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Brett Murray
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Although some of the statistics from this article are staggering, I still do not think that people fully understand the magnitude of the implications and consequences that are associated with such staggering statistics. For example, the fact that 90% of all predatory (big) fish have been killed represents a serious threat to the availability of future fisheries. This 90% of large fish is not a statistic that can be suddenly fixed by starting to protect these species. The diverse and abundant range of species resulted from ecological and biological processes over the course of millions and millions of years, so the remaining 90% reduction in total population represents an example of a population bottleneck (when a population's size is reduced for more than one generation). The following quote describes the substantial implications of population bottlenecks: "Reduced genetic variation means that the population may not be able to adapt to new selection pressures, such as climatic change or a shift in available resources, because the genetic variation that selection would act on may have already drifted out of the population" ( In essence, these fisheries will only become even more susceptible to abrupt environmental and climatic changes. I had never heard of trawling practices until this article, which seems ridiculous that such practices are still being employed today. Ultimately, I really enjoyed this article because it discusses a few of the complexities that very few people seem to be aware of at this point in time. I am also interested in learning more about the topic of ocean acidification. I have read about this topic before but was not aware that it was such a pressing issue. The overall theme of this article is that there has to be a push to raise social and political awareness on the serious threats to our global fisheries before it is too late. Irreparable damage has already occured, so it is time that we start confronting these challenges as opposed to delaying efforts to protect and restore global fisheries to a sustainable level.
This was a rather intriguing and encouraging article to see that we are taking steps of encouraging the development and awareness of issues related to environmental justice in the U.S. This is an extremely abstract concept to discuss in any setting (especially a political setting) because many environmental issues cannot be directly attributed to one person or event that is responsible for damages. Instead, environmental justice is typically talked about in scenarios where the responsibility of environmental degradation is distributed amongst such a large number of individuals. Furthermore, it has proven to be extremely difficult under current laws and regulations to develop a strong case that provides indisputable evidence for damages caused from environmental contamination. As described in comments above, another one of the major issues associated with environmental justice is the fact that most cases of environmental degradation occur in areas with high % of low income families and minority groups. These groups are not formally educated in issues related to environmental health, so many of these people are fully unaware of the harm that is being done to them. In the effort to give you an example, my capstone focuses on developing a new strategy for the Georgia Power Company (an electric utility company). In a recent report, two of the Georgia Power's coal-fired plants (which actually are the two biggest carbon dioxide emitters in the nation) account for 130 and 120 premature deaths annually due to the effects of fine particulate matter alone. The biggest problem with this scenario is that the citizens of Georgia are completely unaware of the harm that their electric utility provider is doing to them, which brings me to my final point. The biggest barrier that is hampering the U.S. from enhancing the degree of environmental justice in our country is lack of awareness and education on environmental science and the issues associated with environmental degradation and contamination.
