A Fascinating Look At Hurricane Sandy

Wow, watch this! A big-picture look at Sandy, what made it so big, and what it means:

Owen Kelley, a research scientist at NASA Goddard, works with data from the TRMM satellite to image the insides of storms. TRMM looked into the eye of Sandy the day before it made landfall and saw something surprising. Satellites also took snapshots of Sandy. J. Marshall Shepherd, president-elect of the American Meteorological Society and the director of the Atmospheric Sciences Program at the University of Georgia, explains some of Sandy’s unusual features.

MUST See – Not Funny Mitt

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Mitt Romney made jokes about global warming. Now we really know they were not funny.
See Forecast the Facts | Tell Mitt Romney: Climate Change Isn’t A Joke

Much of the nation is reeling from Superstorm Sandy. As families rebuild from Sandy’s destruction, our thoughts are with the victims of this horrific, fossil-fueled storm.
When Gov. Mitt Romney made climate change a punch line at the Republican National Convention, he mocked a real threat to the lives of Americans.
We can’t let Mitt get away with his laughing dismissal of the threat of rising seas caused by the carbon polluters who fund his campaign. Share this ad with friends and family to tell Romney: climate change isn’t a joke.

Is Hurricane Sandy God’s Punishment For Ignoring Global Warming In Debates?

Conservatives and the Christian Right regularly blame hurricanes on abortion, liberals, government and “teh gay.” But Hurricane Sandy actually is an “unprecedented.” This “Frankenstorm,” with a gale-force wind diameter of 1040 miles, is the largest hurricane in Atlantic history, with the lowest barometric pressure. So we really should ask the question: is Hurricane Sandy actually God’s punishment for not bringing up climate change in the presidential debates?

RWNJs

Here are just a few samples of what a few of the many right-wing nut jobs (RWNJs) (“the base”) have had to say about hurricanes:
Michelle Bachman said that Hurricane Irene was God’s punishment for our having a government that provides services to our people, (seriously, she said it):

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”

The Rev. Pat Robertson told us that Hurricane Katrina was God’s retribution for legalized abortion.
The Pope made Gerhard Wagner a bishop after he blamed Hurricane Katrina on teh gay.

Another Unprecedented Storm

So here we have another “freak,” “once in a hundred years,” “unprecedented,” “no one has seen this before” storms that we are experiencing all the time now.
The Washington Post the other day, Hurricane Sandy may be unprecedented in East Coast storm history,

With computer models locked in on the eventuality of a punishing blow for East Coast from Hurricane Sandy (with the latest model runs favoring the northern mid-Atlantic), analyses suggest this storm may be unlike anything the region has ever experienced.

Etc. Please read Climate Progress, CNN Bans Term ‘Frankenstorm’, But It’s A Good Metaphor For Warming-Driven Monster: ‘Largest Hurricane In Atlantic History’.

Why Attribute Hurricane Sandy To Global Warming?

The term “climate change” is used to refer to the fact that the … uh …climate is … uh … changing. This is a result of the warming of the atmosphere that results from putting massive amounts of CO2 into the air, primarily by burning coal and oil as an energy source. The CO2 acts like a layer of glass to trap heat in the atmosphere that would previously have bounced off the earth and into space. This trapping effect acts just like the way the glass in a greenhouse traps heat inside. This is why CO2 is called “greenhouse gas.”
The trapped heat eventually changes the patterns of the weather, and melts ice that then causes the oceans levels to rise. This change in weather patterns is what we are beginning — just beginning — to experience. Flood, massive “freak storms, terrible heat waves that go on and on with higher temperatures, increased severity of hurricanes, droughts, huge regional fires, and all the rest of the “weird weather” people are talking about…
The scientifically predicted changes in the climate include:
Severity: The increased heat from global warming puts more energy into storms, so they are stronger.
Rain and snowfall: Storms, including hurricanes, will be loaded with extra moisture, so higher rainfall will make flooding more frequent and worse.
Rising seas: melting ice slowly increases sea levels, so storm surges, etc., will be worse.

