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Inslee looks for ways to cut carbon emissions

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee appointed a new task force to find ways for Washington to reduce carbon emissions as part of an executive order that attempts to find ways to fight climate change.

At a speech at Shoreline Community College Tuesday, Inslee outlined goals in an executive order that calls for less carbon pollution and more clean energy sources, including a reduction in electricity generated by coal-fired power plants and increased use of electric vehicles and mass transit.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Energy Committee accused Inslee of attempting to maneuver around the Legislature to impose a new gasoline tax. Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale also questioned Inslee's commitment to an open discussion of the issues, noting the Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force’s  first meeting occurred the day the group was announced, with no advance public notice… . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to continue inside the blog.

Green news from around the world

From deforestation doom to reforestation rejoice - 2010 could be the year of cleaner air.  There was a great little story in Newsweek last week about Brazil stepping up their efforts to stop deforestation and signs that deforestation can actually be reversed.  Deforestation represents about 15 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions—more than all the world’s cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships combined.  And for as non-committal as the Copenhagen climate talks were, they did mark the first time countries made halting deforestation central to the fight against climate change.  Read more about this story HERE. 

Will climate change concerns bring businesses home?  We’ve heard for nearly a decade now about businesses outsourcing to other countries, mainly in Asia, because of cheaper labor and material costs, and the effect that has had on our economy and job market.  Though a recent study says that we may have seen the limit of globalization, and suggests that if states start putting a limit on carbon emissions, the cost of shipping would force companies back home.  Read more about this HERE. 

Consensus on global temperature rise… and it’s not good.  There’s been plenty of ink spilled about the Copenhagen climate conference, and how it fell short of assuring any sort of chance at curbing global temperature rise, and now comes a few figures.  According to Newsweek, “after the conference, the United Nations Environment Program found that the world had locked in less than half of the greenhouse-gas reductions needed to provide a 50-50 chance of preventing the temperature increase by 2050. A second study by MIT, Ventana Systems, and the U.S.-based Sustainability Institute calculated that Copenhagen’s proposals will likely leave the world 3.9 degrees warmer by 2100. A third report from Germany’s Potsdam Institute found that even if every Copenhagen proposal is fully funded, average global temperatures will be 3.2 degrees higher by century’s end.”  That’s three independent groups looking at it from different angles, reaching the same or nearly the same conclusions.  Read more HERE. 

Quick news pieces from around the world
For more news you might have missed the last few months, check out the Sierra Club’s “Up to Speed: Two Months, One Page”.

 - Russia is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and to prepare for construction of venues, they are logging large areas of Sochi National Park.
- Saudi Arabia asks for financial assistance should global demand for oil decrease.
- Australians John and Helen Taylor set a new hypermiling record, getting an average of 67.9 mpg while driving their Volkswagen Jetta TDI 9,505 miles to visit the 48 contiguous states.
- The World Bank says that developing nations will need $100 billion a year for the next 40 years to deal with the effects of global warming.
- The president of the low-lying Maldives islands holds a cabinet meeting underwater.


Another Green Monday

Welcome to the real-life Avatar. Or as we like to call it: Alberta.

The cosmic open pit mines up north produce vast quantities of oil from their tar sands. In fact, they’ve made Canada the top foreign supplier to America, and the second-largest storehouse in the world, next to Saudia Arabia. Reserves in Alberta alone hold 173 billion barrels, 96 percent of Canada’s oil exports. In the nearby town of Fort McMurray, their population has doubled the last decade with many workers living in temporary camps. A friend of DTE, who made the 900 mile trek north from Spokane (roughly equidistant to San Francisco) described it as a “Wild West boomtown like ‘Deadwood,’” ridden with lawlessness that comes along with opportunity.

That opportunity comes at a profound ecological cost. Two years ago, The Seattle Times had an excellent feature called “Canada’s oil-sands boom creates vast riches and a dirty footprint,” which explained how the oil is low quality, and the process (watch here) of extracting from Alberta’s oil sands to meet refineries needs produces as much carbon dioxide as 6 million cars annually. (Three times conventional drilling.) Those emission numbers still belie the full damage when you imagine what the toxicity of open pit mining itself has done to the ecosystem where green wilderness has turned to bubbling black goop.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper described it as “an enterprise of epic proportions, akin to the building of the pyramids or China’s Great Wall. Only bigger.”

