Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Congress cannot eliminate the CO2 emissions from even its own power plant

As Congress tries to clean up the nation's energy sources and cut gases blamed for global warming, it is struggling to do so in its own backyard. The Capitol Power Plant, a 99-year-old facility that heats and cools the hallowed halls of Congress, still burns coal and accounts for one-third of the legislative branch's greenhouse gas emissions. For a decade, lawmakers have attempted to clean it up.In recent years, Congress has reduced its energy consumption. The steam and chilled-water power plant has become more efficient. It now burns more natural gas and only 35 percent coal, compared with 49 percent in 2007. But Congress is running out of options to make the plant fully green. Also, there are questions about whether it can afford to keep paying to use the extra natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal.

The plant's story is one that is likely to play out across the United States as Congress looks to limit greenhouse gases and require more of the country's energy to come from wind, solar and other renewable sources. The issues hampering the cleanup _ politics, cost and technological barriers _ could trip up similar efforts elsewhere. The U.S. counts on coal-fired power plants for about half of its electricity; the plants are also the biggest source of heat-trapping gases. So if Congress cannot act locally, as the environmental slogan goes, how can it begin to think globally?

In 2007, the facility released 118,851 tons of carbon dioxide, according to the Energy Department. That's a fraction of the amount released by the roughly 600 coal-fired power plants nationwide that produce electricity, and the emissions created at other plants from which Congress buys power. "We are holding it up as a symbol for how we can and must do better," said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. It is among 40 environmental organizations planning a protest Monday that is expected to draw about 2,500 people to the plant a few blocks south of the Capitol.

Among them will be James Hansen, the NASA scientist who first testified in 1988 about the perils of global warming. He has called for halting construction of new coal-fired power plants without technology to capture and store carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas. "They need to start by getting the coal out of Congress," Hansen said.

While carbon dioxide from the facility could be reduced 60 percent using carbon sequestration technology, the Energy Department in April 2008 ruled that out. The $112 million cost was too high. There is no place nearby to dispose of the gas and the extra coal burned to run the carbon-trapping equipment would increase other types of air pollution. Recognizing this dead end, just last week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., wrote the Architect of the Capitol with another recycled idea: convert the plant entirely to natural gas. While four times more expensive than coal, natural gas produces about half as much carbon dioxide.

Referring to the facility as a shadow hanging over efforts to make Congress more environmentally friendly, the leaders said the conversion would demonstrate Congress' willingness to deal with global warming, energy independence and the use of finite fossil fuels.

An effort in 2000 to rid the plant of coal and oil was blocked by two senators from coal-producing states. Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., argued at the time that the continued use of coal would save taxpayers money because it is cheaper than natural gas. Last week Byrd seemed more willing to compromise, saying he would support looking at the natural gas option. Converting the plant entirely to natural gas would require equipment upgrades at the facility that would cost between $6 million and $7 million, in addition to having to buy more natural gas. It would cost $139 per ton of carbon dioxide saved, or about $2 million a year just for the House's portion of heating and air conditioning. Pelosi and Reid say the investment far outweighs the costs. But in the midst of an economic crisis, it is not clear if that would be money well spent.

"It doesn't make any difference what they do," said Bill Kovacs, vice president for the environment, technology & regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "It makes a statement, but it is not going to change carbon dioxide concentrations at all anywhere in the world and coal will continue to be used somewhere else." Coal-fired power plants elsewhere will have difficulty meeting new mandates if passed by lawmakers. "The oldest and dirtiest ones will not compete well under that system," said Tidwell, who supports efforts to get the Capitol Power Plant off coal. "The people who own those power plants will have to make some choices."


Is George Soros a Global Warming Turncoat?

NASA's global-warming-alarmist-in-chief James Hansen is urging the public to join the likes of Greenpeace and the Ruckus Society and others in a March 2 rally in Washington to protest the burning of coal for electricity. But before further clogging the already busy streets of the nation's capital perhaps Hansen ought to first lay siege to the offices of billionaire supporter George Soros.

According to a February 17 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, investment funds managed by Soros own more than $112 million worth of stock in Arch Coal and CONSOL Energy - the third and fifth largest coal companies in the U.S. Other SEC filings indicate that Soros began investing in coal during 2008 - hardly an auspicious time for such investment. Not only did the stock values of coal companies fall sharply, but the future of coal use in the U.S. became less certain. Since 2006, climate activists have pressured state regulators to deny permits for 83 coal-fired power plants.

Odder still is that this is the same George Soros who, in October 2007, told CNBC's Maria Bartiromo "I think we have to stop the increased use of coal if we want to bring climate change under control." This is also the same George Soros who, through his Open Society Institute, may have provided as much as $720,000 in 2006 to help finance Hansen's global warming activism. And what does Hansen have to say about coal?

In a recent op-ed in Britain's The Observer, Hansen wrote that "The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death." Warning British Prime Minister Gordon Brown that "history and [his] children will judge [him]," Hansen called for Brown to bring the use of coal to an end.

