PLoS One: an open access venue for coral reef science

PLos One

PLoS One, from the PLoS family of journals that includes PLoS Biology, has become very popular among coral reef scientists.  (The leader is Bette Willis with 4 articles).  PloS One has been publishing cutting edge and influential articles about a variety of topics.  I love it because it is very fast and open access, meaning anybody, anywhere (with internet access) can read about your findings.  If you are doing science relevant to the public or management, it just makes sense not to have your results hidden behind a wall erected by corporate publishing houses that charge enormous fees to access their journals.  (even major research institutions like UNC are having a hard time paying the ever growing fees)

PLoS ONE is an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication. PLoS ONE welcomes reports on primary research from any scientific discipline. It provides:

  • Open-access—freely accessible online, authors retain copyright
  • Fast publication times
  • Peer review by expert, practicing researchers
  • Post-publication tools to indicate quality and impact
  • Community-based dialogue on articles
  • Worldwide media coverage

PLoS ONE is published by the Public Library of Science (PLoS), a nonprofit organization.

Read more about the PLoS One mission here.

One of the most unique aspects of PLoS One is its criteria for accepting manuscripts.  “PLoS ONE features reports of original research from all disciplines within science and medicine. By not excluding papers on the basis of subject area,PLoS ONE facilitates the discovery of the connections between papers whether within or between disciplines.”

To be accepted for publication in PLoS ONE, research articles must satisfy the following criteria:

  1. The study presents the results of primary scientific research.
  2. Results reported have not been published elsewhere.
  3. Experiments, statistics, and other analyses are performed to a high technical standard and are described in sufficient detail.
  4. Conclusions are presented in an appropriate fashion and are supported by the data.
  5. The article is presented in an intelligible fashion and is written in standard English.
  6. The research meets all applicable standards for the ethics of experimentation and research integrity.
  7. The article adheres to appropriate reporting guidelines (e.g. CONSORT, MIAME, STROBE, EQUATOR) and community standards for data availability.

Another is that it uses the Creative Commons Attribution License (CCAL) (read the human-readable summary or the full license legal code). “Under the CCAL, authors retain ownership of the copyright for their article, but authors allow anyone to download, reuse, reprint, modify, distribute, and/or copy articles in PLoS journals, so long as the original authors and source are cited. No permission is required from the authors or the publishers.” Open access articles have a well-documented citation advantage.

We often cover PLoS One papers about coral reef ecosystems, e.g., check out these posts:

Management effectiveness of the world’s marine fisheries

Caribbean reef fish decline: where have all the big fish gone?

Resilient ’super reefs’ a priority for conservation efforts

Doom and Boom on a Resilient Reef: Climate Change, Algal Overgrowth and Coral Recovery

Study identifies disease resistant coral genotypes

Rare corals may be smarter than previously thought

MPAs and climate change II: study finds no-take reserves do not increase reef resilience

Corals prove to be “nonconformist”

Kingman Atoll, MPAs and climate change

“Shipwrecks Wreak Havoc on Coral Reefs”

Shifting Baselines, Local Impacts, and Global Change on Coral Reefs – a note from Nancy Knowlton & Jeremy B. C. Jackson

A list of coral reef papers published in PLoS One:

  • Published 27 May 2009Shellfish Face Uncertain Future in High CO2 World: Influence of Acidification on Oyster Larvae Calcification and Growth in EstuariesA. Whitman Miller, Amanda C. Reynolds, Cristina Sobrino, Gerhardt F. Riedel

  • Palin vs. Markey: the former VP candidate weighs in on climate change


    From The Daily Beast, July 18, 2009

    Palin vs. the Planet

    By Ed Markey

    Congressman Ed Markey, co-author of a new energy bill in the House, fires back at the Alaska governor for her confusion, fuzzy math, and inaction on global warming.

    The future ex-Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, decided to dip her toe in the water on the national debate over energy and climate legislation in an op-ed in the Washington Post recently. Hailing from Alaska, one would assume the Governor might have noticed the water around her is indeed rising.

    While the Governor’s op-ed does not mention the words global warming, Alaska sits on the frontlines of climate change, with temperatures rising four degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years; melting permafrost is sending homes and roads in coastal villages like the centuries-old Shishmaref plunging into the sea.

