The Washington Post is reporting that the “Dead Zone” in the northern Gulf of Mexico is at a near record size of 8,000 square miles. The “dead zone” is the product of hypoxia–a depletion of oxygen in the water, which is necessary for marine life.
The phenomena occurs as a result of nitrogens used for fertilizers in industrial agriculture running off into the Mississippi River and its tributaries, becoming concentrated as the river empties into the gulf. The expanding hypoxia zone kills off fish and wreaks havoc on local economies dependent on healthy fisheries.
The fact that the hypoxia zone is expanding should be a national scandal as it is a product of wholesale pollution stemming from the lack of any effective environmental regulatory regime for industrial agriculture. As climate change brings about higher temperatures, the phenomenon is likely going to get worse [.pdf].
I haven’t heard either presidential candidate offer a solution to this expanding national disaster, but it was a positive development yesterday when the Bush Administration’s Agriculture Department took an uncharacteristically rational position by refusing to allow farmland uncultivated for conservation purposes to be brought into production.
As concerns about peak oil prompt new interest in electric vehicles, the Guardian reports on a potentially problematic aspect should this trend continue to grow: limited supplies of lithium. Lithium is the primary component of Li-ion batteries that are used in a variety of portable technologies, including electric cars.
According to the article, there is little consensus on the amount of lithium reserves on the planet (check the debate at EvWorld for more background). However, it is a limited resource and this fact alone should be taken into account by policymakers as shifts from fossil fuels are pursued.
On the heels of Paris’ successful bike-sharing program, Vélib, the city is proposing a variant using cars: Autolib.
Details have yet to be worked out–particularly with regard to financing–but the idea is similar to Vélib. Users would “check out” a car from one station and drive it to their destination across town and deposit it at another station, paying only for the time that they were using the vehicle.
Here in Chicago, we have a couple of pretty successful car sharing schemes, the non-profit I-Go and the for-profit, Zip Car. However, both of these programs require the user to deposit the car at the originating location. I can certainly see the advantage of the Autolib scheme–you don’t have to pay for the vehicle when it is sitting idle.
Of course, it could also result in higher levels of use (and more traffic) as it could theoretically allow more efficient use of a single car.
In Sunday’s New York Times, Princeton economist Alan S. Blinder, wrote a column advocating for a federal “Cash for Clunkers” environmental/economic stimulus law.
Perhaps because my car is 18 years old and has logged 204,000 miles, I found his proposal intriguing. Given the fact that older model cars are significant contributors to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, the cash for clunkers program would give owners of old cars a cash payment of 20% over the Blue Book value to get them off the road.
Blinder also proposes that an income cap on eligibility be established to limit costs and insure that low-income people (who likely drive older cars anyway) can take full advantage of the subsidy. People could use the money for whatever they want. In many cases, one would expect, another, newer car would be purchased injecting cash into the economy and resulting in an aggregate decrease in harmful emissions.
This is not a new idea. Canada is initiating a similar program, beginning in January 2009 and Texas already has a program giving a $3,500 rebate for a new car for eligible trade-ins.
It’s too easy to poke fun at third parties in American politics. Given the institutional and cultural biases for our current two-party system, it is enticing to toss off parties such as the Greens and Libertarians as well-meaning cranks, rather than groups of people committed to important agendas that are ignored by the major parties.
That said, I am not sure if the Greens did themselves any good by nominating Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente as their presidential ticket. This morning, Democracy Now, interviewed the two candidates and they did little to impress. Aside from Clemente’s McCain-like equation of Iran and Iraq–she called for an “immediate withdrawl from Iran” of US troops–the most revealing aspect of the McKinney/Clemente ticket is a lack of concern for environmental issues.
One would think that a Green Party candidate might have something to say about climate change, for instance. Nothing was mentioned. Water quality, conservation and allocation? Nothing. Worker and consumer safety from environmentally destructive products and practices? Nothing.
