Climate & Energy

Celebrating the high price of oil ... kind of

Increased attractiveness of alternative energy is some consolation

Oil just passed the $106 mark, putting it well above the inflation-adjusted record set just a few days ago. In an earlier post, I predicted that the price of oil would go down. So far I have obviously been wrong, although I suspect that the price will decline by the end of the year since this seems awfully like a part of the greater speculative commodity bubble we are witnessing. But putting that aside for a moment, there is one great benefit of the high price of oil that environmentalists should be celebrating: it is making alternative energy much more attractive, so much so that the high price may usher in a major wave of renewable energy projects that will, in turn, lead to greater scale economies and perhaps the mainstreaming of alternative energy. This would be a great thing. Now for the bad part. First off, if politicians hadn't been so cowardly and short-sighted and had actually followed economists' advice for a carbon tax long ago, the high prices of energy could be funneled into tax rebates for us all or research and development for all sorts of green technologies. Instead, the money is going to the oil companies and the terrorists. Not good. Second, the high prices of energy are leading to inflation, which is greatly complicating the Federal Reserve's ability to deal with the recession we're in (yes, it's a recession), and the effects are highly regressive, hurting the poor much more than the rich. Overall, the high price of energy is doing some pretty bad things -- but if it can help tilt the playing field to alternative energy, this silver lining may end up being an amazing turning point in history.

Introducing the Lawnba

Solar-powered lawnmower cuts grass unsupervised

OK, it’s not really called a Lawnba. But it’s still cool: The zero-emissions Husqvarna Automower Solar Hybrid is the world’s first solar/electric hybrid robot lawnmower. … The lawnmower uses the same amount of energy as a standard light bulb and is made from 90 percent recyclable materials. … The mower cuts the grass with small blades in an irregular pattern, leaving a fine mulch that does not need raking and acts as fertiliser for the lawn. A freshly mown lawn, no green thumb required.

San Francisco gets even greener

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom got jiggy with eco-measures this week. He signed into a law a requirement that the city’s taxi fleet be converted to low-emission vehicles by 2011; ordered all city departments to purchase 100 percent recycled paper and reduce overall paper use by 20 percent by 2010; and announced his support for a tidal-energy project in the San Francisco Bay, despite a recent study’s conclusions that the project would be more expensive than it’s worth. Newsom has proposed strict green-building standards for his city and will submit a carbon tax to voters; folks in don’t-call-it-Frisco also live …

Bringing a knife to a gunfight

What drives climate change denial?

David and I have apparently crossed blog streams (very dangerous; never do this), but I do want to expand a bit on this basic idea: climate change skepticism has little to do with science. Rather, it is an outgrowth of the culture war. This point seems both totally obvious and strangely unremarked. At the risk of generalizing, environmentalists tend to view climate change denialism as a top-down, money-driven phenomenon. Energy producers, auto manufacturers, oil companies, and other interested parties court politicians, buy friendly scientists, and groom armies of lawyers, lobbyists, and op-ed writers to push their agenda. Or so the theory goes. And, of course, there's a lot of merit to that theory. You don't need a compass to follow the trail of money. But the theory only goes so far. A shrinking but significant proportion of average American citizens reject the reality of climate change. The reasons for this are surely overdetermined -- scientific confusion, media spin, hopelessness in the face of a big problem, etc. -- but it's impossible to ignore the basic cultural resentment underlying everything from Planet Gore to the regular flow of blog comments and email I get from dedicated dead-enders.

Is it still disinformation if the speaker believes it's true?

Bush’s keynote at WIREC surpasses misinformation

Scholars have been debating that question for ages, along with "If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around, does it make a sound?" and "Why don't we see any baby squirrels?" and "What the heck is happening on ABC's Lost?" (BTW, if anyone actually knows what the heck is happening on Lost, how Sayid ends up being Ben's hitman (!), let me know -- I still believe the "island is purgatory" theory -- it certainly is for viewers -- even though it has been debunked by the show's creator. As if! I guess that makes me a Lost denier ... but I digress.) I was inspired to re-examine this age-old question after the recent remarks of the Disinformer-in-Chief in his keynote address at the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference, a ministerial-level conference hosted by the U.S. government. He said: Now, look, I understand stereotypes are hard to defeat. People get an image planted in their head, and sometimes it causes them not to listen to the facts. But America is in the lead when it comes to energy independence; we're in the lead when it comes to new technologies; we're in the lead when it comes to global climate change -- and we'll stay that way. [Applause.] Side note: The "Is it still disinformation if the speaker gets applause?" question was actually settled by Aristotle himself in his little-known book The Duh of Rhetoric.

What's wrong with the WCI?

The Western Climate Initiative’s first proposal ducks biggest climate problem

The Western Climate Initiative is a path-breaking effort. Insufficient federal progress prompted seven states and two provinces to join together to reduce climate pollution by means of an economy-wide cap-and-trade program. It's a momentous opportunity, and many folks have been working hard to ensure that it's a success. Unfortunately, there's now cause for serious concern. Yesterday evening, WCI released its draft proposal (PDF). It proposes an initial cap that would cover less than half of the region's total emissions. Most surprisingly, WCI does not recommend including emissions from transportation fuels, by far the largest source of climate pollution in the West. [Update 3/7: The recommendation doesn't exclude transportation precisely, but rather defers the decision until further economic studies are completed.] The proposal is at odds with WCI's own stated principles that include a commitment to cover "as many emissions sources as practical." And for an effort born of frustration with federal lawmakers, it's bizarre that the proposal is significantly smaller in scope than recent federal bills (PDF), including Leiberman-Warner. There are no big technical challenges to including transportation fuels. In fact, the WCI admits that while there are a couple of hurdles, it's administratively feasible to include transportation emissions. So what's going on? No one knows for sure.