P1010521 No, I am not talking about the eccentrics you sometimes meet in the pub and can’t get away from. These nutcases  are much more interesting – evidence that our red squirrel is here and enjoying the hazel nuts that we’ve been putting out.

I saw the empty shells on the steps leading to the belvedere (see photo opposite) a few days ago and hoped that we’d catch sight of him. He’s shy and tends to come early in the morning. Yesterday when I was in the kitchen a movement outside caught my eye. It was 8.30 am.

P1010519 The squirrel was on the feeder box, a bright russet bundle of bounding energy. Over the next 10 minutes he was back five times, always following the same route – up behind the left hand holly trunk, move round to the front, turn to the right, down head first to the feeder, pause on the ledge, inspect to see no danger from the house or path, then head under the flap to find a nut. Then he repeats the same route in reverse and scampers away up the fellside into the forest.

Curiously this time the nuts were all carried off. None were eaten immediately. Our guess is he thinks it’s time to be burying the nuts now for winter – we have seen this happen before. The snag of this? Squirrels often forget where the nuts are buried so we get a lot of small hazels sprouting up in the spring!

The art of the possible?

Nine months after the Copenhagen conference our 3 week visit to the US last month has given us some insights into how the climate change debate has affected thinking in a country, heavily dependent on oil and still with the largest economy in the world.

A New York Times article (18th February 2010) reported on the disappointment of many that progress in the US on green issues was too slow and concessions too numerous. But let’s acknowledge at the outset that some key developments have taken place. The Christian Science Monitor (17th April 2010) points to a number of significant moves taken at a federal level. These include:

P1010279 ● Formal recognition of the dangers to health from greenhouse gases, which has paved the way for regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency.
● Setting of a new clean car standard, which will promote future efficiency and innovation in the industry and bring substantial reductions in emissions
● Commitment of $90 billion Recovery Act monies to accelerate adoption of renewable energy sources – like the 30,000 acre solar energy scheme in San Joaquin Valley, California – and support high speed train developments.

Critically there still remains the task of persuading Congress to agree reduction targets and penalties – as there are in the UK – to ensure compliance. However as with the Health Bill changes, Obama is by no means assured of success and for similar reasons.

There are powerful US interests, willing to fund those opposed to the thrust of Obama’s environmental policies, even though they have been watered down to win wider support. The best current example is the Proposition 23 (P-23) campaign in California. Here Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has steered through the legislature a commitment by 2020 to reduce CO2 emissions to the levels of 1990. This target is part of Assembly Bill 32 (AB32) of the Global Warming Solutions Act, but is opposed by a variety of oil and other interests.

The P-23 campaign seeks to reverse the AB32 reductions commitment until unemployment levels in the State, now above 12%, have dropped below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters, a level only seen three times in the last three decades.

This month two brothers, David and Charles Koch, have come forward with a $1 million contribution to the P-23 campaign. A small step maybe but typical of the way that they and others with oil, energy and refining interests seek to influence public attitudes about climate change. Their Koch Industries conglomerate is the second largest privately owned company in the US with a $98 billion annual turnover; and has provided over $50 million to climate opposition groups.

A report in Grist (17 August 2010), a Seattle based NGO, describes this as a battle between clean new technology and old fossil fuel thinking and points to growing support from green entrepreneurs for California’s landmark global warming initiative.

With recognition from amongst the US military that existing global energy supplies have now reached a peak (Guardian report, 11th April 2010 ), – and will decline – the California AB32 programme could be seen by the P-23 campaigners as an initiative for making up the likely deficit in traditional fuel supplies, but the chances of this in a highly polarized debate are minimal.

In an excellent article in Global Dashboard (18th June 2010) Alex Evans argues that there are costs, inconvenience and limits involved in a transition to something positive on climate and that there will be clear (and noisier) losers. He makes this interesting point. “What will open the political space for comprehensive solutions – alas – will be impacts: impacts that are tough enough to frighten people badly, but not so bad as to overshoot irreversible tipping points.”

If he’s right, let’s hope that we can get there quickly enough.