For more on President Obama's renewed commitment towards addressing climate change climate change, NY Times recently released an article that discussed three of his new cabinet nominations; cabinet heads of budget, energy, and EPA. There are some interesting perceptions associated with each of these hirings, particularly focusing on the negative perception of these nominations from right-wing/conservatives in congress. ( I think the biggest take away from this article is the substantial lag and inefficiency that is inherent in our current political system. Currently, there is no longer scientific debate about the reality and risks that are associated with climate change. The only challenge is proving that there is NO DEBATE among scientists to society and policy makers. ( The conservative shift in perception from cap-and-trade to "cap-and-tax" rhetoric could honestly be used against debate amongst republicans. This is largely due to the fact that cap-and-trade policies are by no means the most effective policies in terms of reducing emissions and reducing total abatement cost. A carbon tax or fossil-power tax are much better alternatives because they involve economic incentives, which will encourage companies to invest in alternative energy sources and drive innovation in the Alternative Energy market. In Lovins's new book "Reinventing Fire," he highlights the present value cost of 4 different energy scenarios (1 being business as usual and 4 being transforming to renewable energy technologies for the majority of electricity productions... with two moderate scenarios that fall in between these). After looking at some of the findings in the link below from a book review, it is clear that there are no longer technological or economic barriers to climate change, but rather it simply a lack of societal and political will. In particular, look at the graphs describing: The value of U.S. energy savings by switching to renewable (solar and wind) and natural gas Actual cost of U.S. Oil dependence & Present value cost of each of the 4 scenarios. Trust me, the results from the Rocky Mountain Institute will be very surprising to most. (
Toggle Commented Mar 12, 2013 on Another Political Football at Jolly Green General
The ultimate shift from coal to natural gas in the electric utility industry seems to be increasingly inevitable. In a Black and Veatch survey of various electric utility providers, there was a sharp decline in respondents answering "yes" to there being a future for coal in the U.S. (81% in 2011 declined to 58% in 2012 alone), and this current trend of digressing from coal as a primary fuel source is only expected to continue. As a result of the sharp decline in the price of natural gas from $13 in 2008 to current prices of less than $2 per MMBtu, the only factors limiting this industry's switch to natural gas have been the uncertainty surrounding future policies as well as the extremely low price of natural gas. Therefore, in order to increase the demand for natural gas, a direct price on carbon could lead to a substantial increase in demand, which would then be followed by the rapid expansion and development of the necessary plants and infrastructure to support this conversion. In other words, if natural gas has proven unsuccessful in displacing coal as the primary source for electricity production in the U.S., then perhaps it is time for environmental and natural gas advocates to join forces in order to effectively foster the transformation of the industry from coal to natural gas and other renewable alternatives. Evidence shows that solar-combined natural gas combustion cycles are more cost-effective and efficient than stand alone PVCs and solar thermal technologies. As inertia continues to build in the global economic system, immediate action will be necessary if we are going to successfully meet the energy demands of the future without doubling the CO2 levels that existed prior to the industrial revolution. As the majority of growth in energy demanded will occur in developing nations, it is vital for the developed countries (especially the U.S. who is largely responsible for climate change) to lead the global economy to a low-carbon future and protect the rights of future generations to exist and prosper on this earth.
It is clear that precautionary action needs to be taken in order to reduce black carbon emissions due to its adverse effects on both health and climate change. Although black carbon is an emerging topic of research that is just becoming explored, there are multiple sources of evidence that already link black carbon (soot) and particulate matter to adverse health effects caused by the combustion of coal and diesel fuels, which I only expect further studies to validate even further. In addition, the new estimate of black carbon's heat-trapping power is more than double than the previous estimates. As this topic is researched in greater depth, the potential consequences of these new estimates from this study could prove to be substantially better or worse than the effects discussed in this article. Thus, it seems like we should be taking precautionary measures until we better understand the effects of black carbon rather than continuing with business as usual (which is of course what we are and will continue doing). Ultimately, significant action to reduce soot and particulate matter emissions will hinge on the development of new policies. For example, despite many of the adverse consequences associated with the combustion of coal, many power companies continue to rely heavily on coal as one of their primary fuel sources for electricity generation. This is a cheap fuel sources that is linked to significant capital investments in facilities and equipment. Thus, these companies will not start using alternative fuel sources, such natural gas and renewable energies, until government policy offers some sort of incentive or reason to be more concerned with their black carbon emissions. These alternative fuel sources are substantially "cleaner" (& cheaper with natural gas) in comparison to coal combustion, yet companies will maintain their dependence on coal due to the lack of effective policy that aimed at mitigating the effects climate change.