    In addition to threatening wildlife and food supply, thawing permafrost could cost $3.6 to $6.1 billion in damages to Alaska’s roads, buildings, pipelines, and infrastructure. If you really want to hear an Alaskan speak to the threat global warming poses to America’s last frontier, watch this video from Alaskan teen Charlee Lockwood testifying before my Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

    To the Governor’s credit, she did mention global warming’s impact on her state during the presidential campaign (even if she was stumped on the science behind it). She is even on record with Sen. John McCain endorsing a solution to the climate problem—a policy called “cap and trade”—that’s right, the very same policy she now attacks in the Post op-ed. Confused? So is Gov. Palin.

    Last month, when the House passed the historic Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act, a bi-partisan majority stood together to take a comprehensive approach to solving our energy, climate, security and economic challenge. This legislation invests $190 billion into clean energy technology, exceeding President Obama’s goal, and will unleash more than a trillion dollars in private-sector capital investment in clean-energy technologies. It’s time to make America the leader in the technological race for clean-energy jobs, as we can no longer afford to watch China, India and Europe take the lead in these industries.

    The governor does not understand that Waxman-Markey is not a tax bill—as we explicitly rejected the carbon tax option in favor of a smart cap on pollution with price protections for consumers and businesses that will grow our economy and create jobs.

    She argues for more drilling as a solution to our energy crisis. But that math doesn’t add up. The United States possesses only three percent of the world’s oil reserves, yet we consume 25 percent of the world’s oil. OPEC, in contrast, controls two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves. Geological reality, not Waxman-Markey, is what is making energy “scarcer and more expensive.”

    That is why we need to develop American-made alternatives to our nation’s current foreign dependency. No matter how hard she looks, Gov. Palin is not going to find enough oil in Alaska to feed our country’s insatiable appetite for energy.

    Our plan can only be compared with Palin’s proposals by omission, not commission. Here are the words she chose to omit from her op-ed: wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, efficiency, smart grid, and fuel economy. These are true America solutions to our energy problems. Solutions that will create over 1.7 million new clean energy jobs alone, solutions that will save consumers and businesses millions on electricity bills year after year.

    The Governor criticizes Waxman-Markey for setting aside funds to address any temporary job dislocations that might occur as a result of the bill. But preparing for the worst case does not mean jobs will be lost. It means we want to make sure that we’re taking care of the workers of today as we prepare for the jobs of tomorrow. In fact, we expect so many new clean energy jobs to become available, that we’ve set aside more than $800 million to help educate and train workers to have the skill set needed to succeed.

    So, if Gov. Palin really wants to know what the Waxman-Markey bill does, she should begin by considering the top 10 policies that would create a truly prosperous clean energy economy:

    Waxman-Markey Top Ten Policies:

    Invest in Clean Energy: Invests $190 billion into clean energy like wind, solar, geothermal and advanced coal technology. Waxman-Markey establishes eight Clean Energy Innovation Hubs across the country, linking our top academic institutions with clean tech businesses to get technologies from the lab to the marketplace.

    Cuts Foreign Oil: Invests $20 billion in advanced fuel efficient vehicles like plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars and trucks, so that the next generation of drivers may never use a gas pump. When the bill is combined with fuel economy and renewable fuel standards already put in place, America will save more than 5 million barrels of oil a day, more than we already import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined.

    Reduces Carbon Pollution: For the first time, puts a cap on the carbon pollution causing global warming—reducing carbon and other heat-trapping pollutants 83 percent by 2050. The program makes polluters pay, driving down emissions over time by about 2 percent a year. American leadership on global warming will pave the way for an international deal that gets all polluters on board.

    Creates Jobs, Trains Workers: Will create millions of new clean energy jobs that can’t be sent overseas to China and India, and provides $865 million in job training assistance for America’s new clean energy workers.

    Builds a Smarter Grid: Encourages a Smart Grid that uses E-Chips—electricity computer chips—and other technologies in appliances, homes and businesses that will empower consumers to save money and energy using Internet and other telecommunications technologies.

    Efficiency Savings: Saves consumers $69 billion annually by 2030 by making our buildings, homes, appliances, and lights use less energy. New buildings and homes will be 50 percent more efficient by 2016, and old buildings will be retrofitted with energy-saving technology. Efficiency provisions in Waxman-Markey will avoid the need to build more than 150 large power plants.

    Saves Families Money: Provides hundreds of dollars in energy rebates annually to low-income families and helps all families reduce their electricity bills. Cumulative energy cost-savings would total more than $4,000 per household by 2030.

    Price Spike Protection: Over 50 percent of the program is dedicated to protecting consumers from the price spikes typical of the old energy economy. It dedicates 30 percent of the program to protect families and businesses from rate spikes on their electricity bills. W-M dedicates 15 percent of the program to protect low-income families from price increases, providing hundreds of dollars in energy rebates annually to low-income families.

