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It’s warm and sunny today in Doha.

That’s where representatives from UN member countries are gathered for another round of UN climate talks.

It’s a fitting location in many ways. The world overall is getting hotter and dryer.

(At least where it’s not getting colder and wetter.)

Will the talks bring us any closer to a global climate treaty designed to hold us under the 2C degree tipping point? There’s a lot at stake, well described in this Environmental Leader article.

As much as I deeply admire the UN’s work, I’m doubtful for any significant outcomes.

If Sandy couldn’t rattle souls to put climate change at the top of the political agenda, then I don’t hold much hope for a conference half-a-world away.

Not to mention that host country Qatar is the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases per capita and has not announced any reduction goals.

The two-week event includes release of a new UN report on the increasingly liquid state of the planet’s permafrost. Very bad news.

Forget 2 degrees.

A new World Bank report projects a 4C rise by 2100.

Via 2degreesnetwork.com:

The [World Bank] organization has released a new report summarizing a range of the direct and indirect climatic consequences under the current global path for greenhouse gas emissions, taking a look at the potential impacts if the world’s temperature increases by 4 degrees by the end of the century.

Worth a complete, thorough read:

Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4C Warmer World Must Be Avoided

Who’s ready for a carbon tax?

The words that dared not speak before Nov. 5 can now be spoken.

Judging by the flood of news I’m seeing, get ready to hear a lot about a carbon tax as a two-in-one solution for both the fiscal cliff and climate change.

First, what’s a carbon tax?

As described by Wall St. Journal journalist Keith Johnson, “The idea of a carbon tax is simple: Put a price tag on the harmful emissions from fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, and use the revenues to fund clean-energy development, pay down the deficit or slash taxes. Proponents often describe it as a win-win-win policy, because carbon taxes would penalize things that are bad (pollution) and lower taxes on things that are good (labor and capital).”

For both economic and political reasons, a carbon tax has been a complete non-starter for Congress in recent years.

But maybe now, post-election, post-Sandy, and gratefully post-Athena, there might be more room to consider this idea?

No less than vehement anti-taxer Grover Norquist floated a tiny, carbon tax-filled balloon yesterday to see where the wind was blowing:

Via NationalJournal.com:

Norquist: Carbon-Tax Swap for Income-Tax Cut Wouldn’t Violate No-Tax-Hike Pledge

In a step that may help crack open the partisan impasse on climate change, Grover Norquist, the influential lobbyist who has bound hundreds of Republicans to a pledge never to raise taxes, told National Journal that a proposed “carbon tax swap”—taxing carbon pollution in exchange for cutting the income tax—would not violate his pledge.

Alas, Mr. Norquist abruptly and definitively yanked back his position back today.

Via thinkprogress.org

Grover Norquist Abruptly Changes Position On Carbon Tax After Facing Criticism From Koch-Backed Group

But one day later, after being criticized by the American Energy Alliance, the advocacy arm of a Koch-supported energy think tank devoted to promoting fossil fuel development, Norquist has completely reversed his statement, saying there virtually “no conceivable way” he could support a tax on carbon.

Well that was fun while it lasted. Cross him off the carbon-tax seating chart.

But seriously, the real reason we’re talking about a carbon tax today is that the conservative American Enterprise Institute is hosting a meeting about it.

Via wsj.com:

Carbon Tax Idea Gains Wonkish Energy

With the fiscal cliff looming and parts of the U.S. still digging out from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, calls for the U.S. to adopt a carbon tax are gathering steam–even though there’s little sign of interest from Congress or the White House.

Today the conservative American Enterprise Institute is holding an all-day, on-the-record discussion of the idea. And the Brookings Institution is unveiling a slate of new measures meant to make the government more effective, including a carbon tax that could raise $1.5 trillion over ten years. All that follows a cascade of carbon-tax advocacy in recent days from the chattering classes and a slate of academic work over the summer (not to mention our own two cents).

