Pages: 1 ... 4 5 [6] 7 8 ... 10
 on: Oct 25, 2016, 05:26 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Coal will be important 'for many, many decades to come', says Turnbull

Prime minister defends fossil fuel as part of Australia’s energy mix as critical Senate bloc opposes ‘green lawfare’ changes

Katharine Murphy Political editor
Tuesday 25 October 2016 02.15 BST
Malcolm Turnbull has declared coal will be part of Australia’s energy mix for “many, many, many decades to come” as a critical Senate bloc expressed opposition to so-called “green lawfare” changes designed to limit the legal standing of conservation groups in court proceedings.

Turnbull made the bullish observation about coal during a radio interview in Brisbane on Tuesday morning, arguing that the effort to “strangle the Australian coal industry is not going to do anything to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions”.

The prime minister’s comments came as Nick Xenophon said he was very unlikely to support legislation removing the right of most environmental organisations to challenge developments under federal laws unless they can demonstrate they are directly affected.

He said he might support amendments “around the edges, in cases where legal challenges were vexatious” but he was not persuaded about the need for a substantial overhaul.
Coalition can bring back green 'lawfare' bill if Senate supports it, says Turnbull
Read more

“I have not been convinced of the need for change,” Xenophon told Guardian Australia.

Xenophon opposed the change in the last parliament when it was proposed by Tony Abbott, backed by the majority of the then Senate crossbench.

On the ABC, Turnbull suggested the government might attempt to persuade Labor to look at the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act on the basis that decisions were being “unreasonably delayed” and unreasonable delay in many instances was the same as a denial.

The prime minister linked the issue to housing affordability.

“If you talk to developers, if you talk to investors, this has been an issue across Queensland, across Australia, that the processes for getting approval take too long.

“It’s one of the issues that affects housing affordability, there’s too much red tape, there’s too much delay,” Turnbull said.

“Nobody wants to take shortcuts on environmental matters, least of all me. But there has been far too much delay.”

Turnbull’s comments on coal are something of a departure from a signal that the environment and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, sent when taking on his new portfolio in July.

In an interview with Guardian Australia, Frydenberg said “I accept that a transition is occurring away from coal and that is not a bad thing.

“Coal-generated power is still a part of our energy mix, with today about 60%, but that has come down from 70% a decade ago,” Frydenberg said on 28 July. “It’s coming down, and the market is bringing on this change.”

On Tuesday, Turnbull said his government had signed an agreement in Paris to reduce carbon emissions, but coal remained part of the energy landscape, either because Australia exported it, or because other countries exported it.

“Coal is going to be an important part of our energy mix, there is no question about that, for many, many, many decades to come, on any view,” the prime minister told the ABC.

“The reality is that Australia’s coal, compared to that from other countries, is relatively clean. The fact is if we stopped all of our coal exports tomorrow you would simply have more coal exported from other countries, like Indonesia, like Colombia, like China, that would be filling the gap,” he said.

“Trying to strangle the Australian coal industry is not going to do anything to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Federal cabinet was meeting in Brisbane on Tuesday.

Turnbull was asked during a press conference how it felt to be a more unpopular prime minister than Tony Abbott after the latest Newspoll indicated his voter support had dropped below Abbott’s last ​reading before he was ousted as prime minister in September last year.

“Thank you very much,” the prime minister said in response to the question.

He got a follow-up question on voter approval. Turnbull said he was focused on delivery, not popularity.

“The important thing for me, as prime minister, and for my government, is to get on with the job of governing and delivering, and that is what we’re doing,” Turnbull said.

“We are delivering, we are governing, we are delivering the jobs and growth that we promised, and we will continue to do so.”

“There will be distractions, of course. That’s in the nature of politics. But we will govern, we will lead, and we will deliver.”

 on: Oct 25, 2016, 05:24 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
UK government boosts local air quality with £3m in funding

Annual funding for local air quality management in England has been restored to previous levels, reversing a chronic decline, reports The ENDS Report

Gareth Simkins for The ENDS Report, part of the Guardian Environment Network
Monday 24 October 2016 13.54 BST

The government has stumped up £3m to fund English local authorities’ work to monitor and improve air quality.

The air quality grant for 2016/17 was announced on 6 October and is six times greater than the amount allocated for the current financial year. It is the first funding round to be managed by DEFRA and the Department for Transport’s Joint Air Quality Unit.

Some £2.36m was allocated when the fund was launched in 2010/11, rising to £3.1m the following two years. But it fell to £1m in 2013/14 and 2014/15.

This was then cut further to only £0.5m. The number of councils given cash to improve air quality dropped accordingly, falling from 36 to eight over the past three years. More councils in Northern Ireland than England received such funding this year.

ENDS highlighted the steady reduction to the fund in January.

