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David Doniger’s Blog

Mad (and Hot) as Hell

David Doniger

Posted November 7, 2007

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Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is not going to take it any more.  He and Attorney-General Jerry Brown are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today, because the federal government is standing in the way of state efforts – led by California – to curb the global warming pollution from new cars and light trucks. 

Sixteen other states – both blue and red – have adopted or are adopting California’s landmark global warming emission standards:  Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Utah, and Washington.  Together, they make up 45 percent of the nation’s new vehicle sales.  Nearly a dozen of those states are joining in California’s lawsuit. 

Since the 1960s, California has been the nation’s leader in controlling motor vehicle pollution.  The Clean Air Act allows the Golden State to set its own vehicle emission standards, and permits other states to adopt California’s standards.  All California needs is what should be a routine EPA waiver, granted more than 50 times in the past, but this time delayed for 22 months and counting.  Hence the states’ impatience.

Cars, SUVs, minivans, and other light-trucks are the second largest source of global warming pollution (after power plants), responsible for 20% of total U.S. emissions.  Vehicles emit four heat-trapping pollutants – carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide come out the tailpipe, and hydrochlorofluorcarbons (HFCs) leak from the air conditioning system. 

Acting under a landmark law sponsored by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, California set standards in 2005 that will take effect in model year 2009 and ramp up to a 30% reduction in overall global warming emissions by model year 2016.  If, that is, EPA grants California the waiver.

The Bush administration first took the position that CO2 and other heat-trapping gases were not air pollutants at all – that they were outside the reach of the Clean Air Act.  But in April the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case called Massachusetts v. EPA, set the administration on its ear, holding that that CO2 is an air pollutant and can be curbed under the nation’s clean air laws. 


The car makers sued the states to block the California standards, but after three years of litigation, they’ve come up empty.  A federal judge in Vermont rejected their lawsuit on all counts in September after a 16-day battle-of-the-experts trial (click here for more info).  He found that “Plaintiffs have failed to carry their burden to demonstrate that the regulation is not technologically feasible or economically practicable.”  His conclusion:  “History suggests that the ingenuity of the industry, once put in gear, responds admirably to most technological challenges.”


The only remaining obstacle is the EPA waiver.  By historical standards, California has met all the traditional tests for its waiver.  There’s nothing holding that up now but White House politics. 

If the President’s men are thinking of ordering the EPA administrator Stephen Johnson to stiff California, perhaps they should first read what’s in the government’s Fourth Climate Action Report, submitted to other nations with White House clearance in July.  That report sings the praises of the very California standards that the White House is now thinking of burying. 

States, the report says, are taking “a variety of steps that contribute to the [Bush administration’s] overall GHG intensity reduction goal.”  Among the state actions singled out for commendation?   “Vehicle GHG emission standards” adopted (then) by 11 states:  California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington (source: Table IV-1 here).  

Last month, President Bush acknowledged:  “Our understanding of climate change has come a long way. A report issued earlier this year by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded both that global temperatures are rising and that this is caused largely by human activities.” He spoke of “a moment when we turn the tide against greenhouse gas emissions instead of allowing the problem to grow.”  He said:  “The moment is now”   

Getting out of California’s way would be a good way to show it.

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William McClenneyNov 10 2007 08:30 PM

I couldn't agree more! Go get 'em Arnold! Worried about a 40-60cm rise in sea levels are you? No? Then perhaps you are worried about the 20' rise the Goracle is predicting. No? Then do not cogitate the 100 feet we are currently below the Pleistocene average of 400 feet of sea level shift (only 16 times in the last 1.6 million years, the most regular geologic clock in existence, according to Dan Ponti, USGS). That happens to be 300 feet below to 100 feet above present day sea level. Ever heard of the ice ages? Plural. That's right. They are separated by, you guessed it, global warming events. The singular most regular geologic clock we know of. Every 100k years, for the last 1.6 million years, we have had an ice age that lasts, for on average, about 100k years. Before that, we were on teh 41k year ice age schedule. And in between, 10-20k year warm spells. The trigger event that ends global warmings is the melting away of the Arctic ice cap. Latest estimate on that is 2070.

The slide into an ice age is long and slow. Plenty of time for the intellectually challenged to opt out, accounting for the 500cc braincase to 2,500cc braincase in the past 2 million years to occur. In spurts associated with those ice ages.

But you can well imagine that after a 100k year deep freeze, the population would be burgeoning, at its peak, so to speak, emitting, from their untold billions, massive amounts of GHGs, to melt all the glaciers away quicksmart (decades to centuries is all it takes) to shoot sea levels 400 feet higher, warming up the planet, and possibly causing conditions upon which we either multiply like rabbits or die off (you decide which is most likely), again and again and again.

The truth is that global temperatures and trace gases, such as CO2, are tied. The whole truth is that temperatures go up, and 400-3,000 years later CO2 levels go up. If this wasn't the case, we have 16 four hundred foot sea level changes in the last 0.03% of the time the earth has been here to rationally explain. Best of luck!

Here is the stupidest explanation I have ever heard. Positively prehistoric. The earth is, at present 93 million miles from the sun. We have a tilt on our roational axis, now, of 23.5 degrees. This is part of what causes summer and winter. The other part is that we are 8,000 miles in diameter. If you have ever noticed the angle of the sun in summer and winter, it tends to change, everywhere, by twice the 23.5 degree angle, or 47 degrees. For some reason, this also changes two other things; (1) the number of hours we receive solar radiation and (2) since we are 8,000 miles in diameter and a 47 degree tilt wil change our distance from the sun a few thousand miles, at best. So a few thousand miles and our axial tilt make the difference between summer and winter.

Every year. Like clockwork.

So, imagine what a 2% eccentricity in our orbital positioon of the sun would make..... 2% fo 93 million is 1.7 million. If a few thousand miles at the same axial tilt can make the difference between summer and winter, what would an additional 1.7 million miles make?

The difference between an ice age and an interglacial?

And that is why I support AB32. If we can reduce our carbon footprint, all of us, we can take the money and develop the technical means to correct earth's rickety orbit. Thereby preventing those awesome overpopulations that exist at the end of each 100k year deep freeze from emitting vast quantities of GHGs, thereby rocketing us all out of another ice age quicksmart.

The one thing that bothers me is how many times we independently could have discovered beans and onions (and who is to say, salsa?) to cause all of those 400 foot changes in seal levels

William McClenneyNov 10 2007 08:51 PM

I just wanted to apologize. I checked my notes and Dan Ponti did not say he had 16 climate change events in the Pleistocene that averaged 400 feet. He said he had 16 climate change events that averaged 120 meters in the Pleistocene. A tad less than 7 feet difference.

Or 1.6%

Child's play. If the earth is 33 degrees Celsius warmer due to the trace gases in out atmosphere (which are about 1%), and 20 % of GHG potential is due to CO2 at 0.04% of the atmosphere, then we have a gas which is 500 times (20% divided by 0.04% equals 500) better at absorbing IR than it would seem, then, doing the math, if we increase CO2 to 100% concentration instead of 0.04% (an increase of 2,500 times ambient concentration) between two layers of thick good steel we should net a thermal benefit 500 times that of the atmosphere. A good air compressor can achieve an 8:1 compression, which if we do the math with CO2 yields a 20,000 thermal effect to concentration ratio.

It was right about then that I realized just how good a thermal insulator compressed CO2 really is. I will be submitting a patent application for CO2 forthwith.

As the most effective insulator known to Neanderthalensis.

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