the amount of energy  to make a plastic bag as it does to make a paper bag. And even more energy is used to make and ship those self-righteous “I am not a plastic bag” bags and similar ones meant to be re-used.

So in getting rid of plastic bags we’re essentially exchanging litter for greenhouse gas emissions. Trading the strangling of birds in the short term for the extinction of species in the long term.

I’m not saying, go out and use plastic bags with abandon, and I’m not sure which side I come down on. I’m just saying, it’s more complicated than it appears. What we really need to do is to get everyone to dispose of their bags properly; while that ain’t gonna happen, if you are doing that then you’re not contributing to the problem as it’s being defined.

One more thing: What are dog-owners supposed to do in a city with no plastic shopping bags? (A strict environmentalist would say don’t have a dog: mammalian pets eat mostly meat that is scrap from producers of meat for human consumption and enables the GHG-creating industry to fatten its coffers.) With no bags from the grocery store to pick up poop, dog-owners need to either buy bags or carry a pooper-scooper, which is a sub-optimal solution as the things never pick up all the poop—contributing to the spread of disease and another form of pollution.  There are recycled plastic bags you can buy, and ones marketed as biodegradable.

What’s your solution to the great plastic bag dilemma?

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Written by ptullis

May 21, 2009 at 5:21 pm

McCain Tactic Bites Dems in Ass

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Obama to Make Bush Guns-in-Parks provision permanent law.

This will make rangers less safe, according to those I’ve spoken to, while doing nothing to control crime in parks—which isn’t exactly a major problem. The rider was tacked onto the credit-card bill, a tactic originated by Sen. John McCain, as Hal Espen wrote in a piece I edited.

Written by ptullis

May 20, 2009 at 10:08 am

Polar bear won't keep planet habitable after all

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So it looks like the strategy of using the polar bear’s endangered status to shut down all oil and gas drilling, grind every car to a halt, shutter every coal plant, Butterfly-Hill every timber-harvesting operation, ground every aircraft, dock every ship, and attach methane-capturing equipment to every cow in the US isn’t going to work.

That was the idea behind the Center for Biological Diversity’s groundbreaking petition [pdf] to get the Fish & Wildlife Service to list the polar bear as an endangered species. (The FWS, which with NOAA is one of two agencies with the power to protect a species under the Endangered Species Act, hadn’t listed a single creature under Pres. Bush at the time of the petition.) Interesting that the media picked up on the polar bear and not the other species the CBD petitioned for, staghorn coral—but of course staghorn coral live underwater and look like a rock. It was “certainly a creative approach,” the lawyer for the FWS in the spotted owl case of the early ’90s told a reporter I edited for a piece at the time the petition was brought, three years ago.

Since the only threat to the bear’s continued existence is habitat destruction; the Act requires habitat of a species on the list to be protected; and the bears live on sea ice that’s melting with global warming, the logic went, all GHG-producing activity in or by the United States would have to be ceased in order to comply.

Surely Kassie Siegel and her team of lawyers at the CBD knew that wasn’t gonna happen. The idea all along was to demonstrate and publicize the link between global warming and extinction and at that, I think it’s safe to say, they have succeeded.

But where does this lead? Now that the ice has been broken on just saying “fuck it” to enforcing the Act because it’s inconvenient—even massively, impossibly inconvenient to the point of absurdity, as was the case with the polar bear—I imagine industries that would like to destroy habitat of endangered animals for their own profit are examining strategies to lobby Salazar and Interior to say that the protections they must endure are an unsurmountable pain in the ass too.

Who’s next? The beluga whale (ships must detour to avoid its spawning grounds)? The chinook salmon (dam operators must truck the fish around the dams, and count the ones that make it over)? The leatherback turtle (no coastal development in parts of Oregon)? The grizzly bear (pathways for migration must be created and maintained)?

Which species do you see as protected at the expense of business interests?

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Written by ptullis

May 19, 2009 at 6:14 pm