Climate & Energy

Biodiesel in the dumps

To survive, producers wanly import feedstock and export fuel

At this point, serious greens still promoting biofuels are in a tight corner. Global grain stocks are at all-time lows and prices at all-time highs. That means heavy incentives to clear new land to plant crops — in precious rainforest regions in South America and Southeast Asia that sustain indigenous peoples and store titanic amounts of carbon. These lands are also concentrated centers of biodiversity. Sacrificing them for car fuel is a heinous crime. Anyone who wants to argue that such efforts amount to “economic development in the Third World” will have to account for a stark fact: transnational agribusiness …

Clinton and Obama boost coal in West Virginia

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both did some coal-boosting while campaigning in West Virginia this week. Clinton told West Virginians she’s always been in favor of “the cleanest coal possible,” but that “coal fits in very importantly” to America’s energy future. Asked about mountaintop-removal mining in a radio interview Wednesday, she hedged, saying she didn’t “know enough to have an independent opinion” but considered it a “trade-off” between “economic necessities and environmental damage.” (By the by, coal jobs have dropped 80 percent in the past half-century while coal production has increased. And the environmental damage is significant.) Obama has spoken …

Chris Mooney: That's not kryptonite after all

Does refuting deniers only strengthen and empower them?

Science journalist Chris Mooney, author of must-read The Republican War on Science, has a post at Science Progress titled "Enablers: Sometimes refuting unscientific nonsense reinforces it." This is a provocative and timely post, given the recent tussles I've been having with deniers and delayers. I've talked to Chris, and his occasional co-blogger Matthew Nisbet (who has a related post here) many times. And while we are probably 95 percent in agreement on most things climate, I don't quite buy their argument here: So we've reached a point where we may well be wasting our energies if we continue to battle climate skeptics. Indeed, we run the risk of propping them up far more than they deserve. For that's the other problem with constantly rebutting anti-science forces -- not only does it waste our time, but it may play right into their hands. Consider: Over at his blog, Framing Science, Matthew Nisbet makes a very strong case that the rhetorical strategy of the Heartland Institute is exceedingly similar to that of the anti-evolutionist think tank the Discovery Institute. If so, it follows that the defenders of climate science ought to be at least as leery of outright engagement with Heartland as the defenders of evolutionary science are when it comes to engaging with Discovery. The reason is that if you actually bother to rebut the Heartlands and Discoverys of the world, you instantly enter into a discourse on their own terms. The strategic framing these groups employ to attack mainstream science heavily features the rhetoric of scientific uncertainty ...

Biggers to Obama: Free Appalachia from coal

Jeff Biggers suggests an ambitious and risky Appalachian strategy for Barack Obama: By the 1920s, plundered for their coal and unable to compete with the non-union labor in Kentucky and West Virginia, the southern Illinois coal towns had turned into deforested and eroded wastelands, and were depicted by one government report as a “picture, almost unrelieved, of utter economic devastation.” Southern Illinois lay claim to the highest infant mortality rates in the nation. Today, stripmining in the central Appalachia coalfields is producing the same results. More than 470 mountains and their adjacent communities have been leveled, despoiled, and economically ruined …

Poof! 132 coal plants disappear

The magic mouse of Guy Caruso

Want to kill one coal plant? Use a lawyer. Want to kill a hundred? Use a spreadsheet. On March 4, without fanfare, a bureaucrat named Guy Caruso caused 132 coal plants to disappear with a wave of his magic mouse.

Report by Australia economist suggests ambitious climate policy

An interim report on the economic impact of climate change on Australia — Oz’s version of the Stern Review — has been produced by economics professor Ross Garnaut. The government-commissioned Garnaut Review, which will be published in full in September, points out that Australia’s dry climate, heavy reliance on agriculture, and tight trade relationships with developing countries in Asia make it more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than other developed countries. It suggests that Australia should this year commit to reducing emissions 60 percent by 2050, and be prepared to reduce emissions even more if an effective global …

Foreign energy 'sources'

McCain’s crooked talk on nuclear power

This week John McCain has an article in the Financial Times: "America must be a good role model." It has two paragraphs on the need for leadership on greenhouse gas reductions but endorses only one low-carbon energy source: Right now safe, climate-friendly nuclear energy is a critical way both to improve the quality of our air and to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources. That dependence, I am afraid, has become a vulnerability for both the US and Europe and a source of leverage for the oil and gas exporting autocracies. You can tell a politician is being wishy-washy when he or she uses the phrase "dependence on foreign energy sources." There is really only one foreign energy source Americans care much about -- oil. It comes from unstable and undemocratic regions, and our trade deficit in it now exceeds $1 billion a day. But nuclear power can't significantly reduce US oil consumption or imports -- because very, very little electricity in this country is generated by burning petroleum (only 1.6 percent of electricity in 2006 came from oil). [In the future that could change when a significant number of vehicles on the road substitute electricity for gasoline, but that is not imminent.]

Latest hot commodity: coal

As coal prices rise, U.S. coal exports boom

Environmentalists have helped scuttle more than 50 coal-fired power plants in the U.S. in the past year. That’s fantastic. But the movement to stop coal won’t help the climate unless it can globalize; for the climate, coal burned in China traps just as much warmth as coal burned in Texas. Nor will stopping more U.S. coal-fired power plants help save communities in the mining zones of Appalachia from environmental and economic devastation. That’s because U.S. coal companies are merrily exporting excess coal abroad. Check out this New York Times graphic: U.S. coal exports are up from under 40 million tons …

The Even Sterner Review

Australia’s pivotal Garnaut climate report to back 100 percent permit auctions

The bar for national climate policy just inched up again. In April of last year Australia’s State and Territory Governments commissioned a comprehensive independent study from economics professor Ross Garnaut. The Garnaut Climate Change Review is meant to be Australia’s version of the U.K.’s influential Stern Review: it will examine the economic impacts of climate change and recommend policy responses. The final report isn’t due until September — right in the heated final days of the U.S. presidential election — but a preliminary interim report [PDF] was released today, and it’s ambitious. Three aspects jump out: 100 percent auctioning of …