The Climate Post: While Congress debates climate science, China and Europe move ahead
11 Mar 2011
Republicans are far more skeptical of “global warming” than of “climate change,” a study led by a University of Michigan psychologist found. Among Democrats, on the other hand, about 85 percent believe the planet is getting hotter and weather getting weirder, no matter which label you use.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. Congress, hearings continued about a bill to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from protecting the environment — specifically, “from promulgating any regulation concerning, taking action relating to, or taking into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change, and for other purposes.” As Science showed in its live blogging of the bill’s most recent hearing, it centered not on policies, but on the science of climate change.
In China, though, the leaders appear to be taking climate change increasingly seriously. “The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the worsening ecological environment have become bottlenecks and grave impediments to the nation’s economic and social development,” wrote China’s environment minister late last month. This week, China unveiled its latest five-year plan, with ambitious goals for boosting energy efficiency and the share of energy from sources other than fossil fuels — while also aiming for slower economic growth than in years past. But fossil fuels still loom large: “Oil security is the most important part of achieving energy security,” said China’s longtime former energy czar, Zhang Guobao.
Energy crunch seen on European highways
In a move reminiscent of the 1970s energy crises that limited drivers to speeds of 55 miles per hour to conserve energy, Spain has lowered its speed limit from 120 to 110-kilometers an hour. (That’s 75 to 68 mph for us Americans.) Environmental writer George Monbiot indicates the U.K. should follow suit, since “the era of cheap and easy oil is long gone.”
In the past week, oil prices climbed still higher, as fierce fights continued in Libya, with Muammar Gaddafi’s forces making air raids on the eastern city of Ras Lanuf, setting ablaze its oil facility. To comply with U.S. sanctions, Exxon stopped its trade with Libya.
At a major oil meeting in Houston, several industry leaders tried to dispel fears of a global drop in oil production. However, at the meeting, the CEO of Kuwait Energy Co., Sara Akbar, said the protests and fighting are unlikely to end soon. “This bug that is growing in the air is very contagious, and everyone is getting it,” Akbar said.
Soaring gas prices: here to stay?
Get used to gas station owners putting up signs replacing the usual prices for various grades of gas with: “ARM, LEG, BOTH.” The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) said high oil prices are here to stay — at least for this year. They revised upward the predicted prices for the year, saying oil would average $3.70 a gallon at the pump, and $102 a barrel on the world market. If true, that would be an all-time high for the average annual price, breaking the record set in 2008.
These high prices spurred several Democrats to call for the White House to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, meant for big emergencies. The reserves are stored largely in underground salt caverns, a LiveScience primer explains. According to EIA statistics, the reserve’s roughly 727 million barrels of oil are the equivalent of only two months of U.S. oil imports.
Warnings came from many corners that high oil prices could stall the global economic recovery. But The Hill reports some U.S. senators hope the high oil prices will revive a bipartisan energy bill “gang,” which in 2008 aimed to boost U.S. oil production and spur development of clean energy.
Meanwhile, Europe and Australia forged ahead with plans to battle climate change and dependence on fossil fuels. The European Union’s climate change commissioner published a long-awaited roadmap for how the member countries could cut emissions cost-effectively, calling for a 25 percent cut (that’s below 1990 levels) by 2020. But the European Union looks likely to miss targets for improving energy efficiency — one of the main ways of cutting emissions. Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard has vowed to push ahead with plans to put a price on carbon emissions.
Climate-sensing satellite takes dive for NASA … again
A NASA satellite named Glory failed in its launch and fell into the Pacific Ocean, which spelled the end of the $424-million project. One of its main tasks would have been monitoring aerosols — tiny droplets in the atmosphere — to determine their effect on the Earth’s climate. In 2009, another climate-sensing satellite riding on the same type of rocket, called a Taurus XL, met the same fate, due to the identical problem: a door on the side of the rocket failed to open and release the satellite.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.