Icelandic Volcano Chills Travel Plans…But What About the Climate?

This post was contributed by Andrew Freedman of our content partners at Climate Central. Find out why scientists are using volcanoes as a possible model for global climate intervention, on the Climate Watch blog and on KQED’s Forum program.

Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Iceland  (Photo: NASA Earth Observatory)

Eruption of Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, Iceland (Photo: NASA Earth Observatory)

The ongoing eruption of Mt. Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland is disrupting flights across Europe, shutting down some of the busiest airports and aviation corridors in the world. But could it also disrupt the climate system, leading to a temporary cooling trend this summer?

Not likely, according to Rutgers University environmental sciences professor Alan Robock, an expert on how volcanoes alter the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere. According to Robock, the Icelandic eruption hasn’t contributed enough sulfur dioxide to the upper atmosphere to significantly alter the climate.

“From what I’ve seen from the observations so far, there hasn’t been enough put into the atmosphere to have a large climate effect,” he said in a telephone interview.

It is well known that volcanic eruptions can affect the climate. Just ask historians, who can tell you about the “year without a summer” that followed the enormous eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia in 1816. More recently, the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, which contributed about 20 megatons of volcanic material to the atmosphere, cooled global average surface temperatures by about one degree Fahrenheit in the year following the eruption.

By vaulting particles of sulfur dioxide and other reflective aerosols high into the stratosphere, volcanic eruptions can reduce the amount of solar radiation reaching the planet’s surface. However, this only results in temporary cooling, since chemical processes and air currents remove the particles over time.

NOAA plot showing a decrease in solar radiation reaching the Earth's surface after major volcanic eruptions

NOAA plot showing a decrease in solar radiation reaching the Earth's surface after major volcanic eruptions

In addition to causing short-term cooling, volcanoes also contribute carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere, which in the very long-term balances slow CO2 losses from other causes. The volcanic contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere is estimated to be well less than the recent human contribution, on average.

Robock noted that the ash cloud that is canceling flights would not alter the climate, since it will fall out of the air in a matter of days. “What’s dangerous for airplanes is not what causes climate to change,” he said.

The volcano’s climate impacts may also be limited by its high-latitude location, since the air circulation in the upper atmosphere in the high latitudes tends to be more efficient at getting rid of volcanic material, compared to lower latitudes where sulfur dioxide particles from volcanoes can linger for years.

Robock noted that Icelandic eruptions have disrupted climate in the past, such as a long duration event in 1783-4 that cooled temperatures in Europe, catching then US ambassador to France Benjamin Franklin’s attention. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Franklin was a pioneer in linking a volcanic eruption to climate change.

It’s still possible that this volcano, which is continuing to erupt, may yet send more volcanic material into the upper atmosphere, thereby causing a cooler summer in the northern hemisphere.

Hot Topics in San Diego

NASA's "Dynamic Planet" exhibit at the San Diego Convention Center. Photo: Craig Miller

NASA's "Dynamic Planet" exhibit at the San Diego Convention Center. Photo: Craig Miller

SAN DIEGO –The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) draws “thousands” of scientists in virtually every endeavor, from astrophysics to zoology. In climate science circles there was no lack of topics to choose from this year. Among them:


Several sessions were devoted to the notion of fending off climate change by tinkering with earth systems. In technical sessions and news briefings, there was a range of opinion on display, from “Let’s try it” to “Let’s look at it,” to “Don’t even think about it.” There seems to be general agreement that techniques like seeding the atmosphere with particulates could yield rapid results–but the idea is fraught with political controversy and legal pitfalls. Stanford’s Ken Caldeira likened the idea to a cancer patient who accepts the risks of chemotherapy, in order to avoid worse consequences. Philosophy professor (and Caldeira’s former teacher) Martin Bunzl, firmly rejected that analogy, saying that unlike cancer therapy, the risks are not well known and “You can’t just turn it off.” Bunzl directs the Climate and Social Policy Initiative at Rutgers University.

At Climate Watch, we’re preparing an explanatory radio feature on geo-engineering, for broadcast in the coming weeks.


The plight of the planet’s oceans was a focus of the conference, with numerous discussions of acidification, marine reserves and the newly implemented concept of “marine spatial planning,” an effort to map the oceans’ topography, biota and habitat, then translate that into a kind of zoning plan for human use (an approach specifically mandated by the Obama administration last year).