There’s no reverse to the damage caused. Ruthless extractions on this scale—-like the mountaintop coal removal which we’ll be posting on later in this week—-make the blue natives in James Cameron’s hit film, who believe “all energy is only borrowed,” seem even more quaint.

After the jump are some stories you might’ve missed…

Food for thought

You soon may find yourself scrolling through the nutrition facts on a food item at the grocery store to find the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the production of that particular food.  “170 caloris, hmmm, not bad - .87kg of CO2 per kg of product?  Going to have to look elseshere.”  That’s the scenario in Sweden right now as labels listing the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the production of foods are appearing on some grocery items and restaurant menus around the country, The New York Times reports.

“We’re the first to do it, and it’s a new way of thinking for us,” said Ulf Bohman, head of the Nutrition Department at the Swedish National Food Administration, which was given the task last year of creating new food guidelines giving equal weight to climate and health. “We’re used to thinking about safety and nutrition as one thing and environmental as another.”

And this is far from a greenwashing ploy.  According to the Times, if the new food guidelines were religiously heeded, some experts say, Sweden could cut its emissions from food production by 20 to 50 percent. An estimated 25 percent of the emissions produced by people in industrialized nations can be traced to the food they eat, according to recent research here. And foods vary enormously in the emissions released in their production.

As suspected, this action has drawn many contractors, most notably some in the food industry who argue that it’s confusing and could hurt their business.  Does that sound like a familiar excuse?
The benefits of making people think about what they’re eating, and what that action represents on a larger scale is obviously beneficial, but can anyone see this taking off in America?  It’s obvious that as a culture we value health considerably less than our European counterparts, and reports show that we value conservation and the environment even less.  So if we can’t even agree on simple issues of equality, responsible health coverage, and  if global warming is real or not - how can we expect a consensus on food - arguably the most diverse topic in our culture.  And help us all if anything like meatless Monday makes it’s way to America.

Another Green Monday

“But as I said, the movie is not about him. He is, rather, the surprisingly engaging vehicle for some very disturbing information.”  That’s what A. O. Scott of The New York Times said of Al Gore’s “performance” in An Inconvenient Truth in a review article written in May of 2006 - about exactly one year before we started this Down To Earth blog.  But excuse us if we drop a bombshell disclosure on you and say that An Inconvenient Truth had little if any influence over our environmental news ambitions.  Just convenient timing.  It did however give us a new reason to pay attention to and consider the relevancy of the former vice president - and admittedly crash course learn of his environmental prowess.  Maybe an even bigger bombshell disclosure would be that before An Inconvenient Truth, we had only casually known of Al Gore’s eco cred, and once joked that his “role” in An Inconvenient Truth was another lucky career break ala Kiefer Sutherland in “24” - remember, we’re only in our mid twenties.

But if you read through the Times’ review, you see that even they didn’t properly portray the fact that for 30+ years, Al Gore has been a student of the climate crisis and an advocate for change in environmental policies.  They were confused, a little caught off guard - just like everybody else in America.  And you could argue that in the 3+ years since, most people still don’t get it.  And that’s what makes Al Gore so incredible.  Because in those 3+ years since, he hasn’t stopped trying to make it less confusing, he hasn’t stopped trying to advance the discussion on climate change. Even if you don’t agree with Gore’s message, you can’t disagree with his effectiveness in engaging both citizens and politicians in the climate conversation.

So what does this have to do with the present?  Well “The Goracle” is back, and he’s back in a big way.  In a recent piece in Newsweek titled, “The Evolution of an Eco-Prophet”, Gore talks about his new book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis and provides insight into the intense fact-gathering process behind the book - analyzing from Gore which Joseph Romm, former head of the Department of Energy’s renewables program called, “a fire hydrant of information.”  