So too did the Commons’ Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA), which in April called on DEFRA to preserve funding and ensure that councils are “recompensed for any costs of implementing new clean air zones which they are not able to recoup from reasonable charges on drivers”.

Restoring the grant’s budget may be interpreted as a response to such criticism.

The grant may be sought for any location that DEFRA projects will exceed EU air quality limits, as reported to the European Commission, or had an air quality management area declared by the end of March 2016. Applications are due before midday on November 23.

EFRA chair Neil Parish said: “The government needs to act now to give all councils the power – and crucially, the funding – to implement a Clean Air Zone and limit the most polluting vehicles in hotspot areas. The £3m government funding pot is a start, but not nearly enough. We also need a big push to incentivise electric and low-emissions vehicles to replace the oldest, most polluting vehicles.”

In a response to a written parliamentary question by the MP, on 19 October the government revealed that more than a third (169) of the UK’s 418 local authorities breached air quality limits on nitrogen dioxide in 2015. Breaches were reported in all four UK nations.

 on: Oct 25, 2016, 05:21 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Whaling nations block South Atlantic sanctuary plans

Conservation groups dismayed as Japan and other pro-whaling nations vote against plans for a protected area for whales, dolphins and porpoises

Adam Vaughan
Tuesday 25 October 2016 09.50 BST

Japan and other pro-whaling nations have defeated a proposal to create an sanctuary for whales in the South Atlantic.

The push to create the protected area during a biennial meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was defeated after 38 countries voted yes and 24 against, as proposals at the conference require 75% of votes to pass. Two abstained.

Although the proposal has been defeated in previous years and was expected to fail this time around too because of opposition by Japan, Norway and Iceland, conservation groups were dismayed by the result.

“There is an urgent need for us to better protect our whales, dolphins and porpoises. This sanctuary would have done just that and supported the growth of sustainable whale watching tourism and fostered much-needed research,” said Josh Coates, marine campaigner with the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

“Once again whaling nations have stood in the way of progress, despite the IWC’s own scientific committee approving the plan for the sanctuary.”

Greenpeace noted that the sanctuary was being blocked by countries far from the the South Atlantic aligning themselves with the whaling nations.

John Frizell, a whales expert with the group, said: “What is the most disappointing is that all these efforts are ultimately being undermined by IWC member countries who are thousands of miles away, not even in the southern hemisphere and some even on the other side of the world. Conversely, all members with territory in the proposed sanctuary, fully support it.”

Matt Collis of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said: “It is very disappointing that once again, a proposal for a South Atlantic whale sanctuary has been harpooned.”

Also on the agenda at the IWC meeting in Slovenia is a resolution put forward by Australia that would require Japan to get approval from the IWC for its “scientific” quotas. That move is also expected to be blocked.

 on: Oct 25, 2016, 05:19 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Night parrot population discovered in Queensland national park

Discovery of elusive bird, thought to be extinct for a century until 2013, leads scientists to believe the ‘dumpy budgerigar’ may be more common than thought
night parrot

Calla Wahlquist
Tuesday 25 October 2016 07.10 BST

The elusive night parrot has been recorded in Diamantina national park in central-west Queensland, expanding its known range and leading scientists to believe it may not be as rare as previously thought.

The bird, described by Bush Heritage Australia’s Jim Radford as a “dumpy budgerigar” or a “podgy, sort of smallish, green and yellow parrot”, was thought to be extinct for more than 100 years before ornithologist John Young managed to photograph it in 2013.

That discovery was made on an area of reclaimed pastoral lease now known as Pullen Pullen nature reserve.

Protecting the enigmatic night parrot at Pullen Pullen reserve: <iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

This month, another team of researchers from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, led by Young, announced they had found what they believe to be a larger population of night parrots in the nearby national park.

The birds were discovered as part of a broader survey of threatened species in the park. Researchers made seven records of the bird this year: four sightings, three of which included nests with eggs, and three recorded calls.

“My immediate reaction was excitement – this is great, there are more birds out there than we thought,” Atticus Fleming, chief executive of AWC told Guardian Australia.

“But when you start to analyse it, the really significant thing about this is that these birds may be more common than we thought. That is something that we will be developing in the next few years as the study extends into other areas.”

The parrots were discovered in an area of the park bordered by the Diamantina and Mayne rivers.

The Queensland government has declared that area a restricted access zone with hefty fines for unauthorised access to deter poachers or enthusiastic twitchers from seeking out the rare parrots.

The same penalties apply for entering Pullen Pullen, which is owned and managed by Bush Heritage Australia.

Radford, BHA’s head of science and research, listed poachers as one of the significant threats faced by the parrot, particularly now researches have reported spotting eggs in both Pullen Pullen and Diamantina.

Other threats include cattle, feral cats and potential habitat destruction from bushfires, which destroy the tall spinifex clumps where night parrots make their nests.

