Foreign Policy Blogs

Some Different Angles

Carbon Offsetting , I've touched on offsets a few times along the way since March:  in "The Business of Green" and in Markets, and of course, in the last post below from Kate Hamilton on Carbon Expo.

Here's a succinct description of offsets from a "NY Times" article from May 8, Sale of Carbon Credits Helping Land-Rich, but Cash-Poor, Tribes:  "Carbon is a constituent of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide. Trees can pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store the carbon in their tissue. Companies may be able to offset the carbon dioxide they send into the atmosphere by paying for projects that pull carbon out of the atmosphere."  Also, here's a great article from "USA Today" that talks specifically about offsets for travel.  There's an awful lot of back and forth on what constitutes an offset and how much one should charge for it.

Now comes a cautionary article from the venerable "Financial Times" – Beware the carbon offsetting cowboys, the risk of fraud being a real danger.  (This article comes courtesy of the estimable World Business Council for Sustainable Development.) 

There is a considerable concern, understandably, about standards – in evaluating projects, in pricing, in how to trade and charge commissions, etc.  There is work afoot on a Voluntary Carbon Offset Standard.  The Climate Group, among others, has been assiduously working on this.

Fear and Loathing in Coal Country , An opinion piece came across the transom that I thought should be shared:  Coal Man, from the "Wall St. Journal."  Robert Murray is a coal-mine owner with $800 million in sales and 3,000 employees.  His case is that "The science of global warming is speculative," and that cap-and-trade or some other constraint on coal production and use will bankrupt his industry and the American economy.  He's outraged at the "collaborationists" in the corporate leadership community, such as those in the United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP).  He accuses them of being more concerned with their bottom lines than about jobs and the economy.

Mr. Murray and the member of the WSJ editorial board who wrote this piece, Kimberly Strassel, seem to leave virtually no stone unthrown.  The headline writer is even in on the action, talking about global warming "hysteria."  Mr. Murray refers to the "elitists" and "fear-mongers."  Ms. Strassel gave us "collaborationist" here, the USCAP CEO's are "polished titans," in contrast to Mr. Murray who is "straight-talking," and a "no-nonsense guy."  Mr. Murray is like " most honest participants in this debate."  As Jack Benny might've said:  "Well!"

But the presumably dishonest folks at the IPCC have done precisely what Mr. Murray says they have not:  looked at the costs as well as the benefits of various mitigation strategies, and one of the guiding principles of USCAP is to "Be fair to sectors disproportionately impacted" and they discuss this in their "Call for Action."  What Mr. Murray and Ms. Strassel seem to ignore, however, are the economic costs to the U.S. and world economies of not acting.  The IPCC discusses this at some length, as does the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, and the report from Lehman Brothers, The Business of Climate Change. 

Let me take a bit from an earlier post (If You Don't Like Al Gore, Then ):  "Lord Peter Levene, chairman of Lloyd's of London:  "We cannot risk being in denial on catastrophe trends,' Levene said January 12 in a speech to the World Affairs Council at the National Press Club. "We urgently need a radical rethink of public policy, and to build the facts into future planning.' See Lloyd's webpage on climate change here."

The War on Rachel Carson , Elizabeth Kolbert, the superb writer for "The New Yorker," has another great piece this week:  Human Nature about Rachel Carson and her legacy.  "As much as any book can, "Silent Spring' changed the world by describing it. An immediate best-seller, the book launched the modern environmental movement"

So do we honor this extraordinary woman at the centenary of her birth?  No, a Senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, has decided that she reported "junk science" and that he'll hold up a bill honoring her.  See this article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  What's Coburn's main contention?  That Carson's work in eradicating the indiscriminate use of DDT caused millions of deaths from malaria.  Only thing is, folks, that DDT was never banned as an anti-malarial pesticide, but for agricultural use.  See this from Wikipedia or this from the blogosphere.  What it comes down to is that Carson's work, coming when it did, probably saved millions of lives.

Nota Bene  I put Betsy Kolbert in a class with Rachel Carson.  Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change is a stunning picture of what we're up against in confronting the specter of global warming.  About 20 years ago, I was helping run a workshop on acid rain for some Sierra Club activists and we'd invited some press, not thinking anyone would show up, but lo and behold, a young reporter for the "NY Times" did:  Betsy Kolbert.  We thought that was cool and so was she.

Biofuels , "All that glisters is not gold" , In this item from Nature.Com's excellent new blog, Climate Feedback, we read:  "Warnings that switching to biofuels as a "clean' energy source could threaten food security and increase deforestation have become increasingly stark this week."  Referencing a report from the U.N. on sustainable bioenergy, the good folks at Nature say that there are real concerns.  This is certainly echoed in what we've recently seen in Mexico regarding spiking prices for corn.  Here's a blockbuster, How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor, from "Foreign Affairs."  See also this thoughtful piece from two agricultural policy experts:  Don't use corn for ethanol.


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Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change