Business & Technology

Umbra on gift cards

Dear Umbra, I received a gift card this holiday season from a friend to a company which I generally avoid due to its subpar eco-practices. Since my friend has already given the money to this company, do I forgo my moral objections and use the card, or is there another way I can make the most of this generosity without sacrificing my beliefs? B.S. San Diego, Calif. Dearest B.S., Alea jacta est. Your gift card is akin to scrip. If it is not redeemed, the store will be the one receiving a money-for-nothing gift. Which is probably worse than a …

Illinois embarrasses itself again

Legislature approves 'Clean Coal Portfolio Standards,' green-lights new coal plant

OK, we've got Obama in the plus column for the state of Illinois. But in addition to the gubernatorial craziness going on in my home state, we've now got this: Tenaska, an independent power company, has been seeking to build a coal plant in Illinois. The problem being of course, that new, coal-fired power plants are really, really, really, really lousy investments. Tenaska tried to change government rules to ensure they made money. That in and of itself isn't inherently bad. Every company has a vested interest in tweaking laws to benefit their shareholders. But to ask is nobler than to receive. I wouldn't be a bad person if I asked the state to give me $1 million a year to support my crack habit, but if the state gave me that money and I accepted, we would both be complicit. So how did the Illinois legislature respond? "Clean Coal Portfolio Standards." Seriously.

Links to enviro news and more

USCAP in context

How the cap-and-trade blueprint fits into domestic and international climate action

There's been a lot of buzz lately about the U.S. Climate Action Partnership and its new blueprint for a cap on global warming pollution. Last week, the diverse group of environmental nonprofits and leading companies from every sector of the U.S. economy unveiled a detailed plan for legislation -- the consensus product of two years of intense analysis and debate. As a consensus document, it won't satisfy everyone's design for the perfect climate bill. Instead, it bridges the gap on the most important issues in the legislative debate, giving members of Congress clear guidelines for legislation that are environmentally effective, economically smart, and politically achievable. It's an attempt to find the "sweet spot" that can move the U.S. forward on climate change, in real, practical terms, toward a strong domestic emissions cap that reduces pollution at home and enables the U.S. to lead an effective global emissions reduction effort. Any U.S. climate proposal needs to be examined in that context. After all, even the strongest U.S. legislation alone won't secure enough global emissions reductions to solve climate change. What we need right now is strong domestic action that drives international action and contributes effectively to a global emissions reduction path that can avert the worst impacts of climate change. The two-degree threshold Scientific experts say that our emissions path must keep global warming within 2° of pre-industrial levels. Beyond that, the chances of catastrophic climate impacts increase dramatically. Would the USCAP blueprint as a whole contribute effectively to the global emissions reductions we need? The chart below shows that it would.

Green Light: Electric shock

Automakers parade EVs in Detroit, Ontario Betters itself, and more green auto news

• Detroit: It's still around, and as long as the feds continue to give transit short-shrift, we'll be driving and bailing for years to come. But in honor of our societal shift toward fuel efficiency, the automakers have some brand new electric vehicles and hybrids they have been showing off this week at the North American International Auto Show, Jan. 11-25. From the third-generation Prius to the Dodge Circuit to the Mini E, talk of fuel efficiency and battery-life replaced praise for horsepower and chrome. Thank goodness for the 505-horsepower Revenge GTM-R or we might confuse ourselves and our cars with those subdued European models. While electric vehicles stole the auto show, Toyota's executive vice president, Masatami Takimoto, said in an interview with the New York Times that Toyota would produce a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle by 2015. GM's lead engineer on the Volt also thinks Hydrogen is the fuel of the future -- I guess he hasn't read Joseph Romm's opinions on the matter. GM's Larry Burns, vice president of research and development and strategic planning, thinks Toyota has a lock on hybrids and that the Americans need to "change the game," but he didn't specify if that meant a focus on hydrogen. From Jan. 17-25, NAIAS will be open to the public. If you live in Detroit, don't miss these 10 vehicles of interest, as advised by Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press, and when else will you take an i-Miev for an EcoExperience 10-mph test-drive a la Michigan Economic Development Corporation? (Side note: Jalopnik nearly ran into the Sen. Bob "I'm against the bailout plan" Corker (R-Tenn.) in their little electric mobile command center. You can -- hee hee -- watch the video here.) In other news ... • Like Israel, Denmark, Australia, California, and Hawaii before it, the city of Ontario, Canada, will now be a Better Place. • Ferrari is now offering research grants for automotive technology that reduces vehicle weight and CO2 emissions.