There are other dangers that go along with being a largely ground-dwelling parrot. In April researchers from BHA discovered eggs in a night parrot nest after heavy rain, only to return later and find shell fragments containing traces of what proved to be the DNA of a brown snake.

“Which is an interesting discovery in and of itself because we didn’t realise that brown snakes would predate on eggs,” Radford said.

It was an unfortunate loss but not a significant one. Unprecedented rainfall has pompted a breeding frenzy in the arid plains of central-west Queensland, and Radford said he expected that pair would breed again.

“All indications are that it will be a very good year, not just for night parrots but for other birds,” he said.

The night parrot is one of just two fully nocturnal bird species in the world. The other is New Zealand’s kakapo, famous for being the world’s heaviest parrot and for being particularly enamoured with zoologist Mark Carwardine.

Scientists are now making a concerted effort to study the bird, a process made difficult by its nocturnal habits and the sparseness with which it is spread across a remote landscape.

Like Fleming, Radford said the discovery of more birds at Diamantina was “not unexpected” but was significant for the hope it gave researchers that small populations of the birds may be tucked away in other areas of the remote desert.

“I fully expect that they will be discovered in other places in Australia in time as well, because I don’t think that this can be the only population,” he said.

 on: Oct 25, 2016, 05:08 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Africa Rising: Economic progress vs. cultural preservation in Ethiopia

Ethiopia's state project to make it into one of the world's top sugar producers requires the resettling of semi-nomadic herders in permanent villages. Which priority wins out: cultural preservation or economic progress?

By William Davison, Contributor October 25, 2016

Ethiopia's Lower Omo Valley, a United Nations World Heritage Site along the border with Kenya, is renowned for its numerous tribes, among them the lip plate-inserting Mursi and bull-running Hamer.

Sixteen ethnic groups occupy the scorching, low-lying region, raising cattle, and growing crops, often along the fertile banks of the Omo River that wriggles its way through the bush.

Western tourists, archaeologists, and anthropologists are regular visitors to observe the unique cultures and pre-human fossils.

But the Ethiopian government has begun a project to build sugar farms in the area in an effort to take the nation into the top ten of global sugar exporters. The plan, which would require resettling semi-nomadic herders in permanent villages, puts the effort to modernize Ethiopia's archaic agricultural system at loggerheads with the desire to preserve the cultural identities of local ethnic groups.
A push for economic development

The state-run project launched this year – combined with other large-scale farming investments irrigated by the outflow from an under-construction hydropower dam – look likely to alter the area forever, initially for some Bodi and Mursi communities who will be resettled to make way for the sugar fields.

"They will still be pastoralists, but agro-pastoralists. They will not roam around in search of water and grazing land," Abay Tsehaye, head of the state-owned Sugar Corporation, says. "They will have enough grazing land because we will supply them with irrigation."

The farms will be made possible by the regulated outflow from the upstream Gibe III hydropower plant. The plant, which will almost double Ethiopia's power generating capacity, is scheduled to be finished in 2013.

It will provide electricity to Ethiopia and also generate scarce foreign exchange by supplying the region. Ethiopia's large hydropower potential – due to plentiful rainfall in its highlands and mountainous terrain – is a vital asset that must be utilized to bring the country out of poverty, Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's leader of two decades, says.

Roads have been improved, scrub land demarcated, and construction of a diversion weir begun for the six plantations fed by the Omo that will occupy at least one-eighth of the Lower Omo area and use 3 billion cubic meters of water per year. Despite the progress, resettlement plans and technical studies on the plantations have not yet been completed, the Sugar Corporation says.

Mr. Abay says agricultural experts, irrigation schemes, and social services will bring much-needed development to a neglected backwater. Critics like Survival International, a British charity that campaigns for the rights of indigenous people, argue communities' rights are being trampled and that the water use will parch Lake Turkana, another World Heritage Site that straddles the Ethiopia-Kenya border.

"They want these people to remain as primitive as they used to be, as poor as they used to be, as naked as they used to be so that they will be specimen for research and an agenda for raising funds," Abay says about the project's naysayers.

'I want my children to be pastoralists'

But while the government says it has had extensive consultation with the communities, several members of the Bodi tribe, who number about 7,000, say such claims are exaggerated.

"The government is building it themselves. They are not sharing it with other people, they did not call a meeting," father of three, enrobed Dori Bella, who moves every month to graze his cattle said in a new school just outside the village of Hanna. "We don't want to be begging in town, I want my children to be pastoralists."

Activists spoke of a widespread fear of reprisals for speaking out and predicted armed resistance to what they see as a government land grab.

A report this month from Survival also claimed that over 100 individuals from the Mursi and Bodi were arrested for protesting the plan. But locals said that recent detainments were not directly related to the project.