It’s hard to imagine a better time for Al Gore to once again be at the forefront of the climate conversation - but it would be better to imagine there not being a conversatin at all.  For it was that 2006 Times’ review that gave us the line, “‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary about the dangers of climate change, is a film that should never have been made.  So like we did three years ago, we will “continue a process of education that could hardly be more urgent.”  Click HERE to read an exerpt from Gore’s new book, and continue after the jump for some stories you might have missed last week.


Public Hearing on greenhouse gas emissions reporting

On March 13, 2008, Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law the Climate Action and Green Jobs bill (House Bill 2815), which authorizes Washington officials to work with the Western Climate Initiative, a partnership of six states and two Canadian provinces, to develop a regional greenhouse gas cap-and-trade system.

Under the bill, the state’s largest greenhouse gas emitters are required to report their releases. This applies to owners or operators of a fleet of on-road motor vehicles that emits at least 2,500 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year in Washington (i.e. trucking and delivery fleets, rental car companies, large customer service fleets [such as phone, cable or power companies] and large government-agency fleets), and a source or combination of sources that emits at least 10,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year in the state (i.e. refineries, pulp and paper mills, cement kilns, some lumber mills, large food processors, and some entities that use fossil fuels to generate power, steam, heat or cooling - and some large fleets of aircraft, marine vessels or rail equipment). You can read more about this HERE. 

The Washington Department of Ecology has been working on the above proposed stipulations since 2008, as directed by lawmakers as part of the passed legislation which called for Ecology to adopt a rule for developing and implementing an emissions reporting system.

Ecology’s proposed rule is available for public review and comment, and everyone here in Spokane will have an opportunity this coming up Tuesday night to review and comment at a hearing that will be held at 6 p.m. at Ecology’s Eastern Regional Office, 4601 N. Monroe St.

“The purpose of this rule is to develop a comprehensive inventory of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state by establishing a reporting system for emissions of greenhouse gases, as required by law”, said Jani Gilbert, Communications Manager of Ecology’s Eastern Region office here in Spokane.  “An inventory of greenhouse gas emissions will support the legislature’s intent to limit and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.”

If you can’t make it (election night) - Ecology will accept public comments on the proposed rule through Nov. 12. Send written comments to Nancy Pritchett, Air Quality Program, Washington Department of Ecology, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600. E-mail comments to npri461@ecy.wa.gov.

Another Green Monday

Oh Hoopfest. This year DTE regrettably decided to watch from the sidelines as Spokane hosted the preeminent three on three basketball tournament in the world. All we could do is talk trash and make sure players decided to shoot for the recycle bins. Yes, we were disappointed by the lack of recycling information considering the massive scale of the event. The Downtown Partnership touted its four recycling bins, hardly a cause for dancing in the streets considering the 200, 000 players and fans, most with bottles in hand. We even caught CH2M Hill as a court sponsor, thinking they could hide from us. DTE never forgets. Despite all the moaning, Hoopfest remains an extraordinary event where everybody comes to play the best game on Earth, in our humble hoop dream opinion. Maybe the early morning pessimism stems from a case of the Mondays—-we just punched each other for saying that—-on a day that should be best spent out on the river. Here are some interesting stories you might’ve missed during the madness.

Photo of The Plastiki. (Image courtesy of ecorazzi)

Message in a bottle (on a ship of bottles). With respect to Thor Heyerdahl’s famous voyage, a ship of plastic bottles called “The Plastiki” will sail the Pacific on an 11,000 mile journey to send a message. “Waste is fundamentally a design flaw. We wanted to design a vessel that would epitomize waste being used as a resource,” said expedition leader David de Rothschild in the AP. Named after Heyerdahl’s 1947 “Kon-Tiki” raft, one of the team members is Josian Heyerdahl, an environmental scientist, the granddaughter of the explorer. The plan is for “The Plastiki” to be a 60-foot catamaran with the hulls made of 10,000 empty bottles stacked to make it float. No word on when they’ll set sail. Full story HERE. Also, check out their homepage, at theplastiki.com. 

