Climate & Energy

The greening of the global south

Drawing actual conclusions about the international challenge

Here's something novel: a well-informed and honest article from a significant British magazine (Prospect) that looks hard at the core political challenges of global climate stabilization and then draws some conclusions. And it's written by Simon Retallack, who knows his way around both the climate policy debate and the climate movement.

Yet another perk of energy-efficient buildings

Car plant cuts energy costs $627,000 with two-month payback — with DOE help

Economic models greatly overestimate the cost of carbon mitigation, in large part because economists simply don't believe (and hence don't model) that the economy has lots of high-return energy efficiency opportunities. In their theory, the economy is always operating near efficiency. Reality is very different than economic models. I have never visited a factory or commercial buildings that didn't have huge energy-saving opportunities, many of which also increase productivity. I wrote a book several years ago with a hundred real-world case studies: Cool Companies: How the Best Businesses Boost Profits and Productivity by Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Studies that model such real-world savings, like the 2007 McKinsey & Co. report, find deep emissions reductions are possible at low net cost to the U.S. (and world) economy. Government has an important role in enabling these energy savings. The office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, which I used to run, has lots of (underfunded) programs that deliver savings every day. One typical example showed up in my inbox yesterday, from the Industrial Technologies Program:

Blocking state leadership on global warming

Johnson made a decision that should have belonged to Congress

Last week, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson published the official explanation of his decision to deny a waiver of preemption for California's program to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles. Robert Sussman, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, has a very good discussion of the misguided reasoning Johnson uses. The bottom line: The role of state programs under a comprehensive climate change framework may be a legitimate subject for debate by Congress as it writes legislation. But Johnson's job wasn't to make policy judgments that belong to Congress. It was to apply the law. He failed in that responsibility. Although his decision will probably be undone, it will regrettably divert precious time and energy from the urgent task of slowing global warming.

Expensive coal

Three related stories about coal power

See if you can connect the dots. First this, from Greenwire ($ub. req'd): West Virginia regulators have approved American Electric Power's plan to build a $2.3 billion clean coal plant. Appalachian Power Co., a subsidiary of Ohio-based AEP, received approval for the project Thursday from the Public Service Commission. Regulators say the 629-megawatt Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle plant is needed to help AEP meet demand for electricity.

CSM notes a slowing in the Coal Rush

The often-outstanding Christian Science Monitor notes a distinct reversal of fortunes (at least here in the U.S.) for The Enemy of the Human Race. The situation is so dire that a coal industry guy has had to resort to the great standby of the corporate toolbox, namely lying: "If they don't start building coal plants, it's going to be an economic prosperity problem for the country," says Richard Storm, CEO of Storm Technologies, an Albemarle, N.C., company that specializes in optimizing coal-fired power plants. "We need coal. Coal is a national treasure."

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.