Sunday, January 28, 2007

Barack, Hillary, Washington Weather

You heard it predicted here first, the unprecedented unpresident did, in fact, finally speak the words "global climate change" during the State of the Union. That little concession to reality, and 500 million dollars, will get the future George W. Bush Presidential Library sited wherever some very needy municipality will allow it. Hey, wait, how bout NEW ORLEANS!?

Apparently, Frank Gehry was prevailed upon to go back to his earlier 'deconstructivist' work in designing the Bush edifice.

On other weather fronts, the Clintons are already busily working to tilt the primary process in favor of their lady.

Moves are afoot in several "Big" states -- California, Michigan, Florida and New Jersey -- to move up the dates of their primaries, this under the guise of giving large electoral entities their "fair" share of clout. It's backed by Clinton supporters in sheep's clothing. In California, e.g., Chris Lehane, former special Asst. Counsel to Pres. Bill, has a 527 collecting signatures to move up the primary.

If you'd prefer the primary season be an opportunity to see how potential candidates perform you should OPPOSE it. (It favors well-funded frontrunners -- Hillary -- and will put a gun to the head of undecideds to pick the nominee without any of the candidates -- Obama -- gaining 'seasoning', or traction.)

We need to push back these efforts before they get rolling. These bills are just now being introduced into state legislatures. Even if you're a Hillary supporter, she needs the test she'll only get if we force her to run a long, hard primary campaign.

In California, the two dems behind the bill to move up the primary are: State Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate Pro Tem

It is NOT too early to email these gentlemen as concerned Democrats and insist they cease and desist.

The article below, which is studiedly "neutral" about the real reasons for this push, is from
Carla Marinucci: Internet push now behind plan to move up 2008 primary in California

The effort to move up the California 2008 presidential primary to February may have gotten another key boost today as grassroots activists launched a serious internet outreach effort aimed at reaching more than 30,000 state with petitions to support the idea.

Rick Jacobs, chair of -- a 527 MoveOn-style coalition founded to support Democratic intersts in 2004 -- says the ramped up internet effort began Thursday to collect hundreds of thousands of voters' signatures. They will be forwarded to Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, as part of the effort asking that the legislature move forward on the February primary idea "so Californians can have a voice in the election," he says.

Jacobs says many Democratic California voters were angered in 2004 when a few thousand mostly white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire virtually decided the Democratic party nominee -- U.S. Senator John Kerry -- leaving supporters of other candidates like former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean out in the cold.

"We're going to work every possible way so we get a voice,'' says Jacobs.

The organization's pitch: "Sign our petition and forward it to your friends so we don't have to pay $2300 to shake hands with a candidate. It's time Hillary, Obama, Edwards, McCain, Hagel and the others visit California's voters, not just donors. We're the most diverse state in the country and the fifth largest economy in the world ... Sign our petition to ensure these candidates actually talk to us about our hopes and dreams, not just raid our wallets."

Top California political strategist Chris Lehane -- the former Clinton White House spokesman -- says that the such efforts may just be the beginning of a wave to push for an early primary, which he says "would be good for the state, the economy -- and the political parties."

This idea is "good" for Hillary only, who apparently already feels she needs to nail it down immediately or risk losing it. She needs to earn it. And, as was proved last election cycle, a well-fought contest with lots of debates and exposure for Democratic candidates is a blessing, not a hindrance.

This veiled, self-serving hokum makes you wonder just how desparate the Clinton forces are.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Truthiness Of Carbon Neutrality

Carbon Neutral (pronounced Kahr-buh,n Noo-truh,l) adjective Definition: the maintenance of a balance between producing and using carbon, esp. the global warming-inducing emission of carbon-dioxide by growing plants or planting trees both for fuel and carbon-capture to offset emissions from non-sustainable energy use

The web’s wires have been abuzz these last months with so much ‘Carbon Neutral’ news that the New Oxford American Dictionary recently proclaimed it Word Of The Year for 2006, unlike Merriam Webster’s which seemed a whole year late in making Steven Colbert’s ‘Truthiness" it’s choice. ("Besides, ‘Carbon Neutral’ is two words!" the snippish late night faux-conservative faux-talkshow faux-host can be heard to snipe.) But a day doesn’t go by without some company or celebrity jumping on the CN bandwagon. Exhibit A, this headline today from the Computer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

"Dell calls on customers to contribute to carbon-neutral computing". Dell announces it will plant sufficient trees to absorb all the atmospheric carbon dioxide generated by power plants producing the electricity used to drive its computers for a three-year period. Dubbed Plant a Tree for Me, Dell’s notebook and desktop buyers will be given the chance to donate $2 or $6, respectively, to fund Dell's project. Or rather, Dell will pass the money on to non-profit organizations that will handle the planting, in sustainably managed forests. Dell doesn't say whether it will be donating any money of its own and absent from its list of machines are servers, which consume more energy and tend to be powered up for longer.

