Climate & Energy

Software calculates eco-impact of printers and copiers

Xerox is offering a new software calculator to help companies reduce the energy suckage of printers, copiers, and other newfangled technology. The calculator will consider factors including type of print cartridge, print color, speed, number of pages printed per month, and Energy Star rating, then create bar graphs demonstrating energy consumption, greenhouse gases, and solid waste produced from use of the machine. Graphs comparing funniness-of-butt-copying to chances-of-being-fired not included.

Boston looks to generate electricity from indoor composting

The city of Boston is looking to build an urban, indoor composting facility. Most cities, if they compost at all, transport food and yard waste in gas-guzzling trucks to dumps outside the city limits, where energy and methane from decomposing biomass get lost to the atmosphere. The first-of-its-kind proposed Boston facility would generate electricity from rotting leaves and fruit, enough to potentially power 1,500 homes. The project would create green jobs, make fertilizer available to sell, and, of course, put all of those colorful New England leaves to good use. The facility is still in planning stages, but Mayor Tom …

Carbon policy details: Part 1

Carbon policy is close to getting the macro right, but plenty of smaller decisions remain

My recent exchange with Gar has made it clear that there is a wide gulf between those details of carbon policy that are theoretically optimal and those which actually impact carbon reductions. Or, to be blunt, those that come up in our weekly staff meetings as actually affecting our decision to consider potential carbon reduction projects and those which simply elicit groans around the conference room of the "great intent, why did they screw up the execution?" variety.* From our perspective, the good news is that our policy does finally appear to be moving not only toward putting a price on CO2 emissions, but getting the really important details (like auction vs. allocation) right. The bad news is that most of the other details are still wrong.

Good gone wild

700 college students and the Clinton Global Initiative in New Orleans for spring break

Commitments to start social-change initiatives and spirited discussions of global issues -- these aren't typical results of 700 college students heading to New Orleans during spring break season. But last weekend, students from a diverse group of colleges, several dozen university presidents, and prominent social change agents -- not to mention Bill Clinton -- spent a day and a half on Tulane University's campus for Clinton Global Initiative University (with a cameo by Brad Pitt). Trying to live-blog an event while you're also trying to finish your senior thesis -- not a good idea. Nonetheless, a belated report from the Clinton Global Initiative's new youth event:

NYT offers special section on green biz

The Sierra Club is embarking on its first product endorsement, putting its logo on Clorox’s new Green Works cleaning products. Various businesses are aiming to bypass carbon neutrality and move straight on into carbon negativity. These and more stories show up in a New York Times “Business of Green” section Wednesday, which covers the green-biz gamut, from companies trying to manufacture safer chemicals, to financial techniques helping to grow the solar sector, to shareholders unconvinced that going green means making green. The rising of green-collar jobs and the growth of academic programs focused at moving students into them are also …

On carbon: Tax, and spend wisely

What investments should be made with carbon tax revenue?

Monica Prasad had an op-ed in The New York Times yesterday called "On Carbon: Tax, Don’t Spend." It’s … peculiar. This basic pitch: "if reducing emissions is the goal, then a carbon tax is a tax you want to impose but never collect." That is to say, per the headline, you Don’t Spend the tax revenue. Far as I can tell, though, what Prasad calls not spending looks al lot like what the rest of us call spending. She says the revenue from the tax should be returned to industry in the form of investments, "earmarking much of it to …

California board to vote on requiring fewer zero-emission vehicles

On Thursday, the California Air Resources Board will vote on whether to require fewer zero-emissions vehicles on the state’s roads in coming years. As it stands now, automakers must sell 25,000 zero-emission vehicles by 2014 and an additional 50,000 by 2017. Under the proposed changes, the numbers would drop to 2,500 by 2014 and 25,000 by 2017, with the difference made up by selling plug-in hybrids or vehicles with hydrogen-powered internal combustion engines. Proponents of the change, including some automakers, say that it’s a more realistic requirement since it focuses on closer-to-market technologies. However, the Union of Concerned Scientists and …

Sachs gets it wrong

Since when is regulation optimal?

I like Jeffrey Sachs, and I generally agree with what he has to say about poverty, health, and the obligations of the rich to look after the poor. But he gets it dead wrong in the current Scientific American: Even with a cutback in wasteful energy spending, our current technologies cannot support both a decline in carbon dioxide emissions and an expanding global economy. Says who? Why can't we find ways to dramatically lower our primary energy use per dollar of GDP? Not because we're already so perfectly balanced. And not because the electric industry (amounting to 40 percent of U.S. GHG emissions) has done a damn thing to increase their energy efficiency in the last 50 years. Even if every industrial facility in the country had optimally designed their factories for energy efficiency (they didn't), we still would need to confront this reality: an optimal capital allocation when natural gas was $3/MMBtu, coal was $1/MMBtu, oil was $20/bbl, and electricity was 6 cents/kWh looks pretty suboptimal when natural gas is up to $10, coal is pushing $3, oil is north of $100, and electric is running towards 9 cents. Yes, technology is good. But we have to get beyond the idea that regulation is optimal, all capital is optimally deployed, and there are no significant opportunities for energy efficiency.

The biggest source of mistakes: carbon vs. carbon dioxide

A factor of 3.67 makes a big difference when discussing climate

The biggest source of confusion and errors in climate discussions probably concerns "carbon" versus "carbon dioxide." I was reminded of this last week when I saw an analysis done for a major environmental group that confused the two and hence was wrong by a large factor (3.67). The paragraph I usually include in my writing: Some people use carbon rather than carbon dioxide as a metric. The fraction of carbon in carbon dioxide is the ratio of their weights. The atomic weight of carbon is 12 atomic mass units, while the weight of carbon dioxide is 44, because it includes two oxygen atoms that each weigh 16. So, to switch from one to the other, use the formula: One ton of carbon equals 44/12 = 11/3 = 3.67 tons of carbon dioxide. Thus 11 tons of carbon dioxide equals 3 tons of carbon, and a price of $30 per ton of carbon dioxide equals a price of $110 per ton of carbon.