“Vatican Announces Major Summit On Climate Change” – ThinkProgress, 16 April 2015

Pope Francis has made climate change one of the cornerstones of his papacy, recently hosting a climate change summit at the Vatican, which he hopes will bridge the gap between climate change and religion.

The conference, called “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity. The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development,” was held on April 28 and featured prominent leaders, like the Director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Jeffrey Sachs, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who gave the opening speech.

Pope Francis hopes that his followers — and followers of other religions — will see the connection between their faith, environmental conservation, and the future of people. The pope’s upcoming encyclical, to be published in either June or July, will focus on the environment.

During Francis’ inauguration in 2013, he gave a moving speech that fixated on climate change, even calling abuse of the environment a sin. The following year, in 2014, he hosted a five-day conference that targeted sustainability, which brought microbiologists, economists, legal scholars, and various scientific experts to the Vatican to discuss our worsening climate.

April’s summit at the Vatican also hit close to home for Americans. As we all know, many conservatives and members of the GOP have rejected the concept of climate change and have found fault with Francis for being pro-green. Francis is slated to talk to Congress this coming September, and it’s certainly likely that he’ll bring up environmental conservation.

According to the Center for American Progress Action Fund, 56 percent, or 169 members, of our current Congress are skeptical of the science backing climate change. Moreover, thirty-five of those 169 members recognize themselves as Catholic. It will be compelling to see if these Congress members’ faith — and the pope’s influence — can sway any of the Congressmen and women.

However, in the final analysis, it is not religion but economic — supply, demand, availability, and prices — environmental, and societal pressures, and technology issues, such as cost and effectiveness, that will determine the final outcome. Having said that, Vatican’s proactive approach will sway public opinion, which could be very significant.

(From ThinkProgress)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

April 17, 2015

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“2014 Breaks Heat Record, Challenging Global Warming Skeptics” – New York Times, 16 January 2015

Climate change skeptics might no longer have a leg to stand on, as it has now been reported that 2014 has been the hottest year since weather patterns were first recorded in 1880.

The previous warmest year was 2010; the 10 hottest years on record have taken place after 1997, generating intense heat waves across the western US coast and extreme cold fronts across the eastern US coast. This is further proof that climate change is spurred by human activity and will have a disastrous impact on the Earth.

Moreover, 2014 didn’t have a prominent El Niño — or the warming of the Pacific Ocean that sends excessive heat into the atmosphere — which is odd. It’s easy to imagine that now the effects of climate change have gotten to the point where the world doesn’t need an extra push to reach excessively hot temperatures.

Climate skeptics assert that global warming stopped in 1998, the year of the last extremely strong El Niño. That year was also the warmest year on record in the 20th century. The hottest years have occurred after 1998, in 2005, 2010, and 2014; climate skeptics’ insistence is unjustified at this point.

Human activity continues to take a toll on our environment, causing temperatures to increase, killing flora and fauna, and making sea levels increase. Records for 2014 have been released from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and a Japan-based agency. A British group is also slated to issue their findings in a few weeks.

Interestingly, satellite temperature readings indicate that 2014 wasn’t the hottest year, though they do reveal that last year was very close. Satellites study atmospheric temperatures and not temperatures on the surface of the earth, which accounts for the disparity.

Though climate change seems to be old news at this point, any headway on the matter has been recent. Last year, 300,000 marched in New York City in hopes to mobilize the issue; and last month, almost 200 nations met in Lima, Peru to discuss a global accord to combat the effects of climate change.

(From New York Times)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 19, 2015

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“A Climate Accord Based on Global Peer Pressure” – New York Times, 14 December 2014

Last month, almost 200 nations gathered in Lima, Peru to agree on a global pact to reduce fossil fuel emissions, one of the primary causes of climate change. The deal — called the Lima Accord — shows huge progress in global effort to fight the effects of climate change: it’s the first time that these nations will make a unilateral effort to curb the use of oil, gas, and coal.

However, the Lima Accord is not lawfully mandatory. If it were legally binding, then the nearly 200 nations wouldn’t have agreed to the deal — not even the US. Instead, the hope is that global peer pressure will be the impetus to move the accord forward. At this point, every nation has agreed to place limits on its carbon emissions.

According to the accord, each nation will have to introduce carbon-cutting domestic legislation by either March or June. Laws will delineate how each country will curb emissions after 2020. These proposals are known to the UN as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” which will be included in an upcoming climate deal in Paris in 2015.