In October, researchers will formally conclude the Census of Marine Life, a 10-year collaboration among scientists in 80 countries, to “assess and explain the diversity, distribution and abundance of life in the ocean.” During a media briefing at AAAS, census Co-Chief Scientist Ron O’Dor estimated that the final tally would include 5,000 newly discovered species (“not counting the microbials”), from flying sea cucumbers to the “Rasta sponge,” which, according to O’Dor’s colleague, Shirley Pomponi, appears to sport dreadlocks and also “produces an anti-cancer compound.” O’Dor said one general conclusion from the census would be that while it is “large and resilient, we can’t keep insulting the ocean forever.”

Science & Policy

In keeping with the meeting’s theme of “Bridging Science and Society,” and reflecting the current angst over credibility in science, there were overflow sessions with titles such as “A Wobbly Three-Legged Stool: Science, Politics and the Public.” While people spilled out the door of that room, hard-science lectures in adjacent rooms drew just a smattering of people. In an interview with Climate Watch, Brad Allenby, a professor of engineering and ethics at Arizona State University, lamented that “the climate change discussion has become so polarized, even among scientists, that it’s difficult to present the public with factual information that is credible.”

European Union exhibit at AAAS. Some attendees commented that the exhibit hall seemed sparse this year. Photo: Craig Millerl

European Union exhibit at AAAS. Some attendees commented that the exhibit hall seemed sparse this year. Photo: Craig Miller

National Climate Service

NOAA chief Jane Lubchenko used the occasion of the conference to talk up her agency’s new National Climate Service, funded by legislation last year. The new branch will provide one-stop shopping for climate research and tools for policymakers, including those at the state and local level. Lubchenko says she hopes to have the new unit operational by October, when the federal fiscal year turns over.

States at Crossroads for Climate Action

Tom Banse is a Seattle-based public media reporter and a regular contributor to Climate Watch.

West Coast governors meet in Vancouver. Photo: Office of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

West Coast governors meet in Vancouver. Photo: Office of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

By Tom Banse

When two West Coast governors sat down with the head of British Columbia’s provincial government for a pre-Olympic confab today, the occasion brought to mind some things I’d picked up during a short fellowship in Denmark and Germany last week.

Two months after the chaotic United Nations climate summit ended, edgy “Hopenhagen” posters are one of the few visible reminders of the high-stakes gathering of world leaders, recently concluded in Copenhagen.  Ironically, the summit dashed the hopes of many climate activists for a legally binding treaty to reduce global warming emissions.

They’re not giving up, but in the aftermath acting locally may gain more prominence than acting globally.

“The Copenhagen hangover is over.  Now countries including the United States have to act,” said Denmark’s energetic Minister of Energy and Climate Lykke Friss.

The Danes are engaging other countries to try to revive momentum for international climate negotiations. “We should fight all the way for a deal in Cancun,” where the next United Nations climate summit will convene at the end of this year.  “But that depends on the will of the moment,” she said.  “There is no doubt this is a difficult process,” Friss acknowledged.

In European capitals, policymakers are eager for any clues or cues regarding the willingness of American lawmakers to regulate greenhouse gases. Cap-and-trade legislation has been stalled in the U.S. Senate for the past five months.

“If it’s not realistic that the U.S. would sign a binding international [climate] treaty, what is below this?” asked a German parliament member in Berlin.  The answer may not lie in Washington, DC.

“We do think the pendulum is starting to swing back to states,” said the former co-chair of the Western Climate Initiative Janice Adair.  In 2008, seven Western U.S. states and four Canadian provinces developed a framework to regulate greenhouse gas emissions independent of their national governments.  The plan has not taken effect.

“More and more, the UN and the national governments recognize that the ‘sub-national’ governments are really the ones that, in the end, can put the pressure on and create the action that is needed,” said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, on Friday.  Schwarzenegger spoke in Vancouver, Canada after a mini-summit of Pacific Coast leaders timed to coincide with the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics. British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell hosted the meeting to discuss common environmental topics. Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown also attended.

