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From Fiji to Botswana, Tourism Industry Aiming for a Lighter Carbon Footprint

Increasing numbers of eco-conscious travelers are forcing some tourist operators and resort owners to mitigate and adapt to the risks of climate change

By Lori Tripoli

Apr 13, 2011
Elephants in Botswana.

Increased tourism is threatening to exacerbate coastline erosion and loss of wetlands in poorer countries already suffering from global warming hazards. But a rising number of eco-conscious travelers are forcing some in the tourist industry to change their ways.

"Our typical client is well-educated and aware of climate change," said Derek de la Harpe, the corporate sustainability officer of , a tourism outfit based in Botswana.

The luxury safari tour group operates 70 lodges and camps in Botswana and six other southern African countries, which are more like hotels than campgrounds with 100 rooms and 100 staff on-site.

In Botswana, the sensitive Okavango Delta, one of the largest freshwater swamps in the world, faces unknown risks both from decades of rising temperatures as a result of global warming gases and the footprint of the 120,000 safari-goers who visit every year.

Largely in response to market demand, Wilderness Safaris has built two solar-powered camps there and is retrofitting sites that are large consumers of fossil fuel electricity, de la Harpe told SolveClimate News.

In popular ecotourism hotspots like Belize, where tourism accounts for 20 percent of the economy, the issue of greener tourism has become so prominent that a state policy is underway.

Koch Bros. Influence Felt in New Jersey as Governor Weighs Carbon Market Exit

New Jersey’s potential withdrawal from the 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative would deal a major blow to the cap-and-trade scheme

By Maria Gallucci

Apr 11, 2011

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is re-evaluating the state's participation in a regional carbon trading program and could opt to withdraw within a few weeks.

Observers say the move is expected in response to pressure from GOP legislators and campaigns mounted by groups funded by billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch.

The anticipated policy reversal is in step with recent actions in Maine and New Hampshire, where Republican-dominated legislatures are trying to repeal their states' participation in the (RGGI), a carbon market between 10 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and the first mandatory emissions trading plan in the country.

Christie said he was concerned that RGGI places a burden on New Jersey businesses by raising energy costs, and thus gives a competitive advantage to states like Pennsylvania that do not participate.

"Is there enough of a benefit to the state to keep it going or is it too much of a detriment on business?" he asked at a March 24 town hall meeting in Nutley, according to transcripts provided by the governor's office to SolveClimate News.

"The thing I'm most concerned about is that it doesn't seem to be working in the entire region. The value of these credits are getting less and less as we continue to go further and further out, and the value of the program is becoming less and less," he continued.

California Group Plugs Climate Science Gap in America's Schools

The Alliance for Climate Education, founded in 2009 with an an advisory panel of IPCC scientists, has already reached 750,000 students nationwide

By Lisa Song

Apr 11, 2011
ACE presentation

Climate change has become a household term in America, but that doesn't mean most people grasp the science behind it.

According to a recent from the , just 8 percent of American adults would score an A or B on their understanding of climate change science, while 52 percent would receive an F.

The younger generation generally isn't faring much better. Unlike physics or chemistry, there's no standard school curriculum for teaching the science of global warming. In Texas, the Board of Education has gone as far as to ask teachers to cast doubt on the human role in climate change.

The (ACE) hopes to plug the gap. Founded in 2009, the California nonprofit visits high schools across the country to give assembly presentations on climate change. Any teacher can request an appearance.

According to the ticker on ACE's website, the group has reached nearly 750,000 students in 1,300 schools.

(Listen to the SolveClimate News podcast episode: Plugging the Climate Science Gap in U.S. High Schools)

"[It's the] Superbowl experience of climate," Matt Stewart, ACE's head of marketing, told SolveClimate News. "We try to present something that stands out and energizes [students] around science, and to find creative ways to solve [climate change]."

Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells Tainting Drinking Water Across U.S.

More than a million abandoned wells may be out there. But the task of finding, plugging and monitoring the old wells is daunting to cash-strapped states

By Nicholas Kusnetz,

Apr 10, 2011
Old oil rig

In the last 150 years, prospectors and energy companies have drilled as many as 12 million holes across the United States in search of oil and gas. Many of those holes were plugged after they dried up. But hundreds of thousands were simply abandoned and forgotten, often leaving no records of their existence.

