Brazil: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Brazil Protest

In today’s class lecture we discussed Brazil’s progress towards mitigating climate change. Brazil has made an enormous effort in reducing tropical deforestation, Brazil has kept 3.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere since 2004″ (Atkin, 2014). Brazil once had the highest deforestation rate in the world mainly due to livestock and logging. Rainforests are an important carbon sink, however deforestation emits large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, thus changing the climate. Although Brazil’s 70 percent decline in deforestation has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions, other parts of Brazil are still feeling the effects of climate change. Sao Paulo is suffering from one of the worst droughts to have hit Southern Brazil in several decades. The water scarcity is causing violent conflicts between residents. As the climate continues to change, and droughts become more prevalent we can expect to see more violent conflicts and citizens protesting for access to resources like water, which are necessary for survival. Rainy seasons in Brazil have shown a pattern of less rainfall each year, “The Sao Paulo metropolitan area ended its last rainy season in February with just a third of the usual rain total only 9 inches” (Gomez-Licon, 2014). The government is being blamed for the issues of water scarcity, which shows that as the climate keeps changing and water becomes more limited there must be systems implemented for distributing water equally. Otherwise the world’s poor will be exposed to more vulnerabilities, and violent conflicts will increase. 


Atkin, Emily. “Brazil Has Done More To Stop Climate Change Than Any Other Country, Study Finds.” ThinkProgress. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <>.

Gomez Licon, Adriana. “Sao Paulo Drought Leaves Brazil’s Biggest City Desperate For Water.” The Huffington Post., 07 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <>.


Art and the Environment- Strip Mining

Lang Cover
Credit: Bernhard Lang  A 30 story bucket excavator  cuts out more coal.
Credit: Bernhard Lang
A 30 story bucket excavator cuts out more coal.

I came across a recent collection of photos by aerial photographer Bernhard Lang. This collection is that of an aerial shoot above the Hambach Mine in Germany. This lignite open pit mine is the deepest (in relation to sea-level) on the planet, being 931 feet below sea-level. Currently the mine is about 35 square kilometers large with a planned ending size of 85 square kilometers, roughly the size of Manhattan. All of this in a country that plans to be 80% renewable by 2050 and currently is the solar energy capital of the world. Some argue this is a result of the shutting down of nuclear facilities after Fukushima, as well as a result of the way emissions trading schemes are set up in the EU. The mine is still open and churning out coal everyday. Lang has done an excellent job of showcasing it, much in the way Balog has represented glacial melt and the impacts of anthropogenic global warming. This is not the first time Lang has been up in the air, attempting to capture the scale at which our society operates, much of his aerial work has taken on an environmental twist. As I find more artists looking to use their talents and passion to raise awareness and enact change, I wonder what else we might see in the coming decades.


A weekend with ExxonMobil


imagesThis past weekend I went to Lehigh University for a short course with ExxonMobil on basin analysis. I went to learn about ExxonMobil and how they go about finding hydrocarbons. While I barley scratched the surface of how our species has gone about extracting fuels from the ground, I learned a great deal about what geologic conditions are needed to produce oil and gas. It was fascinating to hear them talk about extracting resources to sell on the market.

While ExxonMobil is based in Texas, they talked about several markets they are currently pushing into; Russia, Kirgizstan, Brazil, Africa, and Mexico. They truly are a global energy exploration company when it comes to gas and oil. They seek business opportunities all over the world and employ the best geoscientists to find fossil fuels.

When asked about how they are going to be adapting as an industry to climate regulations, they strive for making their emissions less per BTU, that is to say they want to be more efficient with their fuels. In the 1970s ExxonMobil explored using renewable energies as a branch of operations, but they came to the quick conclusion that it was not what they are best at. They were not able to make renewable as economically successful, so they gave it up to do what they are best known for, oil and gas explorations and extraction.

