Climate & Energy

Electric shock

Big increases coming in electric costs

From the "Things Grist readers already knew" file comes this report from ClimateWire ($ub. req'd) that price shocks are looming for power plant operators, even before the costs of carbon are factored in. A few excerpts below the fold:

Loaded for bear?

Polar bear decision expected today from Bush administration

This just in from Associated Press: The Interior Department has scheduled a news conference for Wednesday to announce a decision on whether to list the polar bear as threatened and in need of protection under the Endangered Species Act.Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne proposed such protection 15 months ago because of the disappearance of Arctic sea ice, which is a primary habitat for the bear. Last September, scientists said up to two-thirds of the polar bears could disappear by mid-century because of sea ice loss due to global warming.However, it's not certain the bear will be listed as threatened. Recently the United States and Canada agreed to conduct additional research into the future survival of the bear. That memorandum did not mention global warming. You can read that memorandum of understanding signed by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne here [PDF]. It was signed back on May 8 but I haven't seen it reported anywhere. Weird. The science couldn't be more clear -- the polar bear is threatened by climate change and could be gone from U.S. soil (and ice) by mid-century. It's hard to imagine a decision not to protect the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act, even from the Bush administration. That would completely contradict evidence presented by the administration's own biologists and show that obstruction on climate action is more of a priority than protecting the polar bear.

Melting Arctic ice poses security threat, says Pentagon

Waterways made navigable by melting Arctic ice pose a security threat to the northern U.S. border, says the Pentagon. The shrinking ice cap has led to increased interest in tourism and energy development in the Arctic, and the extra traffic makes the Pentagon wary. “The Arctic is a new area that is important to us because of the changes in ice flows,” says Air Force General Gene Renuart. The Defense Department intends to beef up both its maritime and aerial surveillance of the northern border.

Unscrambling eggs

Thinking beyond technology to mitigate climate change

If we quit adding carbon to the atmosphere, it won't stop global warming any time soon. That's why people are hoping there are ways to get the extra carbon out of the atmosphere, and that we can put billions of tons of it somewhere safe. Breaking apart carbon dioxide -- or extracting carbon dioxide from the air -- takes work. Work means energy. It's the reverse of combustion. There's a triple problem here: the technology itself, the disposal, and the energy to do the work. It's a common saying that you can't unscramble an egg. Once scrambled, the egg proteins won't go back to their raw configuration when they cool, and even if they did, it's impossible to wield a fork in such a way as to separate the yolk from the white. Roomfuls of the latest and greatest laboratory equipment, the best Google algorithms, or even all the king's horses and all the king's men would not unscramble our egg. The mixing and cooking are irreversible processes. It's a familiar impasse. Can we change the way we see the problem?

Crooked talk

McCain’s gas-tax holiday plan is at odds with his new climate strategy

Sen. John McCain made a climate speech Monday in which he argued that doing something about climate change is a "test of foresight, of political courage, and of the unselfish concern that one generation owes to the next." His timing is curious. "Ignore that man behind the curtain," his speech seemed to be saying. "You know, the man who is beating up on Sen. Barack Obama for refusing to support his gas-tax holiday proposal; the one who will be making it easier for Americans to consume greater amounts of carbon-rich fossil fuel." Of course, it is hard to ignore the man behind the curtain.

Like oil and vinegar

Dems and GOP agree to stop filling Strategic Petroleum Reserve

The Senate today approved legislation to temporarily suspend deliveries to the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, by a vote of 97-1. The measure was inserted as an amendment to a flood insurance bill, and was opposed only by Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.). The Energy Department sends 70,000 barrels of oil to the reserve every day, a practice that this legislation would put on hold until the end of 2008 or until oil drops below $75 a barrel, whichever comes first. It’s estimated that the measure could reduce gas prices anywhere between 5 to 24 cents a gallon. The House is expected …

Gasoline demand explained

Why it took us so long to internalize the rise in gas prices

With gas at $3.50 a gallon in April, the U.S. mainstream media is replete with stories of drivers abandoning SUVs, hopping on mass transit, and otherwise cutting back on gasoline. Yet a year or two ago, when pump prices were approaching and even passing the $3.00 "barrier," the media mantra was that demand for gasoline was so inelastic that high prices were barely making a dent in usage. Which story is correct? I lean toward the more "elastic" view, and here I'd like to share some of the data that inform my belief. I've been tracking official monthly data on U.S. gasoline consumption for the past five years and compiling the numbers in this spreadsheet. You'll find that it parses the data in several different ways: year-on-year monthly comparisons (e.g., March 2008 vs. March 2007), three-month moving averages that smooth out most of the random variations in reporting, and full-year comparisons that allow a bird's-eye view. Here's what I see in the data:

Voters' Voices: West Virginia

Talking with voters in the Mountain State

This is the first in a series of dispatches from Melinda Henneberger, who's talking to voters around the U.S. about their views on the environment and the election. Photo: Wignut Huntington, W.Va. -- Door-knocking for Barack Obama in a state where he expects to get stomped today has been kind of thankless for Pam Wonnell, a nurse and old friend of mine who moved here from Illinois last year for her husband's job in coal mining: "I am not feeling the love" while phone canvassing or standing on front porches watching the people inside pretend not to be home. "But I'm not quitting, 'cause I'm a fighter, like Hillary," she says, and laughs at her own joke. "Isn't that Hillary-ous?" Canvassing with her in her hilly, aerobically "butt-busting" neighborhood on the eve of the Democratic primary, though, one surprise is the can't-wait-for-November enthusiasm for Obama among ... Republicans? Hmm. Another is that even -- or perhaps especially -- in this coal-mining state, where billboards along I-64 scream, "Yes, Coal" and "Coal Keeps the Lights On," voters say they want to hear candidates talk more about the environment, not less.

Nukes to me

More on the nuclear portion of McCain’s big climate speech

What’s the deal with John McCain’s nuclear love affair? It’s a question on many people’s minds after the candidate’s big climate speech yesterday. While McCain has argued repeatedly that he’s opposed to subsidies for the nuclear industry, he stresses the need to support the nuclear industry and fund nuclear R&D. The most recent incarnation of his Climate Stewardship Act, introduced in January 2007, would authorize more than $3.7 billion in federal subsidies for new nuclear power plants, according to an analysis by U.S. PIRG and Public Citizen [PDF]. Here’s the key nuclear ‘graph from his speech yesterday: New research and …

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