Climate & Energy

Solar’s new mega-plants

Good stuff. (Thanks, Brian)

Polar bears are ... doing great?

So say Big Oil-friendly opponents of protecting them

You know, if you set aside the massive threats to their habitats posed by global warming and oil and gas development, polar bears are an "otherwise healthy" species. That was the argument made Wednesday by William Horn, an attorney and former Assistant Interior Secretary for Fish and Wildlife in the Reagan administration, at a Capitol Hill hearing about the ongoing delay in whether to cover the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. Horn's case was echoed by several Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. To listen to Horn, the 33-51 percent chance that the recently signed oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea on Alaska's northwest coast would result in a major offshore oil spill is no big deal. And Horn clung to outdated projections that widespread Arctic Sea ice loss is 45 to 50 years away when, just four months ago, a NASA scientist predicted the Arctic Sea could be ice-free in the summer as soon as 2012. We all know the threats to polar bears posed by rapid climate change. But what would happen in the case of a major oil spill?

Hydrogen-powered plane makes successful flight

A plane powered by hydrogen fuel cells made three successful test flights earlier this year, Boeing officials announced Thursday. The propeller-driven two-seater, carrying passengers, climbed to 3,300 feet on the power of lithium batteries, then cruised at 60 miles per hour for about 20 minutes powered solely by fuel cells. Sounds like they’ve got the Wright stuff! (Ooh, that was bad even for us. Sorry.)

'Bombshell'? Really?

RPJr.’s latest achievement in getting huge news coverage for saying very little

I don’t want to get too far into the kerfuffle over the Nature commentary from Pielke Jr. et al. Just a few quick and I guess fairly cynical thoughts: • The trend toward "spontaneous" technology development and efficiency has been going on for centuries, only to pause during the last few years thanks to a burst of new dirty coal plants in the developing world. The whole commentary is premised on the idea that this is the new norm — that "spontaneous" movement toward carbon efficiency is now a thing of the past. That strikes me as wildly speculative at …

The Big Lump gets thumped

King Coal’s year of rejection by banks, judges, and a lot of other folks

Earth Policy Institute just released this revelatory chronology of really sad, horrible, and depressing events in the life of the coal industry since February 2007. What's next -- will Santa be switching to lumps of dirt? Feb. 26, 2007: James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a leading climate scientist, calls for a moratorium on the construction of coal-fired power plants that do not sequester carbon, saying that it makes no sense to build these plants when we will have to "bulldoze" them in a few years. Feb. 26, 2007: Under mounting pressure from environmental groups, TXU Corporation, a Dallas-based energy company, abandons plans for eight of 11 proposed coal-fired power plants, catalyzing the shift from coal-based to renewable energy development in Texas. April 2, 2007: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and that EPA's current rationale for not regulating this gas is inadequate. May 3, 2007: Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signs a bill that prevents new power plants from exceeding 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, creating a de facto moratorium on building new coal-fired power plants in the state.

When does additionality matter? Part 3

Almost always, but the reason is more subtle than you think

In two previous posts, I've attempted to establish that additionality is neither some strange concept relevant only to carbon offsets nor an awkward patch used to fix a defect in the design of carbon markets. Rather, the concept of additionality is applicable to any incentive system, whether subsidy, tax, or whatever. The real question is what degree of additionality is actually necessary or desirable in any given system. Put another way, when should we care enough about additionality to incur the costs of measuring and enforcing it? Those costs can be quite high, and the benefits sometimes uncertain. Let's return to one of my previous examples: the grocery store owner who offers coupons to lure new customers, even though most coupons will probably fall into the hands of old, non-additional customers. In this case, additionality is difficult to enforce, and the benefits of enforcement are low (because coupon programs don't cost much to run). High cost, low benefit: additionality isn't a concern. Now let's examine the carbon offset market. Here, the cost of measuring additionality is high, but the need is even higher. There are at least two reasons for this. The first is the obvious one: carbon offsets can be used to satisfy emission limits under a cap-and-trade program. Non-additional offsets undermine the cap. Good offset projects help to reduce the strain of carbon caps on the economy by lowering the cost of reductions. But too many bad offset projects threaten the whole system by allowing emissions to keep growing.

Carbon policy details: Part 5

The solution: Output-based standards

This is the fifth and final post in a series on the details required to get carbon policy right. See also parts one, two, three, and four. So far, I've done a lot of complaining -- which, in and of itself, is just, well ... whiny. Here, then, is a solution. First, a very brief review: A test of good carbon policy is whether it encourages the private sector to invest capital in projects that will reduce GHG emissions. "Additionality" confuses carbon policy, by preferentially shifting investment toward less economic GHG-reduction technologies. Carbon taxes provide sticks without carrots, and thereby provide no direct incentive to those who might otherwise use carbon pricing to invest in projects that lower GHG emissions. Long-term carbon pricing is necessary to encourage private sector investment. Spots alone will not. Although not covered in this series, it bears repeating that auctions trump allocation. Unfortunately, virtually all of the GHG-reduction strategies currently in existence (e.g., Kyoto, RGGI) or being contemplated (e.g., Lieberman-Warner, California AB 32) fail one or more of the prior tests. Moreover, all those actual/proposed bills are really complicated, with many moving parts that are rife for gaming -- or, more charitably, significant legislative error. Here, then, is a better approach: output-based GHG regulation.

Porsche launches legal challenge to London’s congestion fee increase

German automaker Porsche has launched a formal legal challenge to London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s scheduled tripling of the city’s congestion fee for the most-polluting vehicles. The increase, slated to take effect in October, would raise the fee for the most-polluting vehicles entering the city center to about $50 a day from $16 now. Livingstone and the city’s transportation department have said the fee helps decrease carbon emissions and other pollution by encouraging fewer of the dirtiest cars from entering the city. Porsche argues Livingstone doesn’t have the legal authority to implement the increase and has said in court documents that …

Obama says he’d consider Gore for climate post in his administration

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said at a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania yesterday that he would consider asking former vice president and current climate superstar Al Gore to assume a cabinet-level position in his administration to help tackle climate change. “I will make a commitment that Al Gore will be at the table and play a central part in us figuring out how we solve this problem,” Obama said. “He’s somebody I talk to on a regular basis. I’m already consulting with him in terms of these issues.” For his part, Gore revealed back in December that he’s not …

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