Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Early Spring

Find yourself sneezing from seasonal allergies earlier than expected this year? That's because spring is coming earlier and earlier thanks to global warming, according to this AP story (read excerpt below.)
Pollen is bursting. Critters are stirring. Buds are swelling. Biologists are worrying.
"The alarm clock that all the plants and animals are listening to is running too fast," Stanford University biologist Terry Root said.
Blame global warming.
The fingerprints of man-made climate change are evident in seasonal timing changes for thousands of species on Earth, according to dozens of studies and last year's authoritative report by the Nobel Prize-winning international climate scientists. More than 30 scientists told The Associated Press how global warming is affecting plants and animals at springtime across the country, in nearly every state.
What's happening is so noticeable that scientists can track it from space. Satellites measuring when land turns green found that spring "green-up" is arriving eight hours earlier every year on average since 1982 north of the Mason-Dixon line. In much of Florida and southern Texas and Louisiana, the satellites show spring coming a tad later, and bizarrely, in a complicated way, global warming can explain that too, the scientists said.
Biological timing is called phenology. Biological spring, which this year begins at 1:48 a.m. EDT Thursday, is based on the tilt of the Earth as it circles the sun. The federal government and some university scientists are so alarmed by the changes that last fall they created a National Phenology Network at the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor these changes.
The idea, said biologist and network director Jake Weltzin, is "to better understand the changes, and more important what do they mean? How does it affect humankind?"
There are winners, losers and lots of unknowns when global warming messes with natural timing. People may appreciate the smaller heating bills from shorter winters, the longer growing season and maybe even better tasting wines from some early grape harvests. But biologists also foresee big problems.
The changes could push some species to extinction. That's because certain plants and animals are dependent on each other for food and shelter. If the plants bloom or bear fruit before animals return or surface from hibernation, the critters could starve. Also, plants that bud too early can still be whacked by a late freeze.
The young of tree swallows — which in upstate New York are laying eggs nine days earlier than in the 1960s — often starve in those last gasp cold snaps because insects stop flying in the cold, ornithologists said. University of Maryland biology professor David Inouye noticed an unusually early February robin in his neighborhood this year and noted, "Sometimes the early bird is the one that's killed by the winter storm."
The checkerspot butterfly disappeared from Stanford's Jasper Ridge preserve because shifts in rainfall patterns changed the timing of plants on which it develops. When the plant dries out too early, the caterpillars die, said Notre Dame biology professor Jessica Hellmann.
"It's an early warning sign in that it's an additional onslaught that a lot of our threatened species can't handle," Hellmann said.
It's not easy on some people either. A controlled federal field study shows that warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide cause earlier, longer and stronger allergy seasons.

Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 26 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at out the National IPL Blog.
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Hillary Clinton on Mountaintop Removal

Hillary Clinton answered a question about mountaintop removal coal mining, a method that environmentalists have been trying to halt for years. This post in Dailykos provides context to her remarks, which appear below:

I am concerned about it for all the reasons people state, but I think its a difficult question because of the conflict between the economic and environmental trade-off that you have here.
I'm not an expert. I don't know enough to have an independent opinion, but I sure would like people who could be objective, understanding both the economic necessities and environmental damage to come up with some approach that would enable us to retrieve the coal but would enable us to do it in a way that wouldn't damage the living standards and the other important qualities associated with people living both under the mountaintop and people who are along the streams.
You know, maybe there is a way to recover those mountaintops once they have been stripped of the coal. You know, I think we've got to look at this from a practical perspective.

Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 26 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at out the National IPL Blog.
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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

IREJN (Connecticut IPL) in the news

The Eco-Justice blogger herself is quoted in this article that appeared in the Sunday Republican-American. Read the story below:
Palm Sunday goes green
Today innumerable churchgoers will attend Mass and tenderly clasp a green, symbolic palm leaf. Priests will bless them. Parishioners will fold or cut them into crucifixes, pin them to their lapels or display them at home to remind them of Jesus' humble entry into Jerusalem.Each year, about 300 million palm fronds are harvested and sold to U.S. churches for Palm Sunday, according to Lutheran World Relief. For decades, indigenous farmers in northern Guatemala and southern Mexico gathered as many of the palms as they could — the rotting ones, the torn ones, the baby ones — the ones that can't be used and had to be thrown out.This type of harvest produces a waste ratio as high as 50 percent, according to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A."They would just cut everything down and bring them in, then the people who buy them look through them and throw them (the bad ones) away," said the Rev. Denise Clapsaddle of Riverton Congregational Church. "Now the people harvesting do the quality control and that's how they've cut out the middle man."With this new harvesting method, discarded palms account for 5 to 7 percent and allow more money to go to the harvesters and their community, she explained."It's both a justice issue for the people who harvest palm and an environmental issue for more sustainable agriculture so the land isn't destroyed. It's more efficient to do it this way," she said.Clapsaddle, who also serves as an administrator for the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network (an interfaith environmental group) and blogs about religious environmentalism, said the use of eco-palms is becoming a more prevalent custom.In 2007, 1,436 churches in America used 364,000 eco-palm stems. According to the New York Times, Lutheran churches are the biggest buyers of eco-palms, followed by the Presbyterian Church.The eco-palms, Clapsaddle noted, do cost more than regular palms."That's the only disadvantage for a church that's really tight on funds," she said. "It's a long-term verses short-term argument ... but if we destroy the habitat, the price of palms go up for everybody."Lutheran World Relief has partnered with the University of Minnesota to sell eco-palms and is taking orders for 2009. A small case, 200 stems, can be purchased for $47.40 plus shipping. According to Biblical Reporter News, eco-palms cost more than double regular palms.Many churches recycle the palms by burning them for the following year's Ash Wednesday service. Riverton Congregational uses the palms as decoration after the Palm Sunday service. They also rent potted palms as decoration during Holy Week, a practice that Clapsaddle said is not uncommon.The Congregational churches, Clapsaddle said, have not jumped on the eco-palm board as quickly as other denominations, but she said she hopes to have eco-palms in her church by next year."It's not just one thing that's going to help us preserve the environment for the next generations; it's lots of little steps, so any steps people are willing to take that gets people in the congregation to care, is a good thing," she said.She said churches seem to be excited knowing that purchasing eco-palms helps not only the environment, but people as well."They're helping people right now by doing this," she said.
Eco-palms can be purchased through Lutheran World Relief
(phone) 612-624-7418
(fax) 612-625-5212
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 26 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at
Check out the National IPL Blog.
Find discounts on energy saving products at

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dems on Global Cooling

In an article in Salon, an energy expert gives a favorable review to plans Clinton and Obama have put forward for dealing with climate and energy issues, and speculates on how their leadership styles might play out on the issue. The article is short on definitive conclusions, but heartening to those who hope a Democratic administration might bring significant change on the issue. Read an excerpt below:
The gravest threat to the American way of life is posed by unrestricted greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Global warming threatens to put the Southwest into a permanent drought, raise sea levels by 6 or more inches a decade, generate hundreds of millions of environmental refugees at home and abroad, wipe out half the planet's species, and increase average temperatures in the nation's interior 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit. And these impacts would likely get steadily worse for hundreds of years or longer.
No enemy, foreign or domestic, poses a threat to us that is so devastating, so irreversible. Top climate scientists tell us the threat might be all but unstoppable if the nation and the world don't take serious steps over the next decade to restrict GHG emissions. For all the urgent crises the next president has to deal with in the middle of the night, the most important calls he or she will have to make concern how to stop global warming.
We've seen that a President McCain is not likely to be the leader this country and the world need to maintain the planet's livability for our children and the next 50 generations. What about a President Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? Both would be a giant step forward. Unlike McCain, they have both put out detailed and comprehensive plans. (Obama's is here. Clinton's is here.) Although you wouldn't know it from the media coverage, these plans are more important to the long-term health and well-being of future generations than the candidates' healthcare or Iraq plans.

