Tag Archive | "Environmental Protection Agency"

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Will the Paris Climate Meeting Make a Difference?

Posted on 24 November 2015 by Jerry

We know this September was the hottest it has been since the year 1880 and that 2015 promises to be the hottest year on record. We also know that the World Meteorological Organization has said that 2016 will be the first year when the carbon dioxide in the world’s atmosphere will average over 400ppm (parts per million). We have measured the 2015 ozone hole over Antarctica and know that it is the third largest ever observed. It is only eclipsed by holes in the years 2000 and 2006.

We know that planning for the climate change conference in Paris the nations of the world have committed to an amount of greenhouse gas emissions that go over the two degree Celsius limit. The two degree Celsius limit is believed necessary to keep the world’s average temperature at a safe level. They have committed to 2.7° C. The commitments now in hand converted to Fahrenheit are a 4.9° increase and are insufficient.

As a world, at the end of 2015, we will pass the average of one degree Celsius (or 1.8°F) warmer temperature measured since pre-industrial times. This places us as halfway to the 2°C level so frequently talked about.

Even while missing the two degree Celsius limit, cynics point out a number of reservations about the commitments. They first object that the commitments are not real. They were designed to solve other problems as a matter of expedience. These commitments are being repurposed to be for climate change.

The biggest case in point is the commitment from China. They claim the smog over Peking had become so bad the reduction they are committing to is really to eliminate smog in Peking. They point out that China has not cut back on its plans for additional coal fired power plants. They state that getting electricity for the entire country is their primary objective and they will not let this year’s commitment get in the way.

The cynics point out that commitments that span decades can easily be changed along the way. While optimists believe the freedom to change them means they will increase the commitments and achieve their goals earlier, the naysayers suggest they will only weaken commitments as the years pass. Critics say we cannot wait long enough to see because it will be too late to stop an additional rise in heat.

The final big criticism is that many of the commitments that have been made are conditional upon assistance the developed countries will provide to underdeveloped nations. Fully 25% of the world’s commitments are tied to receiving aide from developed nations. The underdeveloped nations are saying they will reduce their greenhouse pollution to a certain level if they receive a certain amount of help from a fund established by developed countries.

So far the potential donor nations must live up to providing the $100 billion per year by 2020 in climate financing to which they have committed. Unfortunately, in lots of areas nations are behind in living up to their commitments to fund various efforts. For example, the Congress of the U.S. for years was late in funding the United Nations.

A gross example is India that has committed to reduce its carbon intensity per unit of gross domestic product by 33% – 35% by 2030 compared to its levels of intensity shown in 2005. This is tied to its commitment to source 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources consisting largely of renewables and other low-carbon sources by 2030. This commitment will be achieved after it receives $2.5 trillion from the developed countries over the next 15 years. This $2.5 trillion is their estimate of the amount of money they will have to spend to change their energy infrastructure and plans in order to hit their targets.

So the biggest question that remains is “Is there still time?” This is the most difficult question we have. If you look at our average temperature rise we are halfway to our two degree Celsius limit. Should we be looking to the Paris conference to settle all issues or should we be looking at more decades of questioning?

The answer will probably be that there will be more questioning. There are reasons however to be hopeful. We may be seeing tipping points that are good news and should give us optimism that people will do the right thing to save our planet over the long haul ahead.

The Pew Research Center released its November 2015 World Survey of 40 countries (45,435 respondents) that shows a clear majority response to the question ‘Do you support or oppose your country limiting its greenhouse gas emissions as part of an agreement at the 2015 Paris conference?’ All nations of the world (except Pakistan) responded with their majority support for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The majorities were not small across the countries. Most were greater than 65%. Only Poland, Turkey, Palestinian territory, Indonesia, and South Africa had majorities less that 65%.

In addition, in order to reduce the ozone hole, countries that were parties to the Montreal Protocol of 1987 agreed to take under management the reduction of substitutes for CFCs or hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are ozone friendly replacements that are used as refrigerants. Unfortunately, many of the HFC replacements are also very powerful greenhouse gases.

The use of these powerful greenhouse gases has risen as the world replaces the ozone killing CFCs with HFCs. The agreement of the Montreal Protocol countries to extend their management to include HFCs is a boon to fighting climate change. This is in addition to continuing their efforts to reduce the ozone hole. So far these countries have proven effective and tireless at attempting to shrink the ozone hole.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced it has adopted new rules for the use and management of HFCs. The Department of Defense also has announced plans to use alternate chemicals at some facilities and on its ships. Both of these efforts will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change.

There is also a report that President Obama has 81 U.S. large companies that have signed a pledge committing at least $180 billion to fight climate change. These companies include Intel, Johnson and Johnson, The Hershey Company, Levi Strauss, Nike, and Siemens.

These are all encouraging events that we hope are positive tipping points that indicate more progress in the future. Where human beings are involved, there will always be a good chance that we will do what is right. No matter what happens at the 2015 Paris Climate conference there are hopeful developments that indicate trends that should increase our optimism. We must continue our pressure to make progress on climate change. We cannot afford to give ground and must succeed if we want planet Earth to be a livable habitat.

