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  Sierra Magazine
  January/February 2007
Table of Contents
Energizing America
Can Coal Be Clean?
Negawatt Power
Why Not Nukes?
The Birds and the Breeze
The Fix
Decoder: Corn-Fed Cars
The Watched Photographer
Ways & Means
One Small Step
Lay of the Land
Good Going
The Green Life
Hey Mr. Green
Sierra Club Bulletin
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Sierra Magazine
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Lay of the Land
January/February 2007

Green State, Brown State | WWatch | It Takes a River | A Long and Winding Road | Bold Strokes | As the World Warms | Skeptics Come Home

Green State, Brown State
Two places separated by a common problem

Texas and California rank No. 1 and 2, respectively, in greenhouse-gas emissions among U.S. states, but their responses to global warming are as different as Houston is from Hollywood. While California recently made history by becoming the first state to commit to a 25 percent reduction in global-warming emissions by 2020, Texas has just three words for you: Bring it on. Undeterred by the threat of droughts, hurricanes, and heat waves, the Lone Star State is poised to build 17 new coal-fired power plants in the next six years. The result will be an additional 117 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. (Texans already consume 60 percent more energy per capita than other Americans, and energy use in Texas is projected to increase by 36 percent over the next two decades.)

Texas is already feeling the effects of its hotheaded ways. Temperatures in its coastal bays have increased by three degrees over the past 30 years, enough to bring in tropical species that threaten the state's coastal fisheries. Yet Governor Rick Perry (R) remains a big supporter of the new coal-fired plants; he argues that limiting carbon dioxide emissions would be bad for the state's economy. Seventeen Texas mayors--representing a third of the state's voters--have vowed to challenge the new power plants. The Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter and other Texas environmental groups have joined the fight in an alliance called Stop the Coal Plant.

If Perry wants an example of how a populous, Republican-led, carbon-generating state could deal proactively with the threat of global warming, he should take a gander at California. Its new emissions caps were backed by business groups and Pacific Gas and Electric, the state's largest investor-owned utility. Economic studies suggest that the regulations will create 83,000 new jobs as California becomes a leader in the development of green technology.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the incoming head of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, plans to introduce a bill modeled after her state's approach to global warming. It can't come soon enough: The Texas coal plants could wipe out the gains made by California, releasing 2.6 times more CO2 than the Golden State's anti-greenhouse-gas initiative will eliminate. --Dashka Slater

Keeping Tabs on Washington

IT'LL COST YA An analysis by the Government Accountability Office last September concluded that the Bush administration, not environmental lawsuits, is responsible for the nearly $11 million cost of salvage logging in Oregon's Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. (See "Ways & Means," May/ June 2006.) The logging, prompted by catastrophic 2002 wildfires, will net less than $9 million in timber revenue. According to the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, the U.S. Forest Service overestimated the amount of timber available and the number of jobs the project would create.

A BLIND EYE Since 1994, the EPA has been required to conduct environmental-justice reviews to ensure that poor and minority neighborhoods are treated the same as better-off communities. But a report by the agency's inspector general released in September 2006 determined that 60 percent of regional EPA offices and program departments had never conducted the mandated reviews, and 87 percent of the offices surveyed said management had never asked them to do so.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS Last September, the EPA announced a new rule that will cut the maximum allowable daily intake of airborne particulates (the dust, smoke, and soot created by cars, factories, power plants, and forest fires) by nearly 50 percent. But the change satisfies few because the EPA did not also lower its standard for maximum allowable annual soot levels. Count among the disgruntled the EPA's own scientific advisory panel, which had recommended stricter long-term standards. An internal report posted on the agency's Web site noted that a 1-microgram decrease in those standards (unchanged since 1997 at 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air) could save 17,000 to 30,000 lives a year. --Reed McManus

It Takes a River

Between global-warming-induced droughts and a growing world population, water is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity. But water use is about far more than drinking and bathing. The examples below illustrate "virtual water content," the amount--in gallons--required to produce various items. They're from a report by UNESCO's Institute for Water Education, which suggests that water-scarce countries might relieve pressure on their own resources by importing goods with a high virtual water content. Beef is one of the thirstiest products, beer happily not so much. Read the full report at --Paul Rauber

A Long and Winding Road

Environmentalists have more than 58 million reasons to cheer. Last September, a U.S. federal district judge reinstated the "roadless rule," a 2001 ban on road construction, logging, mining, and other development on 58.5 million acres of wild national forestland.

The ban, which was put in place after a three-year process that included more than 600 public hearings and which has elicited 4 million comments, was shelved by the Bush administration in 2005. A coalition of conservation groups, including the Sierra Club, sued; four states filed a similar challenge.

In her ruling, Judge Elizabeth Laporte concluded that the Bush administration violated the National Environmental Policy and Endangered Species Acts by not conducting an environmental analysis when it removed the roadless protections. The administration argued that its move wouldn't affect the environment; Laporte pithily declared that those conclusions "ignore reality."

Laporte's ruling doesn't address the 9.3 million acres of roadless land in Alaska's Tongass National Forest, which the Bush administration exempted from the ban in 2003. And the administration can still appeal the ruling. But for the moment, wild forests are once again protected by law. --Reed McManus

Bold Strokes

Mean but Green
Weapons will still kill and maim, but at least they won't pollute, thanks to a new green-guns initiative from BAE Systems, one of the world's biggest arms manufacturers. Concerned that the poisons in its bullets "can harm the environment and pose a risk to people," the company has invested in lead-free bullets, hybrid tanks, quieter bombs, and low-volatile-organic-compound explosives, and is even composting explosive material. As for the irony in this ecofriendly move, BAE says there is none. --Dashka Slater

Foresight Is 20/20
Determined to reduce its energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020, the 25-nation European Union will require stringent new efficiency standards for boilers, water heaters, air conditioners, photocopiers, televisions, computers, and lighting. Any company that wants to sell products in the confederation will have to comply, so consumers around the world can look forward to seeing more energy-efficient goods. --D.S.

