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Gar Lipow's Posts

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CDM still a miserable failure

Since there seems to be resurgence of attempts to defend the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) offset system, it seems time for a reminder of how badly the idea has failed. The fundamental idea behind CDM is that greenhouse gas polluters in rich nations could continue to release greenhouse gases, but pay polluters in poor nations to reduce emissions. The results, it was claimed, would be the same greenhouse gas reduction as the rich polluters could have achieved, but at a lower cost.  CDM works by having a polluter in a poor nation accept CDM money, then compares their actual situation …

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California study is NOT about technological limits. Why glass is 100% full

A recent state sponsored study shows that California could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 60% compared to 1990 by 2050 with today's technology(pdf).  That has sparked a debate.  The glass-half-full crowd, among whom I usually count myself would argue that if we have the technology today to achieve a 60% reduction, if we start implementing now, normal technological progress will take care of the rest. The glass half-empty crowd say that 60% means it is hopeless to do anything now, that we should wait for breakthroughs before doing anything. I find myself in the glass is 100% full crowd. Well, …

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Energy from U.S. forests: mostly unsustainable according to peer reviewed study in Nature

A  peer reviewed paper in the November 2011 issue of Nature/Climate, shows that, at least in the U.S., biofuel production from forestry results in higher carbon emissions than not producing biofuel in most cases. Even just increasing fire management, removing biomass that acts as tinder, will result in a net reduction in forest sequestration in most cases(behind paywall). According to the study Regional carbon dioxide implications of forest bioenergy production, in most cases the decreased fire rate does not make up for biomass removal. There are exceptions, forests that produce exceptionally high emissions when subject to fire, but these results …

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Green lifestyle choices won’t solve the climate problem

Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan, aka the Greenie Pig, is feeling guilty about her plane trip to a friend's wedding and decided to try to make up for it by rolling her own carbon offsets -- that is, skimping on car travel and other energy use to make up for all that jet fuel she helped burn. While I appreciate her avoiding offset schemes, I think rolling her own misses the point, and it makes her life harder than it needs to be. Elisabeth doesn't have much to feel guilty about, really. I guess instead of taking a plane, she should have taken …

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Biomass an important contribution, but not a magic bullet

There is a growing enthusiasm for biomass, as pundits like Arne Jungjohann look at small towns in Europe that are able to get 100% of their energy by burning wood and other biomass. But when these cases are presented out of context, I'm afraid some may draw unwarrantedly optimistic conclusions. Biomass power is not, in itself, a bad idea. It was a long time between the invention of fire and the use of anything but biomass to supplement muscle power for humans. Biomass has been part of the power mix for humans since well before our particular human species came into …

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One small step to help keep Solyndra from becoming the next Climategate

David Roberts is right that the anti-renewable right is likely to turn Solyndra into the next "Climategate", an exaggeration of a minor or non-existent scandal into a major attack. One contribution to blunting this would be if "Climate Hawks" would agree on a single talking out of the many true things that could be said. My choice: "If no DOE innovation fails, DOE is being too cautious." My reason for that choice: 1) It is short enough for twitter, with characters left over. 2) Unlike comparisons to military or oil scandals, we are not reinforcing the scandal meme by comparing …

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Carbon taxes that don't work are a bad idea

There's a perspective that seems to be gaining ground in the energy policy debate: emissions taxes may not be very effective in fighting global warming, but we should support them anyway. Centrist liberal Kevin Drum's lays it out: My own take is that even if a carbon tax accomplishes only a third of what its supporters hope for, that still makes it a better way of raising revenue than an income tax, a payroll tax, an excise tax, a capital gains tax, a sales tax, or a dividends tax. If I'm going to discourage an activity, even just a little …

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CAFE still saves money

Sam Smith at the Progressive Review was taken by a press release that shouted "New gas MPG rules will cost over $6000 per car." Mostly Sam knows that a basic rule of good journalism (as opposed to what the corporate media does) is think a bit about such press releases and looks for the flaws. But this one slipped by him. Let's do the arithmetic. Measure of gas mileage for CAFE purposes over states efficiency slightly, so it would be reasonable to assume that these rules will double mileage to 50 mpg. Right now gas is around $3.50 a gallon. …

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I have cancer — a personal meditation on technology, sustainabity, and social context

I have cancer, but thanks to modern medicine, in terms of health it may be no big deal. The surgeon will use a scalpel to remove a thin layer of tissue from the floor of the mouth along with a tiny bit of the connection to the tongue. Then a laser will cauterize it, minimizing bleeding, killing microorganisms that stray from my mouth into the wound, and sealing off nerve endings, reducing soreness. The  surgeon has  asked me several times not refer to this as a "slice & sear". Since the odds are the cancer is encapsulated, they will send …

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The real cost of coal: even higher than we think

Every now and then I see studies that try to estimate the real cost of fossil fuels, what we don't pay up front. Normally they contain numbers that seem unbelievably low to me, like this one from the National Academy of Sciences that was reported on Grist. We blow the tops off mountains, kill miners quickly in accidents and slowly through black lung, pollute massive amounts of water, pollute the air, put mercury into the ecosystem, and on and on. All that only costs $62 billion a year? That's a lot of money, but for the damage we're seeing, it still seems …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Coal