It seems quite possible that Soros and Hansen no longer see eye-to-eye on climate change. Last June, Soros testified before a Senate Committee that the cap-and-trade form of global warming regulation, which would allow the use of coal, would be a "move in the right direction." Hansen, meanwhile, has since been bent on likening the use of coal to the Holocaust. In addition to his over-the-top allusions to "death trains" and "factories of death," last June, Hansen called for coal and oil company CEOs to be "tried for high crimes against humanity and nature." Would Hansen spare large coal and oil company investors like Soros?

Coal investments may not be Soros' only problem with Hansen on the day of reckoning. Soros also owns and/or manages $900 million worth of the Brazilian state oil company, $218 million of Hess Corp., $177 million of ConocoPhillips and $72 million of oil driller Schlumberger. ConocoPhillips, in particular, is a major investor in a project to develop the so-called Canadian oil tar sands. But on Feb. 18, two days ahead of President Obama's trip to Ottawa, Canada, Hansen hyperventilated to Reuters about the dangers of tar sands:

"If we burn all the conventional fuels - oil, gas and coal - we would be heading the planet to eventually an ice-free state," Hansen said. "[Tar sands oil] is a total wild card on top of that. You just can't do it, that's what politicians and international leaders have got to understand. You can't exploit tar shale and tar sands without pushing things way beyond the limit. They're just too carbon intensive."

It's also possible that Soros is just another green hypocrite, hoping to make a few bucks before coal is killed as an energy source. A source in the coal industry told me that Soros doesn't let "politics get in the way of commerce." Indeed, Soros told PBS's Bill Moyers in an October interview that "dealing with global warming will require a lot of investment" and that "energy has to cost a lot more." So Soros may be betting that climate policies will somehow make his coal/oil investments more profitable. It's a contrarian outlook to say the least.

A spokesman from Soros Fund Management denied that any explanation was necessary for Soros' investments and global warming posture. He also denied that Soros might be breaching his fiduciary duty to his investors by advocating public policies that could spell doom for the coal industry and their coal investments.

While a spokesman from the Open Society Institute flatly denied that it funded Hansen, this denial seems to be an exaltation of form over substance. The Institute was seemingly very proud in a 2006 report of the support for Hansen provided by the Government Accountability Project - a grantee of the Institute. This is all something to keep in mind as we watch Hansen and his protesters rally on March 2 at the Capitol's coal-burning - and Soros-profiting - power plant.


Britain shivers through its coldest winter for 13 years... and another big freeze is on the way

It's what we suspected as the deep freeze set in and the country was hit by heavy snow. Now forecasters have confirmed that Britain shivered through the coldest winter for more than a decade. The last three months have been the chilliest for 13 years, with an average temperature of only 37f (2.9c). The winter temperature has been calculated up to February 23, but it would have needed an impossibly high average temperature in the last few days for this winter not to be the coldest since 1995-1996. Although we are now in March, the recent mild weather is not expected to last. Wintry conditions are about to return with a vengeance.

The warmer temperatures in the last two weeks of February coaxed daffodils and crocuses to make an appearance, adding a splash of much-needed colour to the countryside. But after a wet and windy day tomorrow, a biting north-westerly wind will blow in on Wednesday, bringing flurries of sleet and snow across England. Met Office forecaster John Hammond said daytime temperatures will drop as low as 41f (5c). 'We have had mild winters recently so this one is the coldest since 1995-1996,' he said. 'We had a very cold start to February and temperatures will fall again from Tuesday due to low pressure. There will be wintry showers across the country with the possibility sleet and snow for all regions. It won't be as cold as it was at the start of February - but it will certainly feel cold.'

Heavy snowfall hit much of the country at the start of February. The South-East suffered its heaviest snow for 18 years, bringing much of the region to a standstill. Transport networks ground to a halt and schools, hospitals and businesses also closed. The blizzard is estimated to have cost the British economy up to 3billion because a fifth of the workforce was unable to get to work.

Parts of Kent enjoyed February's warmest weather, with Canterbury reaching 62f (16.9c). The lowest temperature was -1f (-18.4c) at Aviemore, in Inverness-shire. Meteogroup Forecaster Julian Mayes said: 'Although we remember the cold first two weeks, and there's no doubting the effect that had, it was actually followed by a mild second half of the month. 'In a way if you blend that together you get quite an average month.'


India puts the kybosh on global emission cuts

And without India, nobody else will move. GWB's policy is now everybody's policy

NEW DELHI: With the global economic slowdown dimming the developed world's appetite for accepting enhanced climate change responsibilities, India is preparing a robust defence of its position that it would not accept any sort of emission cut targets as part of a multilateral commitment.

The government is anticipating the likelihood of West's diminished interest in combating climate change being manifested in a fresh push at getting developing countries like India and China to accept carbon control targets. This is likely to be countered by India making a strong statement on its unilateral domestic efforts to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

The government is arguing that an acceptable plan to rein in the effects of climate change would not be possible if only the current levels of emissions were taken as a benchmark for discussions. The role of industrialised nations in creating the problem and now in offering technology and finance to the third world could not be ignored in arriving at an action plan.

