Paul Burman

Paul Burman

Cycling is the world most energy efficient means of travel. If one compares units of energy to units of energy and mile for mile, estimates of of bike MPG are almost always equivalent to hundred(s) MPG - meaning that a bike can take you farther with fewer global warming causing carbon emissions (and other pollutants) - and that is a good thing. Biking also helps to promote good health which keeps society's costs of health care down. It reduces burden on over-crowded streets and public transportation. Helps to improve mental health. Improves safety of neighborhoods. And creates healthy and sustainable habits that can last a lifetime. But the biggest problem that cyclists face is safety. Let's face it, you are exposed to the elements on a bike - road conditions, weather, and crazy traffic patterns can all affect cyclist safety. For that reason, it is important for cities, municipalities, states and the federal government to prioritize development of cycling infrastructure that helps to improve cyclist safety and encourages participation in this sustainable means of transportation. A big step towards improving cyclist safety was taken as the US Department of Transportation awarded a $23 million grant to help complete part of the East Coast Greenway in the Phila., Pa. region. The East Coast Greenway is a developing bike trail system that spans 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida. The grant will help to create or preserve about 1,000 jobs as it helps to make the region a more bicycle friendly area by building trails, bike lanes and other cycling infrastructure to encourage participation. Cycling in cities is normally the quickest way to travel and does amazing things to improve local air quality and minimize urban congestion. When complete, the East Coast Greenway will provide cyclists of all skill levels a safe way to see the east coast and navigate our nation's largest cities. While not all of us will be able to make it up and down the full 3,000 mile route, having such an accessible bike route near tens of millions of Americans will benefit us all.
Friday, 18 December 2009 15:05

Copenhagen Update: The Waiting Game

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I have spent my career thus far fighting global warming. From standing up to big coal in Virginia to helping businesses and individuals fight global warming now with Carbonfund.org - all I have thought about for years has been global warming. The UN COP15 climate meetings in Copenhagen should have ended by now, and probably should have ended in the failure to produce a global treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But, as the New York Times has put it, our world leaders are heading into overtime to try and strike a last minute deal. Nobody wants to leave Copenhagen without a deal - that just looks bad for all parties involved. And as Eric Carlson, Carbonfund.org's President and Copenhagen attendee stated, "It is normal for these types of negotiations to be tension filled and prolonged." But I am sitting here in agony (metaphorically speaking), waiting for what could amount to either be one of the most important announcements of my lifetime or another huge let down. Climate stability is too important for our world leaders to leave Copenhagen empty handed. I am anxiously awaiting a statement of victory - a deal has been reach and emissions will be reduced. Follow Carbonfund.org on Facebook and Twitter for updates and news from Copenhagen!
Thursday, 10 December 2009 16:07

Copenhagen Update: Save Tuvalu!

"Our islands are disappearing, our coral reefs are bleaching, we are losing our fish supplies. We bring empirical evidence to Copenhagen of what climate change is doing now to our states," -Dessima Williams, a Grenadian diplomat speaking for Alliance of Small Island States
Global warming induced seal level rise is already happening, and in all likelihood will continue for the foreseeable future. To many of us, this is an abstract concept with little everyday relevance - what do I care if the sea rises 3 millimeters a year? Well, 3mm is a lot when you live on an island small island nation that is barely above sea level. In Copenhagen, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) - a coalition of 43 small and extremely vulnerable Island Nations - has called for a new legally binding treaty that will cap temperature rises to 1.5 degrees C. The proposed agreements to date have focused on a 2.0 degree C temperature increase target. Holding temperature increases to 1.5 degrees would mean stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 at about 350 parts per million (ppm) - currently, concentrations are at about 387ppm and increasing every year. According to the International Energy Agency, the aggressive shift in the target will add about $10.5 trillion extra in energy-related investment by 2030 - a figure that is untenable to many Nations would would be asked to foot the bill. Many think that the 2.0 degree C temperature increase target is ambitious considering the current pace of action on the global scale. The small island nation of Tuvalu has been a vocal advocate of this aggressive target. This nation's emissions are tiny compared to total global output, and is essentially powerless to stop global warming without a global treaty. For Tuvalu, the issue of global warming and sea level rise is not abstract. It is real and it is happening now. There is a very real possibility that Tuvalu will be inundated and lost to the sea - sinking 3,000 years of history and culture forever. I have never been to Tuvalu and I didn't know where it was in the world before today. But the idea of losing it forever saddens me unspeakably, not only on behalf of the residents of the country and others like it, but also because I may never have the option to explore this tiny island nation. Global warming threatens to relegate nations, peoples, cultures, traditions, foods, animals and so many other things to the history books for good. I hope that our leaders in Copenhagen have the will and commitment to fight to save out climate and the rich diversity of life and cultures it supports. And I hope that as individuals, we are all committed to reducing our carbon footprints today to help make that process a little easier.
Wednesday, 16 December 2009 12:24

