Adam Stein

Adam Stein lives in Chicago.

Journalists get distracted by carbon prices again

Carbon price volatility is a real issue

Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were at it this week, flogging stories about how falling carbon prices are threatening clean technology. I've written before about how easy it is to get distracted by carbon prices, which, under cap-and-trade, are more of a symptom of a broader issue, not a cause. The Journal piece is fairly defensible. The Times piece is fairly hopeless: Another blow to the sector is the tumbling price of permits for emitting carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. In countries where emitters must buy these permits, like those in the European Union, low prices mean emitters have fewer incentives to make their production process more efficient or move to less greenhouse gas intensive fuels.

Oh noes! The Asians haz our lithium ionz!

Battery makers come begging to Congress

American lithium-ion battery makers, including giants like 3M, are banding together to try to extract a few billion dollars from Congress so they can build a shiny battery manufacturing plant that, for whatever reason, they aren't willing to spend their own money on. This latest handout request is a fairly dubious idea that is nevertheless likely to appeal to a lot of people on grounds of both economic nationalism and a vague aura of environmental goodness. Whatever you think of the request, though, let's at least all agree not to put up with this: "We don't want to go from being dependent on Middle East oil to Asian batteries." - Jeff Depew, chief executive of Imara, a start-up that makes lithium-ion batteries Oil is a viscous substance, finite in quantity, concentrated in hard-to-reach pockets in certain corners of the globe. These properties allow a relatively small handful of countries to exert some imperfect control over its supply. Batteries differ from oil in just about every important way.* Depew has an obvious interest in promoting American battery manufacturers. But surely savvy outsiders understand that a competitive, low-cost industry, whether centered in Asia or anywhere else, is good for everyone who needs batteries? Recently, Andrew Grove, former chairman of Intel Corp., began urging the chip maker to explore whether it could play a role in battery manufacturing. Mr. Grove and others say U.S. companies must step up efforts to produce advanced batteries for the country's car industry or America will end up trading its dependence on foreign petroleum for dependence on foreign-made batteries. Oh, well. The industry consortium is organized by Jim Greenberger, a lawyer specializing in clean tech. In case you're not scared enough yet of the Asian battery menace, Greenberger spells it out:

Got resolutions?

Some ideas for green resolutions that are achievable, meaningful, and maybe even novel

New Year's resolutions, as we all know, are almost entirely pointless -- made in one breath, forgotten in the next. So in that spirit of general futility, I offer a few ideas for green resolutions that, either through novelty or just ease of use, may inspire more than a passing commitment. Please leave your own ideas below. Idea #1: help make "livable streets" a reality in your community All politics is local, said Tip O'Neill, but most of us still don't pay much attention to local politics. Issues at a community level are often driven by the triumvirate of homeowners, business owners and car owners -- good people, no doubt, but narrow in their interests. This won't change if you don't help make it change. Happily, a thriving network of community organizers is doing great work to promote a people- and environment-centered development agenda, ranging from this new bus system in Cleveland to this bike-sharing program in Tulsa to this massive street festival in New York. Support their good work! A few ideas for getting involved: Get smarter about development issues by spending some time with the great resources at the Livable Streets Network. Subscribe to their blog, subscribe to an affiliated blog focused on your community, watch their films, or read and contribute to their wiki. Find or start a local group using the Livable Street Network's online tools. Get involved with a local organization like Transportation Alternatives (based in New York). Or support them financially by attending some of their fun events. Idea #2: eat more plants

The wrong question

Where will we find infrastructure funding under cap-and-dividend?

I’m not sure I qualify as a cap-and-dividend advocate — I’m mostly an advocate of not feeling the need to rank every flavor of carbon policy, whose heavily negotiated fate rests in the hands of our brave, capable legislators — but I at least qualify as a fan. If I were king, my carbon edict would either be cap-and-dividend or some similar revenue-neutral carbon tax. So here are some thoughts in response to David’s question. Things that are worth funding are worth funding, regardless of funding source. The question is: should we build a smart grid given a cost of …

Austin gets smart

City announces plan to develop next-generation electricity grid

The city of Austin, Texas recently announced a smart grid project. Smart grids, you may recall, are one of the core elements of the Grand Climate Plan. Although the Austin project isn’t the first such effort in the country, officials hope that the city will be able to move faster than others, because Austin actually owns the local power provider. Right now you may be wondering: What’s a smart grid? Glad you asked. The term refers to a set of complementary technologies that share the aim of moving power from producer to consumer in a more intelligent manner than our …

If Nader is for it, can we officially ignore it now?

More misleading salvos in the great carbon tax debate

Professional lost-cause Ralph Nader has found another arena in which to unhelpfully intrude: carbon policy. On the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, no less, he argues for a carbon tax. I personally have no dog in the carbon tax vs. cap-and-trade fight. It seems pretty clear that either policy can effectively put a price on carbon, and that a lot hinges on the particulars of any proposed system. It also seems clear that cap-and-trade is what we’ll end up with, so the sooner we get started, the better. But I suspect that most readers of the Wall Street Journal op-ed …

Wind turbines get fancy

Electronics, biomimicry, and design advances improve a mature technology

Solar energy sucks up a lot of research attention, partly because solar energy systems still have so much room for improvement. Wind turbines, on the other hand, have been around for over 1,000 years, and although the modern versions are vastly larger and more efficient than their ancient counterparts, the basic concept hasn’t changed much. But the standard blades-on-a-horizontal-axle version of wind energy systems (as opposed to more exotic flavors like kites or blimps) may yet be poised for some big leaps forward, several of which were profiled in a recent Clean Break column. I’ve already covered Catch the Wind’s …

The 'Grand Climate Plan'

Low-carbon roadmap comes into focus — with some notable gaps

In a post-election editorial, Al Gore laid out a policy roadmap for addressing climate change. Gore’s plan looks like a bunch of other plans that have recently landed on the president-elect’s doorstep. I will now do you the favor of summarizing reams of policy expertise in five bullet points, henceforth referred to as the Grand Climate Plan: Carbon pricing Efficiency standards Carbon-free electricity Smart electrical grid Electric cars transportation Some heavy caveats are in order: the Grand Climate Plan isn’t meant to be comprehensive or even sufficient to address climate change. Plenty of important stuff falls outside the scope of …

<em>Wall Street Journal</em> trips over emissions trading

A useful rule of thumb: Lower emissions are better for the environment

In the unlikely circumstance that reporters ever grow weary of chasing twitches in the oil markets or interpreting the wanderings of the Dow, they have a new toy to play with: the price of carbon. Which is fine, so far as it goes, except that they keep getting the story so badly wrong: The global financial crisis and looming recession might actually make it cheaper to comply with Europe’s increasingly stringent caps on greenhouse gas emissions by pushing down the price of carbon-emissions permits (along with everything else traded on a market). The environmental downside? The economic slowdown and cheaper …

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