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Joseph Romm's Posts

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Breaking all the offset rules

[Important update to this post here.] One reason I began posting my Rules of Carbon Offsets is a dubious program by the California utility PG&E called ClimateSmart, which is supposed to allow PG&E customers to become "climate neutral." This program actually manages to violate rules zero, 1, and 2 all at once! It really makes clear why offsets are bastardized emissions reductions -- and why trees are an especially dubious offset. This picture graces the "Our Projects" page of the ClimateSmart website. The caption reads : "Photo of van Eck Forest, courtesy of Pacific Forest Trust." Well, that burns rule …

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Offsets should be the last thing you need to turn to

Before you pay others to reduce their emissions on your behalf, you need to do everything reasonably possible to reduce your own emissions first. As the saying goes, "Physician, heal thyself," before presuming to heal other people. This rule is so obvious I almost forgot it. And yet many people, including Google and PG&E, don't seem to get it. The whole point of offsets is not to make you feel good, and it's not to allow you to continue polluting as much as you want (by, say, supporting new coal plants or other dirty forms of power). Offsets are cheap …

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Global warming cancels 4th of July celebrations

Global warming threatens our White Chistmases with winter heatwaves and our Arbor Days with record wildfires. And now it imperils our Independence Day fireworks with ever worsening droughts. The Drudge Report headline blares "No Fireworks." As USA Today reports: Dozens of communities in drought-stricken areas are scrapping public fireworks displays and cracking down on backyard pyrotechnics to reduce the risk of fires. "From a fire standpoint and a safety standpoint, it was an easy call," Burbank Fire Chief Tracy Pansini says. He recommended calling off fireworks at the Starlight Bowl because they're launched from a mountainside covered with vegetation that's …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Emphasis on the ‘rare’

Trees are terrific in every way but one: they make lousy carbon offsets. That was the point of the "First rule of carbon offsets." But a number of comments and some media queries have led me include two rare exceptions: certified urban trees and certified tropical forest preservation. The word "certified" is key in both cases. For these two rare cases, I would allow trees to comprise no more than 10 percent of an overall offset portfolio (which should be heavily weighted toward efficiency, renewables, fuel switching, and perhaps carbon capture and storage). Also, their offset value should probably be …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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A good reason we shouldn’t love trees, at least not in this case

Everybody loves trees. They are so popular as offsets they even make Wikipedia's definition: When one is unable or unwilling to reduce one's own emissions, Carbon offset is the act of reducing ("offsetting") greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere. A well-known example is the planting of trees to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions from personal air travel. But does planting trees reduce global warming? Not in most places on the earth. The Carnegie Institution's Ken Caldeira summarized the result of a major 2005 study (PDF) this way: "To plant forests to mitigate climate change outside of the tropics is a waste …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Taking ‘em to the mat

The first rule of Carbon Offsets is, you do not talk about Carbon Offsets. Just kidding. This isn't Fight Club, but I do aim to pick a fight with those overhyping offsets. If a smart company like Google can seriously think it can go green by burning coal and then buying offsets and if a smart company like PG&E is bragging about a new program that allows customers to offset their electricity emissions by planting trees (a dopey program I'll blog about later), then something is very wrong about the general understanding of offsets. For those who want a basic …

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Find a new source of power, dudes

Google got a lot of great press for its new plan to "voluntarily cut or offset all its greenhouse emissions by the end of the year." But was it all deserved? The Boston Globe reported the story as "Google aims to go carbon-neutral by end 2007. " The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) reprinted the story, as did Greenwire and others. Buried in the story was this gem: Separately, Google is planning to spend $600 million to build a data center in western Iowa that will receive power from a MidAmerican Energy Co. plant fired by coal, the …

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We can have both

A new study entitled "Sipping Fuel and Saving Lives: Increasing Fuel Economy without Sacrificing Safety" notes: The public, automakers, and policymakers have long worried about trade-offs between increased fuel economy in motor vehicles and reduced safety. The conclusion of a broad group of experts on safety and fuel economy in the auto sector is that no trade-off is required. There are a wide variety of technologies and approaches available to advance vehicle fuel economy that have no effect on vehicle safety [and vice versa]. The study by the International Council on Clean Transportation concludes that "Technologies exist today that can …

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So says a new report

Everything you could possibly want to know about nuclear power -- and its (limited) potential as a potential climate solution -- can be found in the new Keystone Center Report with the less-than-captivating title "Nuclear Power Joint Fact-Finding." Reuters is confused in its article on the report, "Nuclear Power Can't Curb Global Warming -- Report," and actually overstates the case for nuclear: Nuclear power would only curb climate change by expanding worldwide at the rate it grew from 1981 to 1990, its busiest decade, and keep up that rate for half a century, a report said on Thursday. Specifically, that …

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Discount rates: Boring but important

This post will address two questions. What exactly is the discount rate? Did Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist with the World Bank, use the wrong discount rate in his landmark 2006 report, the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change? These may seem like abstruse economic questions, but for analyzing the cost-benefit analysis of climate action -- whether we must act urgently or at leisure -- the discount rate is probably the single most important factor. The discount rate basically represents the so-called time value of money, how much more $100 is worth to us today than …

Read more: Climate & Energy