Last Friday, Harry Reid sent a letter to various Senate committee chairmen telling them he wanted to get an energy bill rolling in July. BP's poisoning of the Gulf has apparently made energy reform look a lot more palatable than it did a few months ago. But Reid's letter was blurry on the details: He never said whether he wanted legislation that capped carbon emissions. An "energy bill," after all, could mean anything from the big Kerry-Lieberman climate bill to a scaled-down bill that just cracked down on oil companies and maybe added some funds for alternative energy sources.
One of the (many) worries about global warming is that low-lying island nations in the Pacific Ocean will get swallowed up by rising sea levels. Last fall, government officials from Maldives put on scuba gear and staged an underwater cabinet meeting as a sort of awareness-raising publicity stunt. And from everything we know, these island nations are going to have a rough time in a warmer world.
Even though I write about environmental issues a fair bit, I don't care much for nature, personally. Never go on strolls through the woods or hikes through the hills. The snippet of green space inside D.C. traffic circles is about as much as I can handle. But maybe that's a bad approach. According to a new series of studies, communing with nature has a whole heap of beneficial effects: Being outside in nature makes people feel more alive, finds a series of studies published in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology.
Thanks to the fiasco in the Gulf, there have been more and more discussions lately about how the United States can start weaning itself off oil, and both Craig Severance and the Center for American Progress have some useful, concrete suggestions on this score. One big-picture thing that's worth pointing out, though, is that our crude dependency isn't just a question of our love affair with gas-guzzling SUVs.
The Gulf hardly needs further battering, but this week is the beginning of hurricane season in the Atlantic, and NOAA is forecasting that this could be an especially intense year (that's partly because El Niño, which tends to suppress Atlantic hurricanes, appears to be dying down). So what does that mean for the oil spill? This NOAA fact sheet lays out a few predictions. On the bright side, the high winds and waves can help stir up the oil in the ocean and speed along the biodegradation process. That helps.
Dunhuang, China—Is there more to China's low-carbon efforts than renewable power? Well, yes, of course. A lot more. Yet that's all people here ever seem to want to talk about. Maybe that shouldn't come as a shock: The country gets a ton of warm, fuzzy press for its enormous new wind and solar farms, and it's true that the scale of construction out deserves an impressed whistle or two.
In his big press conference Thursday on the ongoing Gulf disaster, Obama finally decided to put the oil spill in the context of broader energy reform and spent a few brief seconds asking the Senate to pass climate legislation. It wasn't the most rousing plea ever, but at least it's a start. Still, as Dave Roberts points out in this post, a big climate bill isn't the only way for the United States to start curbing its oil use.
One of the odder things I've heard in China is that a good number of people see North Korea as a prime tourism destination. I didn't really believe it until reading Jon Cannon's piece in the London Review of Books about Dandong, a city that straddles the border between the two countries: A lot of Chinese tourists visit Dandong simply ‘because it’s there’. It is the only major city in China actually situated on one of the country’s external borders, and the view into another country is an attraction in itself.
Out in Dunhuang in western China, it's still fairly bright out at 10 o'clock at night, thanks to the fact that there's only one time zone in the entire country—everyone is synched to Beijing time. No one I've talked to here seems to mind; freakishly late sunsets are just a fact of life. (The one exception is in the autonomous Xinjiang region in the far west, where people wake up for work two hours later.) And when I try to explain the logic behind multiple time zones, I realize I have no real idea why, say, the U.S.
Jiayuguan, China—My first question to the mayor, naturally, is about the porpoise. On the outskirts of Jiayuguan, an industrial city of about 300,000 smack in the middle of the Gobi Desert, there's a 15-story-tall steel dolphin, standing erect, balancing a giant ball on its nose. After dusk, the structure is set ablaze in bright neon, its flashing flippers visible from miles away. "That's not a, uh, native species around these parts, is it?" Nope.