03 February 2007

Web Resources for Global Climate Change

[I'm posting this here instead of in 16th Street Forum, where it belongs, because I can no longer get into the Blogger dashboard for the other account, and there is no straightforward way to find out what to do about it.]

This post strings together a number of useful links to Web resources on the topic of global climate change and what the individual can do to address it. I note in passing that the phrase ‘global climate change’ is preferred over ‘global warming.’ From the perspective of atmospheric science, what is actually going on is the retention of energy in the global weather system, energy that normally would have leaked out (hence the preferred term of some scientists, ‘global heating’). As a result, there are various predicted effects, such as an increase in the global average surface temperature (‘global warming’, which is of course also a measured effect), an increase in the extremes of weather phenomena, like storms (not yet fully established as a measured effect), and shifts in the long-term weather patterns in various parts of the planet (‘climate change’). So, ‘global climate change’ is kind of a compromise that satisfies most.

Education and Information

There are some good overviews to the science, in addition to what we’ve already seen in An Inconvenient Truth. For example, there are introductions by the Koshland Science Museum, and by the Pew Center. There are also very useful reports prepared by the Congressional Research Service. Unfortunately, these are not generally made available to the public – unless you have good friends in low places, like the Federation of American Scientists, or, for this subject, the National Council for Science and the Environment. Of course, many of the other organizations mentioned below also have explanatory material. (And, many of the sites identified for one resource also have links to other types of resources, so I’ve tried to spread the listings out among the topics.)

At a more advanced level, you might as well go to the scientists actually doing the work. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the UN-sponsored structure in the news this week; their most important products are the Assessment Reports, of which the Third (Climate Change 2001) can be accessed from their publication page. Within the US, the key organization is the US Climate Change Science Program, whose most recent annual report to Congress is only a few months old. In addition, you can get a climate perspective on short term events from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Another useful method for keeping up on current events is to check out what the climate scientists themselves are saying. The prominent group blogs are Real Climate and World Climate Report. Stephen Schneider uses his personal web site as a library of useful documents. For quirkier takes, there’s John Fleck and Ross Gelbspan. For a contrarian (but not knee-jerk skeptical) viewpoint, check out the loyal opposition, the Roger Pielkes, father and son. The best general environmental site covering the news is Grist; you can subscribe to a free daily e-newsletter. And finally, don’t neglect what our own local meteorologists are saying.

There are lots of good books on the subject. My current favorite (because it is the one I’ve read most recently) is The Rough Guide to Climate Change by Robert Henson.

Politics – High Level Actions

There are a lot of activities going on in which individuals can participate. Most immediately, there is the April 14th, National Day of Climate Action, organized by StepItUp2007. And if you don’t want to risk the weather, you can add your signature to the Stop Global Warming Virtual March. Contact your representatives to support the McCain-Lieberman Bill, which is the best thing Congress has to offer so far.

Speaking of Congress, you may want to keep an eye on the daily struggles against obfuscation and inactivity in both legislative and executive branches. Particularly useful for this are Chris Mooney’s blog – he wrote The Republican War on Science, and is bringing out a new book on climate change and hurricanes – and Rick Piltz’s Climate Science Watch – he’s a veteran of both the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the US Climate Change Science Program.

There are plenty of organizations engaged in a range of climate related actions. Greenpeace has an initiative to reduce CO2 emissions by half by 2050. Vote Solar presses actions at federal, state, and local levels. And then there’s the League of Conservation Voters, Project Vote Smart, the Alliance to Save Energy, Environmental Defense, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the American Solar Energy Society, the American Wind Energy Association, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, and Friends of the Earth.

If that’s not enough, you can find other groups via the World Directory of Environmental Organizations.

Politics – Community Actions

There are several organizations focusing on making a difference at the community level. Closest to home is the Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions, which is actually a good model for a county-level activity. It would be good to see things like it in the other DC-area suburbs. Other relevant activities are the US Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, the US Green Building Council, the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council, and Fresh Energy.

Personal Conservation – General

But what, you ask, can we do to reduce our own feelings of responsibility? (And I guarantee that the more you study this, the more you realize that any civilization has an impact on the earth, and a responsibility to address it, both individually and collectively.) Fortunately, any sufficiently advanced civilization will have Wikipedia; there are two rather good overviews of both individual and political actions for addressing climate change under the headings of Mitigation of Global Warming and Climate Change Response. There are also some handy checklists to follow, prepared by Environmental Defense, Al Gore’s Climate Crisis organization, StopGlobalWarming.org, and Grist.

