Climate & Energy

Cheap at any price!

More news from the world of cheap coal: Santee Cooper said Wednesday that the first phase of its proposed Pee Dee coal-fired power plant [in Florence County, South Carolina] will cost $1.25 billion, up from its original estimate of $998 million. Even that may be under-stating it: Blan Holman, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said Santee Cooper’s $1.25 billion price tag is “still a lowball” that “doesn’t even include the big rise in coal prices or the Hindenburg-sized” costs that could come with proposed new taxes on carbon emissions. Who’s going to be saddled with these large-and-rising …

Snarkey Markey

Seeing through the EPA’s BS

Looking back at seven years of ever-looming -- yet constantly narrowly-averted -- GHG emissions regulations, it seems like it might have been a lot less painful to industry and damaging to the economy if the Bushies would have laid out a simple set of expectations early on and then just let us handle it from there. Even if the resultant regulations wouldn't have been nearly as stringent as most of us would have liked, industry might have benefited from the certainty. Preferring to keep us all waiting just a little longer, however, last Thursday Bush's EPA put off any possible whining about regulations until well into the next administration: ... Last year the Supreme Court ruled, contrary to the Bush administration's wishes, that greenhouse gases were a pollutant that came under the jurisdiction of the EPA. So the EPA's scientists took a look, and they concluded that, yes, greenhouse gases contributed to global warming and ought to be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The White House, of course, was not happy about this, so on Thursday EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson deep-sixed the scientific findings and opened up a "lengthy public comment period" to give corporate contributors the public a chance to weigh in on this. To which Rep. Markey (D-Mass.) adds: This cynical step by EPA to announce an "Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" in the coming months should be seen for what it is: an "Aspirational Notice of Procrastinational Rulemaking."

Blacking out the wild blue yonder

DOD panel calls out power grid disruption threat

Here's another good reason to fix a shaky and outdated power grid, from the Defense Science Board: keeping the Air Force flying during the next terrorist attack. The military focuses much of its efforts on avoiding global petroleum disruptions. But it has not thought much about power grid disruptions that could affect its own bases, the Department of Defense (DOD) group says in a report authored by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger The board says "physical or cyber sabotage -- or even a simple capacity overload -- could devastate U.S. military and homeland security installations and have a frightening ripple effect across the country, leaving everything from sewage systems to border security controls paralyzed for weeks, perhaps months," ClimateWire reports ($ub. req'd, but free trial available). Investigators noted: "A long-term major power outage would have significant consequences for both DOD and the nation ... Unfortunately, the current architecture of the grid is vulnerable to even simple attacks."

The adaptation trap and the nonskeptical delayers (like Roger Pielke) -- Part 1

Pielke labels adaptation what is actually mitigation

The wheels may be falling off the media's climate discussion, if a recent L.A. Times piece is any evidence. The piece, "Global warming: Just deal with it, some scientists say," is really an article about not dealing with it. The L.A. Times, with the help of the delayer-1000 du jour, Roger Pielke, Jr., has brought to prominence (and fallen for) what I call the "adaptation trap": The adaptation trap is the belief that 1) "it would be easier and cheaper to adapt than fight climate change" [as the Times puts it in the sub-head] and/or 2) "adaptation" to climate change is possible in any meaningful sense of the word absent an intense mitigation effort starting now to keep carbon dioxide concentrations below 450 ppm. Sorry for the long definition, but as we'll see, the second part is especially critical in what has now become an important emerging policy debate, cleverly devoid of specifics. (Indeed, on his blog Pielke says he was misquoted and denies he believes the first part, which actually makes the LAT piece even lamer, as David shows). And being misquoted doesn't mean Pielke isn't very wrong anyway -- as we'll see at the end, Pielke is so confused about adaptation and mitigation that he takes the prize for the most backward analogy in the history of the climate debate, unintentionally proving just how wrong he is.

U.N. climate talks open in Bangkok

United Nations climate talks opened Monday in Bangkok, Thailand, as another step in the process of drafting a successor to the Kyoto Protocol climate-change treaty that expires in 2012. Officials admitted they didn’t expect any breakthroughs at the meeting this week, but there is hope that the countries can manage to agree on an agenda for the new treaty as well as other procedural matters. The meeting might not be particularly riveting for bystanders, but it’s an exciting time to be a U.N. bureaucrat. “With the 2009 deadline, we have just one and half years in which to complete negotiations …

‘Earth Hour’ event switches off lights around the world

This weekend, cities, businesses, and individuals around the world switched off or dimmed their lights for an hour to raise awareness about climate change. The event, called “Earth Hour,” started in Sydney, Australia, last year; organizers say that this year it spread to about 380 cities and towns in 35 countries, temporarily extinguishing non-essential lights and darkening landmarks around the world, including the Sydney Opera House and the Golden Gate Bridge. Internet search engine Google even switched its homepage background from white to black to mark the event. Aside from awareness-raising, the event did save a modest amount of energy …

Peak Oil? Bring it on!

Solving the climate problem will solve the peak oil problem, too

I have a new article in Salon on perhaps the most misunderstood subject in energy: peak oil. Here is the short version: We are at or near the peak of cheap conventional oil production. There is no realistic prospect that the conventional oil supply can keep up with current projected demand for much longer, if the industrialized countries don't take strong action to sharply reduce consumption, and if China and India don't take strong action to sharply reduce consumption growth. Many people are expecting unconventional oil -- such as the tar sands and liquid coal -- to make up the supply shortage. That would be a climate catastrophe, and I (optimistically) believe humanity is wise enough not to let that happen. More supply is not the answer to either our oil or climate problem. Nonetheless, contrary to popular belief, the peak oil problem will not "destroy suburbia" or the American way of life. Only unrestrained emissions of greenhouse gases can do that. We have the two primary solutions to peak oil at hand: fuel efficiency and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles run on zero-carbon electricity. The only question is whether conservatives will let progressives accelerate those solutions into the marketplace before it is too late to prevent a devastating oil shock or, for that matter, devastating climate change.

'The Clean Energy Scam'

Biofuel boom leveling rainforest, Time reports

From an excellent article in Time: Indonesia has bulldozed and burned so much wilderness to grow palm oil trees for biodiesel that its ranking among the world’s top carbon emitters has surged from 21st to third according to a report by Wetlands International. Malaysia is converting forests into palm oil farms so rapidly that it’s running out of uncultivated land. But most of the damage created by biofuels will be less direct and less obvious. In Brazil, for instance, only a tiny portion of the Amazon is being torn down to grow the sugarcane that fuels most Brazilian cars. More …

When does additionality matter? Part 1

The deceptively simple concept at the heart of carbon markets

Sean recently wrote a provocative post on why "additionality" -- one of the bedrock principles of carbon markets as presently designed -- is an expensive waste of time. This is a rich topic, and my perspective as a carbon offset retailer differs from his as an energy producer. It's worth spending a few posts exploring why.