Climate & Energy

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Here's another good reason to fix a shaky and outdated power grid, from the Defense Science Board: keeping the Air Force flying during the next terrorist attack.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.

Survey says ... environment and economy not mutually exclusive!

Americans favor conservation and see economically sound opportunities in protection

Standard survey questions often uphold (or manufacture) false dichotomies. Case in point: the perpetual practice of pitting the environment against the economy. Nonetheless, these questions can reveal interesting trends over time. And every now and then, the numbers show that the public sees right through "either/or" questions that just don't add up -- like recent research that shows Americans link economic opportunity to environmental protection. First, recent trends on that pesky "environment vs. economy" question: According to a new Gallup poll conducted March 6-9, despite fears of a looming recession, Americans continue to favor protecting the environment even at the risk of curbing economic growth: 49 percent to 42 percent. But this seven-point margin is down from the 18-point margin of a year ago, when 55 percent favored the environment. Further, the 49 percent of Americans currently favoring the environment over growth is only two points above the historical low over the past couple of decades.

Small hydro, big potential

‘Run of river’ projects set for a boom?

When I bought my house, I didn't realize that the stream that travels its acres is perennial and spring-fed ... which seemed like the perfect scenario for a microhydro generator. These units make a lot of power all day and night, unlike solar and (usually) wind. It works by siphoning off a portion of water to run through a pipe, then through a generator, and then back into the creek. Voilà! So I did the measurements and found 140 gallons per minute, which is about enough for the purpose, but less than a 20 foot drop in elevation, which is the killer. Microhydro usually requires either high head or high volumes to pencil out, but I have barely the minimum of each. At best, it would account for 20 percent of the house's needs -- not quite good enough for me to think too deeply about the capital expense or the fact that the town's Conservation Commission probably wouldn't allow the use. Other nearby commissions have also been unfriendly to residents employing or proposing it on their properties, even though microhydro is not a consumptive use and requires no dams. I have some small consolation, though, knowing that all the electricity in this portion of my county's grid is already 100 percent hydro, due to its proximity to the Deerfield River (one of the most developed rivers in the country, with small dams working up a good portion of its length from southern Vermont into western Massachusetts). Which is nice, in a way: the next nearest power plant to my community uses coal from a mountaintop removal mine in Appalachia, so this somewhat green power is welcome. So I was interested to see news that small hydro is possibly on the verge of a boom, with new estimates of 30,000 MW of potential small hydro capacity in the U.S. alone. This would build on small hydro's ubiquity in the industry, if the article is right that 80 percent of the existing hydro projects in the U.S. are low power (under 1 MW) or small hydro (1 to 30 MW). The industry is saying it can get more power out of falling water without any more dams: