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Clark Williams-Derry's Posts

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Sugar Crash

Of car crashes and Snickers bars

As my high school physics teacher once explained to me, energy comes in all sorts of different forms:  heat, light, motion, electricity, and even the "potential" energy in chemical bonds and bowling balls perched on top of a downward sloping ramp.  And yet, somehow, all of those different forms of energy were really all the same thing.  Energy is energy, no matter what form it takes. Photo: Eddie~S With me so far?  Good.  So let's do a thought experiment. Picture, for a second, a big ol' SUV -- say, a Lincoln Navigator -- speeding along at over 70 miles per …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Coal the culprit in rising emissions intensity

I wrote last week about a curious fact:  even though total CO2 emissions from the US electric power sector have dropped during the recession, the emissions intensity of the US power supply -- that is, the amount of carbon per megawatt hour produced -- actually inched upwards.  The decline in total emissions is good news in the short term.  Yet the increase in emissions intensity is worrisome: if we're going to keep emissions low once the economy picks up again, emissions intensity has to keep declining -- even if the economy is stumbling. Climate Data Due Diligence, rides to the …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Carbon goes the wrong way

Power plant performance down in 2008

Here's an interesting followup to last week's post about about the uncertain links between recession and long-term climate change: Shakeb Afsah at Climate Data Due Diligence wrote to tell us that even though total carbon emissions from power plants fell in 2008, the carbon intensity of the power sector -- that is, the amount of CO2 released per megawatt-hour of power produced -- increased last year. In the chart to the right, the yellow line at the top shows the tons of CO2 released per megawatt-hour of electricity produced by the nation's power plants. And just as the recession kicked …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Driving downhill

“Peak” gas in 2007?

The Wall Street Journal reports that an increasing number of energy analysts think that U.S. gasoline sales will never surpass their 2007 record: Among those who say U.S. consumption of gasoline has peaked are executives at the world's biggest publicly traded oil company, Exxon Mobil Corp., as well as many private analysts and government energy forecasters... Many industry observers have become convinced the drop in consumption won't reverse even when economic growth resumes. In December, the EIA said gasoline consumption by U.S. drivers had peaked, in part because of growing consumer interest in fuel efficiency. US VMT trends through Jan …

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Cap-and-Cashback: Regional fairness

Climate policy can be fair to families all across the country

As regular readers know, we've done a bit of cheerleading for the "cap and dividend" concept, which is also called "Cap-and-Cashback," since it would hand cash receipts from government-run carbon auctions right back to consumers. Cap-and-Cashback strikes me as a fundamentally fair climate policy, since it protects low- and middle-income families from the effects of rising energy prices. Yet some people criticize cap-and-dividend as being unfair, because they think it could benefit some regions of the country at the expense of others. I've even seen this issue described as a "fatal flaw" in Cap-and-Cashback. Strong words, indeed. The critics don't …

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Miles and miles

Despite lower gas prices, driving is still down — but perhaps not for long

I keep looking for signs that the collapse in gas prices has started to have an impact on how much people drive. In a normal economy, you'd expect that as gas got cheaper, people would drive a bit more -- the reverse of the trend we saw last summer, when gas prices were reaching record highs and people were cutting way back on car travel. But this simply isn't a "normal" economy. Just as gas prices fell, family incomes started taking a beating too. So, sure, it costs a lot less to fill a tank now than it did last …

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Cap and trade works!

European climate program reduces emissions

A few years back, Europe's cap-and-trade system, called the ETS, was taking a beating in the press. Some of the criticism was legit: the program really did make some silly missteps in the early years. The biggest bungles were tied up with how the ETS handed out emissions permits. First, they decided to give them out for free -- which, as Sightline has discussed ad nauseum, was a recipe for windfall profits for the firms that got free permits. And second, for lack of reliable emissions data, the ETS handed out more permits than firms actually needed. Ultimately, the glut …

Read more: Politics

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Going postal

Mail delivery cutbacks could trim vehicle emissions

Apparently, the U.S. Postal Service is considering cutting back on one day of mail delivery per week. Personally, I suppose I'm fine with this, since I get very little time-sensitive mail. But I imagine that there are some folks who'd see this as a real hardship -- yet another little blow, at a time when there are plenty of big ones to absorb. Regardless, someone just emailed me to ask how the service cutbacks might affect global warming. Sadly, I've got no time for a real answer. But Google gives me just enough information for a ballpark answer: as an …

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Fighting congestion, RAND-style

Study finds that tolls and parking charges are key to ease traffic

Earlier this year, the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit think tank, put out a report on how to get traffic moving faster. They considered lots of the standard solutions -- improving signal timing, clearing accidents quickly, encouraging telecommuting, and so forth -- and found that many of them could, in fact, provide some temporary congestion relief. But here's the rub: RAND found that over the long haul, these kinds of solutions simply don't have much effect on congestion. They can briefly get traffic moving faster, but just about every improvement in travel time results in ... more people taking to the …

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Congestion pricing: Can tolling be fair?

Tolls reduce congestion, but they price people off the roadway

Brilliant. That's the word that kept crossing my mind as I read this clearly written report [PDF] about the Puget Sound Regional Council's study on using road tolls to fight congestion. The study found that a well-designed, comprehensive system of congestion-busting tolls could make a major dent in traffic backups in the Puget Sound. It would also speed up transit, shorten commute times, and reduce gasoline consumption. But much to its credit, the report also identifies one critical question that may dominate any public debate over congestion pricing: Can tolling be fair? To collect the data for the study, the …

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