As our Land Cruiser wound its way to the Omo valley along a sturdy gritted track, a broken-down truck carrying panels for plantation workers' homes almost blocked the road after failing to mount a steep incline – an indication of the huge logistical challenges involved in bringing commercial farming to this far-flung region.

The water extracted for the farms will result in a five-meter reduction in the level of Lake Turkana and eventually fewer fish, according to Sean Avery, an engineer who published a report on the area for the African Development Bank in November. Concerns over effects on Turkana prompted a UNESCO committee to make a futile call for the government to halt construction of Gibe III in July. A "fragile environment and the livelihoods of tribes" will be destroyed, Survival states.

For the several thousand Turkana and Dassenech people depending on the lake for their livelihood, the future is uncertain.

Educated Kenyan fisherman Michael Irgeno from the Dassenech tribe believes the dam is a mixed blessing. Power and irrigation are welcome for the deprived regions, but "at this time it's bad as most people have not heard about Gibe III," he says in the half-light of his domed hut near the wind-lashed shore. "It would be better if people come together with one mind and decide what to do," he says. "But if they start without informing people it will have an effect. Most of our community is illiterate so it is hard for them to have an opinion."

 on: Oct 25, 2016, 05:03 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

CO2 milestone hit: A prompt to turn the Paris climate deal into action?

The UN World Meteorological Organization has said the world has passed 400 p.p.m., a symbolic carbon dioxide threshold. The UN announcement comes two weeks before a climate change summit in Morocco.    

By Ben Rosen, Staff October 24, 2016

Two weeks before world leaders gather in Marrakesh, Morocco, for the next major United Nations climate change summit meeting, the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has announced global carbon dioxide levels have passed a symbolic threshold.

Global average CO2 levels are above 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in 3 million years, and are 144 percent above pre-industrial levels of 278 ppm, the UN weather agency announced in the annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin it released Monday.

Scientists have long known CO2 levels would eventually pass this threshold. It wasn’t a question of “if,” but “when.”

Hitting this threshold gives fresh urgency to a process that's already seen significant strides in the past year. But it's also a reminder that the progress among nations needs to continue apace if the global thermostat is going to be reset, say climate scientists.

“If 400 has any real meaning – it’s just a number nature doesn’t know – it’s that climate change is no longer an issue of the future. It’s one of today and now,” Adil Najam, dean of the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview.

“You cannot lull us by saying we will do something tomorrow,” says Dr. Najam, who was a co-author for the Third and Fourth Assessments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “Let’s start doing something now.”

In the previous century, by some accounts world leaders were slow to agree on actions to combat environmental threats and climate change. The Montreal Protocol that phased out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), for instance, wasn’t signed until 14 years after scientists first linked the chemical to holes in the ozone layer.

The pace at which world nations have acted may have accelerated with the Paris climate agreement in 2015, followed by the Kigali deal nearly 200 nations signed on Oct. 15 to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), another greenhouse gas.

Now, though, some climate change experts say CO2 levels passing this 400 ppm threshold further emphasizes the need to turn the ambitions of the Paris deal — to curb the rise in global temperatures — into concrete action in Marrakesh.

The global average concentration of CO2 first reached 400 ppm in 2015, according to WMO, the UN weather agency. The amount of atmospheric CO2 previously reached this level during certain months of the year, and in certain parts of the world. But 2015 marked the first time on record that the global average surpassed this threshold for a whole year. This carbon dioxide level, then, surged in 2016, bolstered by the powerful El Nino event, which also triggered droughts in tropical forests and wildfires.

WMO isn’t the first agency to announce the passing of this threshold. The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii — the world’s premier site for measuring CO2 — wrote in a study published in June that the Earth reached these levels. WMO referred back to Mauna Loa in its announcement, saying the observatory "predicts that carbon dioxide concentrations will stay above 400 ppm for the whole of 2016 and not dip below that level for many generations."

To understand how these CO2 levels could affect the world in the future, Jeremy Shakun, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at Boston College, tells the Monitor we can look back to the climate 3 million years ago in the mid-Pliocene era.

“At that point, it’s a pretty different world,” says Dr. Shakun. Global temperatures were up by as much as 3 degrees C., ice sheets were dramatically smaller, and sea levels were up to 10 feet higher, he says.

“It’s not going to happen overnight. You can’t melt an ice sheet in two days. But once you set the thermostat this high, it’s already committed,” he says. “You’re already locked into reengineering the planet.”

But more than 170 nations came together in 2015 to agree to hold the global temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels. Under the Paris deal, nations agreed to implement national laws to curb global temperatures. The agreement is scheduled to enter into force on Nov. 4, after dozens of countries have ratified it, formally binding themselves to its terms. These nations include China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, the United States, second behind China, and the 28-nation European Union.