Gregoire said when it comes to cap-and-trade, she still maintains that a national program is better than a regional one.  Yet state and local governments can do other things to control emissions, namely what policymakers such as Adair call “complementary” measures. Schwarzenegger specifically mentioned California’s Million Solar Roofs Initiative, which seeks to attain that number of rooftop solar arrays by 2016.  Some other examples include creating incentives for consumers to buy electric cars, increasing recycling or improving rail service.  Oregon and Washington have recently toughened their building codes to increase energy efficiency in new construction.

Gerry Pollet, the director of the Seattle-based environmental watchdog group Heart of America Northwest, recently urged his members to write Oregon and Washington’s governors and legislators, “saying you want Northwest states’ climate change legislation put back on the front burner – which is a good investment for our economy as well as for the health of our planet and children.”

As in Congress, there is hesitancy in state legislatures. “Our concerns are very much is this going to put us at a distinct competitive disadvantage,” said Shelly Short, a conservative legislator from Northeast Washington. [Ed. Note: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer cited the same concern in her executive order ending that state’s participation in the WCI cap-and-trade plan]. Short says she is given pause by current controversies involving climate scientists, notably the one involving hacked e-mails that has been dubbed “Climategate” by global warming skeptics. “I’ll be honest and say some of the issues that have come forward really leave it up to whether this is something we need to be doing,” said Short.

Meaningful climate change legislation has not come up for debate this winter during the short 2010 sessions of the Washington and Oregon Legislatures.  But all the players on this issue expect global warming to return to the forefront in Salem and Olympia in 2011.

Not Giving Up on Central Valley Nuke

Cooling towers from the defunct Rancho Seco nuclear power plant rise above vineyards near Lodi. Photo: Craig Miller

Cooling towers from the defunct Rancho Seco nuclear power plant rise above vineyards near Lodi. Photo: Craig Miller

According to a report in the Fresno Bee, the notion of building a nuclear power plant near Fresno is still alive, if on life supports. California still has an effective ban on new nuclear plants. That hasn’t stopped some from pushing the plan, as Amy Standen reported for Quest last spring.

And apparently some French investors haven’t given up, either.

Maybe they were inspired by the juxtaposition of vineyards and cooling towers at the site of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s (SMUD) decommissioned Rancho Seco nuclear plant, near Lodi.

Last summer I reported on the prospects for expanded nuclear power as part of California’s low-carbon energy push. Then in November, the advocacy group Environment America issued a report down-playing the potential role of nuclear. The report, bluntly entitled “Generating Failure,” made the claim that: “Even if the nuclear industry somehow managed to build 100 new nuclear reactors by 2030, nuclear power could reduce total U.S. emissions of global warming pollution over the next 20 years by only 12 percent.”

Proponents of nuclear point to its mportance as a steady source of “base load” power, generated 24/7, as opposed to the intermittent or cyclical nature of many renewable sources.

1.5 Degrees (Celsius) of Separation

Haven't I seen you somewhere before?

Haven't I seen you somewhere before?

A few last over-the-shoulder observations from Rob Schmitz, who has at last escaped Copenhagen, after two weeks of reporting for Climate Watch and The California Report.

There goes Nancy Pelosi in a blazing red dress. Over there? Hugo Chavez surrounded by bodyguards and tracked by television cameras. Watch out! Al Gore’s security detail is coming through!

It was getting toward the end of Week Two, and the Bella Center, all but closed now to those pesky, protesting NGOs, was overrun by more than 120 world leaders and heads of state, and you couldn’t get to the restroom without bumping into one of them (or the elbows of their security guards).

With all this power crammed into once place, the folks who seem like bigwigs at home suddenly found themselves standing in line for hours with the rest of us. CEOs, heads of big-name state agencies and the like had to walk more than a mile to the conference Wednesday after protests forced police to shut down the Bella Center metro stop and erect twenty-foot barriers around it. Then, the UN barred access to most accredited NGO participants, enraging many who dropped thousands of dollars to come here and now couldn’t attend the finale of these negotiations.

