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Major U.S. Climate Change News: EPA to Cap Carbon Emissions from Power Plants

There is very big news in U.S. climate leadership today, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is poised to announce new pollution regulations for U.S. power plants that could cut carbon emissions by 25% by 2020 and 30% by 2030.  Power plants are the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the United States — amounting to about 40% of total emissions — and this action today helps keep America’s promise to reduce emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020, a promise President Obama made at the Copenhagen Conference of Parties (COP) summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in 2009.  Carbon pollution from U.S. power plants is currently unregulated and today’s announcement marks the end of a year-long open and transparent consultation between the EPA, industry, and state and local government, following the actions of a dozen states and more than a thousand mayors who are already setting clear rules and better standards for our nation’s power plants.

Christiana Figueres,  Executive Secretary of the UNFCC, praised the move, saying “I fully expect action by the United States to spur others in taking concrete action.” The others Figueres are talking about aren’t only climate leaders like the United Kingdom, but major non-OECD emitters like China and India. The new regulations in the U.S. could encourage them to come up with their own aggressive steps to reduce emissions of gases that cause global warming.  Right now, the nations of the world are hard at work devising nation plans to reduce carbon emissions, and this announcement today could spur them to be more ambitious in their carbon cutting goals. Those plans will be announced early next year, and will form the basis of the successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which will be negotiated at the Paris COP in late 2015.

What does all that mean? Simply, by taking aggressive action now and leading by example, the United States encourages all the other major contributors to make their own significant emission cuts. That builds momentum heading into Paris for a global deal that will halt and reverse emissions of the gases that cause global warming and prevent the 2 degree increase in global temperatures that scientists warn will cause catastrophic climate change.

More from the President below, speaking Saturday at the Children’s National Medical Center, where he met with children suffering from air pollution-induced asthma and talked about how the EPA announcement builds on the Climate Action Plan, complements new efficiency regulations for cars and trucks, and responds to the recent National Climate Assessment.



“Our Ocean” Conference Program

Over three billion people around the world rely on fish as a major source of protein in their diet.  Do you eat fish? Help make sustainable seafood a priority on the global menu by joining #OurOcean2014:

The State Department has published the preliminary program for the Oceans Conference that was rescheduled from last October due to the government shutdown. The conference, which will be for invitees only (though portions may be available via the internet), will focus on issues of Sustainable Fisheries, Marine Pollution and Ocean Acidification.

If you’d like to read the draft program, click here.

Photo courtesy NOAA Flickr page.

Photo courtesy NOAA Flickr page.


“Our Ocean” Conference – June 16-17, 2014

motion-of-the-oceanThe U.S. Department of State will host the “Our Ocean” Conference – focused on sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and ocean acidification – on June 16-17, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

Spanning three-quarters of the planet, the ocean is our most important shared resource. It connects people – physically, culturally, and spiritually. It is a driving force in the global economy, pivotal to food security, human health and scientific advancement, and home to a vast ecosystem that regulates climate and weather.

Protecting the ocean requires broad engagement from the global community to help ensure the long-term sustainability of the marine environment. It is imperative for the United States and countries around the world to work together to protect and sustain it, as no one person or one country can use it or protect it alone.

The conference goal will be to promote a healthier planet by creating a healthier ocean.

See Secretary Kerry’s announcement of the conference at, and join the conversation on Twitter both before and during the conference by using the hashtag #OurOcean2014.


Happy 60th Birthday, Solar Power!

Photo courtesy of AT&T archive.

The New York Times called it “the beginning of a new era, eventually leading to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams.” On April 25, 1954 AT&T demonstrated a solar photovoltaic panel for the first time, capturing light to power the rotation of a miniature Ferris wheel.

But solar power didn’t catch on immediately because it was outrageously expensive. The estimated cost of that first PV panel was $286 per watt, which meant that the average homeowner in 1954, if a rooftop solar array were available, could have installed one for a cool $1.43 million. (A 1954 Cadillac Eldorado, for comparison, cost less than $5,000).  [Clint Wilder, Clean Edge]

And 60 years late the solar industry is booming, according to the latest Energy Infrastructure Update report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects, solar, wind, and hydropower provided 84.5% of new installed U.S. electrical generating capacity in March. Of that, 151 MW came from solar, 93 MW from wind, and 1 MW from hydropower.

