First Things First: Tuesday night Rolling Stone magazine unveiled to a limited audience its new article called “The Runaway General.” But when something “goes viral” in the Internet age, there’s no such thing as a limited audience. In the piece, General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, derides and criticizes the president, vice president, and other key senior members of the administration. It caused a media-wide storm and led to McChrystal’s resignation within about 36 hours. President Barack Obama replaced him with General David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command. The story has little direct bearing on climate developments, except that in scrambling to defuse the situation, the White House postponed a meeting about climate legislation between Obama and several Democratic and Republican senators. The meeting is likely to be rescheduled for next week, but supporters of action lamented the loss of several working days on what’s already a tight legislative calendar.
Parlor-vous Washington?: A policy approach favored by many environmentalists would set a national limit for greenhouse gas emissions and let the free market find the most efficient ways to meet it. A compromise approach floated this week and not immediately dismissed by the White House and others would limit the cap-and-trade element to the utility sector. (The approach championed by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lieberman would set up a utility-sector program in 2013, followed by heavy manufacturing three years later.) With legislation and the schedule to roll it out still in the works, some environmental and liberal groups are paying $11 million for an ad campaign supporting energy and climate legislation.
What is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) thinking? That’s what Darren Samuelsohn, who recently moved from GreenWire to Politico, asks in a piece about Graham’s evolving position on things energy and climate: “It’s become a bit of a parlor game in Washington to guess at Sen. Lindsey Graham’s true motivation for abandoning negotiations on comprehensive energy and climate legislation.” First, senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s initial decision to fast-track immigration policy before climate and energy first separated Graham from the issue. Second, the BP spill scuttled hopes that expanded offshore drilling, which Graham supports, would quickly bring together pro-climate policy Democrats and pro-domestic energy Republicans. Finally, Graham has suggested that climate be held until the next Congress and the Senate knock out an energy bill this year. Earlier in the week, Politico weighed in on John Kerry’s relationship with his Senate colleagues on the issue. Kerry brings enormous knowledge and passion to the issue, which several other senators interviewed in the story admire but can’t always agree with.
Blood and Gore and Sustainability: These are perilous times for climate policy. California will vote in November on whether to suspend its 2006 climate law. The G20 meets this week in Toronto, but with many issues considered more urgent than sustainability and climate change on the agenda. Still, many eyes remain on Washington. As Al Gore told Eric Pooley in Copenhagen last December: “If the Senate defeats the bill, that is an event horizon beyond which it is difficult to see.” Gore and his co-founder of Generation Investment Management, David Blood—a memorable byline if there ever was one—use real estate on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to make a case for sustainable capitalism, and the promise and peril of free markets. “For these reasons and others, markets lie at the foundation of every successful economy… At the very least, the last decade has clearly demonstrated that free and unfettered markets, as they are currently operating, have simply not been delivering optimal long-term results.”
The U.N. Global Compact and Accenture have found a noteworthy increase since 2007 in the number of CEOs who believe sustainability should be built into the core of their businesses. Their report surveys 766 executives, 80 percent of whom claimed that the economic downturn increased their commitment to efficiencies, cost-saving, and new products that are believed to emerge with sustainable business. European executives make up more than half of the pool (439 people), followed by the Americas (156), Asia/Pacific (113), and Africa/Middle East (58). The broad goals, however, are tempered by the complexity of implementing them across business units, competing priorities, and the rest of the market lagging in its valuing of sustainability.
Ford, et al, and the Electric Car: The White House and electrically powered vehicles have a long, uneven history, going back at least to Sept. 1902, when Theodore Roosevelt’s carriage was accidentally rammed by one. (He escaped with slight injuries.) In 1976 both houses of Congress approved a $160 million plan to develop an electric car within five years, over President Gerald Ford’s veto. The president called the proposed effort “premature and wasteful.” I don’t know what happened to that program but personal observations and anecdotal evidence suggest it didn’t take off. The Gulf oil spill has led to renewed interest in some parts in a transportation sector fueled on something other than petroleum. The Obama administration this week agreed to support a bipartisan Senate bill that would spend $6 billion on new infrastructure and supporting programs in 15 test cities. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said the measure could end up as an amendment to an energy (or energy-and-climate) bill this year.
American Climate Idol?: There must be a way to shrink the vast pool of climate-related sciences and scientists, so that non-specialists of any ideological stripe can agree on the expert thinking and information available… right? A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences digs through scientific literature to compile a portfolio of researchers who publish frequently about climate change and whose work is frequently cited—metrics for climate credibility. Of 1,372 scientists whose work qualified them as leading and active climate experts, 97 percent to 98 percent support the basic understanding of manmade global warming. Doubters have lower levels of “climate expertise and scientific prominence.” In the climatic blogosphere, fireworks ensued over whether the paper amounts to some kind of Bravo-style reality show, like Top Chef, to determine who is… “Top Climatologist!” Kidding aside, the paper is a methodical approach to a challenging issue: How to assign credibility and expertise in a culture that too frequently equates it with page hits.
Something to consider: Pictures of pelicans stained and paralyzed with oil have made the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and circulated around the Web. These protected animals have quickly become poster birds for the Gulf oil spill, iconic as they were already in coastal habitats. Their ecological value is matched by their evolutionary history. The struggle to prevent harm to pelicans in particular is brought home by a study in the Journal of Ornithology (via New Scientist). Research on a 30-million-year-old fossil pelican shows that their beaks virtually haven’t changed in that time. It suggests they reached an “evolutionary optimum”—but one not optimized toward living in a hydrocarbon stew.
Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist. Chapter about Ginkgo biloba and climate change available at Conservation.