“The time seems ripe for this discussion. The president is committed both to raising tax revenue and to dealing with climate change. A carbon tax kills two birds with one stone,” said Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard economist who advised the Romney campaign and has long pushed for more efficient taxation, including a carbon tax.

As Mr. Johnson notes in the links above, other voices are weighing in as well.

From the science community…

Via Nature.com:

America’s carbon compromise

As looming tax increases and budget cuts threaten to plunge the US economy back into recession, Congress should take a hard look at introducing a carbon tax as an important part of the solution.

And familiar, long-time political activists…

Via thehill.com:

Gore warns of ‘climate cliff,’ pushes carbon tax in ‘fiscal cliff’ talks

Former Vice President Al Gore called for a carbon tax to be part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations in the lame-duck session of Congress.

“It will be difficult for sure but we can back away from the fiscal cliff and the climate cliff at the same time,” Gore said in an interview with The Guardian. “One way is with a carbon tax.”

Meantime, Slate.com columnist Matthew Yglesias dismisses the idea of a carbon tax getting passed as a “pipe dream.”

Via Slate.com:

A Sensible Grand Bargain Addresses Climate Change

I’m not one to go all gaga over grand bargains, but this [carbon tax] is the grand bargain that actually makes sense—a proposal that would divide both parties’ core coalitions.

Is this even remotely likely? No. It’s a pipe dream.

While I appreciate Mr. Yglesias’ perspective, I hope he’s wrong.

Just wait until the White House chimes in. Things are starting to get very interesting.

 

Sports apparel maker Puma is giving leather the boot.

After calculating the true, full end-to-end cost of including different materials in its products, Puma announced in June that it is phasing out leather from its products.

(I missed this news in the whole Rio+20 UN Sustainable Development conference media avalanche so I’m just catching up on it now.)

Puma is one of the few companies that has committed to publishing an environmental profit and loss statement. Its first report in November 2011 attaches monetary costs to the environmental impact of each step in its operations and supply chains.

To its credit, the company has decided that leather costs too much in environmental impact, so it won’t be used anymore.

Via ft.com:

Puma to kick leather into touch
Puma will have to stop using leather in its famous football boots and trainers because it is such an environmentally damaging product, the sportswear company’s executive chairman has said.

The measure showed the production and processing of raw materials was the biggest contributor to Puma’s environmental footprint, said Mr Zeitz, “with leather being the biggest impact driver”.

That is partly because cattle ranching soaks up water supplies and requires land to be cleared, which can affect plant and wildlife species, and also because of the chemicals and contaminants associated with leather tanneries.

But it’s important to remember that Puma isn’t really focused on “zero leather.”

Pulling leather out of the equation lets the company continue to produce goods, probably more goods, for increased revenues.

Just with a lighter carbon footprint overall.

As a society, in the pursuit of growth and enterprise, we as a society tend to go for “more.”

Reducing or ceasing consumption is not a popular topic of conversation, but it is an important one.

In the meantime, I think that efforts from companies like Puma to get to  “less” represent steps in the right direction to a more sustainable future.

Shall we blame it on the rain?

Or maybe point at melting icecaps, rising ocean levels, tornadoes, tsunamis, and blistering drought?

Whatever the catalyst, many of the world’s biggest businesses are wide awake and moving on the climate change challenge.

They get that the world needs to slow down greenhouse gas emissions–pronto–or there won’t be nearly as nice a world for anyone who wants to run a business.

Not to mention live happily or raise kids.

That’s what I heard over and over yesterday from business leaders around the globe on Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) web conference.

CDP is a worldwide non-profit independent coalition of businesses committed to reporting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable water use.

The call was timed to coincide with CDP’s latest climate change report on its S&P 500 members:  “Accelerating Change to a Lower Carbon Future”.

Everyone on this web conference is fully on board that Sustainability progress is explicitly linked to business success.  So no surprises there. But what did surprise me was the candor with which they spoke about everything else.

There was frank talk about U.S. consumption patterns and foot-dragging on energy initiatives, the need for developing countries to be able to grow, and sobering data about how close we are to the 2-degrees point of no return.