At one point, I was looking for a table where I might sit down and eat my lunch. This is one of the joys of covering a conference like this: it’s crowded and everyone’s eating at the same time, so the nations of the world share tables (at least they can cooperate at lunchtime). I plopped my tray down at a table of three people dressed in elaborate white, blue, and red costumes, adorned with silver jewelry. As it turned out, they were three presidents of the parliamentary system of the Sami people, the indigenous nomadic reindeer herders of northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland, an area known as Lapland. The three were there to support language in the draft resolution text that would include indigenous peoples when deciding where to build renewable energy projects. They’ve had problems in the past when wind farms and dams were built on their lands. “The reindeer don’t like that,” said one of the leaders, “they’ll avoid anything that’s new, and it disturbs our herding,” she told me. The conversation soon turned to their costumes. “We usually don’t wear these outfits,” said one leader at the table, “but we wear them here, because it helps raise awareness of our people. Television journalists are very interested in us.” But, he said, the costumes were a double-edged sword of sorts. When they wear them at official functions, they have a hard time being taken seriously by officials from other governments, one lamented.

I had a similar notable encounter the day before, when I was reporting a story on what California got out of the climate summit. After wrapping up my interviews, I sat down and had breakfast at the Scandic Webers Hotel. Sitting next to me was a man dressed in a red Wisconsin Badgers t-shirt and grubby Adidas sweatpants. Me being from Minnesota, it was my Midwestern duty to inform him of this.

Me: “Wisconsin, eh?

Him: “Yup.”

Me: “I’m from Minnesota.”

Him: “Oh yeah? Well I hope we see you in the playoffs.”

He was referring to the NFL and the arch-rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and my team, the Minnesota Vikings. We proceeded to rib each other about football and had a fun, trash-talking conversation about quarterback Brett Favre. At the end of the conversation, I asked him what he did for a living in Wisconsin.

“Oh, I’m the governor.”

It’s been that kind of week. Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, dressed in sweatpants on this morning, was wearing suits when he was involved in meetings throughout the week, to urge the US to make a binding commitment to greenhouse gas emissions reductions and for congress to pass a cap-and-trade scheme. But he, of course, was playing second (or third) fiddle to the heaps of world leaders that piled into this conference.

Maybe he should have dressed like a reindeer herder.

After All That, Disappointment in “Hopenhagen”

Delegates to the UN climate conference in Copenhagen have officially “taken note” of the deal squeezed out on Friday by major carbon-emitting nations, an action that seems to fall short of a ringing endorsement.

President Obama’s own summary of the climate deal reached at–almost literally–the eleventh hour in Copenhagen, was laden with the language of muted disappointment. While describing the arrangement hammered out by the US, China, India and Brazil as “meaningful and unprecedented” and stressing that for the first time, “All major economies have come together,” he also used terms like “first step” and “not enough.”

Some bullet points from the President’s news conference, right before be bolted for the airport:

– Accord contains the three key elements: transparency, mitigation and finance

– Mitigation goal to stop warming at 2 degrees (C) “…by action consistent with science.”

– Nations have “much farther to go.”

– Accord is “not legally binding” and sets no deadline to achieve one that is*

– A legally binding pact was “not achievable at this conference.”

– Getting to a legally binding agreement will be “very hard and is going to take some time.”

– “This is hard within countries. It’s going to be even harder between countries.”

And here’s one to set a cheery tone for the coming year:

– “Kyoto was legally binding but everybody fell short, anyway.”

*Earlier drafts of the agreement reportedly set the end of 2010 as a deadline for signing something binding.

The US President and other heads of state left the Bella conference center before the agreement was actually signed. He said negotiators will remain in Copenhagen and attach many of the details to the deal in an “appendix,” before signing. President Obama said he was confident that as he departed, delegates were “moving in the direction of a significant accord.”

Here’s an early reaction from a major environmental group, in this case Friends of the Earth:

– “Sham Deal Requires Nothing, Accomplishes Nothing.”

Prepare for more of that.

The outcome of the fifteenth “Conference of Parties” in Copenhagen would seem to lend prescience to the speech given there by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday, the theme of which was: Don’t wait for national and international bodies to solve this problem. They haven’t–and may not.


What a little pond scum won't do

Wielding the power of pond scum. Photos: Rob Schmitz

Harrison Dillon’s had a heck of a year. His company, South San Francisco-based Solazyme, recently won two federal contracts from the Departments of Defense and Energy, and secured almost a million dollars’ worth of state money (while the rest of us were getting IOUs for our tax returns). And just this week, after spending a week in Copenhagen spreading the word about Solazyme, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger held up Dillon’s venture as an example of the California green dream. Not bad for a guy who, six years ago, started his company in his garage (yeah, that still happens).