The Campaign Mostly Silent On Climate Change

Climate change was not much of an issue in the Presidential debates, except in the extent to which the candidates promoted more drilling for oil and more mining of coal, hence increasing the problem. In the first debate Mitt Romney actually mocked people who are warning about climate change and sea-level rise, and criticized President Obama for investing $90 billion in wind and solar — and just lied, saying that half of the investments had gone bankrupt.
However, in an interview on MTV President Obama was asked about climate change, and said (TPM),

“We’re not moving as fast as we need to,” Obama said. “This is an issue that future generations, MTV viewers, are going to have to be dealing with even more than the older generation is. So this is a critical issue — and there’s a huge contrast in this campaign between myself and Governor Romney. I’m surprised it didn’t come up in the debates.”
Obama said Romney “says he believes in climate change….but he says he’s not sure that man-made causes are the reason” As for his own views, “I believe scientists who say we’re putting too much carbon emissions into the atmosphere and it’s heating the planet and its going to have a severe effect.”

Possibly related: NY Times, Fossil Fuel Industry Ads Dominate TV Campaign,

The American Petroleum Institute, backed by the nation’s largest oil and gas companies, is the top energy spender this year with its “I’m an energy voter” campaign. Although the ads avoid explicitly endorsing any candidate, they clearly echo policy stands taken by Mr. Romney and the Republicans: opposing regulations that might slow down drilling and denouncing Mr. Obama’s proposal to eliminate oil industry subsidies.

The Terrifying Math Of Global Warming

Here is the climate problem in a nutshell. As Bill McKibben explained in Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math:
1) We have to try to hold warming to 2 degrees Celsius, we’re at .8 of that now with huge storms, drought, floods and all kinds of effects. It gets dramatically worse from here – heading towards crop failure, famine, running out of water, rising seas, mass extinctions …
2) To hold at 2 degrees we can put no more than 565 gigatons CO2 into atmosphere.
3) Current proven coal, oil and gas reserves is 2,795 gigatons even if we discover no more. That is 5 times what we can burn and stay at 2 degrees. But that is worth $20 trillion in oil company assets, they will fight to the death to be able to burn that carbon.

God’s Punishment

No matter what you consider “God” to mean, clearly this “unprecedented” hurricane, arriving just before the election is a signal to all of us that we must stop ignoring this problem. Things might be “unprecedented” now, but are projected to get much, much worse.
Here is Grist’s David Roberts explaining that “Climate change is simple: We do something or we’re screwed,”

Please click through to see the accompanying slide show.
Also, Democracy Now: Bill McKibben on Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change: “If There Was Ever a Wake-up Call, This Is It”

“The last time we saw anything like this was never.”
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Why Conservative Attacks On Wind And Solar Energy?

There has been a recent flurry of propaganda attacks on wind and solar energy by oil-and-coal-backed conservatives. A vitally important tax credit to help build a renewable energy industry in this country expires at the end of this year without Congressional action, and the old oil and coal industries — along with certain other countries — want to make sure it does expire.

Background

The fossil-fuel industry is fully developed after many decades of government help. Going up against a fully-developed industry like oil and coal is enormously expensive, and the industry is trying to block We, the People from triggering private investment to help get us out from under its grip. It has nothing to do with government interfering in markets, or “picking winners and losers,” this is about us helping offset the enormous competitive advantage oil and coal have due to government investment and assistance in oil and coal in prior decades. We do this because We, the People see the benefits and prosperity that will come to us from developing these alternative energy industries.
Oil and coal are, to put it mildly, entrenched in our economy, and, to put it mildly, make out very, very well because of that. Various forms of government assistance put them there and keeps them there. Aside from direct help like the tax breaks to the companies themselves and keeping taxes low at the pump (compare the cost of gas here to other countries), there are support structures like the cost of the vast military complex that keeps the oil flowing, building roads instead of rail, etc., and then of course there’s the cost to us of that whole “let them dump their waste products into the environment for free” thing.
As a result vast ecosystem supporting the oil and coal industries has been built up over the decades. Delivery systems like pipelines, rail lines, gas stations, etc. are examples of this ecosystem that supports the fossil-fuel industry. Existing refineries were enormously expensive to build. So this industry now rests on decades of capital investment. The investment paid off, provided a vast return, and now offers a competitive advantage over other, newer forms of energy. A barrel of oil comes from the ground from an existing well, or a new well that benefited from decades of technological research and development, much of it helped along by government.
“Renewable” forms of energy do not yet have such an ecosystem. The manufacturing, power grid, etc. are all brand new technologies, that need the kind of investment that lets them build the supply chains, expertise and other things that get them to the trigger point where they can take off. This is enormously expensive to develop — no matter how great the payoff will be. Countries like China get this, and are helping build those manufacturing ecosystems in their countries. Here, however, we have the entrenched political power of the super-wealthy oil and coal companies in the way, fighting tooth and nail to stop the development of this industry. (And, of course, countries like China have every incentive to do what it takes to keep us from developing this industry here.)

