Climate & Energy

New bulb on the block

Spendy mercury-free LED bulb supposedly lasts 50,000 hours

Somewhere, in school or on the job, every engineer learns about tradeoffs -- that there is no free lunch, and that, once a design is at all reasonable, gains in one dimension come at the cost of compromises in others. The shorthand statement of this is the pithy evergreen in design classes: "Good, fast, and cheap. Pick two!" There's a new bulb out: a 13-watt LED array bulb with an integral diffuser, so you don't see the annoying space-craft look of little tiny rows of LEDs like the first-generation LED lamps offer. It has no mercury, a boon, and lasts about five times longer than its 13-watt compact-florescent competitors, while being much faster-acting and producing a warmer light. It costs a boatload, at least now ($90). But I still have my first compact florescent bulbs from 1989: huge, heavy ballasts, barely "compact" at all. I'll buy one of these whenever I need a new bulb and gradually switch over all the hard-to-reach spots. An interesting video comparison with 100-watt incandescent bulbs and 13-watt compact florescent bulbs is available at the link.

NOAA news isn't good news

Atmospheric carbon dioxide, methane rise sharply in 2007

The news from NOAA is that all our dawdling on climate action this decade is having real impact on the atmosphere: Concentrations of CO2 jumped 2.4 ppm in 2007, taking us to 385 ppm (preindustrial levels hovered around 280 through 1850). That is an increase of 0.6 percent (or 19 billion tons). If we stay at that growth rate, we'll be at 465 ppm by 2050 -- and that assumes (improbably) that the various carbon sinks don't keep saturating (see here and here). Levels of methane (a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2) rose last year for the first time since 1998, perhaps an early indication of thawing permafrost.

Buckeyes on solar

Renewable energy standard passed in Ohio

Ohio gets 87 percent of its electricity from coal (and the rest is mostly nukes), putting it in the upper echelon of coal-using states in the nation (No. 2 behind Texas, to be precise). And that, friends, is about to change, because yesterday the Ohio Legislature passed a renewable energy standard requiring utilities to provide 12.5 percent of Ohio's electricity from clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2025. This bill has a solar-specific requirement that will result in about 594 MW of solar in the Buckeye State. Not too shabby! Kudos to Environment Ohio and the thousands of other activists that worked hard to make it happen. Next, the bill lands on Gov. Strickland's desk. If you like, take a moment to email the governor to thank him for making clean energy a top priority and encourage him to take the final step of signing this bill into law.

What is the Vectrix?

Electric bike zips up Berkeley hills with ease

An ex-girlfriend of mine placed great diagnostic weight on the following question: Would you rather have one cookie now or two cookies later? I am generally a two-cookies-later person, and she ... well, now that I think of it, she was more of a two-cookies-now kind of person, which explains ... Photo: Sonietta46 I digress. The point is that if you have been reading all the recent news about the Tesla and the Volt, and now Think is coming to America, and apparently Project Better Place is going hook up everyone in Denmark and Israel -- and you are perhaps pissed at the oil companies, and food riots are scaring the shit out of you, and the rocketing price of gas makes you wonder if the peak oil kids are right -- well, who can blame you for wanting an electric car right now? Unfortunately, you are kind of screwed. I mean, the Zenn is kind of cute, but 35 mph? Tesla takes reservations, but a reservation doesn't really get you to the grocery store, does it?

Details matter

Lieberman-Warner criticism, Part 1

Lieberman-Warner is deeply flawed. And like most things political, it's most passionate defenders and opponents are insufferable. It is sad but true that there is no such thing as perfect legislation, for the simple reason that the democratic process demands compromise. Therefore, to the extent that Lieberman-Warner is only imperfect to the degree that is demanded by our political process (e.g., if it's the best we can do, all considering), so be it. It's not that good. And lest there be any confusion, I come to bury, not to praise. But that doesn't mean that we ought not have a more responsible discussion of the details of Lieberman-Warner and how they can be better framed. Because like it or not, this is the train upon which our national greenhouse gas policy will be framed. It may or may not leave the station prior to 2009 (I for one think it won't), but it's going to be the framework from which any future bill starts. And rather than expend our effort trying to derail that train, this is the time to be reviewing the cars. Keep the good ones, replace the bad ones (probably overhauling the engine in the process), but don't delude ourselves into thinking that we can throw the whole thing out, start fresh, and end up with perfection. Here, then, is my attempt to try to dive into those details so that we can have a more enlightened debate.

Mountain pine beetles fueling climate change via tree deaths

Ravenous populations of mountain pine beetles in Canada’s forests are contributing significantly to climate change through killing off large numbers of trees, according to a study in the journal Nature. So far, the beetles have …

Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 2

The 14 wedges needed to stabilize emissions

In this post I will lay out "the solution" to global warming, focusing primarily on the 14 "stabilization wedges." Part 1 argued that stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450 ppm is not politically possible today, but that it is certainly achievable from an economic and technological perspective. It would require some 14 of Princeton's "stabilization wedges" -- strategies and/or technologies that over a period of a few decades each reduce global carbon emissions by one billion metric tons per year from projected levels (see technical paper here [PDF], less technical one here [PDF]). The reason that we need twice as many wedges as Princeton's Pacala and Socolow have said we need was explained in Part 1. I agree with the IPCC, which concluded last year that "The range of stabilization levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are currently available and those that are expected to be commercialised in coming decades." The technologies they say can beat 450 ppm are here. Technology Review, one of the nation's leading technology magazines, also argued in a cover story two years ago, "It's Not Too Late," that "Catastrophic climate change is not inevitable. We possess the technologies that could forestall global warming." I do believe only "one" solution exists in this sense -- We must deploy every conceivable energy-efficient and low carbon technology that we have today as fast as we can. Princeton's Pacala and Socolow proposed that this could be done over 50 years, but that is almost certainly too slow.

How cool is your county?

Counties lead on global warming as federal feuding continues

Here in D.C., we're deadlocked (thanks largely to Republicans beholden to Big Oil) over no-brainers like taking back $13.5 billion in giveaways to Big Oil in order to fund the extension of key clean energy tax incentives and forestall a crash in the renewable energy industry. Meanwhile, cities, states, and counties continue to take the lead in putting in place the kind of progressive, innovative policy solutions that we can only dream of at the federal level for the time being. A great example of the continuing groundswell of local government action to combat global warming happened just yesterday in Montgomery County, Maryland -- a wealthy suburban area just across the D.C. line. The county council passed a series of seven bills that make up a package of 25 far-reaching environmental initiatives designed to help slash the county's global warming emissions. The centerpiece of the county's Earth Day legislative extravaganza is a mandate requiring all new homes built after January 2010 to meet federal Energy Star standards. This would help cut residential energy use some 15-30 percent -- cutting both emissions and consumers' energy bills.

Power to the people

Neighbors help neighbors get power from the sun

Co-ops are hugely underrated for their potential to make good happen in the world. As an example, the renewable energy co-op I'm a member of in the Northeast, aptly named Co-op Power, had its first "member to member" solar hot water installation this weekend. The power of this co-op is in its 300-plus members' enthusiasm, and it was in evidence on this day as our trained team hoisted two panels into place, which were making hot water by evening. Photo: Erik Hoffner

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