Environment and Energy
Do Republicans have to go green to have any prayer of winning a statewide race in California? For awhile, it sure looked that way. Back in 2006, Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to revive his gasping campaign by reinventing himself as an environmentalist. He scampered around the state in a lime-colored bus with a Yosemite National Park vista spray-painted on the side, scissored his way through all manners of ribbons on solar-paneled schools and the like, and signed A.B. 32, a bill that aimed to cut California's carbon-dioxide emissions 25 percent by 2020. He coasted to re-election that fall.
Looks like this week's climate banter wasn't totally substance-free. Earlier today, G20 governments finally agreed to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels, which jack up demand for oil, gas, and coal by artificially lowering prices. The phase-out would happen in the "medium term," with no specific timetables (countries like India want a slow transition so poor people don't get hit with a swift price spike). Still, it's a decent first step.
So you know those large sickle-shaped claws Velociraptors have on their hindfeet? Of course, everyone does. Well, once upon a time paleontologists thought the claws were used to disembowel the raptors' prey—certainly that was the working theory in Jurassic Park. But now a new study by Phil Manning of the University of Manchester has found that, sadly, no, the Velociraptor's claws simply weren't sharp enough to tear rip open dinosaur flesh.
The other day, Tyler Cowen flagged this jaw-dropping sentence from James Workman's new book, The Heart of Dryness: For every newly converted vegetarian, four poor humans start earning enough money to put beef on the table. In the past three decades, the earth's dominant carnivores have tripled our average per capita consumption; in the next four decades global meat production will double to 465 million tons. The trend itself isn't a shock—countries have always started consuming more meat as they get richer—but the sheer scale and the environmental implications are staggering.
Earlier today in the Senate, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski was planning to introduce an amendment that would've blocked (at least for a year) the EPA's authority to craft its own carbon regulations—even in the absence of a climate bill. But, in the end, she backed down, and the amendment never came up for a vote. So what happened? Lisa Jackson and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers both sent frantic letters pointing out that Murkowski's bill would prevent the agency from finishing up its new fuel-economy rules for vehicles.
Here's the most contrarian thing you'll read all day: Chris Packham, a BBC wildlife expert, suggests that giant pandas should be allowed to shuffle off their adorable mortal coil and go extinct. Seriously. After all, he argues, we're spending millions of dollars trying to persuade them to breed in captivity, but the stark reality is that pandas aren't a hardy species—they've "gone down an evolutionary cul-de-sac"—and perhaps those millions would be better spent on other, less futile, conservation projects. Well, that's wretched, although there are maybe a few grains of validity here.
There's been a lot of climate-related gabbing at the U.N. today, and Neil MacFarquhar has a handy rundown in the Times. One of the few dribbles of quasi-news, it seems, was that Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged to curb the growth of China's carbon-dioxide emissions by a "notable margin" by 2020. (His speech is here.) What, pray tell, would that entail? Sadly, Hu didn't fire up a PowerPoint presentation—no exploded pie charts, no hard numbers—and he didn't even say if those "notable" targets would be legally binding.
In other big U.N. news, Barack Obama gave a lofty climate speech today that was... well, mostly barren of specifics. Let's see: Global warming's a real crisis, it's a generational challenge, our security and prosperity's in jeopardy, the House passed a climate bill, it'd be swell if the Senate did too (he didn't exactly tighten the vise on the dawdling Senate)... All the usual fare. Except for one little newsy bit. Obama also said he'd "work with my colleagues at the G20 to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies." Now there's a concept!
For the last 15 years, the Burmese python has been the biggest, most ruthless snake in South Florida. The python's not exactly native to the region—it's an invasive species, imported from abroad, gradually introduced into the wild after hurricanes start ripping apart the state's many "exotic species" shops, or after various python-owners grew weary of their 200-pound pets and set them free. So the pythons have now made the Everglades their home, and are wreaking all sorts of python havoc, chowing down on local wildlife and endangered species like the Key Largo wood rat.
Score one more for the corporate responsibility crowd: Pacific Gas & Electric has up and left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, citing “irreconcilable differences” with the business lobby’s climate policy. In its reasoned explanation, PG&E referred to some of the other recent principled stands that Duke Energy and Alstom have made in quitting the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy. Other companies, like Nike and Johnson & Johnson, have taken the Chamber to task for its regressive stance.