    Funds New Technologies: Establishes a “Clean Energy Bank” to leverage $75 billion in loans to fund established clean energy technologies like wind and solar, and to breakthrough technologies that have yet to be invented.

    Fiscally Responsible: The Congressional Budget Office found Waxman-Markey will not raise the federal budget deficit.

    I do agree with Palin that there is no shortage of threats to the American economy—and I believe that her strategy of inaction on clean energy and global warming is one of them. We must deliver a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill to President Obama and to the American people. That is why the House bill was built with input from every region of the country and every sector of the economy. It’s time to take action. Failing to meet these challenges is no longer an option.

    Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) chairs the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.


    From the Washington Post, July 14, 2009

    The ‘Cap And Tax’ Dead End

    By Sarah Palin

    There is no shortage of threats to our economy. America’s unemployment rate recently hit its highest mark in more than 25 years and is expected to continue climbing. Worries are widespread that even when the economy finally rebounds, the recovery won’t bring jobs. Our nation’s debt is unsustainable, and the federal government’s reach into the private sector is unprecedented.

    Unfortunately, many in the national media would rather focus on the personality-driven political gossip of the day than on the gravity of these challenges. So, at risk of disappointing the chattering class, let me make clear what is foremost on my mind and where my focus will be:

    I am deeply concerned about President Obama’s cap-and-trade energy plan, and I believe it is an enormous threat to our economy. It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage.

    American prosperity has always been driven by the steady supply of abundant, affordable energy. Particularly in Alaska, we understand the inherent link between energy and prosperity, energy and opportunity, and energy and security. Consequently, many of us in this huge, energy-rich state recognize that the president’s cap-and-trade energy tax would adversely affect every aspect of the U.S. economy.

    There is no denying that as the world becomes more industrialized, we need to reform our energy policy and become less dependent on foreign energy sources. But the answer doesn’t lie in making energy scarcer and more expensive! Those who understand the issue know we can meet our energy needs and environmental challenges without destroying America’s economy.

    Job losses are so certain under this new cap-and-tax plan that it includes a provision accommodating newly unemployed workers from the resulting dried-up energy sector, to the tune of $4.2 billion over eight years. So much for creating jobs.

    In addition to immediately increasing unemployment in the energy sector, even more American jobs will be threatened by the rising cost of doing business under the cap-and-tax plan. For example, the cost of farming will certainly increase, driving down farm incomes while driving up grocery prices. The costs of manufacturing, warehousing and transportation will also increase.

    The ironic beauty in this plan? Soon, even the most ardent liberal will understand supply-side economics.

    The Americans hit hardest will be those already struggling to make ends meet. As the president eloquently puts it, their electricity bills will “necessarily skyrocket.” So much for not raising taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year.

    Even Warren Buffett, an ardent Obama supporter, admitted that under the cap-and-tax scheme, “poor people are going to pay a lot more for electricity.”

    We must move in a new direction. We are ripe for economic growth and energy independence if we responsibly tap the resources that God created right underfoot on American soil. Just as important, we have more desire and ability to protect the environment than any foreign nation from which we purchase energy today.

    In Alaska, we are progressing on the largest private-sector energy project in history. Our 3,000-mile natural gas pipeline will transport hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of our clean natural gas to hungry markets across America. We can safely drill for U.S. oil offshore and in a tiny, 2,000-acre corner of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if ever given the go-ahead by Washington bureaucrats.

    Of course, Alaska is not the sole source of American energy. Many states have abundant coal, whose technology is continuously making it into a cleaner energy source. Westerners literally sit on mountains of oil and gas, and every state can consider the possibility of nuclear energy.

    We have an important choice to make. Do we want to control our energy supply and its environmental impact? Or, do we want to outsource it to China, Russia and Saudi Arabia? Make no mistake: President Obama’s plan will result in the latter.

    For so many reasons, we can’t afford to kill responsible domestic energy production or clobber every American consumer with higher prices.

    Can America produce more of its own energy through strategic investments that protect the environment, revive our economy and secure our nation?

    Yes, we can. Just not with Barack Obama’s energy cap-and-tax plan.

    The writer, a Republican, is governor of Alaska.


    Palin’s Cap-and-Trade Is Alaska’s Bait-and-Switch

    By Shannyn Moore, from the Huffington Post July 17, 2009

    In her op-ed in the Washington Post this week, Sarah Palin, while still governor, took up the sword for corporate interests; a position directly opposing what is best for Alaska.