At the UN summit in Marrakesh that starts on Nov. 7, diplomats hope to create an independent body that will put into force the Paris deal. They plan to create an independent body to monitor, verify, and publicize countries’ pollution levels, according to The New York Times. At Marrakesh, they will seek to hammer out how developed countries will pay for poorer countries to adapt to climate change and develop new clean energy technologies. Under the Paris deal, rich countries voluntarily pledged to spend $100 billion annually by 2020 to help poorer countries.

The WMO's announcement is timely, then, because it highlights the need for countries to "ramp up their ambitions," Anthony Janetos, a professor of earth and the environment at Boston University, tells the Monitor.

“The Paris results don't get the world to previously agreed goals. It’s just a mechanism that everybody proposed,” he says. “That’s a big success.”

But Marrakesh is important, he adds, because diplomats plan to put in measures to ensure countries are on track for their emissions goals. The Paris agreement requires countries come together every five years to evaluate if they should set more ambitious emissions targets, but doesn’t specify how.

But Dr. Najam, also of Boston University, believes that in order for the Paris deal or Marrakesh to have any significance, countries must agree to reduce carbon emissions now, not in the future. Wealthier nations must also help less developed countries already feeling the effects of climate change.

"They need to start showing real action and make up the losses for those who are suffering from climate change now," he says.

 on: Oct 25, 2016, 05:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
One state tests liberals' ability to rally around a carbon tax

Washington State voters will decide whether their state should be the first to try to mitigate climate change by putting a tax on carbon emissions. But many environmentalists say the plan isn't ambitious enough.

Zack Colman
CS Monitor

October 24, 2016 Washington—A debate on whether to tax carbon emissions in Washington State is laying bare divisions on the left about how far to push climate policy.

Perhaps to the surprise of many, a ballot measure to tax carbon is getting a thumbs down from many environmental groups, communities of color, and labor unions.

This opposition comes ​despite the initiative's appeal as a green issue. Putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions is one of the most basic strategies that’s been touted for years as a way to reduce the buildup of greenhouse gases linked to climate change. The problem: There’s sizable disagreement of what to do with the revenues generated from a carbon fee.

The Washington stalemate over Initiative 732, as it’s known, is a preview for other state carbon tax battles, and possibly for what will occur on the federal level should Congress ever test the carbon tax waters.

"The complexities and tensions are a good sign that more people with different perspectives are getting serious about climate policy,” says K.C. Golden, senior policy advisor with Seattle-based Climate Solutions, which opposes the carbon tax. "The media like to play up the skirmishes, but what I see is growing and broadening momentum for real climate policy.”

Where should the revenue go?

The Washington proposal would give manufacturers a tax break, lower the state sales tax and increase a tax incentive for low-income families. But opposing groups, aligned as the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, want to put that money toward clean energy and public transit deployment, bolstering green jobs and energy in communities of color and other measures to directly curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“We don’t want carbon prices to be a permanent revenue source for essential public services.  The carbon, and therefore the revenues, need to go away over time,” Mr. Golden says. “Again, the best way to make that linkage is to use the money to address the problem by facilitating a fair, affordable transition.”

Part of the opponents’ stance results from an emboldening of the environmental movement, coupled with a more prominent national conversation on racial equity. It’s part of a broader trend among national environmental groups to make their base more inclusive and less of the old, white, wealthy clientele that forms a bulk of the movement.

Green groups feel they increasingly have the backing of public opinion following victories in scuttling the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, an international climate agreement inked in Paris last year, and the Democratic presidential campaign of early carbon-tax advocate Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Meanwhile, high-profile environmental pollution incidents like the Flint water crisis and a new emphasis on environmental justice – the dynamic of industrial emissions disproportionately affecting minority neighborhoods – have brought communities of color closer to the green camp.

“The creation of energy policy needs to be a unified effort and one that includes the perspectives and ideas of communities hardest hit by the fossil fuel industry,” says Cesia Kearns, deputy regional campaign director for Sierra Club's “Beyond Coal” campaign. "Could this take more time, patience, and more conversation? For sure. But it’s better to get it right than to charge ahead on something that doesn’t work.”

But proponents of I-732 contend it appeals to both Republicans and Democrats alike and could serve as a model for other states. The plan starts by taxing carbon at $15 per ton in 2017, hitting $25 per ton in 2025 and then ticking up 3.5 percent annually, adjusted for inflation. Those revenues would lower the state sales tax by 1 percentage point and refund the earned-income tax credit for low-income families up to $1,500 per family.

“It’s a great climate policy, great tax policy in terms of addressing low-income households; it’s just a great policy all around,” Yoram Bauman, an economist who helped draft the plan, told ClimateWire.
A preview of options for Congress

The Washington State proposal, in fact, mirrors the kind of carbon tax that some hope might ultimately win bipartisan approval in Washington, D.C. But, as in the Evergreen State, Democrats nationally are torn over how to design the tax – and even over its political merits.