Use the following links to obtain more information or see the original source documents used to prepare this article.

http://www.nature.com/news/the-week-in-science-30-october-5-november-2015-1.18711 (scroll to second item)












http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/11/05/global-concern-about-climate-change-broad-support-for-limiting-emissions/ (access pdf of entire report)






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We Need Worldwide Regulation of Synthetic Biology

Posted on 11 March 2015 by Jerry

Following the thought of the creation of new nucleotides, the x-y pair (see Synthetic Biology Advances With No Oversight, 7/15/14), synthetic biologists at Yale and a separate group at Harvard have constructed genetically altered organisms that require special synthetic amino acids to live.  Synthetic biologists reason this makes the synthetic organisms safer since they would die if released into the environment that lacks the amino acid.

This breakthrough would eventually allow synthetic organisms to be raised in laboratories for use in experimentation.  According to an article in the January 22, 2015 volume of Nature entitled Safety boost for GM organisms “The microbes also do not swap their engineered DNA with natural counterparts because they no longer speak life’s shared biochemical language.”  The article continued with a quote from a Yale synthetic biologist, Farren Isaacs who said, “Establishing safety and security from the get-go will really enable broad and open use of engineered organisms.”

While this does provide another layer of security to the development of synthetic organisms, it still begs the question of when there will be proper regulation of synthetic biology.  This is not to say there is no regulation today, for there is.  It is as if we have a bedspread that has been pulled in many different directions as we try to cover a synthetic biology spot by expanding existing coverage of a wide array of bureaucratic organizations each of which are designed to respond to other priorities.

This is like stating that in an environment where everyone is responsible, no one is.  The closest anyone comes to directly regulating this area is the National Institute of Health (NIH).  The law requires that any entity that receives money for research from the NIH must adhere to its guidelines that cover synthetic biology.  Everyone else is free to follow the guidelines or not, or worry about another governmental agency with a regulatory role that can be extended to synthetic biology.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Commerce Department and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) all have overlapping responsibility for Synthetic Biology.  It is doubtful that any of them has been given any additional budget to extend their regulation to include synthetic biology.  Let us reiterate that when all are responsible, no one is responsible.

There is a thorough description of the patchwork quilt of regulation of synthetic biology which can be found by accessing “synberc.org/safety-and-security-resources” and selecting the “The Regulation of Synthetic Biology: A Guide to U.S. & European Regulations, Rules & Guidelines.”

Synthetic biologists are working to solve humanity’s problems.  Today they are largely self-regulated.  This must change.  There must be regulation but it should be one regime that is worldwide (maybe from the U.N.) and assures that humans will not unleash a foreign organism into the world’s environment.

Use the following sites to gain additional information or access the original documents that were used to generate this article.




Access “synberc.org/safety-and-security-resources” and select the “The Regulation of Synthetic Biology: A Guide to U.S. & European Regulations, Rules & Guidelines.”



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Nibbling at Solutions to Climate Change

Posted on 25 October 2013 by Jerry

Last month the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Gina McCarthy released a proposed requirement for new coal-fired power plants in the U.S.  This coincided with an announcement by the Norwegian government that it was closing its Mongstad project, a one billion dollar demonstration project to prove the feasibility of large scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.  It joins numerous other tests around the world that have been cancelled.  And yet, the U.S. requirements are based on this same group of technologies that have so far proven unfeasible or too expensive.  There are still a number of projects around the world that will continue.

After hints of radical change within society to control climate change, so far we are just nibbling around the edges.  Given the as yet unproven hypothesis and cost of CCS this recent announced requirement will only force power companies to switch their planned future power plants to natural gas-fired plants.  This is because falling natural gas prices have made this a more economical alternative and gas-fired plants already meet the new emission requirements.

Barack Obama at the beginning of his second term announced that, without cooperation from the House of Representatives, he would use his executive powers to order the EPA to issue new emission requirements for existing and newly built coal-fired power plants (see a 6/30/13 post on this blog entitled “Good, Bad & Ugly of Obama’s Climate Speech”).  With the EPA not issuing requirements for existing plants these regulations take care of the smallest part of the problem. They do however fulfill a small fraction of Obama’s commitment.

Even as small an impact as these new requirements will have, they will be tied up in the courts for many months or years.  In October of 2013 the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources such as power plants.

This issue of regulating emissions of coal-fired power plants fits into a long running controversy about how best to limit the climate change effects of different types of emissions.  The question is whether it is better to attack short-term emissions that do not last for extraordinarily long periods of time, such as methane and black carbon, or whether we should work on the more serious sources of emissions, such as carbon dioxide, which are more long lasting in the atmosphere.

A recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and conducted by researchers at MIT offers an answer that will not please people looking for an easy way to combat rising temperatures.  The study estimated the different effects of dealing with short-lived pollutants first with the more serious emissions to follow.  The researchers concluded that dealing with the former, although somewhat easier, has a negligible effect on the temperature rise between now and 2050.  They estimated there would be only a modest effect of 0.28 degree Fahrenheit (0.16 degree Celcius).

Once again hopes for an easy out of climate change or relatively simple solutions to the problem of increasing temperatures have proven not feasible or effective.  This leaves the more radical societal changes identified by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and others as our only alternatives.  Given our status as the biggest contributor to climate change, the world is waiting for our Congress to “man-up” to its responsibilities and provide worldwide leadership.  It goes without saying that the longer we wait we will be forced to select ever more drastic alternatives.

Use the following links to obtain more information or read the source documents for this article:






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