Items like this show that it's getting harder to distinguish the sheep from the shorn. For example, Exhibit B, right below the same google news pages as Dell’s self-serving declaration is "The Helium Report" offering a chart that touts private jet travel as a comparably inexpensive way to fly (!!!)… from the point of view of carbon neutrality. "We were surprised to find it costs less than 1% of the flying cost per hour to fly carbon neutral…We reviewed ten popular jets in four categories and found the cost to fly carbon neutral ranges from $7 to $60 an hour — a minuscule amount when flying private costs $2,000 to $13,000 an hour. For less than $10,000, you can offset 200 hours in a Falcon 2000, a 10-seat jet that costs more than $25 million."

This on a site that appears to be largely sponsored by TerraPass, one of the largest firms engaged in selling carbon offsets.

More than just more hot air?

Do you really repair the damage caused by flying by paying a carbon offset company? Offsets are suddenly all the rage. This past Holiday Season friends boasted of giving their offspring a year’s worth of offsets, the perfect parental gift for progeny who have everything… except a planet to offer their own future progeny. For $99, offers a 'zero carbon' option, an offset not only for a year's worth of fossil fuel combustion but for all of the emissions associated with the production of 'everything we consume: clothes, food, electronics, your iPod, everything.'

The most obvious ethical problem is that any solution that when writ large, that is, when applied universally, would ruin the planet in an eyeblink needs to be approached with extreme caution. Money paid out for such schemes is blood money, balm for guilty consciences. Unfortunately simply planting trees won’t reclaim the irreplaceable fossil fuel spewed into the air on a private jet. Were all earth’s inhabitants to immediately adopt this tact there wouldn’t be space enough for all the trees needed to assuage the carbon damage. But that doesn’t mean carbon neutral efforts can't be part of the solution, one of the wedges in stabilizing our carbon dioxide emissions long-term.

However, the global market in personal, "voluntary" offsetting is exploding, expected to top over $500 million dollars the next three years. (The International Emissions Trading Association and World Bank estimate that the market for carbon credits, of which offsets are a part, is now worth more than $21.5 billion, according to a new study.) And many of these companies rely on assumptions based on "forest sequestration". It’s the easy and most attractive way to sell offsets. You’re "planting trees," you’re told. At best these efforts depend on the assumption that planting trees in an area previously without forest "locks up" carbon in the new trees grown there. In other words, it takes carbon out of the air and puts it into a plant. One criticism of "forest sequestration" is that carbon in a tree is not "stored safely". Trees burn up, forests die out due to insect infestation (the rock band Coldplay learnt this the hard way when most of the trees on a mango plantation they supported in India died), but new arguments have recently emerged that further question the value of tree planting.

Last month, two US-based ecologists claimed that most forests do not have any overall effect on global temperature. Except for a thin band around the equator, forests trap more heat than they help to get rid of by reducing CO². In fact, last year the WWF, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace issued a statement saying they do not support forestry projects to offset carbon emissions. This has led some offset firms to downplay the forestry side of their business. A major player, the Carbon Neutral Company, (there are more than 30 of these firms, some not-for profit, some not-not) changed its name from Future Forests to avoid the appearance of being a trees-only offsetter.

Nonetheless, "carbon neutral" efforts are still to be applauded. They not only raise consciousness about our individual "carbon footprints" they will inevitably be part of any carbon mitigation initiative. The issues, however, are complex, and pressing given the difficulty of calculating what really is an ‘offset’ in a rapidly warming world where ‘offset companies’ are entirely unregulated.

Readers piqued to examine this in more depth are invited to begin their journey with visits to the following online articles that contributed to this column:

A lot of hot air? By Dominic Murphy, The Guardian, Thursday January 11, 2007

Going carbon-neutral By Drake Bennett THE BOSTON GLOBE Sunday, December 24, 2006

And to follow up with perusals of Joel Makower’s piece Carbon Neutral Stabilization Wedges

And of “Do carbon offsets live up to their promise?”