Dillon works with algae. And not the type that forms on stagnant ponds. He grows it in a contained environment and has figured out how to use it to make crude oil. That oil is then used to make diesel fuel, which almost any automobile can run on. Since algae siphons carbon dioxide out of the air, there is virtually a net-zero greenhouse gas contribution to the environment. Dillon hopes to bring down the cost of fuel made from algae to less than $80 a barrel within the next two years.

This is just one of the innovative California companies that has attended the Copenhagen climate summit the past two weeks. There are many others. The Golden State leads the country in patents in green technology, and it’s likely it leads the country in the sheer number of  representatives at this conference. California emits about the same volume of greenhouse gases as France, and, as is often touted by state leaders, if we were a country, we’d have the seventh largest economy in the world (Schwarzenegger said this in his speech; I’ve heard others say eighth. Suffice it to say our economy’s pretty big).

This week, I spent a snowy morning camped out in the coffee-scented breakfast room of the Scandic Webers Hotel, down the street from Copenhagen’s beautiful central train station. The cozy little inn is decorated with “Danish modern” furniture throughout, upon which the state’s most prominent business and political leaders sat, eating overcooked bacon and watery eggs.

The entire hotel was taken over by the California delegation: John Fielding, President of Southern California Edison, was having breakfast with Nancy Ryan, Policy Director of the California Public Utilities Commission. State Senator Fran Pavley joined them, with State Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner chiming in from another table. California EPA Secretary Linda Adams remained in her room, sick with the flu.

“This is my 12th COP (UN Conference of Parties),” Skinner told me. The Bay area assembly member had, in her “previous life,” been a national leader in the fight against global warming. She’d seen this process over and over but she’d never been to a COP that attracted this many people. This, she told me, was a perfect place for California to show the rest of the world what we’ve been up to: “We have to share. CA has an amazing story. Californians per capita pretty much have a flat level of electricity use since the 1970’s, whereas the rest of the US has grown by 50% per capita.” Skinner was on her way to an electric vehicle forum that day.

UCSB students learning outside the classroom

UCSB students learning outside the classroom

Other guests at “Hotel California” included a group of 24 students from UC Santa Barbara. They were led by Bob Wilkinson, a professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science. The students were thrilled to be a part of it all, and were talking about the sticking points in the negotiations as if they were the delegates, complete with UN lingo and acronyms. They also took a page from the playbook of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, the day before, offered to host a “subnational” conference in California. The students said they, too, were interested in hosting a local climate change conference on their campus, to share the expertise they garnered during their stay here. They’d already set a date for this April.

Aboard the Roller Coaster in Copenhagen

88363083Louis Blumberg directs the California climate program for The Nature Conservancy. He’s also been keeping us posted as an official observer to the UN climate conference.

Copenhagen, December 16

Amidst the protests, the deliberations, the 24/7 schedule and battling what has been dubbed the “COP 15 flu,” the collective energy and sense of import in Copenhagen is still motivating us all to keep at it.

The atmosphere at the Bella Center has been a roller coaster this week. One thing I’ve realized is that it’s tricky to keep up with the constant changes that are happening so rapidly. At one point, we heard that negotiators had included in the draft text a global goal to reduce emissions from deforestation by 50 percent by 2020 and to achieve zero emissions by 2030. This would have been unprecedented. Unfortunately, we later learned that this text was only a placeholder but still could come through in a final agreement.

Adopting a global goal to stop deforestation would certainly be one important measure of success for this conference. It is alarming that the destruction of the world’s forests is the second highest source of greenhouse gas emissions — more than the emissions from all planes, trains and automobiles combined — yet a role for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (known as REDD) was not included in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. This left countries with few economic incentives for preserving their forests, while they stood to make a fortune selling the timber, clearing forests for development or converting them to agriculture.

Enter the forest carbon market. Meeting an ambitious global goal on deforestation will take a lot of resources. A global market that gives value to forest carbon can generate the funding required each year to reduce deforestation at the scale needed to address climate change, while providing cash-poor, forest-rich countries the financial incentives they need to protect their forests rather than destroy them. While it is not the only tool to reduce emissions, it is a crucial one.

California has been a leader in this arena by both establishing a credible, prescriptive method for certifying forest carbon projects and including a role for forest offsets [PDF download from Stanford] in the state’s cap-and-trade program. This is a model that COP 15 negotiators can point to while framing the global solution to reducing deforestation. Let’s hope they come to an agreement soon.