Toggle Commented Feb 11, 2013 on Worse than we thought.... at Jolly Green General
The U.S. is clearly lagging behind the rest of the developed world in terms of commitment and taking action to combat climate change and rapidly increasing carbon emissions. Some argue that we simply cannot enact a law that limits carbon emissions in the U.S. because of the adverse economic consequences that such a tax would have on American citizens. However, I argue that this is not necessarily such a valid argument to make considering who is responsible for the majority of emissions in the U.S. The energy industry and major business sector have been shown to contribute to more than 80% of carbon emissions in the U.S., so it is absolutely essential that these businesses start having some sort of incentive or reason to start being more concerned and aware of their emissions. This tax is not necessarily going to harm all companies, and the companies who have been operating with greater environmental and social responsibility would be the ones who could benefit if such a tax were implemented. Furthermore, if U.S. citizens are so extremely concerned with the economic consequences of a carbon tax, would they still be so opposed to a carbon tax if the labor tax (income tax) were simultaneously reduced to offset the new tax on carbon. I believe that many Americans would support such a proposal because it makes more sense to put a tax on something that harms society as opposed to taxing individual’s hard work. I am by no means arguing that this is a simple issue and that debating a carbon tax is unjustified because this is simply not the case. I am however stating that it is time for our country to accept responsibility for our actions and emissions and start working together to develop an effective solution that contributes to economic growth and reductions in carbon emissions. It is absolutely essential for our government to establish consequences for carbon emissions in the business sector because it clear that no company is going to invest in renewable energy or reduce their emissions if there is no financial justification. Moral suasion has clearly shown to be insufficient in encouraging businesses to operate with greater environmental and social responsibility.
Although Nate Silver discusses Obama’s specificity when regarding the global climate change crisis, I still wish that Nate provided a specific reference to President Obama’s paragraph that he devoted to raising concern for global climate change and energy related policies. What exactly did President Obama say about the urgent need for policies to help reduce our country’s carbon emission before we continue to rapidly increase our carbon emissions? Did he use specific references to our country’s current and estimated future carbon and GHG emissions? Did Obama explain that if our country does not enact legislation soon to help encourage the reduction of our emissions, then the country’s overall emissions could rise to levels that far exceed the U.N.’s goals for carbon emissions and that would make it much more costly to bring our emission levels back to the U.N. standards? My point is that the author describes Obama’s specific goals related to the U.S.’s need for policies to address issues related to climate change and energy production, yet he provides no example of Obama making a specific reference. Furthermore, in regards to the surveys that includes in this article, I felt that these surveys could have been made much more precise and informative. For example, the author states, “78 percent of respondents said they believed the planet had warmed over the past 100 years, and 49 percent said they thought global warming would be a “very serious” problem for the United States if left unaddressed.” This question could have been improved by including the assumption that “anthropogenic causes” are responsible for the warming of the planet over the past 100 years. I feel that many people have accepted global warming as a scientific truth, which definitely highlights a sign of progress in recent years. Although, I bet that a significant portion of this 78% (perhaps around 20-35%) would claim that global warming has not occurred over the past 100 years due to human activities, which makes this survey statistic significant for a different reason than the author provided. It is this 20-30% of the population that continues to remain undecided and wavering between the sides of serious government intervention and minimal government intervention in order to alleviate some of the effects of climate change. Some of the other statistics definitely are positive signs of progress as most Americans accept the need for action to combat the serious effects of climate change. Again, I am not sure how much useful information some of these surveys provide because in my experience it has been shown that most people are not sure what they think about the issue of climate change. During my semester abroad in Australia, I was able to attend a teleconference where a scientist recently conducted a study that focused on identifying how the public perceives climate change. The results of the study showed that a large majority of citizens do not have a strong, unwavering opinion on the global climate change crisis. For example, respondents in the study might respond with a particular answer on one question, and then respond completely differently to almost the same question that had been asked earlier with minor changes to the wording of the sentence. The ultimate conclusion of the report is that people are not confident with their opinions regarding climate change, and in many cases, respondents were shown to change their answers/opinions on particular topics multiple times throughout the course of the survey. Despite some of the signs of progress identified in this article, I do not think that this article focuses or provides any new information or ideas that I would deem as groundbreaking by an means. He seems to simply state some facts/statistics, and then arranges these results to support his original claim that Obama is stepping up the government’s commitment to climate change and other energy related policies.
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