It would be a lot easier to take the Greens seriously if they actually focused on core environmental issues. They could also have more impact in the larger policy debate with this approach. Nominating less-than-serious candidates like McKinney does little to help their cause.
The BBC has an insightful report on how climate change is effecting the community of Cherrapunjee, India. Located in the northeastern part of the country on the border with Bangladesh, Cherrapunjee has consistently been one of the world’s wettest places.
The report discusses both how annual levels of rainfall have been declining in Cherrapunjee as well as the seasonal shifts in the rain that they are getting. These shifts cause havoc on agricultural production and contribute to deforestation as inhabitants try to survive in the context of decreasing agricultural productivity. Of course, more deforestation makes matters worse for greenhouse gas buildup as well as soil fertility.
These types of stories are getting played out throughout the globe as communities adapt to drastically changing climate conditions.
The US House Select Committee on Global Warming released its report [.pdf] on Friday looking into the Bush Administration’s response to the Massachusetts vs. EPA Supreme Court decision which required the EPA to consider regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
Much of the report is based on the sworn testimony of James Burnett–an ex-Deputy Administrator at the EPA. According to the report, there was agreement on the need to regulate greenhouse gas emissions amongst the professional staff of the EPA and the cabinet heads of relevant federal agencies (e.g. Transportation, Energy, Commerce, Treasury, etc).
The EPA did consult with industry and encountered opposition from Exxon Mobil and the industry lobbying group, Edison Electric Institute, regarding regulation. These energy industry officials suggested that the administration refrain from issuing any regulations.
The congressional report asserts that Cheney’s energy advisor, Chase Hutto III [resume .pdf], pushed the industry line within the White House and, inexplicably, the EPA and cabinet officials reversed their support for GHG regulation.
The report has gotten little notice in the media, except for the Wall Street Journal and a blog post at the LA Times.
With the bursting of the housing bubble, high petrol prices, and increasing food prices, the Financial Times reports on exurban land being sold to farmers for agricultural purposes.
One byproduct of the housing bubble was speculative acquisition of agricultural land on the exurban fringe by developers with the plan to build residential or commercial properties on the former farmland.
With a shift in economic fortunes, the FT discusses how developers are actually selling this reserve land back to farmers, resulting in a sort of “reverse sprawl.” Does this presage an agricultural reclamation of suburbia?
When regulatory agencies determine the parameters for a new rule or regulation to insure public safety, cost-benefit analysis is performed.
Abiding by rules requires costs to be incurred by private entities. The federal government takes into account what the costs might be and weighs those against the benefits accrued to the public by regulation.
The cost-benefit analysis involves making esitmates that are based on particular assumptions. In the case of the Environmental Protection Agency, they regulate harmful pollutants and make determinations on the economic benefits accompanying regulations insuring particular levels of health and safety.
Compounds such as smog-forming ozone and particulate matter are byproducts of industrial processes, yet too much of them in the atmosphere can result in premature deaths. Accordingly, the EPA places a literal value on the lives that could be saved based on levels of restrictiveness of regulations.
The Washington Post reports that the EPA has decreased its estimate for a life’s worth to $7.22 million from $8.04 million. The effect of this change will be a loosening of regulations on pollution while the administration can still make dubious claims about protecting public safety.
Ontario Premier, Dalton McGuinty, announced today that Ontario would join a regional effort with 7 US states (CA, MT, WA, OR, UT, AZ & NM) and 3 Canadian provinces (MB, BC & QC) to establish a cap and trade scheme to reduce carbon emissions to 15% below 2005 levels by 2020.
The Western Climate Initiative was launched last year by the governors of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington to coordinate efforts to minimize carbon emissions as a result of inaction at the federal level.
Similar inaction at the Canadian federal level resulted in the various provinces joining the WCI. With Ontario’s participation, over 70% of Canada’s population will be covered by a cap and trade scheme.
Negotiations between the WCI partners have been ongoing about how the system will operate and details about the scheme should be released in a matter of weeks.