Debt for Quetzals
Thanks to a recent "debt for nature" swap, Guatemala's rainforests will be seeing a lot more green. Under terms of the Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998, 20 percent of Guatemala's official debt to the United States will be relieved. In exchange, over the next 15 years, the Central American country will dedicate the $24 million it will save to protecting the habitat of rare and endangered animals such as the jaguar and quetzal bird from loggers and developers. --Sarah Ives

First-Nation Preservation
The Lutsel K'e Déné tribe of Canada's Northwest Territories has agreed to create a national park in its homeland that will be nearly four times the size of Yellowstone National Park. The agreement will protect 8.3 million acres of boreal forest and arctic tundra that are threatened by diamond and uranium mining. Inhabited by wolves, foxes, bears, mink, moose, caribou, and lynx, the new park will be called Thaydene Nene, which means "land of the ancestors." --D.S.

As the World Warms
Signs of a changing planet

  • The price tag rises with the water: A major report commissioned by the British government says that unabated global warming could cost the world economy $7 trillion by 2050, as much as 20 percent of global GDP. Acting now would be a relative bargain, costing about one percent of global GDP a year. According to Sir Nicholas Stern, the report's author and former chief economist for the World Bank, remedial action would avoid disruptions "on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century." And that's the rosy scenario: A recent study by two Tufts University economists warns that failure to address global warming now could end up costing $20 trillion a year by the end of the century. Relatively modest spending of $3 trillion annually, the Tufts researchers say, could avoid the worst of climate chaos.
  • No need to worry, everything's under control: The Bush Department of Commerce blocked a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggesting a link between global warming and stronger hurricanes, according to the journal Nature last September. Moreover, e-mails obtained by the online magazine Salon show that White House officials routinely controlled media access to NOAA scientists and vetted their reports.

    The Bush administration may not have enough stonewallers. Two weeks before the Nature article appeared, a report published by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, concluded that rising sea-surface temperatures have strengthened ocean storms and that most of the temperature increases can be attributed to human activities.

  • Takin' it to the courts: At press time, the Supreme Court was hearing arguments in the most far-reaching global-warming case ever. Brought by 18 states, the Sierra Club, and other groups, the lawsuit will decide whether the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to address climate change. But that's just the tip of the docket: At least 16 cases are pending in federal or state courts that attempt to hold automakers, utilities, and oil companies accountable for altering our climate. The plaintiffs employ a diversity of legal strategies: One is a class-action suit filed by victims of Hurricane Katrina. Says attorney F. Gerald Maples, who lost his Mississippi home during the storm, "Katrina was a clear result of irresponsible behavior by the carbon-emissions corporate economy."

  • Recycling old ideas: Last September, the Bush administration released its Climate Change Technology Program Strategic Plan, a mouthful of a title and a lot of hot air. The plan promotes existing subsidies to select industries such as nuclear, "clean coal," and ethanol and runs through a laundry list of technologies such as carbon sequestration that could be utilized to address global warming. The administration promises $3 billion a year in research funding, but that's only 2 percent above current levels. And the entire package relies on voluntary participation, with initial goals that don't need to be met until 2010. --R.M.

  • Skeptics Come Home

    "When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight," Dr. Johnson once remarked, "it concentrates his mind wonderfully." The increasing (and increasingly unmistakable) evidence of climate change is having that effect on the ranks of global-warming skeptics, whose numbers are melting away like the snows of Kilimanjaro. --Paul Rauber

    Representative BOB INGLIS (R-S.C.), chair of the Research Subcommittee of the Science Committee, says he "pooh-poohed" global warming until he visited Antarctica last January: "Now I think we should be concerned. There are more and more Republicans willing to stop laughing at climate change who are ready to get serious about reclaiming their heritage as conservationists." (April 2006)

    GREGG EASTERBROOK, author of A Moment on the Earth (in which he wrote that rising temperatures "might be an omen or might mean nothing") and The Progress Paradox and contributing editor to the Atlantic Monthly and the New Republic: "I have a long record of opposing alarmism. But based on the data, I'm now switching sides regarding global warming, from skeptic to convert." (May 2006)

    FRANK LUNTZ, Republican pollster. In 2003, he advised GOP policymakers to make the lack of absolute scientific certainty "a primary issue in the debate" over global warming. He's since changed his tune: "It's now 2006. I think most people would conclude that there is global warming taking place and that the behavior of humans is affecting the climate." (June 2006)

    PAT ROBERTSON, founder and chair of the Christian Broadcasting Network and host of The 700 Club: "I have not been one who believed in the global warming. But I tell you, they are making a convert out of me. . . . It is getting hotter, and the ice caps are melting, and there is a buildup of carbon dioxide in the air. We really need to address the burning of fossil fuels." (August 2006)

    Sir RICHARD BRANSON, founder of the Virgin Group who announced last September that he would devote all the profits from his five airlines and train company to developing clean energy sources: "I used to be skeptical of global warming, but now I'm absolutely convinced that the world is spiraling out of control. CO2 is like a bushfire that gets bigger and bigger every year." (October 2006)

    "WWatch" has been corrected subsequent to publication.

    Illustrations, from top: Lloyd Dangle, Debbie Drechsler, Josef Gast (2)

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