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Environmental Issues and Protection
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  • Up in smoke: Scott Pruitt signs a measure to repeal the Clean Power Plan
    Main image:  TIE off and collar open, Scott Pruitt unveiled his plan to repeal the Clean Power Plan to loud applause in Hazard, Kentucky, a sleepy coal town in the state’s mountainous south-east. “The war on coal is over,” said Mr Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on October 9th. The next day, in Washington, DC he signed a rule aimed at rescinding the Obama-era policy, which seeks to curb carbon emissions from power plants by 32% in 2030, compared to 2005 levels. But far from being the end of the Clean Power Plan, Mr Pruitt’s announcement is an opening salvo in a battle which could last for years.The plan, which was drawn up more than three years ago, has never gone into effect. Just days after it was finalised, energy companies marshalled an impressive legal offensive, even recruiting Mr Obama’s mentor at Harvard Law School to claim that his protégé  was “burning the constitution”. A federal court delayed implementing it until the EPA, now under new management, could issue a revised plan. Mr Pruitt’s move is also likely to prompt legal action. The attorneys-general of New York and Massachusetts have already announced plans to sue the agency. That could spell years of regulatory uncertainty for energy firms; a greener candidate could occupy the White House before the ...

  • Germany’s Greens: “I don’t want the last car made in Germany to end up in a museum”
    Main image:  LAST week I caught up with Cem Özdemir, lead candidate of Germany's Green Party, to talk about his country’s future. The latest polls put his party at about 8%. Mr Özdemir’s perspective matters, for two reasons.First, the polls suggest that Angela Merkel may have to choose between another “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats (SPD)—who are fed up with governing with her—and a three-way coalition with the centre-left Greens and the right-liberal Free Democrats (FDP). In the latter scenario (called “Jamaica” as the colours of the parties match those of country’s flag) Mr Özdemir might well become Germany’s foreign minister. That would make him the second Green to hold that job after Joschka Fischer and the first Turkish-German to hold any major government rank (his father moved to Germany from Tokat, north-east of Ankara).Second, Mr Özdemir is actually willing to discuss the big challenges facing Germany. Whether or not you agree with him, this is welcome in an election campaign marked and marred by the big parties’ inability to talk what Germans call Klartext, or frank sense, about the big issues. How should the Euro zone advance? What are Germany’s international responsibilities? How can the country’s business model be made fit for the future? How can the country’s car industry get ...

  • Climate change: There is still no room for complacency in matters climatic
    Print section Print Rubric:  Changed estimates of how much carbon dioxide can still be emitted to meet climate targets leave no room for complacency Print Headline:  Breathing space Print Fly Title:  Carbon budgets UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Jeremy Corbyn: Britain’s most likely next prime minister Fly Title:  Climate change Main image:  20170923_STD001_0.jpg IN JUNE Christiana Figueres, the UN’s former climate chief who helped broker the Paris agreement in 2015, warned that the world has “three years to safeguard our climate”. It was a hyperbolic claim, even then. New research makes it seem even more of one today. An analysis published in Nature Geoscience on September 18th, by Richard Millar of Oxford University and his colleagues, suggests that climate researchers have been underestimating the carbon “budget” compatible with the ambitions ...

  • Paradise lost: How Hurricane Irma will change the Caribbean
    Print section Print Rubric:  After one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the Caribbean, the region will have to change the way it plans for disasters Print Headline:  Paradise lost Print Fly Title:  Hurricane Irma (1) UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Closing in on cancer Fly Title:  Paradise lost Main image:  20170916_AMP001_0.jpg FOR three days in early September Hurricane Irma ground through the eastern Caribbean like a bulldozer made out of wind and rain. Tropical breezes became 300kph (185mph) blasts, turning “tin roofs into flying razor blades”, as Maarten van Aalst of the Red Cross put it. Placid seas reared up in giant waves and rainwater coursed through streets. Even when the sun eventually came out the nightmare did not end. Shortages of food and water sparked looting on some islands. Survivors were grateful that fewer than 50 ...

  • Religion and climate change: The Dalai Lama’s planet
    Main image:  WHEN religious leaders speak out on matters of global policy, they often stick to lofty generalities and avoid making direct challenges to those who wield earthly power. Not so this week. In the space of barely 24 hours, Donald Trump and his perceived indifference to environmental concerns were the object of stern rebukes from two spiritual champions.One was the Dalai Lama, who was visiting one of his favourite charities (Children in Crossfire, which helps kids in war zones), based in Northern Ireland’s second city, known officially as Derry-Londonderry. Asked if he had a message to send to Mr Trump, he replied, “His view about ecology…he does not consider it important, and with that I disagree.” The Tibetan spiritual leader added, “Now I think America is learning lessons on the importance of ecology…on the east coast, floods, and on the west coast, [forest] fires. The most industrialised nation and the leading nation of the free world should [have] more respect regarding ecology.”The Dalai Lama said America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord made him “quite sad”. He was particularly concerned by the threat to the snows of the Tibetan plateau, one of the earth’s natural water tables, which are sometimes said to be as ecologically sensitive as the two polar regions.An almost ...

