Climate & Energy

Stormy weather

NewScientist cover story looks at link between tornadoes and global warming

With a cover that makes Twister look like a heartwarming inspirational flick, the August 2 issue of NewScientist asks if global warming is to blame …

I wish they all could be California's plans

Energy efficiency, part 4

California and its utilities have achieved remarkably consistent energy efficiency gains for three decades. How did they do it? In part, a smart California Energy Commission has promoted strong building standards and the aggressive deployment of energy-efficient technologies and strategies -- and has done so with support of both Democratic and Republican leadership over three decades. I talked to California energy commissioner Art Rosenfeld -- a former DOE colleague and the godfather of energy efficiency -- about what the state does, and here are some interesting details he offered, as discussed in "Why we never need to build another polluting power plant":

Speaking of expiring support for renewables …

Is everyone aware that there are juicy residential tax credits from Uncle Sugar set to expire on 31 Dec. 2008? Like a $2,000 credit for installing a fairly generic solar hot water system that could save you tons of money over the years (and prevent lots of carbon emissions)? Here's a new website where you can plug in your zip code and get a report showing all the incentives available in your area. Take a look! Don't let one of the few good parts of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 expire before you take advantage of it.

Krugman almost gets 'Economics of catastrophe'

Review of climate change impact economics

Paul Krugman has a blog post about one of my favorite economists, Marty Weitzman. He has the central point right, which is that “on any …

Sustainable biotech crops -- solution or oxymoron?

Industry report touts potential for biotech crops to combat climate change

I am always a sucker for a catchy sounding report -- like the one the World Business Council for Sustainable Development released last week: "Agricultural Ecosystems: Facts and Trends." It had it all: the noble sounding "Council," the association between agriculture and ecosystems, and the appeal to my inner science-geek with words like "facts" and "trends." I printed it out enthusiastically and got out my highlighter, ready to read all of the fascinating new insights into agriculture, food, and the environment. I was intrigued by the beginning section on consumer patterns which detailed the increased demand for meat in developing countries and the impact this might have worldwide. One section focused on the role of animal production in climate change. I skipped along to the climate section nodding my head in agreement the entire time: converting grasslands to agriculture is a huge source of carbon dioxide emissions; conventional agriculture can threaten biodiversity; and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions can be mitigated by integrated crop management and minimum tillage. I balked a bit when they cited that agriculture produced 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the year 2000 (since then the United Nations has stated that animal production alone produces 18 percent of our global greenhouse gas emissions), but I still felt confident that the report might be worth something. Maybe I set my expectations a bit high.

The high cost of low energy prices

The cheaper the power, the more we use

I'm going to geek out for a second. But first, check out this graph: I suppose there are two lessons: Price and consumption are not perfectly correlated. Clearly there are many non-price factors affecting electricity consumption. (These include, at least, the local climate, building size and type, and local energy efficiency policies.) But still ... Price definitely affects use, and the fit gets better as you move up the price axis. The more expensive electricity is, the less likely consumers are to be profligate. In energy circles it's sometimes alleged that consumers are price insensitive or economically irrational about consumption. There's some truth to that, but it's only a partial truth. These charts help demonstrate why carbon pricing can be effective. Putting a price on carbon -- or a price on energy -- acts to reduce consumption. Price is not the only factor and it may not even be the biggest factor, but it does appear to matter. And it appears to matter more above about 10 or 12 cents per kilowatt hour. This hooks into a larger debate in the Western Climate Initiative.

Pump up the volume

Obama responds to McCain’s ‘Pump’ ad with call for higher mileage standards and renewables

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama released a new television ad on energy prices yesterday — a direct response to John McCain’s recent ad blaming Obama …

Climate gets religion

Richard Cizik and enviro religious leaders speak to Grist on climate leadership

Evangelicals have been absent without leave from the climate change discussion, failing to push the Republican Party to take the issue seriously, according to Richard Cizik, the vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals. Evangelicals, Cizik said, are looking for "prophetic leadership" to champion the climate cause. Surprisingly, he said that voice may not come from traditional conservative circles. "The advantage that Barack Obama brings to the equation is that he doesn't have the rest of his party -- a significant wing of his party -- telling him to go slow or do nothing," Cizik told Grist last week when he was in Seattle for an exhibition of wildlife photography at the Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus. He stopped by Grist's office with LeeAnne Beres of Earth Ministry and Peter Illyn of Restoring Eden to discuss the need for religion to engage in the climate debate and take responsibility for its lack of action on the "moral and spiritual problems" of climate change. Evangelicals AWOL from climate debate 2008 presidential race Though unwilling to endorse any political candidate and open about his personal alliances to the GOP, Cizik did express his disapproval of the Republican party's stick-in-the-mud attitude toward climate change. He called for "bold action," and rejected the "climate-light Bushisms" that the party has been dangling before the American people. He said he "always liked John McCain for his green stand," but recognized Barack Obama as the "greener" candidate who could take climate action without having to drag his party along kicking and screaming. A pro-life view of creation Known primarily for focusing on abortion and other social issues, Evangelicals are latecomers to the climate debate. However, as Illyn said, "creation care" can be considered a way to strengthen and enlarge the pro-life vision. Illyn also acknowledged Barack Obama for his climate positions, but he's not eager to give up on John McCain:

Four senators call for perjury investigation of EPA chief’s testimony

Four senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee have called for the resignation of EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and have asked the U.S. attorney …