    The flip-flop to anyone who watched the vice presidential debate was obvious. When Gwen Ifill asked, “Do you support capping carbon emissions?” Palin responded, “I do. I do.”

    What or whom changed Sarah Palin’s mind about cap-and-trade?

    In both her resignation speech and her op-ed, Palin touted AGIA, the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act. It was widely supported and passed with a vote of 58-1. “This is the largest private sector energy project, ever. THIS is energy independence,” she said on July 3. In her piece, she railed Obama’s plan for cap-and-trade. She mentioned AGIA again and how we are “progressing” the 3,000-mile project.

    As evidenced by its near unanimous passage in the Alaska Legislature, AGIA is one of the most important pieces of legislation in our 50 years of statehood. We need jobs and energy relief.

    The Senate Resources committee was still hashing out details of the gas line legislation this year. With such a monumental project on the table — one that will affect generations, the committee members took pains to consider the potential impact of future federal legislation on the project. The prospect of cap-and-trade came up repeatedly. How would it affect the gas line? How would it affect Alaska?

    On March 25, Dr. Mark Myers, a former Alaska Division of Oil & Gas Director, appointed by President Bush to oversee the United States Geological Service, and the State of Alaska’s AGIA Coordinator, presented a slide to the committee titled “Impact of Carbon Regulation on Natural Gas Demand.” His presentation demonstrated how the gas line will have an economic edge and environmental advantage over coal plants in producing clean energy. Such a regulation will also create higher demand for Alaska gas, thereby pushing up prices and ultimately benefiting Alaskans in form of additional state revenues and support for jobs in the gas field.

    In Senate Resource hearings on March 26, April 7, and June 3, Senators Wielechowski and Therriault asked experts how cap and trade would affect the Alaska gasline.

    March 26, 2009 DR. DAVID WOOD (a LNG international consultant) said gas should benefit from that legislation, being the least carbon…of fuels. Cap and trade will penalize coal with respect for gas…most cap and trade will increase demand.

    April 7, 2009
    TONY PALMER (TransCanada’s Alaska Vice President) said he has not spoken to Obama yet but has spoken briefly with his staff about a month ago, before they had formulated how they might proceed. Cap and trade agreements should be positive force on this project.

    June 3, 2009
    MR. PALMER said carbon legislation would be put in place, that should be positive for gas and therefore this project.

    They were unanimous that federal cap-and-trade legislation will have a positive influence on the AGIA project.

    Thus, between the amount of carbon credits Alaska would have to trade, and the increased demands for clean energy in natural gas, federal cap-and-trade regulation is in the best interest of Alaska.

    You don’t have to follow Palin’s tweets to know she wasn’t present at the Senate resource hearings. However, her appointee, Dr. Myers, was not only attending, he was advising the legislature that the cap-and-trade legislation will be of great benefit to Alaska — a view that is diametrically opposed to Palin’s new stance.

    Recently, the federal government found Alaska has warmed at more than twice the rate of the rest of the United States. Widespread and unprecedented thawing of permafrost, sinking buildings, buckled roads, damaged runways, water and sewer systems, are just part of the affects of climate change. Three coastal villages have begun relocation plans with 160 rural communities threatened by erosion. Alaska’s climate is the canary in the coal mine. Capping carbon emissions may help Alaska avoid some dire environmental consequences.

    Palin’s op-ed was completely contradictory to her own administration’s position in its Juneau testimony last legislative session. She has apparently been convinced that, despite its importance to Alaska’s gas line project, cap-and-trade is somehow bad for the rest of the country. Sarah Palin either doesn’t understand the importance of cap-and-trade to Alaska, or she does know, but now that she’s pandering to red swing states, she just doesn’t care.

    Recognise a familiar face?

    Picture 594

    Recognise anyone familiar in this photograph? That’s Al Gore in the middle, with Ove (foundation member of the SCA scientific advisory committee) on the right and members of Safe Climate Australia following the launch of SCA last Monday (July 13 2009).

    Safe Climate Australia will build on a range of international innovation and transition projects such as Repower America, which target energy efficiency and renewable generation, a modern national smart grid and electrification of transport as key actions in addressing global warming, energy security and peak oil.