Copenhagen Update: From Green to REDD

“We do not have another year to deliberate, nature does not negotiate.” -Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General
The pessimism in Copenhagen is growing as rifts between nations solidify. As the world watches and thousands continue to protest demanding action, the prospect of a binding treaty diminishes, seemingly by the minute. Rich nations want poorer nations to commit to verifiable and enforceable emissions reductions - a clause that developing nations are reluctant to agree to and is a provision that has not been included in other climate negotiation such as Kyoto and Bali. Developing nations may be more likely to act if the developed nations such as the United States, the world's leader in per capita carbon emissions, committed to binding emissions reductions targets first. But the US as of now refuses to commit to an international treaty until a bill is passed in Congress. Though I am remiss to trivialize the fate of our climate to this, it appears as though we are in the midst of a great global stare down. But there is hope of real progress coming out of Copenhagen in relation to how the world deals with biological carbon sequestration and trees. Deforestation currently accounts for over 20% of global carbon emissions. Preserving and managing forests can help to significantly cut carbon emissions and potentially help buy the world some time as we figure out how to actually reduce emissions from their dirty sources. A report from the New York Times states:
A final draft of the agreement for the compensation program, called Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD, is to be given on Wednesday to ministers of the nearly 200 countries represented here to hammer out a framework for a global climate treaty. Negotiators and other participants said that though some details remained to be worked out, all major points of disagreement — how to address the rights of indigenous people living on forest land and what is defined as forest, for example — had been resolved through compromise.
Though we all want comprehensive and binding agreements to come out of Copenhagen, that may not be in the cards this year. But through the proper management of our forests we can reduce emissions now as well as preserve biodiversity, improve local environments and support local communities. Laying the groundwork for the reductions of more than 20% of global emissions would be no small accomplishment - lets hope that, at a minimum that victory will be the legacy of Copenhagen. Want to support forest based projects that are reducing emissions today? Click here for more info.
Monday, 14 December 2009 13:36

Copenhagen Update: December 14, 2009

As we enter the final week of the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen, the world is preparing for the final show down to save our climate. Over the weekend, tens of thousands of people protested in the streets of Copenhagen, demanding action now. But the potential for inaction is great. The divide between rich and poor nations is starting to grow, according to recent reports, over the demands by developed nations for developing nations to reduce emissions. The Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 UN agreement for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, required emissions reductions from developed nations and not from developing nations. Faced with the technological and financial challenges of reducing emissions in the developing world, Mama Konat�, a member of Mali's delegation said, "The killing of the Kyoto Protocol, I can say, will mean the killing of Africa... Before accepting that, we should all die first." By Wednesday, heads of state from all over the world should be in Copenhagen, and by Friday it is expected that about 116 leaders, including President Obama will be present. The challenge of this final week of negotiations will be how to strike an emissions reductions accord that reduces emissions without compromising developing nations tenuous grasp on economic growth. The world must engage all nations, including China, Brazil, India and others if our climate has a chance to stabilize temperatures at the 2.0 degree Celsius mark of warming. But if we want developed nations to actually reduce emissions, some say that it will require $100-200 billion dollars of annual subsidies, a check that developed nations don't want to foot. Over the next few days, it will be the job of the ministers and administrators that are currently present in Copenhagen to flesh out the details of an agreement. In many regards, the work that gets done today and tomorrow will determine how effective the heads of state can be when arriving later this week. Image Credit: Washington Post
Wednesday, 09 December 2009 16:50

