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(Update: As expected, today, EPA chief Lisa Jackson announced that greenhouse gases, including from vehicles, are a danger to public health that should be regulated. Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen immediately welcomed the announcement, commenting in part that "our nation must move quickly and efficiently to achieve the cuts in carbon dioxide and other global warming pollution needed to stave off catastrophic climate change." Read his full statement here.)

As the climate change conference convenes in Copenhagen, Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is set to declare today that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are a danger to public health.

In April, the EPA released an endangerment finding, acknowledging that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. Jackson's latest announcement finalizes that initial action toward addressing global warming pollution under the Clean Air Act. At the time, we said:

The Obama administration has removed a road block in curbing pollution responsible for climate change and signaled a turn toward a clean energy future. We applaud this action, and welcome the President's leadership to overcome the greatest environmental challenge of our time.

(Update: Newspapers in 45 countries ran an editorial urging countries to forget their differences at the Copenhagen climate conference, and come together in an honest effort to address climate change and its consequences. Here are editorial comments from around the world.).

As the international conference on climate change opens today in Copenhagen, expectations are much lower -- call them more realistic -- than what had been hoped for a few months ago.

That's not necessarily bad, if the major countries can come up with political agreements that lead to binding treaties in the next year or so. Moderate success may be measured on the basis of emissions targets agreed to  by the U.S., China and other major polluting countries; agreements on the implementation of green technologies replacing polluting ones; and, at least a handshake by wealthy countries to help poorer, developing countries deal with global warming.

Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal will be blogging from the conference, which runs until Dec. 18.

Last week, unEARTHED reported on a recent study detailing the impact of global warming on endangered species. We’ve also heard of starving polar bears eating each other due to thinning ice, and pika freezing to death as melting snow drifts become too thin to insulate them in the winter. However, swinging the other way in this warming world are wild boars.

Here's an interesting climate change observation reported by the BBC—over the last 800,000 years, up until industrial revolution times, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere never rose above 300 ppm. Since then, and particulary from the 20th century on, CO2 concentration has steeply climbed to where it is today, nearing 400 ppm. Many scientists believe significant global warming consequences are inevitable above 350 ppm.

The historical data cited by the BBC come in part from ice core samples taken in Antarctica and Greenland. Bubbles of air trapped in the ice show cycles of 100,000 years, during which air temperatures and CO2 levels fluctuate in parallel. As humankind grew in population and started heavily relying on fossil fuels, the cyclical pattern was broken. Now, CO2 and temperatures are simply going up.

This bad news is actually good news of a sort as the world prepares to meet next week in Copenhagen to deal with climate change. The recent hacked email scandal is being used by deniers and contrarians to weaken the chances of getting anything done at the conference. A good dose of solid science like this could help keep things on track.

 

The Bush years—a seemingly endless era in which those concerned about the planet's fate found themselves arguing with a table, to appropriate the words of a silver-tongued Massachusetts congressman—aren't typically remembered for good efforts to combat global warming.

But a new report by Environment America—"America on the Move"—contends those lost years, thanks to states (not the Bush administration), may actually prove themselves a critical period in our national efforts to lower carbon pollution. The report estimates that states like California, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and many others initiated programs during those years that will lead to a reduction of more than 500 million tons of global warming pollution by 2020.

The projected amount, approximately 7 percent of total domestic emissions in 2007, is no small thing, roughly equivalent to the collective annual emissions of more than 100 million cars.

Some top stories from the last two weeks at Earthjustice...

The Copenhagen Climate Conference begins next week. President Obama will lead the U.S. delegation, and in anticipation of the conference, the Dalai Lama spoke about the need for governments to put global priorities first.

Studies on the effects of global warming abound; few offer good news. Polar ice is thinner than previously thought, and polar bears are struggling more than ever to survive—only one of many species seriously threatened by climate change. 

Our addiction to coal-fired power is at the heart of global warming. And as we know, coal plants are responsible for much more destruction. Almost a year ago, 500 million gallons of toxic coal ash flooded 300 acres along Tennessee’s Emory River. Now, despite this disaster, some companies are claiming that the location and contents of their toxic coal ash ponds should be left a mystery. Earthjustice disagrees.

Other mysteries, however, are quite welcome—like lonely stones sailing quietly across the desert.

Recently, some global warming skeptics have used a series of hacked emails to cast aspersions on the scientific consensus on man-made global warming. The hope, perhaps, is to gain support for a delusion that thrives in their fertile imaginations: that global warming is a hoax perpetuated by a clandestine network of global conspirators.

As the first day of Earthjustice's annual meeting on global warming came to a close, it struck me how seriously the organization now takes the goal of reducing our own carbon footprint.

How can we fight against global warming if we are part of the problem?

This year's annual strategy session included 28 staff people from around the country. A few years ago, this meeting would have required at least a dozen cross-country air flights, hotel stays, and nights away from family.

Almost one year ago, a dyke holding back the 40-acre coal ash pond at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant broke, releasing more than 500 million gallons of toxic coal ash. The sludge (six feet deep in some places) spread out over 400 acres, damaged 12 homes, and wrecked a train. It was the largest human-induced environmental disaster since Chernobyl.

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About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.