Why Tax Breaks?

Instead of just building up the ecosystem of an industry like alternative energy itself, our government helps trigger private investment by providing tax breaks that help overcome the competitive advantage that decades of investment has brought to established industries. Specifically, to help trigger investment in alternatives like solar and wind energy, our government gives tax credits to these industries so their product can compete now with energy products from oil and coal companies that have already made the huge capital investment (with government help) required to build their ecosystems.
Tax breaks help bring the price of a product down versus the product of an entrenched, developed industry, so new companies can grow and their supply chains and expertise and facilities can develop, until such time as they are far enough along to compete on their own. We, the People (government) do this when we feel it is to our benefit for an industry to develop here. We, the People (government) did this with aerospace, semiconductors, computers, biotech and other modern industries. These are examples of how we can trigger this effect, and then prosper because we did.
When We, the People decide that we will benefit from helping a new industry develop, then yes, We, the People pick a winner, because it benefits us and we prosper as a result.
We, the People (government) did this with these tax breaks for alternative energy. Now the entrenched interests are pulling out all the stops to try to get rid of those tax breaks before the alternative energy industry takes off here. They call it “picking winners and losers” and say it is “interfering with the market” when in fact the oil and coal ecosystem currently is “the winner” because of decades of various forms of government assistance. We, the People (government) assisted those industries because at the time we wanted to grow our economy, and now we want to assist alternatives like solar and wind, because being chained to oil and coal is holding us back and harming the environment. This is supposed to be about what We, the People benefit from, not an entrenched, wealthy few and the power they have to influence and control government decision-making.
US News offers some good background information: Wind Energy Tax Credit: More Hot Air or Key Job Creator?,

The federal renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) provides an income tax credit of 2.2 cents/kilowatt hour for the production of electricity from utility-scale wind turbines, and is set to expire on December 31, 2012.
… Without the tax credit, chances are that fewer turbines will be produced and installed. That could have devastating ripple effects on jobs, according to some experts. Last time the PTC was allowed to expire in 2004, installations of new wind turbines dropped as much as 93 percent, according to the American Wind Energy Association, throwing the industry into a perpetual boom-bust cycle that has stunted its growth.
… 37,000. That’s the number of jobs the Obama administration says are at risk without the energy tax credits, not a small number considering millions of Americans remain unemployed.

Conservative Propaganda Attacks

Here are some examples of oil-and-coal-backed (and foreign-backed) conservatives using various forms of trickery to fight againt the development of an alternative-energy industry in the United States.
Heritage Foundation: Morning Bell: Wind Energy Subsidies Are As Useful As VHS Tape Subsidies,

The wind production tax credit is set to expire at the end of this year, which has the industry crying out for continued subsidies. … The credit is a huge handout to wind producers, allowing them to sell their electricity for less than market price. …

Wall Street Journal (note – this outlet is co-owned by a Saudi oil billionaire): The Energy Subsidy Tally,

The problem is that wind and solar still can’t make a go of it without subsidies. Solyndra is merely the most famous of the solar-power failures. Earlier this month United Technologies sold its more than $300 million investment in wind power, with CFO Greg Hayes telling investors, according to press reports that: “We all make mistakes.” He added that the market for renewables like wind “as everyone knows, is stagnating.” Someone alert the White House.
… the coal, oil, and natural gas industries paid more than $10 billion of taxes in 2009. Wind and solar are net drains on the Treasury.
… Why not eliminate all federal energy subsidies? This would get the government out of the business of picking winners and losers—mostly losers.

(Note that companies like Solyndra have failed as the result of countries like China subsidizing the development of alternative-energy industries in their own countries.)
Breitbart.com: DEAR BIG WIND: IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S ME,

The industry’s taxpayer-funded subsidies are set to expire at the end of this year – and Congress shouldn’t reauthorize. Continuing to subsidize a non-profitable industry to the tune of another $1.6 billion would be throwing good money after bad.
…Meanwhile, other U.S. energy producers are competing in a market where the government has revealed a preference, allowing wind producers to take a 2.2-cent write-off for each kilowatt-hour they produce. But, neither Democrats nor Republicans want to remove the teat from which the wind industry gets its fix.