When asked about how they would adapt to the world with carbon emissions limits, they spoke about carbon sequestration. They are currently working on a project in the Moxa Arch in Wyoming, read more about it here. This project would allow them to reduce the corporations overall emissions if they needed to under a scenario with carbon limiting legislation. While they are not currently injecting anthropogenic carbon dioxide, they are proving the concepts by injecting hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. If they are able to successful sequester the carbon, this could lead to the continuation of ExxonMobil as a fossil fuel exploration company under carbon restrictive legislation.

Here is an article about their policy stances towards climate change

Here is an article about how they are mitigating GHG emissions

Transformative Change Needed, Tax Carbon!

news environment

In the Copenhagen Accord (UNFCCC, 2010), during COP15, 114 countries agreed that “the increase in global temperature should be below 2°C, on the basis of equity”. This has been interpreted as the “dangerous” level agreed to by the parties in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992). To have a more likely than not chance at staying below 2°C, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cannot exceed 500ppm (IPCC, 2014). Every 2.13 GtCO2 emitted will raise the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 1ppm (Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, 2012). As of September 2014, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 395 ppm (NOAA, 2014). Thus, there is approximately 224 more GtCO2 that can be emitted until there is a less likely than not chance of having warming greater than 2°C. To reach this level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, global emissions must be reduced by 40-70% by 2050 and be at zero or negative emissions by the end of the century (IPCC, 2014). A carbon tax is the most effective way to make the transformative change needed to keep emissions below the agreed upon dangerous level of atmospheric GHGs. An aggressive carbon tax will allow dangerous climate change to be avoided because it is proven to work, it can be implemented quickly, and it has the potentially to drastically reduce emissions.

A carbon tax is an effective tool to mitigate emissions in a least cost manner. Every use of fossil fuels that is worth less than the price of the emissions will not occur and thus reduce emissions. As the fee rises, more carbon intensive activities will become economically infeasible, driving down GHG emissions. Depending on the original fee and rate of increase this would be an effective tool to rapidly decrease emissions at the least cost because market forces will drive carbon reductions. By setting a tax floor, emission reductions are ensured (as opposed to a price cap in cap-and-trade systems) and increase over time with price increases (Sawin and Moomaw, 2009). A cap-and-trade system will be associated with less certain emissions reductions because an emissions cap is also an emissions floor (Burtraw and Woerman, 2012). This means that maximum emissions reductions cannot always be achieved because the number of permits issued sets the reduction amount as opposed to market forces pushing emissions with economic forces. This tax scheme allows for efficient carbon reductions.

Several European countries have already put a tax on carbon. Denmark was able to do this successfully by taxing industry emissions to fund renewable energy projects (Sawin and Moomaw, 2009). Denmark proved that the carbon tax works when you tax the polluters and subsidize renewable energy (Prasad, 2008). A recent study even found that a majority of republicans, democrats and independents in the United States would support a carbon tax similar to Denmark’s in which all revenues would be returned to research and development of renewable energies (Amdur, 2014). This could make a carbon tax feasible in the US and allow for economically efficient emissions reductions.

During the last week of October 2014, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse announced his intentions to introduce a carbon fee bill to the US Senate (Pantsios, 2014). This bill would put a price on the carbon to fund social programs including helping workers transition out of carbon intensive jobs (Pantsios, 2014). Two MIT economists hypothesize that it is better for the economy to have carbon taxes than high federal taxes (specifically looking at the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts) even if those funds go towards social programs or tax cuts (Rausch and Reilly, 2012). For all these reasons, it seems like a carbon fee bill would do well in US congress; it makes logical sense, but the politics can get messy.

Australia passed a carbon tax in 2012 (Meng and others, 2013) under a pro-labor government attempting to reach across party lines to gain votes (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). The politics around this legislation have been messy for a number of years and in 2014 the law was repealed under the notion that it hurts business and is preventing Australia from exporting its rich energy resources to countries across the world (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). AGL Energy was cited as saying that this would cause a loss in revenue in the near term due to loss in assistance from the government/carbon tax; however, long-term profits are now looking up (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). This could lead to backlash from citizens as the government takes away a A$500+ check, which was promised to households in the form of yearly savings (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). Australia is the first example of a nation to pass a carbon fee and then later repeal it. A program, which gives money to the citizens, would seem to have broad voter appeal, like British Columbia’s program (2014). It appears that the politics were not set up properly for Australia to have a carbon fee that sticks. This does not mean that a carbon fee is impossible, but rather that care must be taken to set up a program that is politically feasible.

Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) are a good first step and should not be discourage amongst UNFCCC parties. To be effective, an agreement with a great deal of stringency, participation and compliance must be reached in Paris. It does not appear to be politically feasible, but if a global price on carbon could be agreed upon, this would allow for the best system to tie everyone together ensuring participation and compliance. The tax could provide increasing stringency over time to ensure effectiveness. This would allow certainty around carbon leakage out of countries with strict carbon rules and into low regulation nations. The carbon tax is a clear transformation change that would work to drive emissions down. Incremental changes and small policy reforms are unlikely to put the world in a position to mitigate warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Effective and decisive action is needed immediately to instill transformative change.

Works Cited

Amdur, D., Rabe, B., Borick, C. Public Views on a Carbon Tax Depend on the Proposed Use of Revenue. Issues in Energy and Environmental Policy. Number 13. July, 2014.

British Columbia. Carbon Tax. Ministry of Finance. 2014.

Burtraw, Dallas, and Matt Woerman. “US status on climate change mitigation.” Resources for the Future (RFF) Discussion Paper (2012): 12-48.

Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center – Conversion Tables. September, 2012.

IPCC, 2014: 5th Assessment Synthesis Report, Summer for Policy Makers. [Myles R. Allen (United Kingdom), Vicente Ricardo Barros (Argentina), John Broome (United Kingdom), Wolfgang Cramer (Germany/France), Renate Christ (Austria/WMO), John A. Church (Australia), Leon Clarke (USA), Qin Dahe (China), Purnamita Dasgupta (India), Navroz K. Dubash (India), Ottmar Edenhofer (Germany), Ismail Elgizouli (Sudan), Christopher B. Field (USA), Piers Forster (United Kingdom), Pierre Friedlingstein (United Kingdom), Jan Fuglestvedt (Norway), Luis Gomez-Echeverri (Colombia), Stephane Hallegatte (France/World Bank), Gabriele Hegerl (United Kingdom), Mark Howden (Australia), Kejun Jiang (China), Blanca Jimenez Cisneros (Mexico/UNESCO), Vladimir Kattsov (Russian Federation), Hoesung Lee (Republic of Korea), Katharine J. Mach (USA), Jochem Marotzke (Germany), Michael D. Mastrandrea (USA), Leo Meyer (The Netherlands), Jan Minx (Germany), Yacob Mulugetta (Ethiopia), Karen O’Brien (Norway), Michael Oppenheimer (USA), R.K. Pachauri (India), Joy J. Pereira (Malaysia), Ramón Pichs- Madruga (Cuba), Gian-Kasper Plattner (Switzerland), Hans-Otto Pörtner (Germany), Scott B. Power (Australia), Benjamin Preston (USA), N.H. Ravindranath (India), Andy Reisinger (New Zealand), Keywan Riahi (Austria), Matilde Rusticucci (Argentina), Robert Scholes (South Africa), Kristin Seyboth (USA), Youba Sokona (Mali), Robert Stavins (USA), Thomas F. Stocker (Switzerland), Petra Tschakert (USA), Detlef van Vuuren (The Netherlands), Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (Belgium)]. November 1, 2014.

Meng, S, Siriwardana, M., and McNeill, J. “The environmental and economic impact of the carbon tax in Australia.” Environmental and Resource Economics 54.3 (2013): 313-332.

Monica Prasad, “On Carbon, Tax and Don’t Spend,” New York Times, 25 March 2008.

NOAA. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth Systems Research Laboratory Global Monitoring Division. Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. October, 2014.

