Midwestern States Agree to Create Carbon Cap-And-Trade Market

From the excellent Minnesota Public Radio:

…Cap and trade means setting an overall cap or limit on greenhouse gases, and then allowing companies to buy and sell the carbon allowances or credits. Businesses that move quickly to reduce emissions can sell their credits to companies that act more slowly.

The Midwest follows three other regional groups that are working cooperatively to create cap and trade markets. Individual states aren’t big enough to make cap and trade markets work, but regional groupings are.

In Thursday’s agreement, six governors — including Minnesota’s Tim Pawlenty and Wisconsin’s Jim Doyle — and the premier of Manitoba, agreed to create this kind of market. Three other states will help design it, but did not commit themselves to take part once it’s set up.… (read entire article)

Cap and trade (also called emissions trading) is one of the most promising and practical steps to help reduce carbon emissions, though it is not without its drawbacks. A carbon tax is another frequently discussed mechanism to help cut back.

I’m proud to see my state taking such a prominent step. The lack of leadership and action at the federal level is obvious, and it is unfortunate that individual states have had to take the initiative. This is the sort of thing the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency should be doing; I believe this inaction shows them to be remiss in their duties. It would be remarkable if, despite the ineffectiveness of the Bush administration, the fifty U.S. states could band together to set up their own cap-and-trade market or other effective measure.

Most Environmentally Friendly States

There was an interesting article in Forbes a few weeks ago. They ranked the fifty states of the U.S. by environmental policy—my state, Minnesota, came in at number 15 on the list. They compiled the rankings by examining the states’ carbon footprints, air quality, water quality, hazardous waste management, policy initiatives, and energy consumption:

When you think “green,” you think New Jersey, right? OK, maybe not. But perhaps you should.

The Garden State ranked seventh in our first-ever list of America’s Greenest States, a surprise winner amid places synonymous with environmentalism like Vermont, Oregon and Washington. More startling: The congested East Coast is a lot more environmentally friendly than you thought… (continued)

See also the complete rankings. For the top fifteen and bottom five states, you can read a description about how the state achieved the ranking.

Happy United Nations Day!

UN flag
Flag of the United Nations. Source: Wikipedia.

Today, 24 October, is United Nations Day (wp), the anniversary of the U.N.’s charter entry into force. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered the following remarks (emphasis mine):

Message for United Nations Day

The world is changing in the United Nations’ favour — as more people and Governments understand that multilateralism is the only path in our interdependent and globalizing world. Global problems demand global solutions — and going it alone is not a viable option. Whether we are speaking of peace and security, development or human rights, demands on our Organization are growing every day.

I am determined to ensure that we make progress on the pressing issues of our time, step by step, building on achievements along the way, working with Member States and civil society. That means strengthening the United Nations’ ability to play its role to the fullest extent in conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding. And it means invigorating our efforts for disarmament and non-proliferation.

At the same time, we must redouble our efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in Africa. I will seek to mobilize political will and hold leaders to their commitments on aid, trade and debt relief.

And I will continue to do all I can to galvanize global and decisive action on climate change. The United Nations is the natural forum for building consensus on this pressing issue, as we saw in the high-level event held a month ago on the margins of the General Assembly. The many leaders who attended sent a clear message to the Bali negotiations in December under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: this is no longer business as usual, and we must build momentum across industrialized and developing countries to ensure results. Protecting the climate for present and future generations is in the common interest of all.

If security and development are two pillars of the United Nations’ work, human rights is the third. I will work with Member States and civil society to translate the concept of the responsibility to protect from word to deed, so as to ensure timely action when populations face genocide, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity.

Finally, we must transform the United Nations itself. We must adapt to meet new needs and ensure the highest standards of ethics, integrity and accountability, so as to demonstrate that we are fully answerable to all Member States and to people around the world.

We will be judged in the future on the actions we take today — on results. On this United Nations Day, let us rededicate ourselves to achieving them.