Schwarzenegger’s Speech in Copenhagen

Here is a transcript of Governor Schwarzenegger’s speech to the UN climate conference in Copenhagen. It’s provided by his media relations staff, as insertion of the “laugh track” and applause notations may suggest.

Thank you so much for this great introduction, Governor Campbell, or Premier Campbell. It’s exactly the way I wrote it. That’s right. (Laughter) Just joking. He has been a terrific partner and a great, great friend and of course we will see each other up there at the Olympics, which is going to be probably the best-organized Olympics, knowing you. So thank you very much also for your invitation.

I also want to thank Governor Jose Serra for the wonderful speech and the very profound things that he said. And you have been also an extraordinary leader, so thank you very much. Let’s give him also again another big hand for the great work. (Applause)

And then Ivo de Bóer from the U.N., we want to thank him for organizing this and being a great leader and believing in the subnational governments.

And also we have from California here some people like Linda Adams, who is in charge of the EPA. Where’s Linda Adams? Stand up, Linda. Let’s give her a big hand. (Applause) Then Senator Fran Pavley, who is a great, great leader. Where is she? Can you get up? OK, right there. (Applause) Extraordinary leader in California. Without her we wouldn’t have been able to go as far as we did with the reduction of greenhouse gases and so on. And then we have Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner. Where is she? She is also here. Let’s give her also a big hand.

I love giving this speech here just simply because I’m not the only one that has an accent. It’s a good place to come. (Laughter)

But anyway, it is wonderful to be back here again. So before I say anything and do anything, let me just thank the U.N. and the people who have worked very hard on this to make this whole meeting happen. Let’s give them a big hand for their great, great organization. (Applause)

I especially want to thank Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for his early attention to the threat of global climate change and I want to congratulate him on his great, great leadership on the issue that has brought us all together.

I am delighted and honored to be with you in Copenhagen. This is not the first time I’ve been here; I’ve been here many, many times before, if it is for my movie promotions or for coming here for bodybuilding and weightlifting seminars, or just on vacation and so on. But I never thought then that one day I will get here as the governor of the great state and talk about climate change, so this is really terrific. So it’s great.

And this city, of course, distinguishes itself by being so clean you can actually swim in its harbor, even though I wouldn’t recommend it right now because it’s a little cold, of course. But how happy we would be if all the world’s harbors would be as clean.

As everyone knows, also in the harbor there is the “Little Mermaid,” the statue based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. When I was a boy in Austria, the Andersen fairy tale that I always liked best was “The Ugly Duckling.” And looking back, I think the reason that I liked it was because it was a tale of transformation and that spoke to me inside. I have always believed in the tremendous power of personal transformation.

The desire, the hope, the desperate need for planetary transformation is what brought us together here. And the question is: is this also a fairy tale? Is it a dream? Is it a false hope? And if it is not, how do we make it real? Is that something that we ought to discuss? And this is something that I do want to discuss here while I’m here with you. Look around this carbon-conscious city and you should feel hope. Copenhagen is often voted as one of the most livable cities in the world.

So the question really is, how do we make the world itself livable and sustainable? Certainly, it would be terrific if the world’s governments reached an agreement and put hard caps on greenhouse gases while generously helping poor nations, who are least responsible for and least able to respond to climate change. Attempting to reach such an agreement is good and is actually very, very important.

But why do we put so many hopes and eggs into the big international agreement basket when, according to the UN itself, up to 80 percent of greenhouse gas mitigation will be done at the subnational level?

In recent weeks, the prospects for this gathering here have gone up and down, up and own, like a roller-coaster ride. And everyone was in fear, of like what will the U.S. do? What will China do, or not do? Is it going to be 20 percent reductions or a 17 percent reductions? Is the base 1990 or 2005? Should it be 350 parts per million or 450 parts per million?

But what if I said that international agreements, as critical as they are, will never do enough? What if we took that as a given? Wouldn’t that expand the possibilities and approaches for progress we would consider?

I mean, my late mother-in-law, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the remarkable woman who started Special Olympics, an organization that dedicates itself to people with intellectual disabilities, gave me an insight on this. She was the sister of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Teddy Kennedy and she knew everyone in American power and politics.