Patsios, Anastasia. Sen. Whitehouse Proposes Carbon Tax to Repay Citizens for Pollution Costs. Eco-watch. October, 2014.

Rausch, S., and Reilly, J. Carbon tax revenue and the budget deficit: A win-win-win solution?. MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, 2012.

Sawin, J., and Moomaw, W.. Renewable revolution: low carbon energy by 2030. Worldwatch Institute, 2009.

Taylor R. and Hoyle R. Australia Becomes First Developed Nation to Repeal Carbon Tax. The Wall Street Journal. July, 2014.

UNFCCC. Copenhagen Accord. “Report of the Conference of the Parties on its fifteenth session, held in Copenhagen from 7 to 19 December 2009.” UNFCCC/CP/2009/11/Add.1. March 30, 2010.

UNFCCC. United National Framework Convention on Climate Change. UNFCCC/INFORMAL/84. 1992.

Trick or Treat? The truth about Halloween candy

Lets face it, Halloween is all about the candy! Every October, Americans spend at least $2 Billion dollars on Halloween candy. However, what most people don’t realize is that the environmental impact of these sweet treats is actually a trick. Here is the low down on Halloween candy, and how you can avoid the tricks and enjoy more treats.

Palm oil, a type of edible vegetable oil grown specifically in tropical climates, is an extremely versatile cooking oil that, among many other household items, is also found in candies. Palm oil is inexpensive and can be found in “50 percent of items found in supermarkets” (Donlon, 2014). This global commodity is extremely popular and production rates are doubling. So what is the problem with palm oil? Palm oil is a driving force of deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and greenhouse gas emissions, which are all contributing factors to climate change. Large areas of tropical forests have been destroyed throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa in order to clear land for palm plantations. This process of deforestation has several impacts on the environment. The process of clearing the land involves slash and burn agriculture, which is the deliberate burning down of forests. This burning results in habitat loss and species disruption, which in some cases is leading to extinction. The clearing of the land also makes it easier for poachers to capture and sell wildlife. Orangoutangs are often targeted by poachers. Not only does this impact wildlife, but also it releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, thus altering the concentrations of greenhouse gasses. This is just one aspect that shows the unsustainable side of Halloween.

Read further on sustainable chocolate!

This Halloween be “HalloGREEN” and refrain from consuming candies containing palm oil!

See how to enjoy Halloween treats without destroying the planet here!

Find more information about Palm Oil and how to get involved!! 

Happy HalloGREEN !!



Donlon, Diana. “Trick or Treat? The Frightening Climate Costs of Halloween Candy.” The Huffington Post., 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2014.

An Inconvenient Truth


In 1965, our 36th president Lyndon Johnson delivered a special message to Congress. He said “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale though…a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.” These powerful words portrayed how many have known about this issue for a while now. But what has truly been done about it?

Science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway introduce us to this special message in the beginning of the book “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issue from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.” Throughout the book, you can see how environmental issues have been just swept under the rug because of other pressing issues at hand that needed to be tended to. Newsflash! There will ALWAYS be pressing issues that need to be tended to! How much longer will we keep our lovely planet waiting?

Oreskes and Conway also point out that the media is responsible for how information is represented or should I say… misrepresented. Information is put out in an exciting way by journalists, which is not wrong. That captures people and engages them. However, somewhere along the lines of “exciting” the truth gets lost. Scientists depend on journalists to get it right because they honestly do not have time to deal with public relations. When information is tampered with, it is the public who goes and knocks on doubt’s door, enters and remains there until further information is released. Climate change and media have a very difficult relationship.


Impacts of the Erratic Beast

boy hood water

Coming from a family of Bangladeshi immigrants who want better opportunities for their children and for them to know their roots, my parents made sure my sisters and I knew our culture, language, and traditions.  My parents took my sisters and I to Bangladesh at a very young age so we can fully emerge ourselves into our culture.