Who's killing the plug-in hybrid?

This East Bay Express story is a must-read article. The same folks who decided the hydrogen highway was the road to the future now very well might kill the plug-in hybrid conversion industry. I'd say we should send them a copy of Who Killed the Electric Car?, but chances are they only have Betamax.

Choice nuggets

Interesting food articles from around the web

My browser's blowing up again with interesting tidbits from around the web. Time to serve up another platter of choice nuggets. • I've been obsessing over a New York Times blog post on "The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating," which originally ran way back in June but was recently revived because of its popularity. The choices have been declared by nutritionist Jonny Bowden as packed with nutrients. They're also all extremely flavorful, and (with one exception) economical. Most of them carry a kind of unearned stigma. Beets, for example, are one of our most glorious vegetables, but their reputation has been ruined by deplorable canned versions that prevailed in the '70s. Why don't Americans revere cabbage? I can't imagine a better way to consume something fresh and crunchy in the winter than a red-cabbage salad, dressed simply with lemon juice and olive oil. Canned sardines? People tend to recoil from this nutrient-dense, abundant, and, yes, delicious fish. I used to despise them, too; now I can't remember why. (Check out this recipe I conjured up for pasta with sardines a few years back.) And prunes (delicately called in the article "dried plums")? Fantastic -- and unjustly scorned. In an ideal world, this sort of list would be getting hung up in school-cafeteria kitchens across the land, where skilled cooks would debate about how best to teach children to love them. In our own fallen world, school-cafeteria kitchens barely exist (they been replaced by reheating centers for churning out Tyson chicken nuggets), and skilled cooks have long since been sent packing.

CAP-and-degrade

NRDC and EDF endorse the weak, coal-friendly, rip-offset-heavy USCAP climate plan

The U.S. Climate Action Partnership -- a coalition of businesses and enviros once thought to be important -- have released their wimpy Blueprint for Legislative Action. I can sort of understand why, say, Duke Energy, signed on to this, but NRDC, EDF, and WRI have a lot of explaining to do. As we will see, this proposal would be wholly inadequate as a final piece of legislation. As a starting point it is unilateral disarmament to the conservative politicians and big fossil fuel companies who will be working hard to gut any bill. Kudos to the National Wildlife Federation for withdrawing from USCAP rather than signing on. I think it is absurd for any serious environmental group to support permitting new coal plants that don't capture and store the vast majority of their emissions. Yet as the WashPost reports: The plan would also require any coal plant permitted after Jan. 1, 2015, to emit no more than half the carbon dioxide emissions now considered normal and require any newly permitted plant today to have the ability to be retrofitted to meet that standard. These are bogus provisions. Nobody really knows what a capture-ready plant design is -- this is the climate equivalent of "the check is in the mail." Any significant number of such new coal plants will simply make it much harder to meet the 2020 target, at a time when we have more than enough low carbon technologies today to meet any such target affordably. But it is the 2020 target and the issue of rip-offsets that make this proposal truly untenable. The Blueprint calls for requiring that U.S. greenhouse gases (GHGs) return to "80%‐86% of 2005 levels by 2020." That is essentially returning to 1990 levels, which the science clearly says is inadequate to stabilizing at 450 ppm, let alone the 350 ppm target that environmental groups should be seriously considering. Worse, the science makes clear that you need a target below 1990 levels without allowing fossil fuel companies to offset their emissions -- i.e. continue releasing CO2 into the atmosphere where it will linger with a mean atmospheric lifetime of 30,000 years. But the already-lame USCAP proposal shoots itself in the (other) foot with its embrace of a staggering amount of rip-offsets.

Notable quotable

Killing people to save a little money: Not reasonable conduct

"TVA's failure to speedily install readily available pollution control technology is not, and has not been, reasonable conduct under the circumstances." -- U.S. District Judge Lacy Thornburg, in a ruling instructing TVA to clean up air pollution from four coal plants close to North Carolina

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