One question really caught my attention was this: How do we enroll leaders for change at companies who don’t stand to benefit in the short term? (The question didn’t get any answers on the call, but I’m not sure there is one other than a combination of incentive carrots and regulatory sticks from government.)

A highlights video of the 2-hour call hasn’t been made available yet, but in the meantime, he’s an excellent write-up by BusinessWeek senior editor and content chief Diane Brady. She also ably moderated the call.

Via businessweek.com:

Climate Change Becomes a Business Reality

The takeaway from the discussions today with a mix of business leaders and investors at the CDP Global Climate Change Forum, which I moderated from New York, is that growing private-sector efforts to reduce greenhouse gases simply can’t move the needle on its own.What’s needed is government action to curb emissions through everything from taxes, carbon caps, and credits that can be traded, as well as incentives to invest in projects and products that may not pay off for years.

Businesses understand that climate change is real, that it is irrevocably changing our planet, and that they hold significant responsibility to make it better. Fewer emissions. Less water. Decreased pollution. Restored ecosystems. Healthier workplaces and homes.

Now that it’s a becoming reality for the business world, we need to ensure that the U.S. government is on board as well. And in serious action.

That’s where we all come in as citizens.

Science tells us what. Policy tells us what to do about it.

Human-caused climate change is happening and it’s hurting the world we live on.

So why aren’t more citizens, businesses, and governments taking action?

I attended a lecture last night on just that topic at Rutgers University by Dr. Michael E. Mann, climate scientist and author of  “The Hockey Stick and The Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.”

Dr. Mann started off stating that climate change science is not controversial.  Climate change science rests on established and well-understood facts and validated models.

The earth’s climate is changing rapidly, and perhaps irreversibly, due to human-created carbon emissions into our atmosphere.

With that out of the way, he recounted his reluctant evolution from policy-eschewing scientist to a front-line climate science  defender.

Think Attorney General subpoenas, Congressional inquiries, and even death threats.

All waged by policymakers, politicians, and those with financial interests in keeping climate change science from being accepted as basic fact.

It’s a fascinating story and I strongly recommend the book.

Watch a condensed 16-minute version of this same talk from his Dec. 2011 TEDx talk:

TEDxPSU – Michael Mann – A Look Into Our Climate: Past To Present To Future

And about that hockey stick?

Kudos for my alma mater’s student newspaper The Daily Targum for covering the well-attended event:

Author makes case for rising temperatures

Michael E. Mann, a professor in the Department of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, came to speak about his book, “The Hockey Stick and The Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines,” yesterday at the Cook Campus Center.

 “The hockey stick is a graph that my co-authors and I published more than a decade ago, which was an attempt to find how the temperature of the earth has changed over 1,000 years,” Mann said.

“It quickly became an icon in the climate change debate because it told such a simple story,” he said. “You didn’t need to understand the physics of how a climate model works to understand what this graph is telling you.”

His talk ended on the positive note that there is still time, not a lot,  to take action before we hit the point of no return. (Wonky but worth it.)

But first, we need to stop arguing about the science.

Learn More:

Aug. 30 White House Executive Order Signed by President Obama to Accelerate Energy Efficiency

Sept 6. Greenbiz.com: Article White House Efficiency Plan Will Up Output, Curb Emissions
(Greenbiz.com is a for-profit online news source covering Sustainable Business and related topics)

Sept. 7 New York Times: Obama Counterpunches “Climate Change is Not a Hoax”

Sept 7 Inside Climate News: Major Corporations Aren’t Waiting for Washington to Reduce Emissions and Save Money
(Inside News is a non-profit, non-partisan news source)

David Roberts has some great news.

Via Grist.org:

We [the U.S.] have cut our carbon emissions more than any other country in the world in recent years — 7.7 percent since 2006. U.S. emissions fell 1.9 percent last year and are projected to fall 1.9 percent again this year, which will put us back at 1996 levels. It will not be easy to achieve the reductions Obama promised in Copenhagen — 17 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2020 — but that goal no longer looks out of reach, even in the absence of comprehensive legislation.