Addressing a group of mediapersons, Shyam Saran, the PM's special envoy on climate change, said, "We do recognise that with depleting resources of fossil fuel, the cost of oil and gas is bound to go up. Our use of fossil fuel is likely to go up from 70% to 90% and in 15-20 years, we will be faced with a crisis." This had led the government to plan for a diversification of its energy generation sources.

Saran pointed out that there were millions of people who did not have access to commercially generated power and if India's energy plans for this section were solely based on fossil fuels, the addition to carbon emissions would be considerable. "The steps that we are taking are in themselves contributing to reduced emissions," he said.

It is expected that the Copenhagen 2009 climate change conference, the last government-level meeting before the 2012 Kyoto protocol is replaced by a new agreement, would see some bargaining over emission control targets. Countries like India are likely to insist that if emission targets are to be discussed, there must be a framework for technology transfer and finance.

The issue was not one of technology transfer alone, but that of countries being trained and equipped for the changes. India was prepared to cooperate in research and development of green technology but scale of these transfers and adjustments in the IPR had to be identified.

The national action plan on climate change drawn up by the government, which looks to gear up to climate change challenges, was evidence that India was not just a "nay sayer" and was more than prepared to shoulder its responsibilities. The government also makes the point that India's carbon emission was bound to increase in the immediate future as a factor of its socio-economic growth.


Now fish farming is bad too

Environmentalists reacted with fury last night after a UN body recommended a big increase in fish farming to meet rising global demand. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said that increasing global demand for fish should be met through intensive fish farming amid falling wild populations. "If overall production is to keep pace with an expanding world population, and given the strong likelihood that capture fisheries will remain stagnant, future growth will have to come from aquaculture," it said in a report.

World aquaculture has grown dramatically in the past 50 years. In the early 1950s less than a million tonnes was produced. By 2006 this had risen to 51.7million tonnes, with a value of $78.8billion - approaching half the total global fish consumption of 110.4 million tonnes. Per capita, fish consumption has been increasing steadily from an average of 9.9kg in the 1960s: it reached 11.5kg in the 1970s, 12.5kg in the 1980s, 14.4kg in the 1990s, and 16.4kg in 2005.

China accounts for much of the rise, consuming 33.6 million tonnes in 2005, or 26.1kg per person. China has also had a boom in aquaculture: almost six out of ten farmed fish globally were reared in China, while just under nine out of ten come from the Asia-Pacific region.

Differences in feeding habits, though, could present a stumbling block to bringing Asian-style aquaculture to the West. Cod and salmon - two of the most popular fish in Britain - are both predators, unlike the herbivorous carp that is favoured in the East. Rather than feeding on aquatic plants, cod and salmon must be fed on other fish that are sourced from the wild. Between 1992 and 2006 the amount of fishmeal used to feed farmed fish grew by almost 300 per cent.

The FAO recommendations provoked a backlash from pressure groups. Willie Mackenzie, of Greenpeace, said: "We've totally trashed our wild fish populations so now we need to farm them. It just doesn't make sense to catch fish to feed to fish - you lose four to five times the weight and that's without all the problems of infestations, escapes and pollution from the farms."

Around 520million people - 8 per cent of the world's population - depend on fisheries for their protein, income or family stability.


Science versus propaganda

by Bob Carter (Bob Carter is an adjunct professor of geology at Australia's James Cook University)

The editorial in last weekend's Australian, "Carbon trading is not the only answer" (21/22 February), addressed the controversial issue of the government's planned emissions trading legislation, commenting that "We need to hear other ideas on greenhouse gas reduction". Talk about missing the point! For the pressing issue that we need to deal with is the hard reality of natural climate change, rather than wasting money on futile attempts to "stop" speculative human-caused warming.

If ever we needed a reminder regarding the power and danger of natural climatic events, then Mother Nature has just provided us with two. The northern half of Australia has been submerged under floods, and large areas of the southeastern corner of our continent have been ravaged by firestorms. These events resulted from unpredictable natural events such as our planet has ever been heir to.

Just as the "science" that is cited in favour of dangerous human warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions shows all the hallmarks of orchestrated propaganda, so too the real science shows beyond doubt that the wide array of extreme natural events - which include climatic warming trends, cooling trends, step-events, heat waves, droughts, cyclones, floods and snowstorms - poses great dangers for humanity.

"Greenhouse gas reduction", by any means, is an irrelevancy, for it deals only with the speculative problem of as-yet-unmeasured human-caused global warming, and that at a time when the globe has been cooling for ten years. In contrast, a national climate policy that better improves our ability to recognize and adapt to real (i.e., natural) climate change and events is an urgent necessity, and would cost but a fraction of the mooted carbon dioxide taxation scheme, a non-solution to a non-problem if ever there was one.

By their very nature, strategies that can cope with the dangers and vagaries of natural climate change will readily cope with human-caused change too, should it ever manifest itself.

Australia needs adaptive policies to deal with real climate change in place of the government's expensive, inefficient and ineffective plans to "prevent" an entirely hypothetical global warming. Why is it so difficult for our major political parties to discern this obvious truth?



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