    Inspired by these projects, the purpose of Safe Climate Australia is to identify and catalyse action on the societal transformations and solutions needed to achieve a safe climate for Australia, and for the planet, at emergency speed. The structural change achieved in the next ten years is crucial. (Read More)

    “Problem child” El Nino has returned

    Picture 596

    Here’s one to keep an eye on for the following season – courtesy of Science Magazine:

    Batten down the hatches! The disruptive weather pattern known as El Niño has developed once again in the central Pacific Ocean, the first time since 2006, scientists announced today. Satellite instruments have recorded a band of telltale warming in surface waters of about 1°C. That could mean damaging storms this winter in California and across the southern half of the United States, as well as heavy rains in Central and South America, drought in Southeast Asia and Australia, and less productive fisheries in the eastern Pacific. On the positive side, El Niño’s return also tends to moderate the Atlantic hurricane season and bring milder winters to North America.

    For more than a century, ship captains and fishers have been aware of a recurring pattern in the weather in the eastern Pacific, which tends to repeat itself every 3 to 4 years. The pattern is known as El Niño–or “The Boy Child”–because its effects seem to be felt the most around Christmastime. Scientists now understand that an El Niño period begins when a narrow but well-defined band of surface water, at least 0.5°C warmer than normal, accumulates in the eastern equatorial Pacific and spreads westward during late spring and early summer (see diagram). Satellite data have now confirmed just such a pattern, report scientists at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    What isn’t yet known is how strong an El Niño will eventually develop and how long it is likely to last. That’s because the data collected so far are insufficient to determine those factors. But NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Maryland, estimates that for the next several months the overall effect across the United States should be mild. Whether El Niño will stick around for longer and bring destruction remains undetermined.

    The previous El Niño, which occurred in 2006–2007, produced relatively tepid effects. But one of its recent predecessors, in 1997–1998, was considered the strongest ever recorded. It caused the average sea-surface temperature in the central Pacific to rise as much as 5°C above normal and warmed average global air temperatures temporarily by about 2.5°C –some five times higher than an El Niño normally generates. That episode also more than doubled 1997–1998 seasonal rainfall over Southern California, washing out roads and bridges and causing landslides.

    Fielding the hard questions? Not likely.


    It seems like the Australian Senator Steve Fielding is a little confused.

    THIS is the chart climate change sceptic Senator Steve Fielding hopes will convince Al Gore that global warming is not real.

    Senator Fielding is trying to score a one-on-one meeting with Mr Gore, who is in Australia promoting several environmental causes, to prove to him that climate change sceptics are right. (Read More at

    Just a quick recap: Senator Fielding, who apparently once believed that man made carbon dioxide emissions were the main cause of global warming, took a trip to the Washington DC (funded by the Heartland Institute – more on that here), and has somehow come up with a bunch of questions that have proved that Global Warming isn’t real. At this point, it’s abundantly clear that Senator Fielding isn’t a scientist, nor does he have a good grip on climate science. One of the best blog commentaries i’ve seen on the matter so far is this gem:

    It was comforting to have Nobel laureate Peter Doherty‘s reassurance that climate change “is an enormously complex area and it’s difficult for people outside the area to understand the science” when he spoke at the recent University of Melbourne Festival of Ideas. Doherty includes himself as one of those challenged by this complexity.

    I can sympathise when Steve Fielding says that he would “be letting down the Australian people if I didn’t properly research the issues”. But he is misguided in thinking that he’ll be able to do so. Steve needs to stick to his job, which is contributing to policy, and leave the scientific debate to the scientists. (Read More)

    When dealing with an incredibly complex issue such as climate change, why does Senator Fielding expect the temperature vs CO2 relationship to be linear? And why is Senator Fielding cherry picking his graphs yet again? Here is what CO2 and Temperature look like over the last century:


    Read on over at Skeptical Science for a detailed discussion on the CO2 / Temperature correlation over the last century:

    The broader picture in this scenario is to recognise that CO2 is not the only factor that influences climate. There are a number of forcings which affect the net energy flux into our climate. Stratospheric aerosols (eg – from volcanic eruptions) reflect sunlight back into space, causing net cooling. When solar activity increases, the net energy flux increases. (Read More)

    I wish people like Senator Fielding would appreciate the enormous amount of effort invested into climate change science, and not assume that they can derail or outsmart the entire process by a single graph (especially one concocted by big oil). On the other hand, i’m looking forward to hear Al Gore’s response – judging by previous efforts, it could be rather entertaining. Here’s what happened when Republican Marsha Blackburn challenged Al Gore during an exchange at a subcommittee hearing on global climate change legislation:


    Al Gore launches Safe Climate Australia


    This monday saw the launch of Safe Climate Australia, a non-government organisation formed by a group of scientists, and community and corporate leaders who aim to end Australia’s reliance on cheap coal for electricity.

