Skip to content Skip to site navigation

Philip Bump's Posts


These charts of record temperatures in New York are trying to tell you something

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, an abbreviation I wish everyone knew so that I didn't constantly have to type "National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration") put together two charts illustrating new high and low daily temperature records in New York City since 1869.

Here's the low temperature records chart:

Click to embiggen.

And the high:

Click to embiggen.
Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Governor Romney’s 2004 climate plan: Solyndra-style investment in renewables

For your weekend reading: Mitt Romney's 2004 "Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan."

Mitt Romney's 2004 Massachusetts Climate Plan


Lawmaker: We’ll keep the wind tax credit if you give us Keystone

Keystone XL protests in Nebraska. (Photo by Mitch Paine.)

At the end of this year, the production tax credit (PTC) for the wind industry will expire. The credit, which we've covered before, provides an incentive for the production of renewable power. The fossil-fuel industry hates it, because it's convinced that only it should be bolstered by the government.

Mitt Romney hates it too, or says he does, thrusting the PTC into the middle of the presidential campaign. By some estimates, the expiration of the wind credit would cost 37,000 jobs in the industry -- many in swing states like Colorado, where uncertainty over the credit's future is already prompting Vestas Wind Systems to lay off workers.

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who represents laid-off Vestas workers, has an idea for a compromise: a bill that would preserve the PTC -- and finalize construction of Keystone XL. According to Politico, Gardner believes the idea has traction in the House.

This is a terrible idea -- but one that fits squarely into the "all of the above" rhetoric promoted by both political parties.


Chicago’s notorious Fisk and Crawford coal plants go offline

Sunset at the Fisk coal plant in Chicago. (Photo by vxla.)

Two major coal plants in Chicago ceased operation this week.

From the Chicago Tribune:

The Fisk power plant, in service since 1903, burned its final batch of coal Thursday while its sister plant Crawford shut down by Wednesday, ending Chicago's run as the only major U.S. city with two coal plants operating in its borders.

Their closings, confirmed by owner Midwest Generation, eliminate Chicago's two biggest industrial sources of carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming. At their peak the plants supplied power to roughly 1 million homes.

Both plants went into operation before the Clean Air Act (Fisk in 1968), allowing them to take advantage of a clause that grandfathered in existing plants and postponed pollution upgrades for decades. Here's Businessweek from last year:

Lawmakers gave Fisk, Crawford, and their ilk a Clean Air Act pass based on the expectation that the old plants would soon close anyway because of decrepitude and inefficiency. The act requires that if such plants are modernized, their owners have to bring them up to code. Congress didn't anticipate that some power companies would forgo modernization. "A lot of utilities have used chewing gum, duct tape, and rubber bands to keep the old plants running, while arguing in court that the changes are merely 'routine maintenance,'" says Henry Henderson, Midwest program director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.


Hapless Shell inches forward with drilling in the Arctic

A photo of something that happened that might be worth remembering as you read this.

At long last, Shell is ready to drill in the Arctic. Having piloted its vessels into position (which, for some reason, are adorned like this), the company asked the Department of the Interior for final clearance to proceed. And Interior acquiesced, in part, allowing them to drill introductory holes. From the Financial Times:

Ken Salazar, the US interior secretary, said Shell would be allowed to begin work on a well in the Chukchi Sea off the north-west coast of Alaska, as long as it did not drill into any oil-bearing rocks. …

The preliminary permit allows Shell to drill down to about 1,400 feet, or about a quarter of the way towards the potential reservoir it is targeting.

After getting the OK, Shell promptly drilled a hole in the bottom of a boat, the crew running around in circles flailing their arms as "Yakety Sax" blared from loudspeakers.


Romney treats climate as a punchline

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. MY promise ... is to help you and your family.

This was one of the key points Mitt Romney made in the speech he gave Thursday night to officially accept the presidential nomination of the Republican Party. This was the speech immediately before the balloon drop, his primary sales pitch to undecided voters who hadn't yet made up their minds. The quote was one of a few key passages Romney released to the press beforehand -- one of the points the campaign thought were most important to get into newspaper articles before papers went to print.

The quote Romney references here is from a speech Obama gave on June 3, 2008, the night he wrapped up the nomination for the Democratic Party. In context, it reads like this.

The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment -- this was the time -- when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals.

