The Skywriter

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Biking for climate down the California coast


If you have been paying attention to 1Sky's Twitter or Facebook feed in the last weeks, you'll recall hearing about the great event that is the Brita Climate Ride. If you don't know what Climate Ride is, here's the short version: two incredible women whose day jobs involve showing others the world on bicycles decided to help make a difference on climate change. In 2008, they started a five-day bike ride from New York to Washington, D.C. to raise money and awareness about climate and clean energy groups. Climate Ride has now grown into a bi-annual action with hundreds of riders. This year, 1Sky was chosen as a beneficiary and I was able to take part in this epic event down the coast of Northern California.


Overall, the trip was inspiring – from the amazing landscapes, the steel-willed riders, and the incredible ride staff. The week officially started when we all met in the small town of Fortuna, CA during a beautiful sunset before we were to set off. The room was full of more than 100 riders, Climate Ride staff, and a few family members. I knew that this was a room of people who cared about fighting climate change, but it wasn't until later in the week that I realized what incredible company I was in. That night ended with the riders being invited to write messages to President Obama on pre-addressed postcards about why we were doing Climate Ride and what the issue means to us.

Day one was through the most perfect setting imaginable for such a ride. After the morning safety talk (and me shoving a triple-decker peanut butter and jelly sandwich down my face – energy food, clearly), we set off and soon found ourselves riding through the redwood forests of Northern California. They don't call it the Avenue of the Giants for nothing. Living in D.C., I can sometimes forget just how breathtaking nature can be. This day reminded me of that very quickly.

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Policy Update 10/6/2010 - EPA/DOT Propose Stronger Auto Efficiency Standards (VIDEO)


Last week, President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) announced their intent to set progressively stronger efficiency standards for new cars: 47-62 mpg by 2025. Congress wrapped up its pre-election business promptly to allow members to return home and campaign.

Congressional Timeline:

  • 11/2: Election Day
  • 11/15: Beginning of Senate Lame Duck session (tentative)

Obama Administration proposes another strong cars rule

In spring of 2009, President Obama worked with automakers to push for 35.5 mpg standards by 2016, and is now beginning a second rulemaking process that will set even stronger standards for new vehicles: 47-62 mpg by 2025, which represents a 3-6% annual improvement beyond the existing 2016 standards. This announcement represents a stage of administrative rulemaking called a "Notice of Intent" (NOI), essentially a draft rule made public to allow stakeholders to weigh in. The final rule will not be finalized until July of 2012.

Our allies at Environment America, Sierra Club, and other groups are advocating for a 60 mpg standard. According to the EPA, a 62 mpg standard is doable if much of the new fleet is made up of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

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Sun, sun, sun, here it comes!


Great news from the White House! President Obama has decided to install solar panels atop the White House residence:

The most famous residence in America, which has already boosted its green credentials by planting a garden, plans to install solar panels atop the White House's living quarters. The solar panels are to be installed by spring 2011, and will heat water for the first family and supply some electricity.

The plans will be formally announced later Tuesday by White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Groups like have been urging Obama to put solar on the White House for some time, so it's nice to see the President heeding their call to lead by example. As Bill McKibben said:

The White House did the right thing, and for the right reasons: they listened to the Americans who asked for solar on their roof, and they listened to the scientists and engineers who told them this is the path to the future...If it has anything like the effect of the White House garden, it could be a trigger for a wave of solar installations across the country and around the world."

Add this to a list of significant climate achievements so far in Obama's young presidency (the lack of a certain critical item notwithstanding). And while the value of this move is largely symbolic, never underestimate the power of presidential symbolism:

"Putting solar on the roof of the nation's most important real estate is a powerful symbol calling on all Americans to rethink how we generate electricity," Solar Energy Industries Association President Rhone Resch said.

This is a great way to start the final week before the worldwide 10/10/10 Global Work Parties on Sunday. And on a personal note, I'd like to thank President Obama and the AP for giving me the flimsiest of excuses to include a Beatles song with this post:

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How mountaintop removal destroys ecosystems


Mountaintop removal mining in the Appalachian region is one of the most ecologically destructive activities being undertaken to meet our domestic energy needs. To understand the devastation, you need to first get a picture of the process of the destruction.