Copenhagen Update: Dec. 9, 2009

"...Emissions are emissions. You've just got to do the math. It's not a matter of politics or morality or anything else. It's just math." - US State Department envoy Todd Stern
As the U.N. Climate talks in Copenhagen heat up, some predictable arguments are starting to play out in real time. There are still major questions as to whether an agreement is going to be reached, and moreover how that agreement should look and function. Tensions at Copenhagen are rising between nations, and particularly between the U.S. and China. Todd Stern, a top U.S. State Department negotiator in Copenhagen sums up the American point of view quite well: "If you look around at what countries in the world, they're actually doing a lot. China has put down a number. It might not be the number everyone would like to see. But it is a significant proposal." Mr. Stern diplomatically states that though commitments have been made by nations, they are not quite enough yet (I assume that he is including the U.S. in his assessment). But currently, the world appears to be waiting for the U.S. to lead, both in terms of action and financial support for green initiatives in developing nations. Developing nations feel as though developed nations have an obligation to do more to reduce emissions, considering developed nations have been spewing massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere for centuries now. The U.S. does not believe that developed nations should be penalized for historical emissions because the world was 'ignorant' to the problem of global warming up until modern times. How the world decides to reconcile these disparate positions is the challenge of Copenhagen. Stay tuned to the Carbonfund.org blog for regular Copenhagen updates. Carbonfund.org will reporting live from Copenhagen starting next week so check back regularly and follow us on twitter!
"This is going to be hard. This is hard within countries, it is going to be even harder between countries." - President Obama
President Obama spoke today before leaving the Copenhagen climate conference to announce that a deal has been brokered. What the deal actually means or will accomplish is still a little unclear, but the fact that leaders from countries all over the world are still talking is a good sign. The deal provides a means to monitor and verify emissions cuts by developing countries but has less ambitious climate targets than some governments had initially sought, reports the Washington Post. Moreover, industrialized and developing nations agreed to list their national actions and commitments in their fight against climate change, while vowing to take action to prevent the Earth's temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius. They also agreed to provide information on the implementation of their actions, which would be subject to international review and analysis. The deal that was reached at the zero hour of the conference included the heads of state of the United States, China, India and South Africa - some of the world's largest emitters. Though a binding agreement was not reached at Copenhagen, the door to future success is not closed yet. As the US inches closer to domestic climate legislation, our role in international negotiations may grow. What the Copenhagen conference may have proven is that the world needs more political leadership by governments on global warming to result in an international treaty. With every nation afraid to take steps out of fear of falling behind, it will take countries to stand up and say enough is enough and let actions finally match the rhetoric. Follow Carbonfund.org's blog and Carbonfundorg on Twitter for updates.
Thursday, 17 December 2009 17:01

Copenhagen Update: Is 2 Degrees Possible?