Government reports have warned for decades that abandoned wells can provide pathways for oil, gas or brine-laden water to contaminate groundwater supplies or to travel up to the surface. Abandoned wells have  , and leaked oil into water wells in Ohio and Michigan. Similar problems have occurred in Texas, New York, Colorado and other states where drilling has occurred.

In 2008, gas from an abandoned well leaked into a septic system in Pennsylvania and exploded when someone tried to light a candle in a bathroom, killing the person, according to a by the state's Department of Environmental Protection. That report also documented at least two dozen other cases of gas seeping from old wells, including three where the drilling of new wells "communicated" with old wells, leaking gas into water supplies and forcing the evacuation of a home.

In February, methane from an old well made its way into the basement of a house in West Mifflin, Pa., triggering a small explosion. Two families were evacuated and have not yet returned home.

U.S. Weighing Antitrust Investigation of Oil Sands Shippers

The FTC says it will take seriously a senator's request to investigate whether Canadian firms are colluding to boost prices of tar sands to U.S. refineries

By Elizabeth McGowan

Apr 8, 2011
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon

WASHINGTON—Conservationists and other advocates have maintained all along that constructing a much-disputed Canada-to-Texas oil sands pipeline will harm Midwesterners by forcing drivers to fork over more dollars at the gasoline pump.

And Sen. Ron Wyden has elevated that argument to a higher plane by requesting a probe of potential anti-competitive practices connected to the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline.

The Oregon Democrat has asked FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz to investigate whether Canadian oil companies are violating antitrust rules with an agreement to ship heavy crude from the tar sands mines of the province of Alberta to the refineries along the Gulf Coast.

"While the full nature of the arrangements agreed upon by the Canadian shippers is unclear, there is clear indication that there is a coordinated 'strategy' among Canadian suppliers to gain higher prices," Wyden writes in dated April 6. "According to TransCanada, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline can be used by Canadian oil shippers to add up to $4 billion to U.S. fuel costs."

FTC spokesman Mitch Katz told SolveClimate News in an interview that, on average, the agency receives somewhere in the neighborhood of three letters per week on an array of topics from members of Congress. He added that spikes in gas prices often prompt a spate of inquiries from senators and representatives seeking answers.

U.N. Climate Agenda Agreed, Roadmap Set for 2011

Many nations were unhappy that much of the April 3-8 Bangkok meeting was taken up arguing over the agenda, with the U.S. saying the delay dampened the mood

By David Fogarty, Reuters

Apr 8, 2011
Bangkok Climate Talks

Rich and poor nations overcame deep divisions on Friday to cut a deal that maps out U.N. climate negotiations for 2011, building on last December's agreement in Mexico and hardening the focus on tougher issues.

The deal in Bangkok came after nearly four days of talks that some developing nations said were needed to "recalibrate" U.N. climate negotiations after last year's Cancun agreements.

They wanted an agenda that tackled the fate of the Kyoto Protocol on fighting global warming and rich countries' pledges to cut emissions, and clarified sources of cash for poorer nations rather than just building on what was agreed at Cancun.

But many rich nations said some developing nations were simply trying to row back on what was agreed in Cancun and this undermined negotiations this year that culminate in the South African city of Durban from late November.

Many nations were unhappy that much of the April 3-8 meeting was taken up arguing over the agenda, with the United States saying the delay dampened the mood, while some developing nations had misgivings about the end result. All expressed an urgency to press ahead with negotiations.

Groups Demand More Time and Public Say in Keystone XL Pipeline Review

Conservation groups urge State Dept to hold meetings in at least 24 communities along Keystone XL's route before issuing its environmental review

By Elizabeth McGowan

Apr 7, 2011
Town hall meeting

WASHINGTON—Any day now, it's expected the U.S. State Department will be releasing a revamped version of its environmental review of the much-disputed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

And local and national advocacy organizations want to be sure those along the proposed six-state route from Alberta, Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast receive the opportunity to offer feedback.

A coalition of 32 groups sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week asking her to extend the usual public comment period from 45 to 120 days and to organize on-the-ground public hearings in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

While those groups await a response, an Oregon Democrat who serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has asked the to investigate whether Canadian oil companies are violating antitrust rules with their agreement to ship heavy crude along Keystone XL.

Sen. Ron Wyden said in that he is concerned that this arrangement will drive up prices of Canadian oil sands crude in the Midwest, meaning drivers will pay more at the pump.

Two of Earth’s Ocean Carbon Sinks Shrinking, Studies Show

New research reveals that mangroves and kelp forests, crucial for carbon storage and cycling, are under threat from development and climate change

By Katherine Bagley

Apr 7, 2011
Kelp forest

It is well known that deforestation is shrinking the carbon storage capacity of tropical forests, one of the world's great land-based carbon sinks. Now a pair of studies confirms that two key marine CO2 stores — mangroves and kelp forests — are also in peril from human activity.

The findings, scientists say, highlight the need to protect carbon- and biodiversity-rich ocean forests from development and global warming by including them in existing forest-conservation programs.

Mangrove forests — trees and shrubs that thrive in brackish waters — have declined 30 to 50 percent in the past 50 years, according to one out this week in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The seaside carbon sinks are generally being razed for coastal development such as houses, roads, railways, as well as to turn wetlands into farmland and expand fishing. Towns built on coasts nearby can also leach toxins into the forests and poison sediment, harming life-giving root systems.

Mangroves suck up carbon through the atmosphere during photosynthesis and store it in their leaves, branches and above-ground roots. Because their thick, mucky soils have fairly low oxygen levels, the natural decay of the biomass is slow, resulting in a steady but heavy buildup of carbon over time.

For the first time, scientists have crunched the numbers on the carbon sequestered in these trees, dead organic matter and soil in 25 sites across Micronesia, Indonesia and Bangladesh — which house a large portion of Earth's mangroves — and gleaned insight into salty forests worldwide.

Could Oregon Democrat's Amendment Trip Up Anti-EPA Legislation?

With his new amendment, Rep. Blumenauer aims to get Republicans to own up to an agenda of falsely casting EPA CO2 rules as an 'energy tax on America'

By Elizabeth McGowan

Apr 6, 2011
Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon

WASHINGTON—As the House preps for a vote as soon as today on what's touted as the "Energy Tax Prevention Act," an Oregon Democrat is intent on tripping up the GOP on what he labels a clear case of doublespeak.

Just how is Rep. Earl Blumenauer tweaking the Republicans?

Simply by asking them to strike the entire designed to halt the EPA in its regulatory tracks and replace it with an amendment to the Clean Air Act that would prevent Lisa Jackson or any agency administrator from imposing an energy tax.

"This amendment will help us find out whether Republicans are truly concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency imposing an energy tax on America," Blumenauer said about the suggestion he rolled out Tuesday. "I, too, am opposed to any attempts by the EPA to impose taxes, which is why I hope my Republican colleagues will join me in supporting this common-sense amendment."

The , chaired by Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton advanced the Energy Tax Prevention Act to the full House after approving it on a 34-19 vote March 15. Upton garnered support from Democrats such as Reps. Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.

The bill, decried by environmental advocates, unions and public health organizations, would permanently stop EPA from reining in emissions of heat-trapping gases from large stationary sources such as power plants and industrial facilities.

Job Boom in Michigan, as Clean Energy Manufacturing Drives Economic Recovery

In an exclusive interview, former Gov. Granholm says Michigan has emerged from a 'decade of hell,' with jobs growth spurred by clean energy policies

By Maria Gallucci

Apr 6, 2011

Michigan's "green" economy is growing fast, data shows, with thousands of clean energy jobs on the horizon as a new manufacturing base is being built on the expertise of its battered auto industry.

The change raises the prospect that Michigan might one day be a global hub for electric vehicles and advanced battery development, along with biofuel technologies, wind power parts and solar panels.

Former Gov. , whose second term ended in January, said in an interview that Michigan businesses are expected to create more than 89,000 clean energy jobs in the next decade from $14 billion of projects in the pipeline. (Includes correction, 4/07/2011)

The jobs will stem from 17 advanced battery companies and more than 25 solar, wind and biofuels companies that came to Michigan from August 2009 to December 2010, lured by state tax credits and federal stimulus grants, Granholm told SolveClimate News.

"Michigan has gone through the decade from hell," Granholm said.

"The first eight years of the last decade were an example of job loss. But these last two years are an example of positive national and state policy working in tandem. What that can bring … is more investment, more research and development, and, most importantly, jobs."