This past summer I visited Bangladesh for the third time.  It was truly a wonderful trip like all of the other times I have visited.  However, during this trip I noticed the impacts of climate change; the Erratic Beast.  Bangladesh is a beautiful country with so much green scenery but it will soon be gone due to rising sea levels.  There was an interesting and thought-provoking film released about the impacts of climate change specifically in Bangladesh called Bangladesh: A Climate Trap.  It is a climate trap because of rising sea levels, weather patterns changing, and biological systems being affected with the rise of CO2 levels.

In Spencer R. Weart’s book, “The Discovery of Global Warming”, he address the influences which cause impacts of the Erratic Beast.  In 1980, it was found that CO2 played a vital role in climate change.  Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrates are also influences.

With the melting of ice caps, many countries and islands will soon disappear…

Woman With Arms Outstretched


The 6 Cs: Climate, Consequences, Chance, Circulation, Change and CFCs

The climate is increasingly more delicate due to human interactions with earth systems. We have entered the Anthropocene a world that is home to disappearing ice, high levels of greenhouse gases, rising temperatures, and uncertainty about what lies ahead for earth. Journalist Fred Pearce explores current climate science, discussing how the climate has changed in the past combined with modern scientific knowledge. Pearce takes a journalistic approach to telling the stories behind the people and their work to discover how the earth has worked in the past and what that can tell us about the future.

In the late 1920s Charles Midgley developed Freon and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that would eventually create the ozone hole over Antarctica discovered by Joe Farman in the 1980s. Three years after Farman’s discovery, the international community recognized the importance of the ozone hole, which led delegates to sign the Montreal Protocol. However, if Midgley had chosen to use bromine instead of chlorine in his refrigerant, the ozone would have been in much worse shape by the time Farman noticed the hole in 1982. According to Pearce, if Midgley had chosen bromine in his refrigerant instead of chlorine the effects could have been one hundred times worse due to bromines ability to destroy ozone given proper temperatures and sunlight conditions.

In his conclusion, Pearce warns that we are ending one of two known periods of climate stability in the past 100,000 years, pushing the climate over a tipping point towards a hothouse climate. He speculates about the possibility of an ocean circulation shut down in the North Atlantic, with warmer water no longer being able to sink into the depths of the arctic to appear two thousand years later in the pacific. If the great climate moderator does shut down, civilization as we know it will follow suite. Our current society will not be able to survive without the ocean circulation currently in affect, the gulfstream could disappear and Europe would freeze. Scientists don’t yet know what the tipping point could be, possibly when the Greenland ice sheet goes and an influx of fresh water cuts off thermo-haline circulation. Whatever the tipping point may be, it would be disastrous for life as we know it.

Pearce does a satisfactory job at compiling significant milestones in climate history, while helping readers understand the immensity of geologic time during which the climate has fluctuated. However, our current scientific knowledge around the intricacies of climate change is not well communicated to lay readers. This may represent the complexities of the current climate crisis, but does not communicate the urgency with which we must act to combat the situation. This is a point that we ought to develop as a society; we must begin to educate the general public about climate and atmospheric science because as a population we must understand the problems presented before we can act on them.

Bibliography and resources

Broecker, Wallace S. “Thermohaline circulation, the Achilles heel of our climate system: Will man-made CO2 upset the current balance?.” Science 278.5343 (1997): 1582-1588.

Farman, J. C., B. G. Gardiner, and J. D. Shanklin. Large losses of total ozone in Antarctica reveal seasonal ClOx/NOx interaction. 1985.

Joughin, Ian, Benjamin E. Smith, and Brooke Medley. “Marine Ice Sheet Collapse Potentially Under Way for the Thwaites Glacier Basin, West Antarctica.” Science 344.6185 (2014): 735-738.

Mann, Michael E., Raymond S. Bradley, and Malcolm K. Hughes. “Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries.” Nature392.6678 (1998): 779-787.

Steffen, Will, Paul J. Crutzen, and John R. McNeill. “The Anthropocene: are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature.” Ambio: A Journal of the Human Environment 36.8 (2007): 614-621.