Advisers to presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have said that backing a carbon tax would be “lethal” in the general election. The June 2015 missive from campaign manager Robby Mook to spokesman Brian Fallon, revealed last week by WikiLeaks, came after presumptive top Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York hinted Clinton could enact a carbon tax if president.

Later, in January, Clinton energy adviser Trevor Houser suggested staying away from “Bernie’s carbon tax fantasy,” referring to Sanders, demonstrating the pressure the Vermonter’s supporters on the left were bringing on climate change.

But several right-of-center organizations, such as the libertarian Niskanen Center and RepublicEN, are softening GOP lawmakers behind closed doors for the carbon tax pitch.

"We've have open lines of communication with a number of environmental NGOs and Democratic offices in both chambers,” says Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center. "Our relationships in those communities are strong and I'm confident that we can avoid a lot of what's playing out in Washington State."

A federal policy, though, would certainly carry complications.

While companies like ExxonMobil have touted a carbon tax, there’s a question of how committed they are to actually advocating for it. And, even if some fossil fuel companies are discussing what a carbon tax would look like, their ideal models are likely disparate, says Mike McKenna, a Republican lobbyist who works with energy companies and is leading Donald J. Trump’s Energy Department transition team.

“If it ever becomes a legitimate thing, companies will start to ask these questions internally and probably have some serious internal discussions about whether they support this particular tax,” McKenna says in an email. "And the answer will probably routinely be ‘no.' Because no one is in favor of making their product more expensive. Unless there is some really good regulatory swap.  Like a carbon tax for elimination of the [Environmental Protection Agency]."

The fossil fuel industry and its Republican allies would insist on axing regulation of greenhouse gas emissions – the EPA rule imposing carbon limits on power plants currently stuck in federal courts and restrictions on vehicle emissions are two options – in a carbon tax deal. But that idea is anathema to environmental groups.

One option could be to include a carbon tax in a larger overhaul of the whole federal tax code – a much-discussed, but very elusive idea on Capitol Hill. Whether as part of a mammoth bill or not, a central question would be whether to design a carbon tax to be "revenue neutral," so that overall US taxes don't go up. Finding agreement from Democrats on revenue neutrality may prove difficult, as carbon tax opponents in Washington State have demonstrated by rejecting that concept.

“Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing unique on what to do with carbon revenues in the Washington debate. This was a key issue when the House and Senate worked on climate legislation,” says Ms. Kearns, referring to a sweeping cap-and-trade bill that passed the US House but failed in the Senate in 2010. “It continues to be a central issue in California and has been an ongoing issue as climate advocates have debated policy design everywhere they have discussed pricing carbon.”

California's cap-and-trade test case

California already offers a test case for the difficult politics behind designing a market-based carbon policy.

The state has debated how to distribute the dollars generated through a cap-and-trade auction program. Basically, emitters pay for credits to offset their emissions, and then revenues are used for various purposes.

Green groups successfully fought to send some revenue to low-income communities of color to buffer against environmental pollution that might be allowed to continue if industrial emitters buy carbon offset credits.

But that measure has put the Golden State system in legal limbo. Opponents of cap-and-trade said the revenue shift amounted to a tax, which requires a two-thirds vote in the California legislature. The law that created the cap-and-trade system fell well short of that mark.

The California and Washington State examples reflect the high-level discussions that will come to define future carbon policy debates, says Robert Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard University, by email.

"The economist’s favorite is to cut distortionary taxes on labor and capital,” he says. “But many others want to target the funds to address the purpose of the carbon tax” – in other words, to take additional steps that hasten the rise of a low-carbon economy.

"This will be a huge issue in state legislatures when any carbon tax proposal is considered, because the stakes are huge,” Professor Stavins says.

 on: Oct 25, 2016, 04:57 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

Space station gets first delivery from Virginia after a two-year hiatus

The International Space Station has successfully plucked its first cargo shipment launched from Virginia's Wallops Island via an Orbital ATK Cygnus capsule, following a nearly two-year pause in deliveries prompted by a 2014 launch explosion.

By Lonnie Shekhtman, Staff October 24, 2016

A capsule carrying 5,300 pounds of food, clothing, spare parts, lab equipment, and science experiments arrived at the International Space Station Sunday morning.

Astronauts grabbed the vehicle, called Cygnus, with a robotic arm and pulled it to the station for docking. Over the next month the crew will unload its contents while Cygnus remains tethered to the station. Ultimately, the space station crew will reload the empty vessel with about 4,000 pounds of trash and release it to burn up in the atmosphere in mid-November.