The US government is proud to be part of that industry. In April, the Department of Energy issued a draft loan guarantee solicitation for innovative renewable energy and energy efficiency projects located in the U.S. that avoid, reduce, or sequester greenhouse gases. When finalized, the solicitation is expected to make as much as $4 billion in loan guarantees available.

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said: “Through our existing renewable energy loan guarantees, the Department’s Loan Programs Office helped launch the U.S. utility-scale solar industry and other clean energy technologies that are now contributing to our clean energy portfolio. We want to replicate that success by focusing on technologies that are on the edge of commercial-scale deployment today.”


U.S. National Climate Assessment

The U.S. National Climate Assessment was released online today. The assessment summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. While the assessment contains troubling data about the dangers of climate change resulting from human activities, that data is presented in visually stunning and ingeniously interactive ways. It’s as addictively clickable as a Buzzfeed quiz and much more informative.

I started on the overview page here.

A few minutes later, I was exploring the impact of ocean acidification on Pteropods, a critical food for ocean species ranging in size from krill to whales:

acid graphic

And then, observing increases in precipitation across the U.S.:


Have a go yourself and let us know what you think in the comments.



Embassy Earth Day

The US Embassy in London celebrated Earth Day on April 29. I know it was a week after the real thing, but we had some holiday logistics to contend with, so after the long weekend seemed like the best time. And it turned out to be a lovely event.

We set up the lobby with tables staffed by half a dozen different departments within the embassy highlighting what their departments were doing to help save the planet. Members from our own ESTH staff presented information on climate change and how to combat threats to our oceans.

Our Overseas Building Office shared insights into the energy-saving measures being installed at the New London Embassy. The janitorial team talked about our current recycling efforts. And our cafeteria and catering staff sponsored a pedal bike that powered a blender to make your own smoothies.

Ambassador Barzun blending a smoothie on the smoothie bike.

Ambassador Barzun blending a smoothie on the smoothie bike.

We also had some wonderful outside vendors take time out of their busy schedules to help us promote Earth Day to our embassy personnel. The National Trust gave us tips on green living. A representative from The Royal Society for the Protections of Birds (RSPB) gave us a talk about their nature reserves and how to help support a habitat in your own back yard (if you’re lucky enough to have one).

And even if they couldn’t make it, some of the vendors including WWF UK, Earthwatch, the Greater London Authority (GLA) and the Marine Conservation Society (MSC) sent along promotional materials to share.

And I chatted up anyone that would listen about the State Department’s policy guidelines for the National Science Foundation in that last pristine wilderness, the Antarctic continent, and all the great climate change and environmental work that scientists and support staff are doing there.


Marley, Mars, and Moray

I checked out the Ziggy Marley concert in Brixton last night with a friend, where, early in a musically tight set of originals and a few covers, including his  reggae legend father Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved?”, Ziggy and his band the Melody Makers performed “I Don’t Want to Live on Mars,” a cut off their new album Fly Rasta. Before playing the song, Ziggy told the crowd that it was about the “environment,” and I found myself singing along with the catchy refrain: “I don’t want to live on Mars, I don’t to drive fast cars, I just want to be with you.” Here’s to protecting the planet we call home, being a responsible about our carbon emissions, and, of course, love.


In other Mars news, it was heartening to see UK media covering NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden’s speech at the Humans to Mars conference in Washington Tuesday, where he sketched out a possible path to landing astronauts on Mars in the 2030s. Mars exploration is something a of a recurring theme for us at Embassy London, and I read with interest Administrator Bolden’s “steppingstone” strategy involving new technology, public-private partnerships, the International Space Station, and missions to nearby asteroids, lunar and Mars orbit, before attempting to put people on our next neighbor from the Sun.


And, in an effort to control temperatures on Earth, UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey announced government support for 8 renewable energy projects on April 23, including offshore wind farms in Moray, Liverpool, Cromer, East Yorkshire, and Walney, and coal-to-biomass power plant conversions in Middlesbrough, Northumberland, and Selby. With a cost of £1 billion/year to guarantee prices, HMG estimates the eight sites will generate 8,500 new jobs, power up to 3 million homes, and add 5% to the UK’s clean energy supply. Davey also said he hopes to see significant private investment in each of these projects, and, should that not happen, one of the 49 other proposals that was passed over in this initial funding round could be chosen as a replacement.