Obama's point, of course, was that he'd been endorsed to fight for what the Democratic Party believes in: a strong safety net, employment, addressing climate change, ending the war in Iraq, burnishing an image of the United States that had been gutted by the man then holding the office. In the past four years, he clearly hasn't accomplished all of that; on many points, he's fallen much shorter than Democrats had hoped. But this was a statement of intent, an exhortation to ideals.


These are basically treasure maps for renewable energy

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory sounds like one of those things that could go either way. Maybe it's cool: "energy laboratory" sounds neat. Maybe it's boring: "national" anything tends to be a snooze. (For example.) Funded by the Department of Energy (boring), NREL explores how the country can better use renewable power (also kind of boring). (You know, in the objective sense. Kids find it boring, for example. Like, little kids. Toddlers. I assume.)

NREL also provides detailed maps of where in the United States a developer can reap the most benefit from various types of renewable energy. That is cool.

Here is the map of the best places for photovoltaic solar.

Click to embiggen.


Obama calls for massive push on industrial efficiency

People are wasteful. It's why we need a mantra like "reduce, reuse, recycle," after a century or two of "consume, throw out, set on fire."

We're also generally content to keep doing things the way we've always done them, even when that way is dumb. So over time, we made a system that can provide us with heat, and we made another system that can provide us with electricity, and we just plodded along, running these two separate systems, living our dumb human lives.

And then a few people wised up, recognizing that we could combine these two systems into one: cogeneration, or combined heat and power (CHP). Make gas hot, spin a turbine for power, use the hot gas to heat up (or cool off) a building. Maximize the efficiency of a fuel source. Less waste, less being dumb.

Here's how such a system works. (Apologies in advance; this was literally the most interesting video I could find.)

Such a system would be cool to have in our houses, saving energy costs. But in massive industrial facilities, huge rooms that use a ton of power, the efficiency increase could be enormous.

Which is why President Obama today signed an executive order that aims to vastly increase the use of CHP systems in industrial facilities.


Mr. Rand Paul wants you to be nice to Mr. Exxon Mobil

During day two (or three, or something) of the Republican convention, enthusiastic delegates and less enthusiastic at-home viewers got to hear from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul but unrelated to either Ayn Rand or Paul Ryan except in philosophy. Here's his speech, which is better if you mute it.

This is the part that you'll enjoy.

Mr. President, you say the rich must pay their fair share. When you seek to punish the rich, the jobs that are lost are those of the poor and middle class.

When you seek to punish Mr. Exxon Mobil, you punish the secretary who owns Exxon Mobil stock. When you block the Keystone Pipeline, you punish the welder who works on the pipeline.

This is his version of "Corporations are people," Mitt Romney's hyper-successful attempt to make people feel empathetic for massive enterprises. Paul goes a step further, anthropomorphizing Exxon (as a man, of course). This a company that made $41.1 billion in profits last year, just a regular Joe. And where do those profits go? People! Well, not jobs, mind you. But some people, somewhere. Executives, mostly.

Rand Paul, noted libertarian, wants to help Mr. Exxon Mobil so much that he also thinks the good gentleman should keep getting tax subsidies, lest its annual profits dip below $40 billion.


The hurricane (Isaac) is dead. Long live the hurricane (Kirk).

Isaac, downgraded to a tropical storm yesterday, is still winding his way slowly up the Mississippi River valley. As the storm meanders north and then east, it will bring much-needed rain to one of the areas hardest-hit by the drought. But following two days of heavy rain, the Gulf Coast isn't yet entirely out of danger. Some 770,000 people are still without power in Louisiana as destruction trails as the storm's shadow.

This is what the rainfall looked like in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, over the past week. See if you can figure out when Isaac hit.

Data from the USGS. Click to embiggen.

Just across the Mississippi border from Tangipahoa sits a small lake. This morning, gorged with rain, it began to overtop its dam. With 90 minutes notice, 50,000 people were ordered to evacuate their homes. From NBC News:

Up to 50,000 people in Louisiana's Tangipahoa Parish were ordered to evacuate Thursday morning when water from Tropical Storm Isaac threatened to overwhelm a dam across the state line in Mississippi. …

Located about 100 miles north of New Orleans, the parish initially said "imminent failure" of the dam was expected but later emphasized that the dam was "damaged but has not failed" and that the evacuations were "out of caution."

Read more: Climate & Energy