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Clark Williams-Derry's Posts

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A timeline of changes in automotive fuel economy

This should be perfectly obvious, but automotive technologies have changed an awful lot over the last few decades. From about 1975 through 1987, federal standards prompted massive and surprisingly rapid improvements in fuel economy. Cars designers focused on nimbleness and efficiency over raw power, and the fuel savings were enormous. But since the late 1980s, most engineering advances have focused on making cars more muscular, and fuel efficiency has taken a back seat. For graphic proof, take a look after the jump at a nifty chart ... The yellow arrow represents the passage of time, the horizontal axis represents fuel …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Organic food reduces organophosphate exposure in children

By now, I think most people understand that organic food is supposed to be healthier for you. But I think there are still some people who feel that the health benefits are a just a bunch of marketing hype. Well, this new study suggests that it ain't just hype -- organic produce really does reduce kids' exposure to some potentially risky pesticides. From the Seattle P-I: The peer-reviewed study found that the urine and saliva of children eating a variety of conventional foods from area groceries contained biological markers of organophosphates, the family of pesticides spawned by the creation of …

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More on cap-and-trade systems

Here's a clear demonstration of why, in a cap-and-trade system, grandfathering emissions rights to historic polluters is a terrible idea: The UK's biggest polluters will reap a windfall of at least £6bn from rising power prices and the soaring value of carbon under the new European carbon trading scheme ... Critics argue ... that the scheme, under which nearly all allowances are granted free of charge rather than having to be bought by big polluters, has created a distorted market in which the worst offenders will enjoy bumper profits while incurring no extra underlying cost for producing greenhouse gases. That's …

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How much global warming results from air travel?

Over the past few days, I've been trying to pull together some data on how airplane travel affects global warming, as part of a broader project on transportation and climate change. My stunningly obvious conclusion: it's complicated. Worse, different calculation methods yield wildly different results. Take, for instance, this brilliant chart (below) from the Stockholm Environment Institute, comparing many of the major online emissions calculators. Emissions are represented by the light blue lines. As you can see, the online calculators find that a Boston-D.C. round trip has the impact of somewhere between 0.19 tons and 0.48 tons of CO2 emissions, …

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Pollution’s effects linger, long after compounds are banned

A new study by researchers at a British Columbia cancer agency stands as a stark reminder that, when it comes to pollution, an ounce of pollution prevention is worth a pound of cure: Researchers found people with the highest levels of a certain type of insecticide in their blood had 2.7 times the risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma as those with the lowest amounts ... People with PCBs in their blood, meanwhile, had twice the risk of developing the disease as those with the lowest exposures. That's about the same level of increased risk as having a family history of …

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French government charges fees to new owners of gas-guzzling vehicles

France is supercharging vehicle efficiency -- not by doling out big R&D subsidies for cars that never make it to market, but by instituting a system of efficiency feebates. In a nutshell: the French ministry of ecology has announced a program that would require purchasers of new gas guzzlers (luxury Mercedes, for example) to pay an extra fee for the privilege. That money is rebated to people who buy super-efficient cars. If it's done right, the system doesn't really involve taxpayers, since the rebates balance out the fees. And it gives huge incentives for sales of the most gas-miserly vehicles. …

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How much power do Americans guzzle for lighting?

Can anyone out there help me out? Doing some fact-checking for a book, I ran across a question I didn't know the answer to: How much power is consumed by lighting in the U.S.? I spent a bit of time Googling for an answer, but at risk of looking like a dim bulb, I have to confess -- I just couldn't figure it out! The Green Home Guide says that lighting uses 5 to 10 percent of household electricity. That lines up pretty closely with figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Energy), which …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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More backlash against new coal power plants

The headline says it all: "PacifiCorp labels coal a no-go for new plants." PacifiCorp has backed away from plans to build any new coal plants within the next 10 years, conceding that coal no longer can overcome tightening regulations and environmental opposition. This seems like a big deal, since -- in my opinion at least -- the gravest long-term climate threat from our part of the world is coal-fired power. Nationwide, coal power plants represent America's largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions; and there's still an awful lot of coal in the ground in the American West. Until recently, coal's abundance, …

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A carbon tax isn’t the only solution

At least someone gets it: All three of the leading Democratic candidates have proposed cap-and-trade plans that auction 100% of their CO2 permits. This is, economically speaking, the same thing as a carbon tax. The context: New York Times columnist Tom Friedman is complaining that no major presidential candidate has proposed a carbon tax -- which he takes as evidence that nobody has had the guts to take a stand in favor of policies that would "trigger a truly transformational shift in America away from fossil fuels." But as uber-blogger Kevin Drum points out, this is simply rubbish. There are …

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High gas prices make hybrids look even better

A couple of years ago, I ran some numbers trying to figure out which was the better buy for the planet -- a biodiesel Jetta or a hybrid Prius. And I came to the tentative, but perhaps counterintuitive, conclusion that the best buy was ... wait for it ... a Toyota Corolla. The Corolla, you see, was thousands of dollars cheaper than the Prius (the runner-up), even after I accounted for all the savings on gas from driving a fuel-miser. And if you were a green-minded consumer -- someone whose top priority was reducing climate-warming emissions, say -- you could …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living