    Safe Climate Australia will build on a range of international innovation and transition projects such as Repower America, which target energy efficiency and renewable generation, a modern national smart grid and electrification of transport as key actions in addressing global warming, energy security and peak oil.

    Inspired by these projects, the purpose of Safe Climate Australia is to identify and catalyse action on the societal transformations and solutions needed to achieve a safe climate for Australia, and for the planet, at emergency speed. The structural change achieved in the next ten years is crucial.

    Safe Climate Australia was launched by the Nobel Prize winner and former Vice President Al Gore. In an impressive speech, Gore likened last years Australian bushfires as evidence that the planet had a “fever”:

    “It’s difficult to ignore the fact that cyclones are getting stronger, that the fires are getting bigger, that the sea level is rising, that the refugees are beginning to move from places they have long called home,” Gore said.

    “The odds have been shifted so heavily that fires that used to be manageable now threaten to spin out of control and wreak damages that are far beyond what was experienced in the past.”(Read More)

    For more information on Safe Climate Australia, click here, or follow this link for video excerpts of Al Gore’s speech (which for some reason refuse to embed here, apologies in advance). and see below for a clip from an ABC interview:


    More info on the US House Climate Change Bill

    From today’s Washington Post:

    Q and A on the Climate Bill

    By David A. Fahrenthold and Steven Mufson
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Sunday, July 5, 2009 7:21 PM

    The climate bill approved by the House last month started out as an idea — fight global warming — and wound up looking like an unabridged dictionary. It runs to more than 1,400 pages, swollen with loopholes and giveaways meant to win over un-green industries and wary legislators.

    Here are answers to some key questions about the bill.

    How would it work?

    The legislation sponsored by Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) would set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions and gradually tighten it. Major emitters of greenhouse gases — including any business that burns fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas or coal — would have to reduce their emissions or buy allowances, which would be traded on markets like commodities. This would be the first economy-wide limit on greenhouse gases in the United States; Europe has had a similar system in place for years.

    Would this bill stop climate change?

    No. Even if it works exactly as planned — delivering a 17 percent reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared with 2005 levels — it might not slow down the rate of climate change by very much.

    That is because emissions are a global problem: Greenhouse gases contribute to the Earth’s warming whether they are emitted in China or in Chevy Chase. Even if the United States meets the legislation’s goals for 2020, the world’s total emissions would be reduced by about 3 percent, according to Energy Department projections.

    That would be a start, environmentalists say. Usually emissions grow as the economy grows, so a 17 percent cut would be a huge feat for the energy industry. But scientists say that far deeper cuts are needed to head off disaster from warming temperatures, rising sea levels and other climate changes. The legislation would require reductions of 42 percent by 2030 and 83 percent by 2050.

    What will all this change cost, and who will pay?

    Less than 50 cents per household per day, according to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Congressional Budget Office. And that does not take into account benefits from avoiding hard-to-calculate costs associated with accelerating climate change.

    According to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, the cost would be much steeper: $11.78 per day in the coming decades. According to House Republicans, the costs would cripple the U.S. economy and drive American jobs to countries that do not have climate regulations.

    These costs are a mix of higher prices for carbon-based fuels — the whole idea of a cap-and-trade system — offset by a complex series of tax breaks and free allowances, new technologies and behavioral changes, and impacts on corporations and their profits.

    Any estimate is tough to make because it is difficult to forecast exactly how the system would work and what new technologies will emerge. New technologies might make it cheaper to turn wind and sunlight into electricity, or make it possible for coal plants to capture carbon dioxide on a wide scale and store it underground.

    Or they might not: It is difficult to forecast the effect of inventions still un-invented. Photovoltaic cells are similar to computer chips, whose prices keep falling, but carbon capture and storage is largely uncharted territory.

    What did Waxman and Markey give away to get the bill passed?

    Plenty. But the compromises — with the possible exception of one involving agriculture interests — would affect who pays the costs of cutting greenhouse gases, without undermining the emission targets.

    What Waxman and Markey gave away were free emission allowances during a transition period of 10 to 20 years. The biggest chunks would reduce costs for certain companies and consumers, especially those reliant on coal. Other allowances would essentially be subsidies, going to states, a new clean-energy bank, forestry groups, automakers, and others that would sell them and use the proceeds.

    Who loses in these compromises?

