Climate & Energy

Small changes at EPA could have big environmental impacts

While climate change legislation works its way toward 60 votes in the Senate, President Obama’s EPA has been quietly working on some serious revisions to the guidelines it uses to conduct cost-benefit analysis.  Tweaks they might make to the powerful but low-profile Guidelines for Preparing Economic Analyses could have major impacts on the environment and could spur greenhouse gas reductions if the Senate fails to take action.  The Guidelines is little known outside of EPA, but used regularly by the agency to design every major environmental regulation.  Before any rule is adopted, it must go through an economic analysis according …

Tilting at windmills

When life makes you lemonade, Kate Galbraith and the NY Times give you lemons

  “Convoys of turbine parts for windmills slow traffic and attract attention in coastal towns like Searsport, Me., on their way to western Maine” – the caption from the absurd NYT piece, “Slow, Costly and Often Dangerous Road to Wind Power.” So here’s the news. We’re now the #1 producer of wind power in the world. Wind power is one of the few sectors of the economy still generating new construction and new jobs in this deep recession. Even better, a growing fraction of wind manufacturing is taking place in this country. The NYT, however, manages to find nothing but …

Homo "sapiens"

Turns out humans are not like slowly boiling frogs — we are like slowly boiling brainless frogs

I learned something new or, rather, old from reading Fallows’ blog. The famous metaphor* — “the fatally slow human response to climate change makes us like a slowly boiling frog” — is not quite right. As Wikipedia puts it, German physiologist Friedrich Goltz “demonstrated that frogs will indeed remain in slowly heated water, but only if their brain is removed.” James Fallows, who may hold the world record for boiling frog posts, has one from Michael Jones who cites “Sensation in the Spinal Cord” from Nature, Dec. 4, 1873: “Goltz observed that a frog, when placed in water the temperature …

not another "what's next for Palin" article

The future of hockey sticks on an ice-free planet

A number of people asked me to reply to a blog post by Atlantic monthly columnist James Fallows in which he opines on a variety of climate-related subjects from Al Gore to the “Hockey Stick” graph. Since I have known Fallows for a long time – we share mutual interests in rhetoric and the late Colonel John Boyd – I decided to zip him an e-mail, which he promptly turned into his first (of several) self-debunkings, “Climate pushback #1.”  Let me expand on a few of those dashed off points: 1)  Physics for Future Presidents. Fallows endorsed Richard Muller’s book.  …

Sarah “Four Pinocchios” Palin - a conservative leader on energy issues?

Palin on Energy: The Bad, the Ugly, and the Response

Barbara Boxer, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and John Kerry, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, write in “What Palin Got Wrong About Energy“: Whether it was the debate over the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Superfund law or any other landmark environmental law, one pattern has always been clear: Time and again, pessimists — often affiliated with polluting industries — predicted job losses and great costs to taxpayers. Each time, our environmental laws have cleaned the water we drink, the air we breathe and the communities we live in at far lower cost …

Science stunner

“Clouds Appear to Be Big, Bad Player in Global Warming” — an amplifying feedback

The best evidence is that the climate is now being driven by amplifying feedbacks (see Study: Water-vapor feedback is “strong and positive,” so we face “warming of several degrees Celsius”), most notably: The defrosting of the permafrost The drying of the Northern peatlands (bogs, moors, and mires). The destruction of the tropical wetlands Decelerating growth in tropical forest trees – thanks to accelerating carbon dioxide Wildfires and Climate-Driven forest destruction by pests The desertification-global warming feedback The saturation of the ocean carbon sink In spite of all evidence to the contrary, the deniers/delayers/inactivists, led by MIT’s Richard Lindzen, have argued …

the ice we skate is gettin' pretty thin

Will we see record low Arctic ice volume this year?

“Daily sea ice extent as of July 21. The solid blue line indicates 2009 … the purple line shows 2008; and the solid gray line indicates average extent from 1979 to 2000.” The blogosphere and scientific community are all abuzz as to whether 2009 will beat 2007 in minimum Arctic sea ice area. See, for instance, RealClimate’s “Sea ice minimum forecasts.”  But while the Arctic ice’s two-dimensional measurements are easier to make, the more important record is the three-dimensional one, which looks to have been set in 2008 (see NSIDC stunner: Arctic ice at “Likely Record-Low Volume” and below). Now …

nuclear in the clear

Is the proposed clean energy agency a dirty deal for taxpayers and the environment?

Will the proposed clean energy agency become a slush fund for nuclear power?U.S. lawmakers are considering legislation that would create a new independent federal agency to promote government investment in clean energy. But watchdogs are raising questions about whether the way the proposed agency is structured is unfair to taxpayers and bad for the environment. Among their concerns are its bias toward nuclear power — a critical issue given the industry’s planned revival. “We support the financing of clean energy technologies to promote the domestic development and deployment of technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the most efficient, …

Star power

Mass. startup uses biotech smarts to take the corn out of ethanol

On Monday, the latest entrant in the biofuels sweepstakes takes the wraps off a solar-powered technology designed to transform C02 and sunlight into ethanol. “We capture the energy of the sun into a solar converter,” says Bill Sims, CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Joule Biotechnologies. “Inside exists a solution of brackish or gray water, nutrients and highly engineered photosynthetic organisms that directly secrete biofuels. There’s no intermediary that has to be introduced or processed.” So far, Joule’s “helioculture” technology has only produced ethanol in the lab. But, says Sims, “We’re moving the lab outside as we speak. We aren’t expecting any …

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