Dear Science: Meet the new boss…same as the old boss? By now, we hope readers are aware of the overwhelming evidence that the White House of yesteryear censored reports on global warming to delay action. So we rejoiced when Obama said “the days of science taking a back seat to ideology are over.” However, new reports claimed the Obama administration went the other route by having the EPA suppressing science to fit its own ideology on climate action. Say it ain’t so. (Okay, spoiler alert: The agency rejected the report because the dude was an economist pretending to be a climatologist. What a mix-up!) Full coverage of this debacle in truthiness HERE.

Another Green Tuesday

There was a time not to long ago – our pre site expansion days – that our green news recap feature that you now know and love, “Another Green Monday” was featured on a Tuesday - “Another Green Tuesday” as we so brilliantly named it. So just imagine we hit the wayback machine today (this is actually caused by too long of a weekend and internet issues) and enjoy some of these stories you might have missed from last week… and yesterday.

Bid dropped on proposed Washingnton coal plant.  Citing an inability to produce a required plan for capturing carbon emissions, a Richland-based energy consortium withdrew its application to build a $1.5 billion coal gasification plant in Kalama. “This is a great day for clean air and clean water,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper.  Read more of this story HERE. 

Every little bit helps… or does it.  We’re not here to argue your good intentions, but a recent commentary special on CNN offers interesting insight into that age-old saying, “our failure to talk straight about the numbers is allowing people to persist in wishful thinking, inspired by inane sayings such as “every little bit helps.”  The piece, written brilliantly by David MacKay a professor of physics at the University of Cambridge, is an honest look at alternative energies and what we must do to take serious our attempt at getting off fossil fuels.  Read more HERE. 

35 MPG, 15 too less - enough with every little bit helps.  Yesterday the Obama administration announced plans to “toughen” the standards for carbon emissions from new vehicles to 35.5 miles per gallon.  Though it’s important because it marks the first ever nationwide regulation for greenhouse gases, it’s a relatively weak regulation when MAJOR regulations are needed.  Read more HERE. 

Local story roundup + Lands Council letter

Lazy north Idahoans up in arms over potential drive-through ban in Sandpoint – but will they actually get off the couch to submit comments before the city council. (we had to)  A proposal to prohibit drive-through services just recently passed the city’s planning and zoning commission and goes before the city council in May - and locals aren’t happy.  The ban is part of Sandpoint’s attempt to make their city more attractive and more walkable, but DTE applauds the attempt as one small step at curbing carbon emissions. Last summer, The Star in Toronto told of a man on a personal mission against drive-throughs because of their contribution to increased carbon emissions – by his calculation – some 118 tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants annually for this city’s 29 drive-throughs.

Carl Spackler reporting for duty.  The Spokane Parks Department has a ground squirrel problem at the Finch Arboretum, and they’re calling in the big guns - more like the big explosion.  In what is being called the most humane way to take care of the infestation, the Parks department will use Rodenator Pro - essentially a giant underground shock wave that kills the pests and collapses their tunnels (burying alive those that don’t die instantly from the shock wave).  But is it the most humane way?  Not according to a Spokesman-Review story commenter who left the link to a Colorado-based company that would suck the rodents out of the ground with a giant vacuum and let them free in the wild.  That sounds better than the shock and awe treatment.  Anyone else? 

Eastern Washington water stories hit The New York Times.  Two seperate regional water-issue stories were published in The New York Time last week - Industrial farms could leave eastern Wash. with dry wells, and Wash.’s Yakima Basin storage project dies — or does it?  In both of the stories, the work of the Center for Environmental Law and Policy is on full display.  The Center was founded in 1993 to serve as a voice for the public interest water resource management and preservation in Washington state.

