Climate & Energy

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.

Meanwhile ...

Not looking good for ice shelf in the Antarctic

... over there: While the area of collapse involves 160 square miles at present, a large part of the 5,000-square-mile Wilkins Ice Shelf is now supported only by a narrow strip of ice between two islands, said CU-Boulder's Ted Scambos, lead scientist at NSIDC. "If there is a little bit more retreat, this last 'ice buttress' could collapse and we'd likely lose about half the total ice shelf area in the next few years."

We'll always have Hollywood

No American-made car meets China’s fuel standards

The Toronto Star reported an alarming factoid earlier this month: No gasoline-powered car assembled in North America would meet China's current fuel-efficiency standard. That's mainly because: Currently, their standard is much higher than ours. Their standard is a minimum-allowable efficiency standard rather than a "fleet-average" standard like ours. Our lame car companies don't make their (relatively few) most efficient vehicles in this country. As for our much-hyped new 35-mpg (average) standard -- in 2020, it will take us to where the Chinese are now (but not even to where Japan and Europe were six years ago). If we don't rescind it, that is. So whether you believe in human-caused global warming or peak oil, America remains unprepared to capture the huge explosion in jobs this century for clean, fuel-efficient cars. Oh, and by 2010, China will be the world leader in wind turbine manufacturing and solar photovoltaics manufacturing. No worries, though: our TV and movie sales overseas still kick butt. For now.

Giant Antarctic ice chunk collapses

A 160-square-mile chunk of ice — that’s seven times the size of Manhattan — has collapsed off of the Wilkins ice shelf in Antarctica. The entire ice shelf, which is approximately the size of Connecticut, is “hanging by a thread,” says climate scientist David Vaughan: “We’ll know in the next few days or weeks what its fate will be.” Scientists are not concerned that the ice breakage will have an immediate effect on sea-level rise, but, says researcher Sarah Das, such collapses are “more indicative of a tipping point or trigger in the climate system.” Which is so not what …