But she once told me that while the federal government was important for policies related to Special Olympics — such as health care, equal rights, job creation, dental care and so on — but she never would have relied on the federal government to build Special Olympics. She said you need all kinds of different elements and entities like local government, state government, volunteers, corporate sponsors, coaches, celebrities and, of course, the families.

She said that no one from government is going to be there at the sports events and hug those kids when they come through the finish line, or organize the competition so there is a finish line in the first place. No one from government trains those kids so they don’t hurt themselves or so they know how to perform those sports. She said, no, that is up to many of us, many different entities. And she built a movement, a worldwide movement that has spread to 180-plus countries.

So history tells us that movements began with the people, not with government and then, when they became powerful enough, government responds. In the U.S. the labor movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam anti-war movement — they did not begin in the corridors of power in Washington.

So there’s a lesson in this for our cause. While national governments have been fighting over emission targets, subnational governments have been adopting their own targets and laws and policies. While national governments have been trying for years to define what Kyoto means, businesses are pursuing cutting-edge technologies to solve energy and environmental problems. While national governments debate how carbon caps will affect their economies compared to others, many of their citizens are seeking greener lifestyles on their own.

Government clearly has a major role, there are no two ways about that. But I also believe in the power of the iconoclast and the entrepreneur and the individualist. I believe in the power of the scientists, the capitalists and the activists. I believe in the power of the cities and the states and the provinces to be laboratories for new ideas, which the national governments then can go and study and adopt.

I mean, too often, I think, we fail to see the potential and the progress that is being made on all those different levels. By putting all of our eggs in one basket, we fail to see the eggs in the other baskets.

Let me give you a few quick examples.

Dr. Rajendra Pachuari, who came to our environmental summit in California just recently, he has his own target. He is replacing kerosene and paraffin lanterns with solar light for 400 million rural people in India — 400 million people in India. Think about that. So if the nations of the world do not sign a carbon agreement, does that mean the doctor’s transformative work in India doesn’t count?

In the U.S., in the small town of Roscoe, Texas, a German company has completed the world’s largest wind farm. If we don’t reach a major carbon agreement, does that mean the Texas wind farm doesn’t really count?

With the assistance of Greenpeace, four of the world’s largest meat producers agreed not to buy cattle from newly deforested areas of the Amazon. That doesn’t count?

The head of an energy company in China recently said of renewable and efficient energy, “We think that this is a new business for us, not a burden.” And China now is becoming the leader in developing and manufacturing renewable energy equipment. That doesn’t count?

Yes, sure, they all count. And they reveal that something is happening, something that is happening below the national level.

California, for instance, is working with cities and with states and provinces and regions and nations, including Mexican states, Canadian and Chinese provinces and European nations. We’re even working with the U.N. to assist developing countries, especially in Africa. We are trying to foment change and collaboration and movement. We’re doing everything we can to change the balance of power on the environment.

And of course when I talk about California, I realize that while we may lead America and many other countries environmentally, Denmark here is already one-third more energy efficient. Isn’t that fantastic? And Europe is a great leader in this whole thing.

But the reason for discussing my adopted home state of California is because, first of all, I’m the governor of the great state of California and I have a little right to brag about our state, right? And also, California is the seventh largest economy in the world and also America’s trendsetter, so what we do has consequences. Now, maybe when you look at the globe it is just a little dot, or maybe you cannot even find California. But the power of influence we have is equivalent to a continent. And we in California do not believe and we do not behave, as if progress has to wait for Washington or Beijing or Kyoto.

In California, we are proceeding on renewable energy requirements and a cap and trade system for greenhouse gases. We are moving forward. As a matter of fact, we are making great progress. If hydro is included, we will get 45 percent of our energy from renewables in ten years from now and we are already at 27 percent.

We are proceeding on the world’s first low carbon fuel standards and limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars which, by the way, the Obama Administration has now just adopted. We are proceeding in a major way on green tech, no matter what happens in Washington or in Copenhagen. Billions of dollars, nearly 60 percent of all venture capital in America, flows to California and this is creating the critical mass of money and intellect to develop new green technologies.

Leaders from around the world are coming to California to see what we’re doing. I took the French Foreign Trade Minister to a business in San Francisco called Solazyme, which was just recently named the most innovative bio-energy company. They have come up with a way to convert algae into a fuel that is 90 percent cleaner than petroleum-based fuels. The U.S. Navy has just signed an agreement with them and is going to use that fuel to power some of its ships.