Before mountaintop mining begins, forests are logged off the mountain. Then the overburden (organic material, topsoil, and bedrock to the depth of the coal seam) is removed. Mining companies had difficulty in disposing of this "mining waste," so in 2002 the Bush administration decided to allow them to dump the overburden in adjacent forest streams.

The result:

Just one mountaintop removal mine can lay bare up to 10 square miles and pour hundreds of millions of tons of waste material into as many as a dozen "valley fills" -- some of which are 1,000 feet wide and a mile long.

And if that’s not bad enough, the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act allows mining companies to restore MTR sites in grass -- which means that it will take thousands of years for forest to develop again, and the Appalachian temperate forest ecosystem is gone forever. Filled streams are no longer streams. They are ditches or culverts, their ecological function gone forever.

Janelle Corn, Ph.D., is an ecologist and wildlife biologist living in western Montana. She has lived and worked in the western U.S. for 30 years, and is currently an activist for addressing climate change before it's too late. Her new blog is Natural History Now. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.
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Making Sausage of Climate Policy


By 1Sky blogger Andy Silber. See Andy's bio at the end of this post. -- Luis

Andy Silber is a astrophysicist, engineer, project manager, husband, father, and energy activist living in Seattle. Visit Andy's blog on Sustainable West Seattle. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.

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Policy update 10/26/10: One more week

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Next Tuesday's midterm election has major implications for federal climate and energy policy. Many key races will be decide by narrow margins. Polling suggests that the Republicans will pick up seats in both houses, but that only the House of Representatives is likely to change hands. Election Day is next Tuesday, November 2nd.

Climate in the Elections

A number of tightly contested races involve incumbents who support climate legislation and challengers who are emphatically opposed to climate action, or publicly cast doubt on climate science:

  • Climate champion Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) is defending his clean energy record in a district that historically favors conservative candidates. Perriello urges voters to look past short-term payoffs to the big picture of economic growth;
  • Arizona long-shot House candidate Jon Hulburd (D) is leading with a clean energy jobs message and catching up in the polls in the conservative 3rd district just north of Phoenix;
  • Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias has been criticizing Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) for flip-flopping on his climate vote. Kirk supported the climate bill in the House, but then signed a pledge promising to oppose future climate legislation in order to win over an endorsement from Sarah Palin;
  • Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO) is using Ken Buck's (R) statements about the uncertainty of climate science to illustrate how far from the mainstream his opposition is.

In every Senate race but one, Republican challengers are self-identified climate science deniers (all except Rep. Kirk in IL). Brad Johnson at the Wonk Room has compiled a list of key climate House and Senate races to watch.

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10/10/10 Story: Maryland students give local businesses a "lift"


On Sunday, University of Maryland students in the Beyond the Classroom Living and Learning Program used their 10/10/10 Global Work Party to help a local Maryland green business spruce up their store.

Students helped Community Forklift, a surplus, salvage, and green building material provider outside Washington, DC, to sort, organe, and clean their warehouse. Forklift Outreach and Education Director Ruthie Mundell and the university's program director, Professor James Riker, set up the party to discuss the Forklift's business model with students and to show them how their work efforts symbolized the push for clean energy solutions. Riker said his students spent the week discussing these issues and watched The Age of Stupid in class before starting their work party, getting them "beyond the classroom" and into the movement. Here are some pictures from that event:

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The bad grandfather: Lessons from the Clean Air Act


The Clean Air Act (CAA) was signed into law in 1963 and has since been amended several times. This law requires that all new power plants use the best available technology to reduce pollutants that are a threat to human health. The power industry argued that there was no need to regulate old power plants, since they would be replaced over time with new plants that meet the CAA requirements. The fact that this didn’t happen is both a lesson for how we need to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in the future and an opportunity to quickly begin reducing our emissions in the present.

