Call for action from American scientific organizations


in Economics, Politics, Science, The environment

Four American national scientific academies have just released three reports on climate change, and called for a price to be put on emissions through either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade scheme: the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. There is one report on climate science, one on mitigation, and one on adaptation. The reports were requested by Congress and is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They endorsed emissions reductions in the range of 57% to 83% by 2050, for the United States.

Hopefully, this will restore a bit of life to the wheezing efforts ongoing in the US Congress to produce climate legislation.

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. May 20, 2010 at 2:41 pm

U.S. Science Body Urges Action on Climate

“One of the reports, “Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change,” urges the United States to set a greenhouse gas emissions “budget” that restricts overall emissions and provides a measurable goal for policy makers and for industry. It does not recommend a specific target but says the range put forward by the Obama administration and Congress is a “reasonable goal.”

Legislation pending in Congress calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

The report says the most efficient way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to set a predictable and rising price. It does not explicitly recommend a cap-and-trade system, but says that such a system of tradable emissions permits would give industry more flexibility in meeting an emissions target or budget.

Another report, “Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change,” suggests that the United States and other nations begin planning for effects like rising sea levels and more severe storms and droughts. Increasing preparedness can be viewed as “an insurance policy against an uncertain future,” the report said, while inaction could impose large costs on future generations.

“These reports show that the state of climate-change science is strong,” Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, said in a statement accompanying the reports. “But the nation also needs the scientific community to expand upon its understanding of why climate change is happening and focus also on when and where the most severe impacts will occur and what we can do to respond.” “

. December 19, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Citizen scientists

Published online 24 November 2010

Scientists should speak out on the environmental effects of ventures such as tar-sands mining.

Canada’s international reputation as a green and gentle nation has long been a matter of national pride. But is that reputation deserved? Canada’s actions on environmental issues — from ignoring Kyoto Protocol targets to obstructing progress at United Nations climate-change talks — are increasingly raising eyebrows, both at home and abroad. Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of this reality gap than Canada’s determination to mine its tar sands at a frantic rate. The sands are a dirty source of oil. They require more energy for oil extraction than do conventional reserves, producing extra greenhouse-gas emissions. The industry has torn up vast swathes of landscape, created toxic ponds of waste and released pollutants into waterways. Where such issues justify pressure for action, it is crucial that scientists such as David Schindler (see page 499) highlight them.

It would be unrealistic to expect that we could harvest fossil fuels or minerals without an effect on the environment. No form of mining is clean. But the fast development of the tar sands, combined with weak regulation and a lack of effective watchdogs, have made them an environmentalist’s nightmare. Both independent scientists and mining companies are already taking steps to mitigate the sands’ environmental impact. The industry reduced extraction emissions per barrel by an average of about 30% in the 1990s. And, at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, work is under way to find a way to extract oil from tar sands without using vast quantities of water, effectively replacing the current method with a chemical ‘dry cleaning’ process. Such a technique, if feasible, would reduce pressure on the local rivers as a water supply and would dampen the continual expansion of toxic tailings ponds.

Companies are unlikely to invest in expensive remedial solutions unless they are forced to do so by environmental regulations, some of which are already in place. The provincial Albertan government is seemingly more progressive than the federal Canadian government in its climate-change plan. Large companies have had to meet a one-time 12% reduction in their emissions per barrel from 2007 onwards, with those that have been unable to comply paying Can$15 (US$14.7) per tonne on their extra emissions, making the province one of only a few places in the world with a mandated price on carbon. There are rules insisting that companies have plans to reclaim lands used and to deal with tailings ponds. And there are fines for non-compliance. The oil company Syncrude was last month fined Can$3.2 million for the deaths of 1,600 birds that landed in its tailings ponds — the biggest environmental fine in Alberta’s history. From this, Can$1.3 million will go to the University of Alberta for research into better bird deterrents, which the company will be obliged to enact.

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