But before the vehicle destroys itself, an onboard experiment called Spacecraft Fire Experiment-II, or Saffire-II, will intentionally start a small fire to test how zero gravity and limited oxygen affect flame size and the spread of fire. Data from Saffire-II will be downloaded remotely, according to an Orbital ATK announcement. Before it disintegrates, Cygnus also will release several cubesats, or mini satellites, to be used for weather forecasting.

Though it took the capsule only a week to reach the science lab, orbiting 220 miles above the Earth at an average speed of 17,227 miles per hour, the trip was years in the making. It marks the first time in two years that a rocket lifted off from Virginia’s Wallops Island. The rocket, called Antares, flew again for the first time since a 2014 launch explosion grounded the vehicle and closed down the launchpad. While the maker of the Antares rocket, Sterling, Va.-based Orbital ATK, redesigned it and rebuilt the pad, the NASA contractor kept space station deliveries going by using another company’s rocket, which launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The Antares rocket's highly anticipated launch was set for Sunday, Oct. 16, but was canceled at the last minute by a faulty cable. It finally blasted off the following day but had to orbit for more time than the usual couple of days to clear the way for three astronauts who arrived on Friday aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule. Their arrival doubled the size of the crew, which now includes a Japanese astronaut, two Americans, and three Russians.

Orbital is one of two private companies hired by NASA to deliver cargo to the space station. The other is SpaceX, which also has faced major technical setbacks. Just last month, a test of its Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral ended in an explosion on the launch pad. SpaceX's explosion is not expected to cause major cargo-delivery delays, according to the company, which says it could resume delivery in November.

SpaceX and Boeing are expected to start ferrying astronauts to the space station in the next couple of years. Today only Russia can launch humans to space aboard its Soyuz rocket. As USA Today reported in 2015, it costs US taxpayers about $75 million for every ride to the space station, a sum that could rise to $82 million in 2018.

 on: Oct 25, 2016, 04:56 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

The rise of 'citizen astronomers': An era of new discoveries and collaboration

As non-experts become a source of cosmic understanding, their participation generates fresh questions about the connections between science and democracy.   

By Joseph Dussault, Staff October 24, 2016

NASA’s JunoCam, which is currently snapping photos from Jupiter’s orbit, is the first outreach camera to travel beyond the asteroid belt. It's also the first time that the average person has a direct line to the far reaches of our solar system.

And the collaboration is paying off. By experimenting with image processing, amateur astronomers have identified new storm systems and other atmospheric conditions on Jupiter – features that the pros missed.

Thanks to the internet, a new era in citizen astronomy is blossoming. Even without a telescope, regular people can now participate in serious scientific research using only a laptop. Some scientists laud this new form of pro-am collaboration and the fresh insights that this kind of research can yield. But as non-experts become increasingly involved in understanding the cosmos, some conceptual questions emerge: As science and democracy mingle, who gets credit for a discovery? Can they really share the same telescope?

For much of human history, astronomy has been the people’s science. In 1781, for example, musician and hobbyist skywatcher William Herschel discovered Uranus with a homemade telescope. Perhaps this is because the night sky, unlike lab equipment, has always been freely accessible.

It makes sense then, that as new technologies and bigger data sets are becoming publicly available, citizen astronomy would grow accordingly. Many government space agencies now provide open access to high-resolution scientific data, and enlist non-experts to help them comb through it all. 

“It used to be that science was something you learned about in school, and it was always done by other people,” Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. “But now there’s no reason anybody older than the age of 10 couldn’t start doing publishable science themselves. That’s a big change from when I was a kid.”

Technological advancements aside, the philosophy of science is also changing. In the last two decades, the growth of citizen science has prompted debates about the public’s role in academic research.

“Some of those discussions have focused on getting the public more involved – not just engagement by stimulation, where we try to get people excited about science, but actually involving them in the knowledge production process,” Bruce Lewenstein, a professor of communications at Cornell University, tells the Monitor in a phone interview.

Those projects bring together two concepts that are sometimes talked about in similar ways: science and democracy. But that's precisely why involving the public in science can be so precarious, Dr. Lewenstein says.

“If you’re a citizen scientist, what exactly are you a citizen of? Science is at its core a meritocratic organization, while democracy depends on us all being equal,” says Lewenstein, who specializes in the sociology of citizen science. “And yet science and democracy are often equated. Citizen science is built on this idea, of science and democracy being intricately linked.”

In this way, the rise of citizen science has raised new, difficult questions about the ownership of data. In the publish-or-perish world of scientific research, professionals depend on authorship.

“But if citizens don’t get acknowledged, there’s a real sense of expropriation of their work,” Lewenstein says. “Citizens who have done mostly data gathering, should they be authors? In some fields, that type of work earns authorship. In other fields, it doesn’t.”