The Coolest Destination for Exchange Students: Mars

Ever wanted to visit another planet but you haven’t had the chance? Hop aboard a virtual tour of Mars!

The program will take place at the USA Science and Engineering Festival (USASEF) in celebration of National Science Week, in an effort to attract youth around the world to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. This program advances President Obama’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative to increase educational exchange across the Americas and aims to prepare future innovators in STEM.

During the festival on Friday, April 25, 2014 from 2:00p.m.-3:00p.m. EDT (18:00-19:00 GMT), the students will connect via Google+ Hangouts to explore the Red Planet and hear from Mars subject matter experts. NASA will use current photos from Mars Curiosity and its Mars Yard to simulate the field trip. Lisa May, the Program Executive at NASA Headquarters for the Mars Exploration program, will serve as the host and John Feeley, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, will make brief remarks jointly with Dr. Jim Green, NASA Headquarters Planetary Science Division Director.

The event will be publicly broadcast. Tune in to watch through the live Google+ Hangout here:, and ask questions via Twitter using the hashtag #MarsFieldTrip.

This trip is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) in partnership with NASA’s Digital Learning Network™, Google’s Connected Classrooms Program, and middle school kids in three countries.


Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on the progress we are making to protect our environment and live more sustainably.  For this year’s Earth Day, we’re focusing our attention on green cities, and highlighting the importance of climate change, oceans, and on how the State Department is going green.  Need ideas for Earth Day activities? Check out this link:

Most international urban communities still depend on polluting and inefficient sources of energy.  The 2014 Earth Day theme, Green Cities, focuses on what cities can and are doing to create a clean and healthy environment for residents by limiting CO2 emissions, supporting efficient recycling practices, maintaining green and open spaces, and sustaining high water and air quality standards.  What do you think cities need to do? #EarthDay

At Embassy London we will be celebrating with an internal employee fair to showcase some of the great work that different departments are doing in the areas of recycling and green energy. We will also be working with UK environmental and conservation groups, such as the Woodland Trust, the Natural History Museum, RSPB and the Marine Conservation Society, to raise awareness among our staff.

Clean energy systems, green building infrastructure and public transportation help cities become more eco-friendly.  See how the State Department’s Greening Diplomacy Initiative (GDI) is helping transform U.S. embassies and consulates around the world into sustainable facilities.


Are you a Soil Carbon Cowboy?

On Friday March 28th we heard from filmmaker Peter Byck and saw a nearly finished version of his new short film “Soil Carbon Cowboys”. Ambassador Barzun was kind enough to introduce Peter, and they have known each other for years. As you know, so many talks about climate change focus on the negative, and often pit environmentalists and ranchers against each other. Peter’s film shows how ranchers, using environmentally friendly methods, actually make more money while helping the environment.

Beef cattle grazing. (Image courtesy USDA)

Beef cattle grazing. (Image courtesy USDA)

Right now cattle tend to roam freely on the pasture and graze where they like. The problem is that they, no dummies, graze on the tastiest grass and pretty soon it is all gone. After a while, you have just one type of grass, and the rancher needs to feed a lot of fertilizers into the soil to get it to grow. The nutrients of the land are mostly used up, so it stores less carbon and nitrogen. Peter’s thesis is that we can return to more of a natural grazing pattern if we divide the pastureland into paddocks, or small areas where the cattle graze intensively, and then stay off of it for 80 days. This lets the grasses recover, so you have a wide variety of grass in each paddock, much like you did before all the land was fenced in. Peter interviews a number of ranchers, who were losing money, but now they are making it. Using paddocks also allows carbon and nitrogen to build up in the soil, so it could have great environmental benefits. Peter is also a professor at Arizona State University, and he is seeking funding to show how paddock grazing can help the environment.

We had a wide variety of people see the short 12 minute film, and some had parents who were cattle ranchers who were very interested in Peter’s ideas. He is still finishing up the film (although it looked great to me) but it should be out soon. Peter, by the way, earlier made the film Carbon Nation, and he expects to make similar short films on climate related issues. It was really refreshing to hear new ideas that could be win/win for both environmentalists and ranchers alike.