    The federal government. Under President Obama’s initial proposal, the federal government would have auctioned off 100 percent of the emission allowances under the cap. The Waxman-Markey bill would auction off about 15 percent to start with and would not phase out the free stuff until 2030. During the program’s first 10 years, a full auction could have pumped an extra $713 billion in revenue into the Treasury. That could have been used to slash the deficit, pay for health care, cut payroll taxes or fund energy research. Obama had proposed a combination of energy aid for lower-income households and an extension of a temporary tax cut approved this year.

    Who benefits?

    — Local electricity distribution companies that rely heavily on coal would get 35 percent or more of the allowances through 2025. Local utility regulators would decide whether costs can be passed through to consumers, but the Waxman-Markey bill has provisions designed to ensure that the benefits of free allowances flow to consumers.

    That is great politics. But it means consumers would not have as much financial incentive for energy-efficient home improvements. The bill would still send powerful signals to anyone building a power plant, which is expected to last long after the phase-out of the proposed free allowances.

    — Energy-intensive manufacturers, such as those that make aluminum, glass or steel. These firms are worried about competition from countries such as China and India, which do not price greenhouse gases. These firms would get 10 to 15 percent of allowances for most of a decade. (A tariff would take effect in 2020 for goods from countries still lacking carbon prices.)

    — Various companies and agencies. According to Point Carbon, a market analysis firm, rural electricity firms would get an extra $6.4 billion worth of allowances thanks to an amendment to the bill. Three-quarters of 1 percent of all allowances would go to about a half-dozen small, independent oil refiners, said Kevin Book, managing director of research at ClearView Energy Partners; major oil refiners would get 2 percent of allowances. Automakers would need allowances to cover only their manufacturing emissions, not tailpipe emissions. But they would still get 3 percent of allowances for six years, then 1 percent of allowances for eight more.

    Companies working on carbon capture and storage would get as much as 5 percent of allowances.

    In the initial years, state governments would get 10 percent of allowances, which they would sell to finance a range of energy-efficiency activities, including mass transit.

    An additional 5 percent of allowances would help groups fighting deforestation. They would sell the allowances to fund projects in places such as Brazil, Indonesia and China.

    What could go wrong?

    The bill’s success depends heavily on carbon offsets. These are official certificates given for greenhouse gases that might have been emitted but were not or for emissions that were somehow removed from the atmosphere.

    U.S. polluters could buy them and pay someone else to reduce emissions, instead of doing it themselves. But, if some offsets turn out to be bogus, the climate loses and the system bleeds credibility.

    The idea behind overseas offsets is that foreign companies might be able to reduce their emissions more cheaply than U.S. firms could here. That would provide an equal benefit to the climate at a lower cost. It also might prompt foreign companies to buy emissions-reducing technology made in America.

    If the government does not allow offsets from overseas, the EPA estimates, this might drive up the price of carbon credits, the allowances that polluters need for each ton of greenhouse gases emitted, up by 89 percent.

    But some critics say that it will be difficult to verify whether an overseas company really reduces its emissions — and show that these reductions would not have happened on their own. Offsets make political targets, too. “I’m sure our constituents want our money shipped overseas to plant trees,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said sarcastically during debate on the measure.

    “I think people will buy the offsets,” said Kenneth P. Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “The question is whether or not the offsets, especially the foreign ones, can be validated and meaningful.”

    What about U.S. farmers?

    U.S. agriculture interests won two key concessions. Unlike interest groups that won free allowances, the agriculture concessions could undermine the cap. That is because the bill would put the Agriculture Department, instead of the EPA, in charge of agricultural offsets. Those could include credits for tillage techniques that would minimize carbon dioxide emissions. If the Agriculture Department is too lax with standards or credits for long-standing practices, it could mean little change in emissions.

    What else is in the legislation?

    A lot. It is called a cap-and-trade bill, but key portions are about regulation. The provisions would act as backstops, cutting emissions even if the cap-and-trade system does not work as advertised.

    One section would require new coal-fired power plants to emit 50 percent less carbon dioxide than existing plants do. Plants licensed after 2020 would have to cut emissions by 65 percent. Other parts would establish more energy-efficient building standards and order the phasing out of hydrofluorocarbon, a refrigerant that is a strong greenhouse gas.

    Finally, the legislation would establish a nationwide renewable electricity standard, requiring utilities to meet 20 percent of their 2020 power needs from renewable energy sources or energy efficiency. The generous set-asides for efficiency and the definitions of renewables make this standard weaker than those most states have already adopted.

    How will the world view this?

    This might be the most surprising answer of all: A bill swimming in bureaucratic minutiae might make its biggest impact as a broad-stroke idea, a symbol that the United States is serious about climate change.

