Climate & Energy

More Pollan blogging: morals vs. values

Everyday choices depend more on culture, infrastructure, economics, and values

I see Maywa beat me to the "I really like Michael Pollan, but ... " post. I too was disappointed with Pollan's answer to the question of "Why Bother?" As in, why bother taking personal steps to reduce one's contribution to climate change? I will say this, though: the article did sharpen my thinking about why I think we should bother. One of the things I've always admired about Pollan's writing is his knack for delivering sly polemic that hangs equally on scientific arguments and common sense. It's a neat trick that makes simple acts like reading an ingredients label seem slightly radical and even fun. I read his stuff and think, "Of course I want to get on board with this. Why wouldn't I?" Like Maywa, I was dismayed by Pollan's disparagement of "grand schemes" to address climate change. But beyond that, I was struck by the fact that the essay seemed to teeter on the edge of the sort of petty moralism that infects a lot of thinking on this topic. Where was the sense of fun?

Think thin

For Nanosolar, the future is municipal solar power plants

The following post is by Earl Killian, guest blogger at Climate Progress. ----- Traditional photovoltaic (PV) is typically installed on rooftops and competes with retail electricity. Over 40 percent of the cost of a system can be in the installation, which must be customized to every rooftop. So technologies that dramatically lower PV cost end up having a less dramatic impact on total residential system cost. So it is natural that the next generation technologies, such as thin films of copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) printed as ink on conductive substrates, need to look at non-rooftop applications, where the installation of a large solar farm is fairly turnkey. Nanosolar, a thin-film PV startup, has just announced their vision in their blog and newsletter. They see the best fit for solar being municipal solar plants of 2-10 MW in size and suggest such plants can be done in 12 months, providing a significant advantage over coal or nuclear. Martin Roscheisen, Nanosolar's CEO, writes:

Pollan envy

For people involved in the TV business, I imagine watching The Wire — David Simon’s novelistic depiction of big-city dysfunction on HBO — generates mixed feelings. On one hand: Damn that’s good. On the other: Damn. That’s really good. It makes what once seemed excellent appear merely adequate; what was once adequate now worthless. It has transcended its medium and made those still laboring within its received limitations seem … diminished. That’s how I feel when I read essays by Michael Pollan. Take his cover piece in New York Times Magazine‘s current green issue: "Why Bother?" It is profound, but …

The Pennsyltucky perspective

No difference between McCain and Dems on climate

I got home yesterday from canvassing for Barack Obama in the outskirts of Harrisburg, Penn. and found last week's edition of The Patriot-News (whose politics reporter, Brett Lieberman, describes the state as "Pennsyltucky" for its unique mix of urban, industrial, and backwoods), including a "Find Your Match" voter guide with a chart that's supposed to help people figure out which candidate is closer to them on key policies. Here's what the chart said about Obama, Clinton, and McCain on global warming: Clinton: $150 billion, 10-year energy package for new fuel sources; backed stringent caps on greenhouse-gas emissions. Obama: $150 billion, 10-year program for "climate friendly" energy supplies, favors stringent caps on greenhouse-gas emissions. McCain: Led Senate effort to cap greenhouse-gas emissions; favors tougher fuel efficiency.

Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars

New Sundance doc tells the story of the TXU coal fight in Texas

I finally got around to watching my preview copy of Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars, the new short documentary from Robert Redford’s Sundance outfit. It’s about the battle over the 12 coal plants proposed for Texas by TXU in 2007. A couple things that I thought were quite well done: Environmentalists play virtually no role — they’re scarcely seen, except on the edge of the action. The main players are small-town Texans and Texas mayors. It’s very clear that this isn’t about do-gooding from outsiders; it’s about Texans defending their own interests. Global warming plays very little role — I …

Me, worry?

Most Americans don’t believe global warming will pose a threat to them

A new series of Pew polls shows public concern for climate change is out of sync with the science:

Let's dump 'Earth' Day

Environment Day? Triage Day? The holiday needs more than a new name

Affection for our planet is misdirected and unrequited. We need to focus on saving ourselves. I have a new piece in Salon: "Let's dump 'Earth' Day." It is supposed to be mostly humorous. Or mostly serious. Anyway, the subject of renaming Earth Day has been on my mind for a while. An excerpt:

Fortune Brainstorm Green

An interview with Vinod Khosla

Adam Lashinsky interviews Vinod Khosla. I liveblog. VK’s four major investment areas: oil, coal, efficiency, and materials. AL: India finance minister called biofuels a crime against humanity. What up? VK: Food-based ethanol isn’t the big driver of food prices. Regardless, biofuels don’t have to be food-based. AL: But you’ve invested in food-based ethanol. VK: Only one, Cilian (sp?), to see if we could get a big reduction. But cellulosic has moved so quickly, it’s now clear that’s the winner. Price of oil has much larger impact on price of food that price of, say, corn. Also, a Merrill Lynch study …

Feds set fuel-economy benchmarks for automakers

Federal regulators will propose benchmarks Tuesday for automakers to hit on their way to reaching a fuel-economy requirement of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Auto fleets will have to average 27.8 mpg by 2011 and 31.6 mpg by 2015 — a more aggressive timetable than was required by Congress. That’s 35.7 mpg for passenger cars in 2015 (new cars averaged 31.3 mpg last year) and 28.6 mpg for light trucks (new trucks averaged 23.1 mpg last year). The proposal manages to gain acceptance from both automakers and enviros. Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers spokesfolks said the numbers will “stretch the …

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