  • Daily chart: Hurricanes in America have become less frequent
    Main image:  HURRICANE IRMA tore through Florida on September 10th, causing widespread flooding and wind damage. Although the unusually large storm unleashed its fury on the entire peninsula, its centre moved up the state’s west coast, striking the mainland with the greatest force when it made landfall at Marco Island, near the city of Naples. Preparations for Irma’s arrival were unusually frantic, with Gulf Coast residents given just two days’ warning that they would bear the brunt of the hurricane. It had previously been forecast to hug Florida’s Atlantic coast, and a week before was projected to take a more northerly track that could have missed the state entirely. The one-two punch delivered within the space of a few weeks by Irma and Hurricane Harvey, which deposited a whopping 33 trillion gallons of rain over four states, has sparked renewed interest in the relationship between climate change and extreme weather. Climate models predict that man-made global warming will not lead to a greater number of tropical cyclones overall, but will make those that do occur more intense. Tying such long-run trends to individual weather events is difficult, although the great amount of precipitation generated by Harvey may allow scientists to establish a direct link in its case. The average number of ...

  • Frequency modulation: The likelihood of floods is changing with the climate
    Print section Print Rubric:  Centuries ain’t what they used to be Print Headline:  Frequency modulation Print Fly Title:  The chances of disaster UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  How government policy exacerbates hurricanes like Harvey Fly Title:  Frequency modulation IN 1979 it was Claudette; in 2001 it was Allison; now it is Harvey: in 50 years, the city of Houston has been hit by three separate “500-year floods”. A 500-year flood does not have to happen only twice a millennium. But a run of three in one place does make it feel as if the past climate were no longer a reliable guide to the present—as if the climate itself were changing. So, of course, it is. The world’s average temperature is between 0.6 and 0.7°C (1.1- 1.3°F) higher than it was in 1979. Scientists have understood since the 1850s that hotter air holds more water vapour; a law known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation states that for every degree Celsius of ...

  • Natural disasters: How government policy exacerbates hurricanes like Harvey
    Print section Print Rubric:  The to-do list goes far beyond getting to grips with climate change Print Headline:  How to cope with floods Print Fly Title:  Natural disasters UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  How government policy exacerbates hurricanes like Harvey Fly Title:  Natural disasters Main image:  20170902_LDD001_0.jpg THE extent of the devastation will become clear only when the floodwater recedes, leaving ruined cars, filthy mud-choked houses and the bloated corpses of the drowned. But as we went to press, with the rain pounding South Texas for the sixth day, Hurricane Harvey had already set records as America’s most severe deluge (see Briefing). In Houston it drenched Harris County in over 4.5trn litres of water in just 100 hours—enough rainfall to cover an eight-year-old child. The fate of America’s fourth-largest city holds the world’s ...

  • Coastal erosion: Louisiana fights the sea, and loses
    Print section Print Rubric:  Republican politicians are much better at responding to environmental disasters than trying to prevent them Print Headline:  Mississippi blues Print Fly Title:  Coastal erosion in Louisiana UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  Blanket repression is the wrong way to deal with political Islamists Fly Title:  Coastal erosion Location:  BATON ROUGE AND ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES Main image:  Hanging on to the Isle Hanging on to the Isle WHEN Roosevelt Falgout was a boy, the brackish water that now laps within a few feet of his three-room cabin at Isle de Jean Charles was miles off. “There were only trees all around, far as you could see,” recalls the 81-year-old former oyster fisherman, at home on the Isle, a sliver of land in the vast marsh that covers much of southern ...

  • Externalities: Pigouvian taxes
    Print section Print Rubric:  Arthur Pigou thought that taxes could solve a common market failure. The fourth brief in our series on big economic ideas Print Headline:  The lives of others Print Fly Title:  Externalities UK Only Article:  standard article Issue:  How Trump has a feeble grasp of what it means to be president Fly Title:  Externalities Main image:  20170819_BBD001_0.jpg LOUD conversation in a train carriage that makes concentration impossible for fellow-passengers. A farmer spraying weedkiller that destroys his neighbour’s crop. Motorists whose idling cars spew fumes into the air, polluting the atmosphere for everyone. Such behaviour might be considered thoughtless, anti-social or even immoral. For economists these spillovers are a problem to be solved. Markets are supposed to organise activity in a way that leaves everyone better off. But the ...