Another Green Monday

When it comes to events, could every month in Spokane be April? While we’re bursting with energy from upcoming bike activities, Earth Day festivities, and, yes, DTE events, last Friday marked the kickoff of the 11th Annual GetLit! It’s hard to believe that five years ago Eastern Washington University Press drew in Sarah Vowell, Kurt Vonnegut (R.I.P), Garrison Keillor, and Harvey Pekar, but this year’s environmental writers, Paul Roberts and David Suzuki, respectively, are obviously enough to keep us thrilled, and it’s an opportunity to reach a new audience. The big NPR-friendly names might’ve skipped town this year. Oh well. GetLit! remains a remarkable and vital community event, a week of readings, workshops, and panels all over town. We hope you check it out. Full event listings HERE and visit ewu.edu/getlit for more information. Here are some noteworthy stories you might’ve missed…

“Treat us like cars.” So says local cycling guru John Speare. And he’s right. On Saturday morning at the quagmire intersection that is Riverside and Monroe, a car stopped for DTE to turn while they had the right away. This happens all the time. Even in this article from the S-R, you’ll find kindness can kill, as the piece explores an always fascinating dichotomy: The relationship between automobiles and cyclists. Full Story HERE.

Some cyclist requests in the article:

•Don’t pass and then make a right-turn just in front of them two seconds later.
•Don’t admonish them to ride on the sidewalks – it’s illegal in some places around here and inappropriate in many others.
•When parked on the street, please look behind you before opening a car door.

CO2 emissions from the internet - A guest column

*Moderator’s note* - The following post is a guest column written by one of our colleagues, and a fellow blogger, Brandon Hansen.  Brandon is a journalism graduate of Eastern Washington University, where he served as the editor-in-chief (DTE’s editor-in-chief) of the student newspaper, The Easterner.  Currently a web consultant for a Spokane-based company, he also blogs in his free time at www.justsouthofnorth.com.

CO2 emissions from the internet
by Brandon Hansen

You’re polluting the air right now.
If you got to this article through a Google Search than you emitted as much as seven grams of CO2.
And that’s just one search, imagine all the times you were searching for wet t-shirt contests (Might want to do a better job of refining your keywords).
Internet servers, which contain all that wonderful information that is the World Wide Web, are all over the place and they kick out plenty of heat and CO2.co2_emissions_main_small Think about that cranky five-year old computer that you have that has a fan louder than a 747 Jumbo Jet. Yeah… that’s basically what internet servers do since they’re constantly on, processing 24/7, and need to be cooled properly.
  Because really, when’s the last time the internet took a break? World of Warcraft players would be up in arms.
Now, I’m not one to point fingers at who’s kicking out all this pollution, because if they shut off the internet, I’d probably be huddled in a corner somewhere mumbling “lol, rotf and brb”.
The Internet Industry, if that’s what you want to call it, puts out about as much CO2 as aviations industry. That’s the guys with the birds that run off of jet fuel. And YouTube doesn’t serve peanuts.
What a drag.
And studies have shown that web servers in the United States account for 1.2 percent of the country’s electrical consumption, more than all our TV sets combined. However there has been a push to make more power efficient servers by companies.

Another Green Monday

DTE took a much-needed break over the weekend to head east over the mountains to Missoula for a Clumsy Lovers concert, and while it’s good to be back in Spokane - the conditions of the air quality both here and there make us forget that we were in different places. There’s something to be said about living amongst mountains and higher elevations, but a thermal inversion is still a thermal inversion.  DTE is gleefully looking forward to the “cleaner” air that comes with warmer temps - but we could always afford for it to be a littler cleaner.  Here are some stories from the week that  you might have missed.

Sticking to a budget in a store with no prices. That’s the analogy that Google.org - the philanthropy arm of Google - used to explain the way consumers spend money on electricity usage. This in an announcement from Google that they have developed a free web service called PowerMeter that consumers can use to track energy use in their house or business as it is consumed. “Google’s mission is to ‘organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,’ and we believe consumers have a right to detailed information about their home electricity use,” Google said on their Official Google.org blog. Now if Google would just start taking steps to reduce their own energy usage. Read more from The New York Times HERE.

And now more on technology and the environment.  Microsoft announced last week that their Dynamics AX software, a business management solution used by companies to track information like financing, human resources, etc.. will now be able to track indicators related to greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.  One of the most important steps businesses can take in this rocky economy is one towards efficiency, and by looking at ways to become more sustainable, and more conservative with resources, businesses improve their efficiency - a win/win situation.  Read more from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer HERE.