    “It really sends a signal to the international community that one of the largest emitters means business,” said Elizabeth Perera of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group. If that persuades other large-scale polluters such as China to set their own emissions standards, Perera said, the world might get the major reductions that scientists say are needed.

    © 2009 The Washington Post Company

    Climate change being discussed at the G8 summit

    Picture 590Global climate change is being discussed intensely this week at the G8 summit in Italy. The G8 leaders just release a “Declaration of the leaders: the majority economies forum on energy and climate” which can be downloaded as a PDF here.  Some of the highlights:

    Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. As leaders of the world’s major economies, both developed and developing, we intend to respond vigorously to this challenge, being convinced that climate change poses a clear danger requiring an extraordinary global response, that the response should respect the priority of economic and social development of developing countries, that moving to a low-carbon economy is an opportunity to promote continued economic growth and sustainable development, that the need for and deployment of transformational clean energy technologies at lowest possible cost are urgent, and that the response must involve balanced attention to mitigation and adaptation.

    Our countries will undertake transparent nationally appropriate mitigation actions, subject to applicable measurement, reporting, and verification, and prepare low-carbon growth plans. Developed countries among us will take the lead by promptly undertaking robust aggregate and individual reductions in the midterm consistent with our respective ambitious long-term objectives and will work together before Copenhagen to achieve a strong result in this regard.

    Adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change is essential. Such effects are already taking place. Further, while increased mitigation efforts will reduce climate impacts, even the most aggressive mitigation efforts will not eliminate the need for substantial adaptation, particularly in developing countries which will be disproportionately affected. There is a particular and immediate need to assist the poorest and most vulnerable to adapt to such effects. Not only are they most affected but they have contributed the least to the build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

    We are establishing a Global Partnership to drive transformational low-carbon, climate-friendly technologies. We will dramatically increase and coordinate public sector investments in research, development, and demonstration of these technologies, with a view to doubling such investments by 2015, while recognizing the importance of private investment, public-private partnerships and international cooperation, including regional innovation centers. Drawing on global best practice policies, we undertake to remove barriers, establish incentives, enhance capacity-building, and implement appropriate measures to aggressively accelerate deployment and transfer of key existing and new low-carbon technologies, in accordance with national circumstances. We welcome the leadership of individual countries to spearhead efforts among interested countries to advance actions on technologies such as energy efficiency; solar energy; smart grids; carbon capture, use, and storage; advanced vehicles; high-efficiency and lower-emissions coal technologies; bio-energy; and other clean technologies.

    It all sounds great, but there aren’t a lot of specifics on how the goals will be met.

    One of the setbacks at the summit was the (non-surprising) refusal by India and China to commit to specific reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  Peter Baker reports on this in the NYT here:

    If he [Obama] cannot ultimately bring along developing countries, no climate deal will be effective.

    While the richest countries have produced the bulk of the pollution blamed for climate change, developing countries are producing increasing volumes of gases. But developing countries say their climb out of poverty should not be halted to fix damage done by industrial countries.

    As various sides tried to draft an agreement to sign Thursday, those tensions scuttled the specific goals sought by the United States and Europe. The proposed agreement called for worldwide emissions to be cut 50 percent by 2050, with industrial countries cutting theirs by 80 percent. But emerging powers refused to agree because they wanted industrial countries to commit to midterm goals in the next decade and to follow through on promises of financial and technological help for poorer nations.

    The declaration also states “We recognize the scientific view that the increase in global average temperature above pre-industrial levels ought not to exceed 2 degrees C.”  But is this really a scientific view?  I think it is a social or political goal, but I don’t think we know exactly how a 2 degree increase will differ from a 3 or 4 degree increase.  I.e., we don’t know where the tipping point is. See the very nice discussion (with expert commentary from Stephen H. Schneider, Kenneth Caldeira and others) on the merits of the 2 degree solution being discussed so much this week at the G8 meeting on Dot Earth here.

    Even Bill O’Reilly believes in global warming now!

    Even Bill O’Reilly believes in global warming now!  The conservative Fox News commentator told even more conservative commentator Dr. Laura-she isn’t really a Dr-Ingraham”.  According to the Huff Post:  When Ingraham claimed that the planet was getting cooler – O’Reilly cut her off and said, “Well, that’s not what the temperature says.”  She the video on the Huff Post here.

    And see the YouTube video (below) where O’Reilly says “Governments gotta be proactive on environment, global warming is here”.  Amazing.  Progress is being made.