Climate & Energy

Jump the chasm

Are you an EcoDaredevil?

On Earth Day, Wallace J. Nichols gave a keynote address at Duke University in honor of Evel Knievel entitled "Jump the Chasm: Are you an EcoDaredevil?" After the address, Elliott Hazen, a Duke University PhD student, was honored with the first EcoDaredevil award. ----- Evel Knievel. Growing up in the 1970s, I idolized Evel Knievel. To me, he was a rock star, sports hero, and folk legend in one. He was both a daredevil and a cool character. Back then, his jumps over buses, fountains, and canyons inspired me to launch my bicycle into the air and over puddles, mounds of dirt, and many a hapless friend. Occasionally, in honor of his ill-fated jump over the Snake River Canyon, I'd jump my bicycle into the neighbor's pond. Now, I find new inspiration in my childhood hero.

Sun is in the sky, oh why, oh why, would she wanna be anywhere else?

Lily Allen backs U.K. solar incentive campaign

Brit popster Lily Allen has sung about “riding through the city on [her] bike all day” at the Premises solar-powered recording studio. Now, she’s added her backing to a campaign to reward homes that generate their own green energy. The amendment to an energy bill in Parliament this week introduces a “feed-in tariff,” which would “guarantee a minimum price for all renewable energy generated by homes and businesses through a system of long-term contracts with energy companies.” Thanks for your support, Lil’ — that amendment oughta be a shoo-in now …

Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 3: The breakthrough technology illusion

Existing technology is faster and far more practical than hypothetical new inventions

This post will explain why some sort of massive government Apollo program or Manhattan project to develop new breakthrough technologies is not a priority component of the effort to stabilize at 450 ppm. Put more quantitatively, the question is, what are the chances that multiple (4 to 8+) carbon-free technologies that do not exist today can each deliver the equivalent of 350 gigawatts baseload power (about 2.8 billion megawatt-hours a year) and/or 160 billion gallons of gasoline cost-effectively by 2050? (Note: that is about half of a stabilization wedge.) For the record, the U.S. consumed about 3.7 billion mwh in 2005 and about 140 billion gallons of motor gasoline. Put that way, the answer to the question is painfully obvious: "two chances -- slim and none." Indeed, I have repeatedly challenged readers and listeners over the years to name even a single technology breakthrough with such an impact in the past three decades, after the huge surge in energy funding that followed the energy shocks of the 1970s. Nobody has ever named one that has even come close. Yet somehow the government is not just going to invent one TILT (Terrific Imaginary Low-carbon Technology) in the next few years, we are going to invent several TILTs. Seriously. Hot fusion? No. Cold fusion? As if. Space solar power? Come on, how could that ever compete with CSP? Hydrogen? It ain't even an energy source, and after billions of dollars of public and private research in the past 15 years -- including several years running of being the single biggest focus of the DOE office on climate solutions I once ran -- it still has actually no chance whatsoever of delivering a major cost-effective climate solution by mid century (see "This just in: Hydrogen fuel cell cars are still dead"). I don't know why the breakthrough crowd can't see the obvious, so I will elaborate here. I will also discuss a major study that explains why deployment programs are so much more important than R&D at this point. Let's keep this simple:

Plan of surrender

Unlike McCain and Clinton, Obama would have us capitulate to Gas Price Terror

Gas prices are high, which is the worst thing that’s ever happened in the history of America, dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. It’s a violation of the spirit of the Constitution of Independence as written by Jefferson Davis. We must declare preemptive war on gas prices before they destroy our freedoms, which they hate. Think of the children. How will they get to soccer practice? "Buy the kid a bike," says the Blame America First crowd. Thankfully God-fearing politicians are not listening to that counsel of appeasement. McCain was on the front lines of Operation Drive As …

Another way of 'picking winners'

Output-based carbon regulations ignore critical types of efficiency

"Output-based standards" are getting credit around here as a politically impractical but sensible proposal. David described them as "relentlessly efficient." I'm sure relentless efficiency was the intent, but in fact it is very much a way of picking winners, of rewarding one particular type of efficiency at expense of others. The idea is that within industries, a standard will be set for maximum emissions per useful BTU delivered. So if you are heating tomatoes as part of making tomato paste, the standard would apply to your emissions per BTU used to raise the temperature of a tomato. The problem is that while this rewards delivering those BTUs more efficiently, it does not reward heating the tomatoes less, perhaps by substituting a filtering process for some of the heating. When I brought this up in comments, Sean argued that the second method still rewards by lowering fuel bills. But then, so does the first. If delivering BTUs more efficiently needs an incentive over and above fuel saving, then so does finding a way to use fewer BTUs in the first place.

A penny saved ...

Note to Bush, media: Opening ANWR cuts gas prices one cent in 2025

Bush blames Congress' failure to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for high gasoline prices. The administration's own Energy Information Administration found otherwise in a 2004 Congressional-requested "Analysis of Oil and Gas Production in ANWR" (PDF): It is expected that the price impact of ANWR coastal plain production might reduce world oil prices by as much as 30 to 50 cents per barrel [in 2025]. Don't spend it all in one place, American public! (Note to Bush: There are 42 gallons in a barrel.) EIA continues: Assuming that world oil markets continue to work as they do today, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries could countermand any potential price impact of ANWR coastal plain production by reducing its exports by an equal amount. Curses, foiled again!

Next decade could be cooler than expected, says study

Natural shifts in ocean circulation may trump human-caused warming over the next decade, causing global temperatures to cool slightly, says new research published in the journal Nature. But hang on to your pessimism: “Just to make things clear, we are not stating that anthropogenic climate change won’t be as bad as previously thought” over the long run, says researcher Mojib Latif. Of course, if the cooler-decade theory holds true, there’s the concern that “policymakers may either think mitigation is working or that there is no global warming at all,” says coauthor Noel Keenlyside. Oh, Noel, policymakers are smarter than that. …

One hand clapping

Economic naïvete on carbon prices

If you put a price on GHG emissions, will it raise the cost of energy? That question goes to the core of carbon policy. Unfortunately, many people inside and outside the environmental community consistently get it wrong, with potentially disastrous results. Consider: if the answer is yes, then we don't need any incentives for GHG reduction. The costs of carbon-intensive energy will rise, giving we energy users the incentive they need to lower consumption. But if the answer is no, we will find ourselves with a tax on dirty energy but no incentive to reduce its use. That is, we will end up with a greenhouse-gas policy that fails to do the one thing it's supposed to do above all else: lower our greenhouse-gas emissions. The answer, more often than not, is no.

Food prices are high, and so are Big Ag’s profits

Food prices hitting you hard in the pocketbook? Agriculture giant Archer Daniels Midland feels for you, it really does — but gee, its profits jumped 42 percent this quarter, so it can’t really empathize. ADM’s grain-processing division is doing lively business keeping up with the bumper corn crop. And, they’ll have you know, high food prices are due to high oil prices, not to the ethanol push. Backing away from biofuels would be “foolish,” “dangerous,” and an “empty gesture,” says ADM CEO Patricia Woertz, adding, “It won’t fill anyone’s stomach. It won’t fill anyone’s gas tank.” It won’t fill ADM’s …

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