Climate & Energy

Fortune Brainstorm Green

Peter Barnes sprints through cap-and-dividend

Peter Barnes was given exactly five minutes (!) to explain cap-and-dividend to the audience. Everybody’s so tired and frazzled that I don’t think it sank in very much. However, I talked with Barnes for a good while outside, before the session, and I came out of it far more convinced of the wisdom of the idea that I was before. Much more on that later as well.

Fortune Brainstorm Green

An unusually interesting discussion of ‘clean coal’

Earlier today I attended a small roundtable discussion about clean coal. Most of the people there were basically pro-clean coal: people from NRG energy, railroad companies, venture capital firms, and David Hawkins from NRDC. Some other folks were uncommitted. In the anti column were me and Mike Brune from Rainforest Action Network. Also in attendance: Fred Krupp of EDF and eco-oldtimer Stewart Brand. There were pockets of agreement. To his credit, the guy from NRG lamented that the term "clean coal" had been used as a marketing trick — he said the only thing that should qualify is a coal …

Let them eat biofuel

Food vs. fuel debate, German edition

Defending her country’s biofuel mandates in a time of global food crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently denied that turning food crops into car fuel affects prices. Those looking for reasons behind the recent spike in food prices shouldn’t blame ethanol and biodiesel makers, she argued. Instead, look at how people are eating in the global south: If you travel to India these days, then a main part of the debate is about the "second meal." People are eating twice a day, and if a third of one billion people in India do that, it adds up to 300 million …

Bottoms up: Pollan on gardening

Growing your own food is fine, but governmental action is needed, and soon

I like Michael Pollan -- really, I do -- which is why it was frustrating to see his wilted-salad-green entreaty to act on climate change in yesterday's paper: The climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle -- of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences. For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we're living our lives suggests we're not really serious about changing -- something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do. Indeed, to look to leaders and experts, to laws and money and grand schemes, to save us from our predicament represents precisely the sort of thinking -- passive, delegated, dependent for solutions on specialists -- that helped get us into this mess in the first place. It's hard to believe that the same sort of thinking could now get us out of it. Pollan's grand solution? Plant a vegetable garden!


The push for a renewable energy standard in Missouri

Know why they call Missouri the "Show Me" state? Me neither. What I do know is that our friends at Renew Missouri are trying to show the state some renewable energy. They've written language for a 15 percent renewable portfolio standard, but in order to get it on the ballot in November, they need to collect 150,000 signatures by May 4. It's an important battle in the heartland, so if you can, donate your time or money here.

Waiting for a techno miracle: not the fastest way to cut emissions

Government-financed construction plus carbon pricing is the key

With NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof's seeming endorsement of Roger Pielke Jr.'s ideas about mitigating global warming, it seems that we have two main arguments developing: the "breakthrough" argument, which says we must have technology breakthroughs in order to solve the problem, and, as articulated (for instance) by Joseph Romm, the "just do it" argument that we have the technologies now to minimize global warming. Most of my posts have been an attempt to show how current technologies can move us toward a "zero emissions" society. The "breakthrough" people do raise an interesting question, but then they veer off into the wrong answer. They ask, effectively, Is there something the government can do to solve global warming, besides carbon pricing? Their answer: Spend $30 billion a year on energy R&D, hoping for a breakthrough. I will argue in this post that the answer to their question is, Yes, the government can do something beyond carbon pricing -- governments at all levels can, first, provide some of the finance capital to the private sector to build renewable energy systems, and second, governments can build the necessary transportation systems and in some cases the energy systems. And by doing so, support for and the effectiveness of carbon pricing policies will be improved. In order to make this argument, let's back up a little and ask, "What kind of society are the authors of the various plans for global warming mitigation envisioning?" I think that, at their core, most global warming initiatives embed a conception of what is practical, considering both political and cultural constraints.

Brand cites Grist

Stewart Brand just stood up and used Grist (and Treehugger, and Worldchanging) as an example of how young environmentalists are coming around to support nuclear power. Huh?

Gigantic hydropower dam planned for Congo River

Some of the world’s largest banks and construction firms gathered with seven African governments Monday to chat about plans for an $80 billion hydroelectric dam on the Congo River. The proposed Grand Inga dam could generate twice the electricity of China’s controversial Three Gorges Dam and greatly increase the amount of cheap and clean power currently available in Africa, according to supporters. “It is the greatest sustainable development project, offering Africa a unique chance for interdependence and prosperity,” says Gerald Doucet of the World Energy Council. But critics say electricity generated by the dam would be exported to urban centers …

It's not you; it's me

Energy execs and GOP reps grow apart on climate action

Things may be getting a little weird in what's traditionally been a cozy long-term relationship. A Republican state representative in North Dakota last week ripped electric company executives for being too liberal on climate action: State Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, said the companies have a responsibility to "tell the truth" about global warming. "What I hear you saying is that, 'It's going to be a reality and we're just going to play the game as best we can,'" Kasper told company officials Wednesday, at a conference sponsored by the Utility Shareholders of North Dakota. "For you to throw in the towel now, is really disheartening to hear." The issue was raised by Bill Brier, a vice president at the Edison Electric Institute in Washington, D.C. He said all three presidential candidates favor some sort of requirements dealing with climate change. "We can argue the science, which we did for years," Brier said. "Now we are saying, 'It's going to happen. We want to be at the table.'" What's going on here? Aren't Republicans and energy executives like peas and carrots? Is this just a lovers' quarrel or a sign of a more serious problem?