Personal Conservation – Carbon Calculation

One thing you will want to do is figure out just how bad your personal impact on the environment is, so you can get a sense of how much you have to clean up your act. There are many carbon calculators out there, at StopGlobalWarming.org, Climate Crisis, [SafeClimate], the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Resurgence, Carbonfund.org, and The Conservation Fund.

Personal Conservation – Optimize Your Home Energy Use

There are two major things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. The first is to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Depending on how bad you are when you start, and how aggressive you are in correcting it, you can reduce your home carbon load by 13 to 18%. You’ll probably want to start by doing an energy audit, following something like the DOE Home Energy Saver. Then nibble away at things; the DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy site provides a good structure and checklist. Don’t be as warm in the winter or as cool in the summer as you have been. Turn down the water heater (both for showers and laundry). Check your insulation, and caulk your windows. There are several comprehensive consumer guides to help out, run by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Consumer Reports, and your friendly neighborhood federal government. Shop green. And change to compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Of course, there are major changes you can make by remodeling and rebuilding. A good starting place is Home Energy, but you’re probably as well off by starting with Google.

Personal Conservation – Optimize Your Transportation

The other really big thing you can do is reduce your driving impact. By cutting back your personal consumption of gasoline, you can cut your carbon load by something like 10%. Ideas? Well, you could walk, ride a bike (check out Commuter Connections, the Arlington Bike Commuting Page, and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association Commuter Mentors), telecommute (DOE has a page on this, but you might also look at articles here and here), or share the car (as in the Arlington Car Sharing Program, or Flexcar). You could get rid of your gas guzzler and buy a less guilt-ridden vehicle, following the advice of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, or Yahoo (working with Environmental Defense), or the feds. Don’t forget to maintain it properly. And when you travel, why not rent a hybrid?

Speaking of travel, there are companies that actually work with you to offset your car or plane CO2 output by investing in recovery methods (like planting trees in Brazil). Some are independents, like TerraPass. Some are travel agencies, like Travelocity. And some offer offsets for home use as well, like Climate Care.

Personal Conservation – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

This may not be obvious, but there is a significant carbon impact from making all the packaging that you use, and from getting rid of it when you’re done with it. The typical estimate is that you can reduce your carbon footprint by 5% if you can recycle half your trash. There’s lots of advice on the web about recycling, and about reducing use of grocery bags, etc. One nice site to check out is freecycle, which can also help you deal with that clutter problem.

Personal Conservation – Purchase Green Tags

Needless to say, it would be far better if what energy you used came from renewable sources (sun, wind, wave, geothermal – Aristotle may have been on to something). Much better than burning coal, which is truly demonic from the standpoint of global climate change. But few states allow you to select your power source. Instead, you can buy tradable renewable energy certificates, or ‘green tags.’

Federal law says that, whenever the prices are equal, power suppliers must prefer the renewable source over the nonrenewable. Of course, the prices are never equal, and renewable sources are often not available in your locality. But what counts is the power in the national power grid. If you buy a green tag, that cost gets added to the cost of your nonrenewable power to make it equal to that of a renewable source. That means that, as your local power distributor is giving you evil power, it is committed to purchasing the equivalent amount of good power and putting that into the grid, to be available elsewhere. Another way to think of it is that, for the cost of the green tag, you are providing a discount on the cost of the equivalent amount of renewable power somewhere, so that it will have preference when someone in the vicinity served by that renewable source needs it. You can check into green tags at buyGREEN.net, at the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, at Virginia Interfaith Power and Light, or at the DOE/EPA site.

Green Business and Green Investment

We should not forget that, while the hand of the market may be invisible, the conscience need not be. There are a number of efforts promoting more earth-friendly business activities, including the Social Investment Forum, Ceres, [Safe Climate] for Business, and the Center for Energy & Climate Solutions.

Last Thoughts

Living green can be… interesting. You will need support groups. Keep an eye on TreeHugger Blog, the Green Options Blog (which is getting underway this month), and Global Cool. And drink with like-minded friends; Green Drinks DC is having its inaugural imbibe Tuesday at 6 PM at Zaytinya, at the Gallery Place Metro stop.


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