Climate Feedback

Countdown to Copenhagen

Keith Kloor

All hope for Copenhagen seems lost. According to The Times:

“A world treaty on climate change will be delayed by up to a year and is likely to be watered down because countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions are refusing to commit to legally binding reductions.”

So if Copenhagen becomes just another rallying point for worldwide action, then where to after that? According to The Guardian:

“Sources said a meeting in Mexico in December 2010 would be more likely to see the legal treaty sealed.”

Whatever new roadmap emerges from Copenhagen, religious leaders meeting this week at Windsor Castle in Britain have pledged to galvanize their constituents to take action on global warming. Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth notes the “remarkable conclave”.

On the energy front, natural gas continues to be heralded for its various environmental attributes. Recent discoveries of abundant shale gas reserves in the United States, argue Daniel Yergin and Robert Ineson in The Wall Street Journal, transform the debate over generating electricity. They write:

“The US electric power industry faces very big questions about fuel choice and what kind of new generating capacity to build. In the face of new climate regulations, the increased availability of gas will likely lead to more natural gas consumption in electric power because of gas’s relatively lower CO2 emissions. Natural gas power plants can also be built more quickly than coal-fired plants.”

A broader case was spelled out several months ago by a leading Washington DC think thank, which asserted that natural gas:

“creates an unprecedented opportunity to use gas as a bridge fuel to a 21st-century energy economy that relies on efficiency, renewable sources and low-carbon fossil fuels such as natural gas”.

Now, it seems that it has a potential peace dividend as well. Building natural gas pipelines in Central Asia, instead of military transport lines, could bring greater stability to countries such as India and Pakistan, according to this article by Saleem H. Ali and Parag Khanna, in Foreign Policy. There are obvious ancillary benefits for the global climate, since natural gas “is likely to be the cleanest and most cost-effective fuel to meet Pakistan and India’s energy shortfall”. The authors add:

“Natural gas development offers a unique opportunity to tackle strategic, diplomatic and environmental goals at the same time.”

Meanwhile, a new political strategy for the US Senate climate bill has emerged in Washington DC. Three influential senators (two Democrats and one Republican) have joined ranks to open a “dual track” on climate legislation, in an effort to broaden support for a final bill among their colleagues in Congress.

This new ploy comes just as US environmental groups are trying out new messages about global warming, for similar reasons. As The Washington Post reports:

“Now, some groups have muted their alarms about wildfires, shrinking glaciers and rising seas. Not because they’ve stopped caring about them — but because they’re trying to win over people who might care more about a climate bill’s non-environmental side benefits, such as ‘green’ jobs and reduced oil imports.”

If green groups are looking for any new pointers from social scientists, they might consider cracking open The Psychology of Climate Change Communication, a guide published this week by the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University, New York City.

The guide offers many tips, such as how to convey “climate uncertainties” and how to “avoid the overuse of emotional appeals”. It also prefers cartoons to charts and graphs, at least in terms of communicating its own message to readers.


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