Climate & Energy

Mountain pine beetles fueling climate change via tree deaths

Ravenous populations of mountain pine beetles in Canada’s forests are contributing significantly to climate change through killing off large numbers of trees, according to a study in the journal Nature. So far, the beetles have killed trees in over 50,000 square miles of forests in western Canada, and hundreds of thousands of square miles in the western United States. “When trees are killed, they no longer are able to take carbon from the atmosphere. Then when dead trees start to decompose, that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” said study coauthor Werner Kurz. The study estimates that by 2020, beetle-killed …

Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 2

The 14 wedges needed to stabilize emissions

In this post I will lay out "the solution" to global warming, focusing primarily on the 14 "stabilization wedges." Part 1 argued that stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450 ppm is not politically possible today, but that it is certainly achievable from an economic and technological perspective. It would require some 14 of Princeton's "stabilization wedges" -- strategies and/or technologies that over a period of a few decades each reduce global carbon emissions by one billion metric tons per year from projected levels (see technical paper here [PDF], less technical one here [PDF]). The reason that we need twice as many wedges as Princeton's Pacala and Socolow have said we need was explained in Part 1. I agree with the IPCC, which concluded last year that "The range of stabilization levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are currently available and those that are expected to be commercialised in coming decades." The technologies they say can beat 450 ppm are here. Technology Review, one of the nation's leading technology magazines, also argued in a cover story two years ago, "It's Not Too Late," that "Catastrophic climate change is not inevitable. We possess the technologies that could forestall global warming." I do believe only "one" solution exists in this sense -- We must deploy every conceivable energy-efficient and low carbon technology that we have today as fast as we can. Princeton's Pacala and Socolow proposed that this could be done over 50 years, but that is almost certainly too slow.

How cool is your county?

Counties lead on global warming as federal feuding continues

Here in D.C., we're deadlocked (thanks largely to Republicans beholden to Big Oil) over no-brainers like taking back $13.5 billion in giveaways to Big Oil in order to fund the extension of key clean energy tax incentives and forestall a crash in the renewable energy industry. Meanwhile, cities, states, and counties continue to take the lead in putting in place the kind of progressive, innovative policy solutions that we can only dream of at the federal level for the time being. A great example of the continuing groundswell of local government action to combat global warming happened just yesterday in Montgomery County, Maryland -- a wealthy suburban area just across the D.C. line. The county council passed a series of seven bills that make up a package of 25 far-reaching environmental initiatives designed to help slash the county's global warming emissions. The centerpiece of the county's Earth Day legislative extravaganza is a mandate requiring all new homes built after January 2010 to meet federal Energy Star standards. This would help cut residential energy use some 15-30 percent -- cutting both emissions and consumers' energy bills.

Power to the people

Neighbors help neighbors get power from the sun

Co-ops are hugely underrated for their potential to make good happen in the world. As an example, the renewable energy co-op I'm a member of in the Northeast, aptly named Co-op Power, had its first "member to member" solar hot water installation this weekend. The power of this co-op is in its 300-plus members' enthusiasm, and it was in evidence on this day as our trained team hoisted two panels into place, which were making hot water by evening. Photo: Erik Hoffner

Generate energy locally; recycle whenever possible

A Pollan-esque energy objective in six words … and then some

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do to drive up our energy efficiency, lower energy costs, and bolster the overall reliability of our energy infrastructure is to overhaul our electric sector's regulatory model to move generation away from big, remote plants and toward local generation. From solar to CHP, we have a panoply of technologies, fuels, and companies who would participate in such a shift. Less understood is that our regulatory model creates obstacles to all of these options, unwittingly causing us to burn too much fossil fuel and pay too much for energy. Back in January, David challenged us all to follow Michael Pollan's lead and summarize our objectives in seven words or less. Here's mine: Generate energy locally. Recycle whenever possible. Like Pollan, it takes a book to explain the detail underlying that summary. This particular explanation is limited to a blog post below the fold.

F*ck the Earth Day

Warning: video below contains naughty words. Cover your ears.

Monopoly game gets hip to renewable energy

Photo: goat_girl via Flickr Refuse to play Monopoly because you fear Electric Company sources its power from coal? Fear not! Game-maker Hasbro is updating everyone’s favorite interminable game, and in the Here and Now: World Edition, Water Works and Electric Company will be replaced with Wind Energy and Solar Energy. It’s “a nod to the efforts of countries worldwide to increase the effectiveness and availability of renewable energy sources,” says Phil Jackson (the Hasbro executive, not the basketball coach). So Rich Uncle Pennybags doesn’t need water anymore, huh? Says the chair of the Atlantic Canada Water Works Association, “It just …

Unexcused absences

Arizona Republic calls out senator for not supporting solar

With absolutely world-class solar installation, rapidly growing in-state demand, and prime location next to one of the largest renewable energy markets in the world (that would be California), building a solar industry in Arizona would seem like a no-brainer. I certainly think so. But, more importantly, 87 percent of Arizonans do, too. The remaining 13 percent appears to include Sen. McCain, who has failed to show up for any of the votes to extend the critical 30 percent investment tax credit -- an issue that's literally make-or-break for large-scale solar in Arizona and elsewhere. Abengoa has signed a deal for a 280 MW concentrated solar power plant with Arizona Public Service, a deal that would bring about $1 billion of investment and 1,500 jobs to Arizona -- and parties on both sides have made it clear that the project's consummation is critically dependent on a long-term extension of the investment tax credit. This Earth Day, The Arizona Republic published an excellent editorial calling the good senator out.

E.U. plows ahead with coal

Even as it makes plans to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, the European Union is gearing up to put some 50 coal plants on line in the next five years. Europeans’ distaste for nuclear energy and the relative cheap cost of coal — even when carbon permits are factored in — have made the black rock attractive for meeting rising demand. E.U. electric companies say they’re seeking out “clean” coal, an oxymoron that is unlikely to be feasible anytime soon. Any way you slice it, a slew of new coal plants means another five decades of dirty electricity in the E.U., which …

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