So from what I see in the research labs and venture capital start-ups around the globe, I believe that the world’s businesses will move to solar and to wind and alternatives much faster than the people expect.

Kenya, for instance. Kenya already gets nearly three-quarters of its power from hydroelectric and from geothermal — three-quarters. And next month it will begin work on a $760 million wind farm that by 2012 will increase Kenya’s power supply by about 30 percent.

Now, the uplifting thing is that the developing nations will be able to leapfrog into the green economy and skip the fossil-fueled industrial revolution. Isn’t that wonderful?

I believe that we have economics on our side. Since the supply of wind and sun and algae is unlimited, their prices will not jump. That cannot be said of oil, the supply of which is limited and declining. That cannot be said of coal, whose costs of extraction and labor and transportation are bound to rise.

So I believe technological and economic forces will overtake the political and the regulatory efforts of national governments. We are beginning one of history’s great transitions – the transition to a new economic foundation for the 21st century and beyond.

Shouldn’t we organize to encourage this transition even as we continue to work toward international compacts? Of course we should. Now, if this conference does not get a strong agreement, some will say that Copenhagen has failed, that we talk grandly but we are fooling ourselves, much like the fairy tale, “The Emperor Has No Clothes.”

And others will say that any agreement that is being reached isn’t enough because the world is going to melt and we’re going to die anyway.

Others will say, “Look at those crazy people trying to wreck the global economy.”

No, ladies and gentlemen, this conference is automatically and already a success.

Kyoto brought the world’s focus to what must be done. It brought the focus to that whole subject. We didn’t know then what we know now. We didn’t have as much experience with the science that we would research or the hurdles we would face. But Kyoto made us think differently about the world.

And perhaps the real success of Copenhagen is to give us the opportunity to think differently again. Perhaps the success comes in realizing that something different needs to be done and in fact is already being done. It’s being done at the sub-national level.

And I would ask the U.N. to convene a climate summit like Copenhagen but for cities, for states, for provinces and for regions. And I will be more than happy to host such a summit in California or anywhere else the U.N. wants to hold it but I recommend strongly in California. (Applause) People like coming to California. They love our state.

So ladies and gentlemen, the world’s governments alone cannot make progress, the kind of progress that is needed on global climate change. They alone cannot do it. They need everyone coming together, everyone working together. They need the cities, they need the states, they need the provinces and the regions. They need the corporations, the activists, the scientists and the universities. They need the individuals whose vision and determination create movements. They need everybody out there.

So ladies and gentlemen, let us regain our momentum, let us regain our purpose, let us regain our hope by liberating the transformative power beneath the national level.
That can be the great contribution of Copenhagen — that could be the great contribution of Copenhagen.

So thank you for inviting me. Thank you for your kind attention and warm hospitality. And thank you for the great passion and for the hard work that you all do. And it is very important that we continue with this work.

So thank you very much and I’ll be back. Thank you.

The Schwarzenegger Solution: R20

Drawing on the G(X) model of international cooperation (as in the G-20 group of nations), California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing that subnational governments band together to advance climate policy, in their own “R20,” or “Club of 20 Regions.” According to the Governor’s office, officials from four other nations have already signed on to the idea of  “a new regional coalition to fast-track the results of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and push their respective national governments into more rapid actions and stronger commitments to fight climate change.”

According to a concept document released on Monday, the group aspires to “demonstrate the feasibility” of the arrangement by 2012, which coincides with some key international conferences and is also when California’s climate legislation is scheduled to take full effect.

Founding members of the group include provincial officials from Canada, Nigeria, France and Algeria, including Premier Jean Charest of Quebec, who said the arrangement would, among other things, “allow for the transfer of expertise and green technologies to developing countries.”

Quebec is one of four Canadian provinces participating in the embryonic regional carbon trading cooperative known as the Western Climate Initiative.  The Governor’s announcement provided no indication that the other Canadian provinces or the half-dozen other US states in the WCI had signed on to R20, as of Monday (the “20” is apparently “symbolic” thus far).

Following his speech to the climate conference on Tuesday, Governor Schwarzenegger is scheduled to meet with the governors of some WCI partners in Copenhagen.