Before I look in depth at them, the first thing to make clear is that no president, not even a modern-day Lincoln or FDR, could possibly stop global warming even by their second term. The increase in concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases is primarily what determines how much humans will increase the planet's temperature. To stop concentrations from rising further, the entire planet will have to reduce total annual emissions at least 60 percent or more from current levels, including carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels. Absent a World War II-type mobilization, that kind of dramatic change in the planet's energy system will take a few decades.
Even when concentrations stop rising, global temperatures will continue to increase for many decades because it takes a long time for the planet's temperature to come into equilibrium with any new level of GHG concentrations. Ultimately, by 2100, we will probably need net human GHG emissions to be close to zero, if not negative, to avert catastrophe. We can't stop global warming in the next decade.
Humanity's great challenge is to stop the warming before we cross key thresholds or tipping points, in which amplifying feedbacks in the carbon cycle start to seriously kick in and overwhelm human efforts to reduce emissions. A typical feedback would be the melting of the permafrost or tundra, which currently has locked away some 1,000 gigatons of carbon -- more carbon than the atmosphere is holding today.
If the permafrost stops being perma, that would release tens of billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere, much of it in the form of methane -- a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. That, in turn, would speed the temperature increase and the thaw of additional permafrost. In short, passing such a tipping point would set the planet on an all-but-unstoppable path to high concentrations of GHGs, destroying the planet's livability for centuries if not millennia, according to the latest research.
So we must sharply reduce emissions even as the population keeps growing, and do it in a way that increases, rather than hinders, economic development, particularly in undeveloped nations already wracked by poverty, disease, dirty water, hunger and other scourges.
This necessitates deploying all existing or near-term clean energy technologies today as rapidly as possibly, while shutting down or capturing the emissions of at least half of the dirty technologies. At the same time, we must accelerate the development and introduction of the next generation of clean technologies, which can ultimately take global emissions as low as possible by century's end.
A mandatory GHG control system that establishes a price for carbon dioxide emissions, such as a cap-and-trade system, is necessary. Both Clinton and Obama endorse a cap-and-trade system, requiring an 80 percent reduction in U.S. GHGs by 2050 compared to 1990 levels, much deeper than McCain has so far endorsed and close to what is currently believed necessary for our country and planet. Recently, McCain has also begun waffling about just how "mandatory" his program would be. Voluntary caps don't work and must be rejected.
Yet cap and trade is not enough. The next president has a great many important calls to make:
Appoint judges who will uphold laws to reduce emissions against challenges from the big polluters.
Appoint leaders and staff of key federal agencies who take climate change seriously and believe in the necessary solutions.
Embrace an aggressive and broad-based technology deployment strategy to keep the cost of the cap-and-trade system as low as possible.
Lead a change in utility regulations to encourage, rather than discourage, energy efficiency and clean energy.
Offer strong public advocacy to reverse the years of muzzling and misinformation of the Bush administration.
McCain is unlikely to do any of these five things. Obama and Clinton are likely to do them all. In particular, at least from my perspective as a former Energy Department official, the most important news is that both of them understand the necessity of the technology side.
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 26 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at
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Thursday, March 13, 2008

IREJN (Connecticut IPL) in the News

The This Old House of Worship conservation program is mentioned in this story about the departure of The Rev. Norman McLeod in the (Connecticut) Shore Line Times (excerpt below.) Godspeed, Rev. McLeod!

MacLeod, 60, did a lot of interfaith work in his tenure here, including the formation of the Guilford Interfaith Clergy group in 1997 with Rabbi Howard Sommer.The two clergymen instituted a series of programs on Guilford public television called Guilford Interfaith Conversation. And under his leadership, Christ Church hosted an ecumenical three-hour service every Good Friday, bringing together preachers from different Christian traditions and providing what he describes as "high quality music."Then there is the successful $2,000 grant he obtained from the New England Environment Fund toward the cost of seven area congregations to participate in This Old House of Worship Program."This 15 hour program will teach members of these faith communities, Jewish and Christian, to make their buildings more energy efficient and ecologically responsible," he said.He has been a member of the Committee on the Environment of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut for six years and has been a frequent column contributor on earth issues to Good News, the diocesan newspaper.

Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 26 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at
Check out the National IPL Blog.
Find discounts on energy saving products at

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Our Mother Blog

Thought you might like to check out the National IPL blog. Looks great, doesn't it? Keep up the good work, IPL!
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 26 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at

Find discounts on energy saving products at

Religious Environmentalism Documentary

Renewal, a new documentary about the religious environmental movement, is available for early showings. Click here to visit the website.
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 25 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at discounts on energy saving products at

Northeast Environmental Events for People of Faith

A Retreat at Mercy Center, Madison, CT
April 4-6, 2008
(Limited to 15 participants) What draws us outdoors, calls to us, makes us feel we have a home in the natural world? We will worship together, indoors and out, and glory in the wonder of this pretty blue planet. Botanists, geologists, poets, guitar-players, animal-lovers, strollers, and sitters – all are welcome. Program description and registration form

Woolman Retreats
Click here for a list of retreats at the Woolman Conference Center (maintained by the Society of Friends/Quakers)
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 25 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at
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Common Wealth

The "Book Club" over at Slate is currently discussing Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet by Jeffrey Sachs. The "Book Club" features an ongoing discussion about a particular topic in the format of memos to fellow participants. So far only one memo has been posted; to follow the discussion as it develops over the next several days, scroll to the bottom of a memo and toggle between numbered entries. Here is an excerpt of the first entry, by Martin Wolf:
For more than three decades now, you've been tackling big policy challenges as an adviser to many—the United Nations and countless governments around the world, among others—and in your writings. But never before have you taken on a topic of the scope of Common Wealth. I'm delighted to be able to discuss the book with you over the next couple of days.
Yet, first of all, I want to congratulate you on its scope. It concerns nothing less than the future of the world. It is also a call to arms. In this epoch, for the first time in the history of our planet, one species, ours, is in charge of the planet. We have already learned the need for cooperation within national borders. Now, you argue, "the recognition that we share responsibilities and fates across the social divide will need to be extended internationally so that the world as a whole takes care to ensure sustainable development in all regions."
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 25 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at
Find discounts on energy saving products at

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Green Housing Boom

The housing market overall may have cooled, but the market for green homes is white hot, according to this article in Newsweek (see excerpt below):
Rob Moody didn't set out to be a builder. After graduating from college with a biology major, he began work as an environmental-science teacher in Asheville, N.C. On weekends, though, he spent long hours fixing up the classic shingle-style home his family had owned for nearly a century. Then, after seven years in cinder-block classrooms, he decided to make a change. "My love for old houses fell together with my love for the environment," says Moody, 34, who launched The EcoBuilders to construct environmentally friendly houses. Today Moody's foremen drive pickup trucks that run on used grease from fast-food fryers. And whether he's building new homes or renovating old ones, he insulates them to the hilt, uses sustainable materials and recycles so much debris that he requires only the smallest Dumpsters. Clients love the approach. "We doubled production last year, and we'll probably double again this year," Moody says.
The predominant color in the building industry right now is red, not green. America's housing markets remain in free fall, as the foreclosure crisis continues and more homeowners discover their mortgage debt exceeds the value of their house. Last year the average home builder laid off a quarter of its employees; this year the industry estimates it will sell just 632,000 new homes, its lowest total since 1992. But amid this gloom, there's buzz about consumers' shifting demand toward "green homes"—and how builders with this expertise remain busy despite the bust. In a 2007 survey by the
National Association of Home Builders, home buyers said they'd be willing to spend an additional $8,964 on a home if it could cut their utility bills. Throughout the industry, there's a sense that consumers have finally reached a tipping point. "It's taken almost as a fait accompli, that green building is where the market is headed," says Michelle Moore, senior vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council.
For all the professed consumer interest, though, the average home buyer knows little about green building. That's partly because it's a broad concept with several components. The most obvious attribute is energy efficiency. For some buyers, that means investing big money in fancy geothermal or solar technologies—but more often it simply means being diligent about using good insulation, efficient appliances, superior windows and designing the house to take advantage of the sun. Green houses also conserve water, often by using specialized plumbing fixtures. For some builders, going green also means limiting waste, sometimes by using "panelized," factory-built walls or recycling wood from older homes. Inside, green homes often feature sustainable materials, like countertops made from recycled glass.
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 25 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at
Find discounts on energy saving products at

