Climate & Energy

Jeffrey Sachs, economist and eco-problem solver, chats about his plans to save the world

Jeffrey Sachs speaks at the University of North Carolina. Photo: Kevin Tsui Jeffrey Sachs — the renowned economist who devised a grand plan in 2005 …

G8 nations agree to cut emissions 50 percent by 2050 (sort of)

At this year’s Group of Eight meeting in Japan, the world’s richest nations more or less agreed to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 50 percent by 2050. …

'Cooling a fevered planet' in <em>Z</em> Magazine

Economics, policy, and vision for fighting global warming

Z magazine has published an extended article by me on the politics and economics of global warming. It begins: Nobody, except for a small lunatic fringe, still disputes that human-caused climate chaos endangers all of us. Further, most serious scientific and technical groups who have looked at the question have concluded that we have the technological capability today to replace greenhouse-gas emitting fossil fuels with efficiency improvements and clean energy -- usually at a maximum cost of around the current worldwide military budget, probably much less. The question therefore is: What's stopping us? To answer that we need to look at the causes of global warming -- not the physical causes, but the economic and political flaws in our system that have prevented solutions from being implemented long after the problem was known. One driver is inequality and the maintenance of power that keeps inequality in place produces perverse incentives in resource use. Read the whole thing. (Note this will disappear behind a paywall eventually. I urge you to buy a copy of Zmag or subscribe to the electronic edition to support alternative media. But if you want to read it for free, grab your electronic copy now.)

Oil prices will go ... up?

No easy explanation for continued price increases in the oil markets

At the end of last year I predicted that the price of oil would go down; so far I have been terribly wrong. My prediction, shared by many other economists and energy experts, was premised on a reasonable assumption: Since the world was headed for an economic slowdown, brought about the housing bubble and the financial crisis, global demand for energy would likely moderate, putting downward pressure on prices. While it was a sensible prediction, I am happy that no one took me up on my bet. So what happened?

State workers in Utah will enjoy mandatory three-day weekends

Starting in August, thousands of Utahns will begin enjoying mandatory three-day weekends. Some 17,000 government employees will switch to a compressed workweek — four days …

CCS: Environmental whack-a-mole

Carbon capture and sequestration gets heralded as a great way to lower CO2 emissions and keep burning coal. Unfortuantely, it also kills the efficiency of the coal plant, meaning that every other environmental externality associated with coal-fired generation -- from mountaintop removal to power plant siting -- is exacerbated by CCS. Planet Ark puts it succinctly: The process called carbon capture and sequestration requires as much as 20 percent of the electricity a power plant generates. That essentially means that for every five coal plants using the technology, a sixth would be required just to power the capture and burial of carbon dioxide produced.

The Iraqi Oil Ministry's new fave five

All the oil news that’s fit to print

This essay was originally published on TomDispatch and is republished here with Tom's kind permission. ----- On June 19, the New York Times broke the story in an article headlined "Deals with Iraq Are Set to Bring Oil Giants Back: Rare No-Bid Contracts, A Foothold for Western Companies Seeking Future Rewards." Finally, after a long five years-plus, there was proof that the occupation of Iraq really did have something or other to do with oil. Quoting unnamed Iraqi Oil Ministry bureaucrats, oil company officials, and an anonymous American diplomat, Andrew Kramer of the Times wrote: "Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP ... along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq's Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq's largest fields." The news caused a minor stir, as other newspapers picked up and advanced the story and the mainstream media, only a few years late, began to seriously consider the significance of oil to the occupation of Iraq. As always happens when, for whatever reason, you come late to a major story and find yourself playing catch-up on the run, there are a few corrections and blind spots in the current coverage that might be worth addressing before another five years pass. In the spirit of collegiality, I offer the following leads for the mainstream media to consider as they change gears from no-comment to hot-pursuit when it comes to the story of Iraq's most sought after commodity. I'm talking, of course, about that "sea of oil" on which, as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz pointed out way back in May 2003, the month after Baghdad fell, Iraq "floats."

The hare and the tortoise

Costs for utilities rise faster than politically palatable rate changes can keep up

This is one for the "Things No One is Talking About But Should" file. Greenwire has this report ($ub. req'd) from Standard & Poor's noting that the credit risk of our utilities depends in large part on their ability to recover rising fuel costs, and this ability is diminished due to the fact that: High fuel costs translate directly to higher customer rates, but instituting constant and often significant increases is politically and socially unpalatable. This gets it half right.

Voters' Voices: Oregon II

A chat with Portland’s Charlie Stephens about petrodollars and oil wars

This is part of a series of dispatches from Melinda Henneberger, who's talking to voters around the U.S. about their views on the environment and the election. One thing I learned traveling around the country a couple of years ago, talking to voters for a political book I was working on, is that Americans tend to give their elected officials a super-size helping of benefit of the doubt. One night, I was in Suffolk, Va., having dinner with some active-duty Navy women -- the real "security moms" -- who were in between tours in the Persian Gulf. One of them, a young Republican named Elizabeth DeAngelo, remarked that the war in Iraq had had no effect on her political views, because she did not consider the decision to go to war a partisan matter. "Being in the military opens your eyes that it is dangerous out there," said DeAngelo, who watched the first "shock and awe" bombs fall from the deck the U.S.S. Kearsarge, "and you have to believe that no president would want to run the government into the ground, for their legacy, if nothing else. So if a Democrat did get elected, I wouldn't think, 'Oh, no!' I don't know if the reasons if we went over there were the right reasons. But even though I didn't like [President] Clinton as a person, I can't believe -- nobody, I think, would put several hundred thousand people in a conflict for oil. Even if it were Clinton, I wouldn't think that. I think they do what they think is right." A number of people I spoke to across the country made that same point -- that politics aside, no American president could possibly be that venal, or stoop so low as to put Americans in harm's way over a mere commodity. Much of the rest of the world does not have this kind of confidence in the best intentions of its leaders, but we do. Which is why we're still unsure about the "real reason" we went into Iraq. It's why most reporters find it easier to believe we wandered into this misadventure as the result of some Oedipal psychodrama in the Bush family, or plain incompetence. And it's why I had a really, really hard time hearing what Charlie Stephens had to tell me when I sat down with him in Portland, Ore., a couple of weeks ago.