Today, the US pledged to support a fund of up to $100 Billion annually to help developing nations adapt to and mitigate climate change. This staggering financial figure has been a major stumbling block for the negotiations so far, and the US committment (as well as that from other governments, such as the European Union and Japan) should show the world that the developed nations are willing to bend to get a deal done. But on the same day that progress was made, some stunning news was leaked, and then confirmed. Efforts of the Copenhagen climate meeting, if implemented, would lead to an increase in temperatures of 3 degrees C, not 2 degrees C as initially anticipated. According to a posting in the News section of the COP15 website, this could cause:
...a warming of three or four degrees Celsius will result in tens to hundreds of millions more people being flooded each year due to rising sea levels. "There will be serious risks and increasing pressures for coastal protection in Southeast Asia (Bangladesh and Vietnam), small islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and large coastal cities, such as Tokyo, New York, Cairo and London,"
Does this mean that the yet to be agreed upon targets are too weak? Probably. But should we throw the baby out with the bath water? Absolutely not. We have done nothing for too long, and as the whole world knows the time for action is now. I think that all of us that understand the sciene want ambitious action now and a zero carbon world in the near future. But that was never really in the cards. One of the best outcomes of Copenhagen may be that for the first time ever, the entire world may finally be able to agree on something having to do with carbon emissions. Whether that is codifying the rules for forest protection or coming to an accord on real emissions reductions targets - the agreement is what matters. Targets can be strenghtened and improved. But if the fear of doing too little leads us to doing nothing, then this conference will be viewed as a failure by many. (Image Courtesy of the AP)
Most people in the Northern Hemisphere are deep within the clutches of winter's cold. Washington, DC (where I live) received record levels of snow in December, and January has been cold enough to keep me indoors more than I care to admit. This same story is playing out all over the United States. With the cold - crops in the Southeast that are not accustomed to the cold are freezing, and the normally adept American heartland is coping with wind chills that are dipping well into negative figures. So what is the deal? Did we already solve the climate crisis with reductions and carbon offsets? Does this prove that global warming was never happening in the first place? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is no. While your actions to reduce your carbon footprint today are immensely important, there is a lot more work to be done as the existence of cold weather does not disprove the existence of man-made global warming. Even in a warming world, there will still be winter and there will still be seasons. It is easy to forget those hot summer days when it is 10 degrees outside, but it doesn't mean that the summer wasn't hot. The easiest to understand write-up (that I found) about this cold winter is offered to us by the Christian Science Monitor Bright Green Blog. To paraphrase the three reasons why cold weather doesn't negate global warming (and I highly suggest going over to read the piece):
  1. It's not actually that cold - it is cold right now, but it is not like every place is setting record lows. Some might even say that winters like this are more like the winters we used to have; but due to a recent string of warmer than average winters this one just feels colder.
  2. Some places are really hot right now- Australia and New Zealand are currently in the midst of record heat waves, and Bulgaria is close to 72 degrees right now. The 2000s were the hottest decade on record, with the 1990s closely trailing. In fact, over the last ten years, the only continent to not experience warmer than average temperatures was North America.
  3. Nobody said it would never get cold again - Winter is supposed to be colder than Summer - and a cold streak is perfectly reasonable in winter. But with global warming, the incidence of record cold days to record warm days has shown a measurable and significant drop over the last 60 years.
There are other reasons for why this cold weather doesn't mean an end to global warming explained in the article that I do encourage you to read. My take on the weather is two fold:
  1. People have short-term memories - it is hard to remember the summer heat when you are bundled up, your toes are cold and your nose is running like a faucet.
  2. People confuse weather with climate - it is nearly impossible to link any single weather event to global warming - hot or cold, catastrophic or normal - there are just too many factors at play. So one cold streak doesn't disprove global warming just like one warm streak doesn't prove it. The best measures of the climate come from scientific analysis and from observing long term trends.
Remember this winter as you are judiciously using your furnace to stay warm that this doesn't mean that the climate has been saved. It is still our responsibility to fight global warming and to reduce what we can, and offset what we can't.
Thursday, 11 March 2010 19:03

Climate Change Evidence Still Strong

A recent op-ed in the Houston Chronicle by climate scientists from the state of Texas sums up the state of the science well:

• The global climate is changing.

A 1.5-degree Fahrenheit increase in global temperature over the past century has been documented by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Numerous lines of physical evidence around the world, from melting ice sheets and rising sea levels to shifting seasons and earlier onset of spring, provide overwhelming independent confirmation of rising temperatures.

Measurements indicate that the first decade of the 2000s was the warmest on record, followed by the 1990s and the 1980s. And despite the cold and snowy winter we've experienced here in Texas, satellite measurements show that, worldwide, January 2010 was one of the hottest months in that record.

• Human activities produce heat-trapping gases.

Any time we burn a carbon-containing fuel such as coal or natural gas or oil, it releases carbon dioxide into the air. Carbon dioxide can be measured coming out of the tailpipe of our cars or the smokestacks of our factories. Other heat-trapping gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, are also produced by agriculture and waste disposal. The effect of these gases on heat energy in the atmosphere is well understood, including factors such as the amplification of the warming by increases in humidity.

•?Heat-trapping gases are very likely responsible for most of the warming observed over the past half century.

There is no question that natural causes, such as changes in energy from the sun, natural cycles and volcanoes, continue to affect temperature today. Human activity has also increased the amounts of tiny, light-scattering particles within the atmosphere. But despite years of intensive observations of the Earth system, no one has been able to propose a credible alternative mechanism that can explain the present-day warming without heat-trapping gases produced by human activities.

• The higher the levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, the higher the risk of potentially dangerous consequences for humans and our environment.

A recent federal report, “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” commissioned in 2008 by the George W. Bush administration, presents a clear picture of how climate change is expected to affect our society, our economy and our natural resources. Rising sea levels threaten our coasts; increasing weather variability, including heat waves, droughts, heavy rainfall events and even winter storms, affect our infrastructure, energy and even our health.

While there may be debate around the margins, it is hard to argue comprehensively with the science of climate change. There will always be room for improvement in studies and reports, but small errors should not cause us to 'throw the baby out with the bathwater.' The time to act is now, and in spite of what you may have heard from some, the science of climate change is still very clear. For a few more answers to typical climate change skeptic questions, please see this recent article in Scientific American.
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