Monday, March 10, 2008

Thou Shalt Not Polllute?

Polluting has been added to a list of sins maintained by the Vatican, according to an article published by Reuters (see excerpt below):
The guidance came at the weekend when Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the Vatican's number two man in the sometimes murky area of sins and penance, spoke of modern evils.
Asked what he believed were today's "new sins," he told the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that the greatest danger zone for the modern soul was the largely uncharted world of bioethics.
"(Within bioethics) there are areas where we absolutely must denounce some violations of the fundamental rights of human nature through experiments and genetic manipulation whose outcome is difficult to predict and control," he said.
The Vatican opposes stem cell research that involves destruction of embryos and has warned against the prospect of human cloning.
Girotti, in an interview headlined "New Forms of Social Sin," also listed "ecological" offences as modern evils.
In recent months, Pope Benedict has made several strong appeals for the protection of the environment, saying issues such as climate change had become gravely important for the entire human race.
Under Benedict and his predecessor John Paul, the Vatican has become progressively "green".

Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 25 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at

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The End of Fossil Fuels?

According to an article in the Washington Post, fossil fuel emissions must drop near zero by mid-century to prevent catastrophic consequences from global warming (see excerpt below):
The task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures may be far more difficult than previous research suggested, say scientists who have just published studies indicating that it would require the world to cease carbon emissions altogether within a matter of decades.
Their findings, published in separate journals over the past few weeks, suggest that both industrialized and developing nations must wean themselves off fossil fuels by as early as mid-century in order to prevent warming that could change precipitation patterns and dry up sources of water worldwide.
Using advanced computer models to factor in deep-sea warming and other aspects of the carbon cycle that naturally creates and removes carbon dioxide (CO2), the scientists, from countries including the United States,
Canada and Germany, are delivering a simple message: The world must bring carbon emissions down to near zero to keep temperatures from rising further.
"The question is, what if we don't want the Earth to warm anymore?" asked Carnegie Institution senior scientist Ken Caldeira, co-author of a paper published last week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. "The answer implies a much more radical change to our energy system than people are thinking about."
Although many nations have been pledging steps to curb emissions for nearly a decade, the world's output of carbon from human activities totals about 10 billion tons a year and has been steadily rising.
For now, at least, a goal of zero emissions appears well beyond the reach of politicians here and abroad. U.S. leaders are just beginning to grapple with setting any mandatory limit on greenhouse gases. The Senate is poised to vote in June on legislation that would reduce U.S. emissions by 70 percent by 2050; the two Democratic senators running for president,
Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.), back an 80 percent cut. The Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), supports a 60 percent reduction by mid-century.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who is shepherding climate legislation through the Senate as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the new findings "make it clear we must act now to address global warming."
"It won't be easy, given the makeup of the Senate, but the science is compelling," she said. "It is hard for me to see how my colleagues can duck this issue and live with themselves."

Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 25 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at discounts on energy saving products at

Southern Baptists Change on Climate

According to the New York Times, a group of Southern Baptist Leaders have called for action on climate change (see excerpt below):
Signaling a significant departure from the Southern Baptist Convention’s official stance on global warming, 44 Southern Baptist leaders have decided to back a declaration calling for more action on climate change, saying its previous position on the issue was “too timid.”
The largest denomination in the United States after the
Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, with more than 16 million members, is politically and theologically conservative.
Yet its current president, the Rev. Frank Page, signed the initiative, “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change.” Two past presidents of the convention, the Rev. Jack Graham and the Rev. James Merritt, also signed.
“We believe our current denominational engagement with these issues has often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice,” the church leaders wrote in their new declaration.
A 2007 resolution passed by the convention hewed to a more skeptical view of global warming.
In contrast, the new declaration, which will be released Monday, states, “Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed.”
The document also urges ministers to preach more about the environment and for all Baptists to keep an open mind about considering environmental policy.

Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 25 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at
Find discounts on energy saving products at

Thursday, March 6, 2008

John McCain's Environmental Confusion

Where does John McCain stand on environmental issues? The record is confusing, according to this article in The New Republic (excerpt below):
Trying to explain McCain's wildly erratic record on environmental issues is a maddening task. "We never know where he's going to come from," says Debbie Sease, the legislative director of the Sierra Club. "As a general rule, on land and conservation issues ... he tends to be pretty good. But he's a doctrinaire conservative on the role of government in protecting people from pollution." In his early House years, McCain was mentored by Morris Udall, an Arizona Democrat and conservationist. Soon enough, McCain was championing legislation to limit flights over the Grand Canyon and, as a freshman senator in 1990, snarling at senior Republicans to back down on local water issues.
But, when he wasn't safeguarding Arizona scenery, McCain usually held the conservative line, voting to hollow out clean-water and health protections or to expand offshore drilling. He also famously agitated for the construction of a controversial telescope atop Arizona's Mount Graham--which meant the razing of a forest containing an endangered species of red squirrel. When a Forest Service supervisor wanted to halt work on a road into the area, McCain was livid, according to a later investigation, threatening that, "if he did not cooperate on this project, he would be the shortest tenured forest supervisor in the history of the Forest Service."

In 1995, the Gingrich revolution swept into Congress and quickly set about trying to undercut the EPA. Once again, McCain stood with conservatives. But, the following year, after Bob Dole was trounced in the general election and GOP pollster Frank Luntz warned that half of all Republicans didn't trust their party on green issues, McCain penned a New York Times op-ed headlined "Nature Is Not a Liberal Plot," lambasting his fellow Republicans for their anti-environmental zeal. According to Frank Riggs, a former Republican representative who advised the senator in his 2000 campaign, McCain wasn't fundamentally at odds with the GOP goal of rolling back laws it saw as infringing on private property, but he did see a p.r. problem. "A lot of us were saying it privately, but he was one of the few willing to voice it publicly," says Riggs. "The Republicans could not be seen as anti-environment." McCain's gambit worked: The press hailed him as a kinder, gentler Republican in 1999, even as he was promising to repeal a Clinton-era ban on new roads in protected forests and skipping key votes on fuel-efficiency, wildlife, and mining bills.
The big exception to this pattern came after McCain returned to the Senate in the summer of 2000, still smarting from his primary defeat at the hands of Karl Rove. At the time, the odds of Congress acting on climate change seemed negligible: The Senate had denounced the Kyoto Protocol in a 95-0 vote, and Bush would soon renege on a campaign pledge to regulate greenhouse gases. On the trail in New Hampshire, McCain had been assailed by questions about global warming and dogged by an activist in yellow galoshes and a cape nicknamed "Captain Climate." Once back in Washington, McCain held the first balanced climate hearings in years starring real scientists (rather than industry-funded hacks). And, in private, Joe Lieberman convinced him that the United States risked losing its leadership position in the world if it didn't act. So the two senators drafted the first economy-wide cap-and-trade bill for carbon emissions and wrenched arms until the GOP leadership let it go to the floor, where, in 2003, it got 43 votes--far more than anyone had expected. "It was transformative: We went from Kyoto going down ninety-five to zero, and conventional wisdom saying nothing could ever pass, to a place where we had forty-three votes for a cap-and-trade regime," says Tim Profeta, a former Lieberman aide who helped draft the bill. Thanks in part to McCain, the political tectonics have shifted to the point where, today, a cap-and-trade bill is seen as inevitable.
But, just as McCain was becoming a celebrity in green circles--he graced the cover of OnEarth magazine in 2004, under the headline "Meet Captain Planet"--he swerved yet again. When McCain re-introduced his climate bill in 2005, he larded it with hefty nuclear subsidies, a poison pill that scared off environmental groups and lost four Democratic supporters. (Not all enviros are flatly antinuclear, but most would rather not see it heavily subsidized at the expense of other forms of clean energy.)
It's not clear why McCain sabotaged his own bill. One ex-staffer suggests that he thought he could lure Republicans like Lindsey Graham and Sam Brownback with a nuclear carrot, but miscalculated. (It didn't hurt that South Carolina, where McCain's first White House bid had foundered, is a big nuclear state.) And it's true that McCain isn't known for his deft legislative touch--one Senate staffer told me that McCain "totally screwed up the floor strategy" for a fuel-economy bill he sponsored with John Kerry in 2002.
Yet it's hard to shake the feeling that McCain may have been more interested in using global warming to burnish his maverick reputation than in passing legislation. "[T]he day-in, day-out negotiations you normally see--those weren't taking place," says Steve Cochran of Environmental Defense. Indeed, just last year, McCain refused to endorse a similar cap-and-trade bill sponsored by Lieberman and Virginia Republican John Warner--which actually has a shot at passing this year--just because it doesn't mention nuclear power. It's an absurd quibble for someone who thinks global warming is a colossal problem (the nuclear industry hardly lacks for subsidies as is) but a fine pose for someone who wants to be seen flouting conventional wisdom.
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 25 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at
Find discounts on energy saving products at