And a ponder. If we are doing so well, why aren’t we talking about it?

The answer, according to Roberts, lies in the political landscape that will shape conversations now until November.

President Obama has some wins to claim, but not all of them lead to good places.

Say, for instance, that electricity use has fallen.That’s all well and good, except for that this dip was caused by the Great Recession whalloping production and consumption.

See the tarnished lining inside this silver news?

This good news-bad news is nothing new to anyone who has spend time in a public affairs, investor relations or marketing communications position. Don’t say things that lead to questions you don’t want to answer.

As a Sustainability writer and practitioner, I’m fascinated by what I can learn from these real-world conversations. I’m interested in talking more persuasively, honestly and accurately about how climate change and environmental issues impact our businesses and communities.

Read the full article.

If you can’t beat ’em, well, beat them.

With a green stick.

British Columbia has gone farther than any other government entity to make polluting the environment unpleasantly expensive.

Via NYTimes.com: 

The Most Sensible Tax of All

British Columbia’s carbon tax – a tax on the carbon content of all fossil fuels burned in the province – increased from $25 to $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, making it more expensive to pollute.

This was good news not only for the environment but for nearly everyone who pays taxes in British Columbia, because the carbon tax is used to reduce taxes for individuals and businesses. Thanks to this tax swap, British Columbia has lowered its corporate income tax rate to 10 percent from 12 percent, a rate that is among the lowest in the Group of 8 wealthy nations. Personal income taxes for people earning less than $119,000 per year are now the lowest in Canada, and there are targeted rebates for low-income and rural households.

Could it work in the United States?

It’s an idea worth considering.

What does front-and-center Sustainability look like?

Ford.

Via Greenbiz.com:

New Ford focus? Automaker says sustainability is Job One

The company’s global director of sustainability and vehicle environmental matters, John Viera, tells GreenBiz the issue of sustainability “has moved from the periphery to the center of our strategy for succeeding in the marketplace and helping to address global challenges.We understand that business practices focused on energy efficiency, sustainable materials, human rights and consumer safety are the key to the continued growth of our company and quality of life worldwide.”

This bold declaration for the future embraces a today-and-tomorrow strategy by making traditional fuel engines more efficient while also innovating new  electric technologies.

I’ll be following closely to see how pronouncements match up with reality.

 

 

 

Keep an eye on greenhouse gas emissions as a hotly contested political issue, playing out at the Federal and state levels.

Inside the Beltway, National Journal reporter Amy Harder asks:

What’s at Stake in Climate Debate?  in the legal fight over the Obama administration’s power to regulate carbon emissions:

This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments over four major lawsuits challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.

What is at stake in the lawsuits regarding EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions? Will EPA or its challengers, which include a wide range of industry organizations and some states, prevail? Should the Obama administration or Congress do anything on climate change right now?

Well, she got some really interesting replies from completely opposite ends of the climate change conversation.

I’m spending time this week learning about where Climate Change skeptics are coming from. This exchange is giving me an eyeful.

What motivates someone to disavow the collected scientific consensus? What sources inform their conclusions? Who’s paying who for what? What are they really arguing for?

And closer to home in Trenton, environmental advocates and business interest square off against NJ’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The bill to keep NJ in the regional pollution-curbing consortium is on a a full vote and then the Governor’s desk.

Via Frank Brill at Enviropolitics Blog:

RGGI Revival Legislation Clears NJ Senate Ccommittee

“Is RGGI a failed program that has not reduced greenhouse gases but has jacked up electric costs? Or is it an evolving model for how other states, too, should be working to cut CO2 while boosting clean energy projects?”

And via NJ Spotlight, Tom Johnson’s excellent round-up of the positions and players:

Lawmakers, Environmentalists Want NJ Back in Greenhouse Gas Initiative

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee yesterday voted unanimously, joined by a Republican legislator, to vote out a bill (S-1322) that would force the state to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a 10-state cooperative effort that established a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Will Governor Christie veto it again like last year? We’ll have to wait and see.