Three things, Mr. President

Auntie Ruth is green to the eco scene. Read up each week as she weeds through the dirt and unearths new gems of environmental knowledge.

A few weeks before President Barack Obama’s inauguration, NASA climate scientist James Hansen penned an open letter to not only the first black president, but the first green one, according to some environmentalists. Hansen, for his part, has warned of the climate crisis for a few decades now. In his letter, while acknowledging Obama’s appointment of “brilliant scientists” to his team, Hansen criticized the disconnect between policy actions and what science demands. He offered three recommendations, the first being a moratorium and phase-out of coal plants that don’t capture and store carbon-dioxide emissions. “This is the sine qua non for solving the climate problem,” he wrote. “Coal is responsible for as much atmospheric carbon dioxide as the other fossil fuels combined.” Coal plants, he stated, “are factories of death.”

Auntie Ruth agrees with Hansen’s distaste for coal. To hammer home his point, Hansen explained how the continued construction of coal-fired power plants will raise carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to a level approaching 500 parts per million. At that level, “a conservative estimate for the number of species that would be exterminated (committed to extinction) is 1 million.” Hansen, who opposes cap-and-trade, listed a carbon tax as his second recommendation, which means, for example, that food requiring significant emissions to produce and transport will be more expensive than locally grown food. Thirdly, Hansen recommended the development of fourth-generation nuclear power, using a portion of the $25 billion utilities have collected to deal with nuclear waste to fund this research. Frankly, the science of nuclear energy is above Auntie Ruth’s head, but the thought of it makes her very nervous.

Meanwhile, the local chapter of the Sierra Club recently penned its own document, this one in the form of a lawsuit challenging Placer County’s approval of the Regional University Specific Plan. The plan in question consists of a 3,232-unit subdivision and 22 acres of shopping centers west of Roseville. Remaining land would be reserved for a private university. The Sierra Club argues that the sprawling development would destroy farmland and critical vernal pools, not to mention urban growth in a remote area far from cities would cause traffic congestion and air pollution, and make it more difficult for California to meet its greenhouse-gas-emissions reduction goals.