The United Nations has indeed been placing an emphasis on climate change. It is certainly the logical venue where the nations of the world will decide how to tackle this global threat. And the United Nations’ Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been instrumental in documenting, clarifying, and publicizing the science behind climate change (for which it recently shared the Nobel Peace Prize).

In a world where the consequences of our actions extend far beyond political boundaries, let us hope this next year brings improved international cooperation and collaboration to protecting the common good and the health of our planet.

Al Gore and IPCC win Nobel Peace Prize 2007

THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE FOR 2007

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 is to be shared, in two equal parts, between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.

Indications of changes in the earth’s future climate must be treated with the utmost seriousness, and with the precautionary principle uppermost in our minds. Extensive climate changes may alter and threaten the living conditions of much of mankind. They may induce large-scale migration and lead to greater competition for the earth’s resources. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world’s most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars, within and between states.

Through the scientific reports it has issued over the past two decades, the IPCC has created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming. Thousands of scientists and officials from over one hundred countries have collaborated to achieve greater certainty as to the scale of the warming. Whereas in the 1980s global warming seemed to be merely an interesting hypothesis, the 1990s produced firmer evidence in its support. In the last few years, the connections have become even clearer and the consequences still more apparent.

Al Gore has for a long time been one of the world’s leading environmentalist politicians. He became aware at an early stage of the climatic challenges the world is facing. His strong commitment, reflected in political activity, lectures, films and books, has strengthened the struggle against climate change. He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted.

By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC and Al Gore, the Norwegian Nobel Committee is seeking to contribute to a sharper focus on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world’s future climate, and thereby to reduce the threat to the security of mankind. Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control.

Oslo, 12 October 2007

Source: Norwegian Nobel Committee.

I am ecstatic. I’ll post more on this later.

Minnesota Is Now Smoke-Free

Today, 1 October 2007, a state-wide smoking ban took effect in my state. A major success for public health and especially employees’ health, this law puts major restrictions on indoor smoking in public places with relatively few loopholes. Bars, restaurants, and almost all other indoor locations are included. Private residences, hotel and motel rooms, cigar shops, and casinos and other establishments on Native American lands are exempt. As is well-known, there is an enormous body of scientific data indicating the harm smoking causes to bystanders. Those who work in establishments where smoking is permitted are especially at risk. As attention to public health mounts, smoking bans cover more and more of the United States—at the city, county, and state levels. According to Wikipedia, over half of Americans are covered by some sort of smoking ban.

Wikipedia also featured this interesting map of the United States, showing active and scheduled smoking bans. It uses an innovative “additive color key” to designate the type of ban.

Map of American smoking bans
State-wide smoking bans. Credit: Mike Schiraldi.

The gray states have no state-wide smoking bans. The red states, Idaho and Georgia, ban smoking in restaurants; the green ones (North and South Dakota) ban smoking in non-hospitality workplaces (that is, not restaurants or bars); and the yellow states (Nevada, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Florida) ban smoking in both. The lavender state (New Hampshire) bans smoking in bars and restaurants. The white states ban smoking in all three: bars, restaurants, and non-hospitality workplaces.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules EPA Has Authority to Regulate Carbon Emissions

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has previously refused to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles. Twelve states and thirteen environmental groups sued the EPA, arguing that it had the authority (and responsibility) to regulate these.

In an important decision, the Supreme Court ruled 5–4 on the following issues:

  1. Do states have the right to sue the EPA, challenging its position? Yes.
  2. Does the EPA have the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate these emissions? Yes.
  3. Can the EPA choose not to regulate them? Perhaps, but it must reconsider.

Basically, the ruling states that the reasons the EPA has used to abdicate its responsibilities are varied and irrelevant [my language]; the EPA must reconsider its decision and provide reasons related to the Clean Air Act. The ruling does not go as far as ordering the EPA to act—that’ll be the next battle!

President Bush has admitted that global warming exists, but has resisted taking concrete action. With this ruling (and another one today, involving emissions from older coal plants), the judicial branch and the legislative branch of the U.S. government are becoming increasingly proactive about working to make change. If he does not begin to take some responsibility soon, he will be left standing alone.

Please see CNN and New Scientist for more information.