Climate Change: It's Worse than You Think

Even if you aren’t a dyed in the wool environmentalist, it’s hard not to feel at least somewhat giddy at the prospects of what an Obama presidency could do for climate change.

During the electoral campaign, Obama repeatedly said that he would consider climate change and energy two of his administration’s top priorities. When pressed on the urgency of the economic crisis and the yawning federal deficit, he refused to buckle – arguing that the climate crisis was too critical an issue to kick down the road again.

In the wake of his memorable speech at the Global Climate Summit, only a hardened cynic would dismiss his climate advocacy as an opportunistic campaign ploy.

And, with the recent elevation of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) to the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee (replacing long-serving Rep. John Dingell, the notoriously pro-Detroit, regulation-leery Democrat), there’s reason to believe President-elect Obama’s first term could see significant progress on this front.

Putting Global Warming Laggards on Trial


That is perhaps best word to describe a class action lawsuit filed this week in the International Criminal Court in The Hague in Holland against national governments refusing to act on reducing carbon emissions.

The suit was filed by climate activist Danny Bloom who is asking for “US$1 billion dollars in damages on behalf of future generations of human beings on Earth - if there are any”

No Joke

Could Falling Oil Prices Stall Oil Sands?

Finally, some good news: The global economic slowdown might curb runaway carbon emissions in Northern Alberta’s oil sands—at least temporarily.

Oil dipped below $50 a barrel this week for the first time since May 2005, and according to a report in Thursday’s New York Times,

“some analysts predict oil could fall to $30 to 40 a barrel as the world economy worsens.”

That $30 is a magic number for many energy economists, who for years have argued that Alberta’s oil sands projects are only viable when petroleum is trading above it.

Taken together, the mining and processing megaprojects represent Canada’s leading source of the heat-trapping carbon emissions that cause global warming. According to Pembina Institute estimates, by year end the operations will have released around 46 million metric tonnes of equivalent carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere.

But there are already signs that the machinery may be slowing.

The Vancouver Sun notes that the ongoing market slide has placed a de facto “moratorium” on development in the oil sands.

Revving the Climate Policy Engine

All the pieces seem to be falling into place this week.

Even as renewable energy stocks continued to plummet along with the rest of the market—the PowerShares WilderHill Clean Energy Index, which seeks to represent the industry, has declined 37 percent this year—we’re finally seeing some striking signals that at last things will be different when it comes to climate and energy policy.

As recently as last week, my colleague Sheril Kirshenbaum wrote here that while we’re on the verge of a sea change, it was still unclear precisely how the incoming Obama administration would move on global warming.

Will we see "Waxman Hearings" for Big Coal and Oil?

There’s no doubt that it’s new day for climate policy in the United States with Representative Henry Waxman, a leading champion in Congress of laws to protect the environment and fight global warming, beating out Dingell who spent the last two years more interested in boosting the Big Auto lobby and fighting against higher fuel economy standards for cars.

The question for me is whether we will now see a sequel to the “Waxman Hearings” on Big Oil, like the ones he held on Big Tobacco.


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