(Was that written by lobbyists, or just dictated by them?)
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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Crucial To Understand This

Everyone needs to understand this about climate change: Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math by Bill McKibben
Summary:
1) We have to try to hold warming to 2 degrees Celsius, we’re at .8 of that now with huge storms, drought, floods and all kinds of effects. It gets dramatically worse from here – crop failure, famine, running out of water, rising seas, mass extinctions …
2) To hold at 2 degrees we can put no more than 565 gigatons CO2 into atmosphere.
3) Current proven coal, oil and gas reserves is 2,795 gigatons even if we discover no more. That is 5 times what we can burn and stay at 2 degrees. That is $20 trillion in oil company assets, they will fight to the death to be able to burn that carbon. If they do it is the death of billions of us, and the ecosystem.

Will Conservatives Support American Companies … Or Chinese?

Which is better for an economy: millions of future jobs and trillions of future dollars, or a few people making a quick buck today by selling out their country? For decades America’s 1%-backed conservatives have chosen the latter course, and we can see the results all around us. Now the Obama administration has imposed stiff tariffs on Chinese solar panels because China was “dumping” — selling below cost — to drive American manufacturers out of business. Will conservatives support their country and our companies or will they continue to side with our country’s competitors?

US Imposes Stiff Tariffs

The Commerce Department yesterday concluded that Chinese solar panel companies are “dumping” product – selling below the cost of production – into the US market, and imposed stiff tariffs. NY Times, U.S. Slaps High Tariffs on Chinese Solar Panels,

The United States on Thursday announced the imposition of antidumping tariffs of more than 31 percent on solar panels from China.
… The antidumping decision is among the biggest in American history, covering one of the largest and fastest-growing categories of imports from China, the world’s largest exporter.

Industry Of The Future

Again and again technology revolutions come along and disrupt economies. Countries that jump on new technologies are the countries that win the industries and jobs and revenue. This is how the United States became the world power that it is was. Railroads, steel, automobiles, airplanes, electronics, semiconductors, computers, the Internet, pharmaceuticals, biotech and software are a few examples. And in every case our government helped these new industries get off the ground. When these industries took root the payoff was enormous.
Green energy is one such technology of the future. Producing solar panels, wind turbines, etc. will bring millions and millions of jobs and trillions of dollars, and several countries are competing to win a share of this new industry.
China is fighting hard for those jobs and dollars. They are being smart and they are also pushing past the limits of the rules. From the NY Times story,

Alan Price, a partner who heads the international trade practice at Wiley Rein, the law firm representing the United States companies in both the solar and wind cases, said that China posed a particular threat to America’s developing green energy sector.
“China’s method is straightforward: it sets forth industry-specific Five-Year Plans and then uses all forms of national and local subsidies and other governmental support to quickly transfer jobs, supply chains, intellectual property and wealth, to the permanent detriment of U.S. and global manufacturers,” he said. “China’s ability to ramp up and overwhelm an industry is unique and particularly devastating with new and emerging technologies, where global competitors may be less established and can be knocked out more easily and quickly.”

To compete for a share of this new industry we need to be proactive. We need national efforts to develop the industrial commons, or ecosystem, that will foster green-tech industries. We also need government policies that promote a market for these products until they take hold, just as our defense industry did for aircraft and other new technologies. And we need to enforce the rules for international economic competition, which is what has happened with the tariff decision.

Decision Not Political

The NY Times story points out that this was not a political decision by the Obama administration,

The American decision was made by civil servants in a quasi-judicial process that is heavily insulated by law from political interference and does not represent a deliberate attempt by the Obama administration to confront China on trade policy. But that distinction has been largely lost in China, where the solar panel issue has been one of many causes embraced online by the country’s vociferous ultranationalists, who put heavy pressure on Chinese officials to respond forcefully to perceived snubs to China.