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Stamford (CT) goes green

Mayor Dan Malloy of Stamford (CT) rolls out Stamford's "Cool and Green" plan in the Stamford Times (see excerpt below.)
Stamford was one of ten municipalities selected by ICLEI –Local Governments for Sustainability as part of the New England Cities Project. The City was selected based on its successful emission reductions projects and ongoing energy savings initiatives. As a part of the "Stamford Cool and Green 2020," the City will substantially expand its climate saving efforts, which will ultimately make Stamford the leading environmental steward in Connecticut.
There are millions of cars, boilers, and light bulbs contributing to our climate's greenhouse gas emissions. As individuals we contribute to these emissions daily, but as a community our carbon footprint becomes significant as the size and scope of our City continues to change. If each of us were to make minor changes in the way we operate daily, the positive impact on the environment would be remarkable. We ask that as you review the following tenets of the "2020" plan that you think of ways big and small that you can help preserve our climate.
Energy efficiency
* An Energy Improvement District initially contained within the downtown and South End of Stamford, with the potential for expansion, will be managed by a five member Board. The Board will create a business plan, which will promote the development of combined heat and power generation and renewable power within the District for the purpose of improved power quality and reliability, improvement in economic attractiveness and competitive advantage, and improved energy efficiency. A feasibility study is currently underway for the installation of a co-generation plant at the Government Center.
* Stamford has received $2 million in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds for two large solar systems currently in design for Rippowam Middle School (144 kilowatts) and our Highway Department Facility (101 kilowatts).
* A challenge was issued to City residents to replace traditional light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). If each citizen replaced just one traditional light bulb with a CFL bulb, the combined actions would prevent 99,342,027 lbs. of greenhouse gas emissions, an air pollution reduction equivalent of removing 8,658 cars from the road. To promote this initiative, the City plans to supply 5,000 free bulbs to its residents.
* In order to encourage the purchase of hybrid cars, we proposed an ordinance to the Board of Representatives to reduce the assessed value of a hybrid vehicle by $2,000. This will result in a $68 reduction in car tax.
Renewable Energy
* Everyone with an electric bill can opt to sign up for clean energy. The additional money paid into the CTCleanEnergyOptions program supports electricity generated by alternative energy sources, including wind and landfill gas. For every 100 residents who sign up, the City will receive a solar clean energy system. A challenge was issued to the residents of Stamford to enroll in the program, with the goal of making Stamford number one in the State for enrollment and thereby the Cleanest & Greenest energy city in Connecticut.
Solid Waste/Recycling
* During the last fiscal year, the City recycled approximately 8 percent of its solid waste. The City is currently reorganizing the recycling program and evaluating different technologies in pursuit of our goal to recycle 40 percent of our solid waste by 2010. The improvements will include incentives for citizens to fully participate in our recycling program, recycling of plastics numbered 3-7 by 2009, more frequent electronics recycling, and broadening our composting system. We are also looking into the use of "waste oil heaters" in our City garages, which utilizes the oil used to maintain City vehicles as the fuel for heating the building.
Green Procurement
* The City is developing a list of the "top 10" green items or services that are routinely purchased by the City, or that represent a significant cost savings. The policy will ensure that the green items chosen are purchased. General areas for consideration are cleaners, computers, vehicle fleets, office electronics, and paint.
* The City will make every effort to purchase and use the lowest emission vehicle or equipment item possible, while taking into account the vehicle's life-cycle costs and the ability to support City operations and services. The overall goal will be to convert 20 percent of the existing fleet to hybrid, alternative fuels, or high fuel efficiency vehicles within five years.
We are building on the successes we have already achieved in CO2 and cost savings. The City has completed an impressive list of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, most notably the energy performance improvements in our City facilities. For instance, we have saved $2,413,950 in cumulative utility energy costs from 50 energy efficiency projects completed since 1998. The recent establishment of a community-wide Sustainable Stamford Task Force will help to achieve these critical goals.

Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 25 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at discounts on energy saving products at

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Where the Candidates Stand on the Environment, Part II

In an earlier blog post I wrote about the stands that the three remaining major presidential candidates have on environmental issues. This article from Slate online magazine evaluates each of their positions (excerpts below):
With all the rancorous bloviation that's infected the Democratic race of late, it's easy to forget that Obama and Clinton are essentially kinfolk when it comes to policy. Sure, there are wonky differences between their stances, particularly on health care. But there are precious few discrepancies between the front-runners' eco-plans, both of which focus primarily on energy. If you're looking for reasons to favor one over the other, you'll need to drill exceedingly deep....

Overall, Clinton's plan is a little better on nitty-gritty details. The Lantern likes her specific shout-outs to plug-in hybrid vehicles and light-emitting diodes, as well as her adoption of Al Gore's idea for a federal agency (dubbed Connie Mae) that will facilitate the development of green homes. The plan's language is also more pragmatic than Obama's, with lots of emphasis on the phrase market-based in order to appeal to laissez-fairers and a whole section dedicated to explaining how the "green economy" will reinvigorate American industry.
Obama, on the other hand, seems to regard environmentalism as more of a moral obligation than an economic opportunity. He's shorter on specifics, particularly when it comes to financial breakdowns, but he discusses some pressing big-picture concepts—for example, the environmental consequences of urban sprawl, a phenomenon that has been encouraged by misguided tax incentives. And he gets points for thinking not just about energy, but also several issues near and dear to green-minded voters: As elucidated in
this supplementary fact sheet, Obama's team hopes to tackle lead poisoning, toxic runoff from livestock operations, and sustainable solutions to Western drought....

McCain hasn't released a comprehensive environmental platform. All we can go by at present is this page from his Web site, which is full of sweet platitudes but woefully short on specifics. Given the lack of crunchiness among his base, McCain generally avoids any language that might smack of "Save the Whales" do-goodism. He instead favors variations on the concept of "stewardship," a catchphrase popular among admirers of Theodore Roosevelt as well as climate change skeptics.
Based on his record in the Senate, McCain seems mildly green.

Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 25 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at
Find discounts on energy saving products at