But because the Lima Accord has no requirements, countries could conceive of feeble plans that wouldn’t drastically combat the effects of climate change. Countries also have the choice of not even offering a plan — and if they don’t submit a plan, there are no fines or retribution.

Again, the accord relies on peer pressure and a method called “name-and-shame.” Each countries’ plan will be posted to the UN’s site as public information. If the countries’ plans are made public and some are found to be weak in comparison, then the shame of such a weakness will hopefully push that country to strengthen its plan.

The biggest worry comes with the top three polluters: the US, China, and India. While President Obama has tried to make climate change a vital element of his second term, his legacy really depends on what happens after his term is over. He has vowed to reduce emissions by at least 28 percent by 2025, which can be attained if tailpipe and power plant emissions regulations are passed. Unfortunately, most Republican White House contenders are staunch opponents of Obama’s climate change policies and likely don’t care about global urgencies.

China has been pushed to seek methods of reducing emissions due to discord among its citizens, as citizens disapproved of China’s worsening air quality. The country has now eclipsed the US as the number one polluter — President Xi Jinping has promised that China’s emissions will spike in 2030 and then fall. In order to ensure that target, the country is enacting a national cap-and-trade structure where polluters will have to purchase greenhouse gas emissions.

Because curbing emissions can be costly, it is a difficult burden for developing nations. India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cast aside any efforts towards reversing climate change, instead focusing on economic growth and poverty, which could mean building new coal power plants. However, India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has stated that the country will offer a plan in June.

Other countries that climate change policy observers are following are Russia and Australia. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin doesn’t believe that humans cause climate change, and Australia has phased out its Department of Climate Change, and also revoked a carbon tax.

While we have a majority of the countries on board with the deal, there are a few important strays that will determine whether or not the Lima Accord is indeed productive.

(From New York Times)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

December 15, 2014

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“Election Results Make U.S. Congress Action on Climate Change Even Less Likely” – National Geographic, 5 November 2014

A Republican-held Congress could spell bigger trouble for President Obama’s push for new climate policy. Republican Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell has long been an opponent of Obama’s climate efforts, namely because McConnell represents a state where a majority of its jobs begin and end with coal. McConnell has sullied Obama’s efforts to curb climate change by dubbing new climate policy a “war on coal.” A quarter of Kentucky’s counties continue to mine coal. Coal is a low-cost source of energy, which, according to McConnell, powers 90 percent of the state’s electricity.

Republicans argue two points when it comes to climate change: one, that scientists are wrong in their contention that humans are largely to blame for climate change; and two, jobs are more important than the effects of climate change. Moreover, some Senate Democrats haven’t backed Obama’s policy; the resistance from both parties has caused Obama to employ executive action to introduce new emissions regulations for power plants. The EPA has announced those regulations, which instruct states to create their own plans for restraining power plants emissions.

According to the Obama Administration’s 2014 National Climate Assessment, humans have had a large influence on the changing climate, and power plants are the “single-largest concentrated source of emissions, accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.” Two-thirds of the US’s electricity comes from fossil fuels, and 39 percent of that comes from coal-burning power plants.

In addition to the Obama Administration, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has also cautioned that permanent effects could result from climate change, including surface warming, polar ice cap melting, sea levels rising, and severe heat waves.

McConnell’s plan is to stall any new climate legislation in the Senate, whether it’s new restrictions on limiting the impacts of climate change, or regulations devised by Obama. McConnell has also assured that he will not hesitate to cut the EPA’s budget.

Almost all of the McConnell’s more than twenty fellow Republicans who are looking to run for the White House in 2016 — Senator Rand Paul (KY), Rep. Paul Ryan (WI), Senator Marc Rubio (FL), Senator Ted Cruz (TX), and Governor Rick Perry (TX) just to name a few — all doubt scientists’ findings that climate change is a result of human action. Conversely, Hillary Clinton’s beliefs fall more in line with Obama, which is to be expected.

According to the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of Americans believe that the Earth has warmed during the last few decades; 40 percent of those polled believe that it’s human caused. The question of jobs remains a huge issue in Kentucky and across the US. Republicans — who traditionally favor less government involvement — rely on the fear that increased governmental regulation means a drop in job growth.

Of course, McConnell’s coined phraseology ‘war on coal’ carries weight with his constituents. Last year, coal production dropped in eastern Kentucky, seeing its lowest production output since 1962. McConnell associates the fall in Kentucky’s coal production to the US’s explosion in natural gas generation, as well as less costly mining in states like Wyoming. Kentuckians and McConnell are currently concentrating on job loss and growth, and not on how to protect the environment from its own inhabitants.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 5, 2014

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