Climate & Energy

Ten thousand dead

Myanmar cyclone is a portent of disasters to come

At least 10,000 people lost their lives when a tropical cyclone struck the nation of Myanmar, in Southeast Asia. Perhaps the jury is still out on the extent to which storm intensity can be related to climate change. What is clear is that sea-level rise will make future storms, more intense or no, much more deadly in many developing nations. We can talk about pain at the pump for Americans being a serious problem, but it pales in comparison to the threat to human life posed by global warming. Another note: Myanmar is one of a handful of rice exporters …

Monday bummer blogging

Damn, one of the more promising ideas, biochar, seems to be a little less promising than hoped: ... a new study ... suggests that these supposed benefits of biochar may be somewhat overstated. ... They found that when charcoal was mixed into humus ... charcoal caused greatly increased losses of native soil organic matter, and soil carbon ... Much of this lost soil carbon would be released as carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Therefore, while it is true that charcoal represents a long term sink of carbon because of its persistence, this effect is at least partially offset by the capacity of charcoal to greatly promote the loss of that carbon already present in the soil. Oh, and you know that thing Al Gore talked about, where birds would emerge from their eggs only to find that their usual food had already peaked and declined because the changing climate had disconnected formerly co-evolved species? Well, caribou go next:

Monday links

As promised, here’s yet another bunch of links for your leisurely perusal: Fortune writer Adam Lashinsky has a great round-up from the Brainstorm Green conference. My only beef is with this, about Lomborg: Even if you believe that global warming is an abject crisis, I simply reject the argument that it’s a bad idea to test your beliefs by listening to someone who disagrees or who is proposing a different solution. Well … of course. The question is whether, after their work has been met with dozens of devastating rebuttals, they should be allowed to simply recite it again, in …

Change now or change never

The longer we wait to move away from gasoline, the more high gas prices will hurt

Like Americans, Europeans are generally not fond of rising fuel costs. Unlike Americans, they’re much better at handling them. It isn’t difficult to understand why; they simply planned ahead. Geoffrey Styles writes: A big part of our problem is that most Americans are still driving cars that were purchased when gasoline was under $1.50/gal., to commute between work and home locations that were chosen when fuel was even cheaper … As of this week, nominal U.S. retail gasoline prices have gone up by 25 percent in the last year and by 130 percent in the last five years. How does …

Oh, say can I see a CCA?

How communities can choose renewable electricity, part 1

Recently, I had an opportunity to talk with Paul Fenn, who has written or helped write several pioneering pieces of legislation which allow communities to aggregate their electricity purchasing power in order to choose renewable energy. This policy framework is called community choice aggregation, or CCA (of course, if I mangle any of the specifics, it will be from my own lack of understanding). When a CCA is created, the city or town or county can contract with an energy service provider (ESP) to provide the power for all residents of the area, if the residents so choose (so far, only about 5 percent of residents haven't signed up with various CCAs). In the case of the San Francisco CCA, the electricity service provider (ESP) will produce 360 megawatts over three years: 103 from distributed renewables, mostly PV on buildings; 150 from a wind farm; and 107 from conservation and efficiency. That should constitute 51 percent of San Francisco's electricity needs (up to 20 states are pursuing CCAs). The utility still provides the transmission lines, billing, and electricity backup. In 2001, San Francisco voters also passed a proposition to allow for "solar bonds" to be issued by the city (with an assist from Adam Browning's VoteSolar Initiative). These bonds will be used to construct the wind and solar electricity generating equipment and "smart grid" equipment which will be paid back by the revenue from the electric bills of the San Francisco residents who are part of the CCA. This mechanism gets around the biggest problem we've had with building wind and solar electrical generating capacity -- the lack of upfront capital.

Word puzzles

Washington Post reporter not allowed to say what he knows about climate legislation costs

Steven Mufson’s a good reporter, but I swear to God, something about the conventions of traditional journalism just drives people to do things that might as well be deliberately designed to obscure the truth. Take Mufson’s recent piece on the costs of climate legislation. In particular, look at this bit: Listen to John Engler, former Michigan governor and president of the National Association of Manufacturers, and you’ll hear that the price of the leading legislation — cosponsored by Sens. John Warner (R-Va.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) — will be far too steep. “It would be like every month having …

Details matter: One final detail

Lieberman-Warner criticism, Part 5

This is the fifth in a five-part series exploring the details of the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. See also part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4. I close out this series with one small, specific thing that Lieberman-Warner gets wrong -- not necessarily because it's the biggest or most important thing it gets wrong; rather, because it illustrates the challenge faced by big and complicated legislation: it's really hard not to mess up the little stuff. Not out of malice, necessarily, but simply because it's hard to get that much right. And sometimes -- as in this case -- the little things you get wrong can have big consequences. When all is said and done, good government policy isn't that much different from good human resources policy. If your employer makes it clear to you how your actions convert into your salary, you tend to work well together. On the other hand, if your employer gives you a 10-page incentive compensation plan with individual, department-wide, and corporate-level targets, bonus points for how many team-building sessions you go to, credit for attending various training seminars ... you get my point. In a nutshell, that's the crux of the problem with Lieberman-Warner. Rather than starting simple and adding on complexity only as needed, it starts really complicated and virtually ensures that lots of those little details are wrong, misdirected, and/or in conflict with one another. In this final post, I'll look at just one of those details: utility decoupling.

A trip to the Land of Strained Analogies

More blather about sacrifice from pundits who don’t really care about climate change

I see the pundits are still lobbing up chinstrokers about how addressing climate change is going to require "sacrifice -- serious wartime sacrifice." This sounds Very Serious. The only quibble I have is that it's probably not true. "Going green" in a carbon-constrained economy won't feel like sacrifice to most people. It will feel like shopping. Meaning, it will feel like all the decisions we make every day, but tilted imperceptibly by the price ramifications of a carbon cap. Studies suggesting that the overall economic effect of climate change legislation will be fairly small just keep piling up. The most recent one was from the environmental radicals at the IMF. So why all the sacrifice talk? Maybe because it's just plain hard to imagine what a decades-long economic transformation will look like. We tend to extrapolate crudely from where we are now. If you want to cut your individual carbon footprint 80 percent today, you might have to sell your car, give up flying, move into a smaller house, and start foraging for food. But that's not how this will go down. Fully decarbonizing will take several decades. The process will be unpredictable, creating winners, losers, opportunities, and benefits. Come with me now to Strained Analogy Land. Imagine going back in time to meet your hippie forebear ...

An interview with Fred Krupp, author of Earth: The Sequel and president of EDF

Fred Krupp. Fred Krupp has been piloting Environmental Defense Fund since he left private law practice in 1984. It hasn’t gone badly: Under Krupp’s leadership, the group has become an influential player in the deepest halls of power, with an annual budget that’s ballooned from $3 million to $71.8 million. A substantial measure of EDF’s success and credibility stems from its crucial role in the development of the emissions trading program to reduce acid rain, passed in the 1990 Clean Air Act. Now Krupp is trying to replicate that success on a larger scale, stumping ceaselessly for passage of a …

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