Challenges aside, professionals and citizen scientists have already proven they can work together. Amateur astronomers from the NASA-sponsored Disk Detective program recently teamed up with veteran astrophysicists to comb through thousands of star systems to identify the oldest known circumstellar disk. This month, their work was published by The Astrophysical Journal Letters – and eight of the credited authors had no academic background in the field.

“Even if we had unlimited funding and the best computers in the world, we still couldn’t do Disk Detective without the Disk Detectives themselves,” Dr. Kuchner, who leads the initiative, tells the Monitor. “It doesn’t work without the human brains connected to it.”

Non-professionals offer a different kind of perspective on astronomy, Kuchner says. They may notice subtle details that seasoned experts tend to overlook or dismiss as mundane. And they do so with “vast energy and intellect.”

Hugo Durantini-Luca, one of the credited authors, works as a computer technician in Cordoba, Argentina. When he first became interested in astronomy, there were few projects where citizen scientists could contribute directly.

“I often apply the same logic that I use to trace a problem in a computer to face new challenges [within the Disk Detective program],” Mr. Durantini-Luca tells the Monitor in an email. “We have a communication flow between the volunteers, where we share ideas and experiences, [and with] the science team. They return feedback that allows for an enrichment experience for everybody.”

“They all have slightly different biases, different levels of preparation, different eyes, and different computer screens,” Kuchner says. “Just by having more people look at something, you’re able to compensate for human biases in a way that you can’t do otherwise.”

But it takes a lot of work to create a project that citizen scientists can meaningfully contribute to, Kuchner says. And many scientific institutions aren’t yet equipped to handle these projects on the larger scale.

“It’s a new thing for scientists to rely on having a good connection to the public,” Kuchner says. “We are going to have to continue trying to take down walls between scientists and the public to make this process more efficient.”

 on: Oct 25, 2016, 04:52 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
CS Monitor

How was the oldest circumstellar disk discovered?

AWI0005x3s was found with the help of 'citizen scientists' using the NASA-sponsored Disk Detective website.

By Weston Williams, Staff October 24, 2016

Most red dwarf circumstellar disks fizzle out after a relatively quick few million years. But one newly discovered disk has evidence to support the claim that it has been going strong for 45 million years now, making it the oldest ever discovered.

But while such a discovery is remarkable in itself, the way it was discovered is also novel. Eight people who contributed to finding AWI0005x3s and its disk have no professional training in astrophysics. They are participants in an initiative by NASA to use the skills of so-called "citizen scientists" to supplement the work of professional astronomers.

The NASA-sponsored program comes in the form of the website Users are taught to recognize good candidates for stars with circumstellar disks, and are then shown photographs of various stars that have been chosen by a computer as possible disk candidates from stellar surveys. Because these surveys cover literally millions of stars, professional scientists don't have the resources to flag circumstellar disks themselves, but there are plenty of online space enthusiasts who are willing to take on the workload.

Many young stars form these disks of gas, dust, and objects known as planetesimals around them, which scientists believe are important building blocks in the process of planetary creation. By studying these disks, astronomers hope to learn more about the origins of our own solar system.

"Without the help of the citizen scientists examining these objects and finding the good ones, we might never have spotted this object," said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Fight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who leads Disk Detective, in a NASA statement. "The WISE mission alone found 747 million objects, of which we expect a few thousand to be circumstellar disks."

WISE refers to Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, an orbital telescope that carried out one of multiple stellar surveys involved in the Disk Detective project. According to another statement released by Carnegie Science, Disk Detective was launched in January 2014. Since then, roughly 30,000 citizen scientists have helped make about two million classifications of objects in the night sky, and there are still plenty for users to sift through.

"I've loved astronomy since childhood and wanted to be part of the space program, as did every boy my age," said Milton Bosch, a citizen scientist co-author from California, in the NASA statement. "I feel very fortunate to be part of such a great group of dedicated people, and am thrilled to partake in this adventure of discovery and be a co-author on this paper."

The latest discovery is one of many potentially groundbreaking stars hiding in NASA stellar surveys. AWI0005x3s was discovered in an unexpected corner of the galaxy, according to the paper published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

"Most disks of this kind fade away in less than 30 million years," Steven Silverberg, a graduate student at Oklahoma University and lead author of the paper, said in the NASA statement. "This particular red dwarf is a candidate member of the Carina association, which would make it around 45 million years old. It's the oldest red dwarf system with a disk we've seen in one of these associations."

The Carina association of stars were all born at roughly the same time in the same stellar nursery. While it is possible that this red dwarf could be younger, the preliminary evidence would seem to point to it coming from the same nursery as the others in the association. But if it is as old as its stellar neighbors, scientists will have to rethink what they thought they knew about red dwarf disks, as well as circumstellar disks in general.

Pages: 1 ... 4 5 [6] 7 8 ... 10