The rules say that if a country is dumping, then we must impost tariffs. The Commerce Department investigated and concluded that China has been dumping so they had no choice. If we do not enforce trade rules, they are meaningless and countries that cheat gain an advantage, driving out the honest players. That is how cheating, accountability and enforcement work. (Hint: this also applies to banking fraud laws.)
In the case of solar-panel tariffs, we were losing companies and jobs and facing losing the possibility of losing the entire industry to China. From Tariffs On Chinese Solar Might Help Prevent The Next Solyndra,

You have probably heard about a solar-energy company named Solyndra, but probably what you have heard is a bunch of negative, conspiratorial, anti-alternative-energy, anti-Obama stuff from the corporate/conservative spin machine. The real story is that our government is trying to help us capture some of the new green energy industry that will create the jobs of the future. But China is, too. And China doubled down, and then quadrupled down on government support. They even directly subsidize their companies so their products cost less. This helped put Solyndra out of business. But the Obama administration is doing something about it.
China cheats, and we don’t usually do anything about it. They let companies pollute, don’t do much about worker safety, pay low wages, and make people work long hours. So-called “free trade” lets companies cost us more than 50,000 factories in the Bush years, and millions of jobs. And it empowers companies here to tell their workers to shut up and behave and accept wage and benefit cuts, or they’ll send their jobs to China, too. We continue to just let China take jobs, factories and industries because powerful interests, like Wall Street, make tons of money off of it.

So the decision is made, our country is engaging in the economic war that has been underway against us. Will our country’s conservative take our country’s side?

Solyndra, Chevy Volt And The Anti-Green Propaganda Campaign

Oil-backed conservatives have been waging a campaign to discredit green energy, trying to stop government efforts to move us away from dependence on oil and coal. (Please click the links.)
They have used the failure of solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra — partly due to Chinese dumping — to paint green tech in general as a bad investment. They have even tried to turn the public against the Chevy Volt, claiming that it “ran out of juice in the Lincoln Tunnel” when it actually just kicked over to the gas-engine charger, and that the car is “flammable” because on test battery got too hot — as compared to cars that run on gasoline! (Gasoline car-fire data at the link.)
These anti-dumping tariffs change the dynamics of this oil-backed anti-green campaign. Now when conservatives slam Solyndra or the Chevy Volt and otherwise join in this anti-green-energy campaign they are taking China’s side against American companies at a time when the country is engaged in economic conflict. This presents a tough choice to the conservative movement, do they continue to accept oil and coal company funding and side against their country and support China, or will they return to their pro-American roots and side with their country in a time of conflict.

Installers Hit Hard?

Low prices from trade-cheaters are always attractive. But if we want a slice of the jobs, factories, industries and economy of the future we have to fight back when our competitors cheat.
The solar-installer industry is worried they will be hit hard by this because prices for solar panels could increase sharply. BusinessWeek: U.S. Solar Tariffs on Chinese Cells May Boost Prices,

The tariffs “will increase solar electricity prices in the U.S. precisely at the moment solar power is becoming competitive with fossil fuel generated electricity,” Shah said in a statement. “This new artificial tax will undermine the success of the U.S. solar industry.”
[. . .] The U.S. decision to impose import duties on Chinese solar panels will raise their price to $1.11 per watt, according to calculations by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a London-based researcher owned by Bloomberg LP. That price is 17 percent higher than the current spot price of non-Chinese panels.

Forbes: Solar Installers Caught In Cross Fire Of Escalating China Trade War,

On Thursday, the U.S. Commerce Department issued a preliminary decision levying steep tariffs against Chinese solar manufacturers, finding they illegally dumped cheap photovoltaic cells on the American market. But the companies that install those solar panels on residential and commercial rooftops – and which have benefited from a 75% plunge in photovoltaic prices in recent years – are split over the impact of the tariffs on their burgeoning business.

The government could remedy the impact on domestic customers and installers several ways, including:
– by using the new tariffs to fund tax credits and other incentives that help homeowners and businesses make the move to solar power,
– by imposing a large “carbon tax” that is refunded on a per-capita basis. This would mean high users of carbon-based fuels would pay in, the revenue is divided up evenly to everyone over 21 and paid out with a monthly check, and people could use this money to both cover their own added energy expenses and to purchase solar and other alternative energy products to lower their carbon-energy footprint,
– and by setting a national renewable energy standard, requiring power producers to use a certain percentage of solar, wind and other alternatives, creating more of a market for green tech.

Oil And Coal And “Buggy-Whip” Technologies

Of course the oil and coal companies will continue to fight this shift from their “buggy-whip” technology, and will use their tremendous influence over our government to try to hold off the inevitable. But the tide is shifting. The fact that China is fighting so hard and putting so much investment into this sector shows its value to the world economy in the future. The fact that our government is responding shows that we have a chance to win a share of the jobs and revenue that green tech promises to bring.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.
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