Soon after passage of the CAA, it was clear that these old plants weren’t going away. To the contrary: Old plants were being “upgraded”, without meeting the requirements of the CAA. That’s why New Source Review was added to the CAA in 1977. If an existing plant was modified such that there were significant increases in emission, then the plant would need to be brought up to the CAA standards and the best available technology for controlling emissions would need to be installed. Routine maintenance is allowed under new source review. During the Clinton administration, a battle royal was waged about the definition of “significant” and “routine”. For the most part power plants have only performed “routine maintenance” since 1977. Still, power from these old plants has increased by operating them more hours each year.

In the 1980s, acid rain was killing lakes and streams in the Northwest; Congress amended the CAA again in 1990 to address this problem. This time their approach included the old plants, forcing them to either clean up their emissions or buy permits. The number of permits would drop over time, driving their cost up until the demand dropped, which happens when a power plant installs sulfur dioxide (SO2) scrubbers or is shut down.

This is a market-based approach, sometimes called cap-and-trade, that the Republicans brought forward and has been very successful in reducing SO2 emissions at a much lower cost than was predicted (which is almost always the case for environmental and safety regulations). The pro-market folks are now deriding the same basic concept for carbon dioxide (CO2).

Andy Silber is a astrophysicist, engineer, project manager, husband, father, and energy activist living in Seattle. Visit Andy's blog on Sustainable West Seattle. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.
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Eye candy from 10/10/10 Work Parties (PICS)


We'll have much more about the hugely successful 10/10/10 Global Work Parties, but for now just sit back and enjoy the climate action eye candy we've been receiving since Saturday. Be sure to share them on Facebook, Twitter and any other social networks using our handy "share" bar on this page.

Do you have pics from a 10/10/10 work party to share? Here's how:

  • Add your photos as attachments, making sure not to exceed individual photo size of 10MB (and keep in mind your own email service's attachment size limit!).
  • Include your city and state in the subject.
  • Please include a description of your event -- we're always looking for compelling stories from the grassroots!
  • Send your email to

We'll add more photos and stories from 10/10/10 soon -- stay tuned!

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Policy update 10/13/10: Obama gets to work in time for 10/10/10

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This week, thousands of people across the globe got to work for's 10/10/10 Global Work Party. Even President Barack Obama stepped up and joined the fun, committing to install solar panels on the White House roof next spring. Despite the groundswell of grassroots support for "getting to work," dirty money continues to have an unprecedented influence on the midterm elections.

Congressional Timeline:

  • 11/2: Election Day
  • 11/15: Congress resumes (tentative)

Solar on the White House

The Obama Administration made an important symbolic gesture last week by announcing plans to install solar panels on the White House in the spring of 2011. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told an audience of federal employees: "Around the world, the White House is a symbol of freedom and democracy. It should also be a symbol of America's commitment to a clean energy future."

In addition to approving a symbolic solar installation on the White House, the Obama Administration announced the approval of two major utility-scale solar power installations on public lands in the Southwest.

Together, these two projects could produce up to 754 megawatts of renewable energy, enough to power 226,000 – 566,000 American homes, support almost 1,000 new jobs, and offset about one-and-a-half traditional coal plants.

In addition to approving new solar installations, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed the final lease approving the 468 MW Cape Wind project, the nation's first offshore wind installation, off the coast of Massachusetts.

10/10/10 Global Work Parties

This weekend, climate advocates worldwide gathered together and held "work parties" to celebrate climate solutions and send our political leaders a simple message: "We're getting to work—what about you?" All told, there were 7,500 events in 185 countries, including approximately 2,000 U.S. events in all 50 states. Events were attended by elected officials who pledged to "get to work."

Events were diverse. Students in Iraq installed solar panels at the University of Babylon, and in Oakland residents threw a party at the site of a new organic garden. Click here for more event examples and here to see photos of various events.

President Nasheed of the Maldives one-upped President Obama by personally installing solar panels on the roof of his residence as a symbol of his commitment to clean energy. Here's video:

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