Climate & Energy

The politics of clean energy

Considering recycled energy will politically facilitate a national clean energy plan

There is a tendency to frame the politics of clean energy as a debate between the enlightened, forward thinkers on the coasts and the paleolithic environment-hating coal barons in the Southeast and Midwest. It makes a good sound bite, but confuses the ends and the means. Yes, there are strong vested interests in the coal belt and the rust belt that consistently resist GHG caps and clean energy policy. But so long as we frame the clean energy conversation as a wealth transfer from dirty states to clean states, our success will remain contingent upon our ability to get senators, representatives, and voters in those states to act against their near-term economic self interest. Three maps below clarify the problem, and suggest a solution.

More on the cost of GHG regulation

Short-term high gas prices (hopefully) mitigate long-term environmental disasters

I have been reading Sean Casten's post on the economics of carbon pricing with interest. After some thought, here's my take. A carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system will, without question, raise the price of energy, at least in the short term. In the long-term, it may well be that technological developments lead us to new energy sources that turn out to be cheaper than anything we have today. But that's pure speculation. But in the short term, the costs of a carbon tax or the costs of permits in a cap-and-trade system will follow the energy through the system and eventually raise prices at the consumer level. So prices will increase. But that fact is a distraction. The real issues are, first, how much will prices rise, and second, what will happen if we do nothing?

Oceans rise, species fall

New research correlates mass extinctions with the rise and fall of oceans

New research finds that the "rise and fall of ocean levels correlated more consistently with mass extinctions than any other factor." Published in Nature this week, "Environmental determinants of extinction selectivity in the fossil record" ($ub. req’d) explores "the close statistical similarities between patterns of marine shelf sedimentation and rates of extinction.” On our current emissions path, the planet’s temperature by 2100 will be more than 4.5°C hotter than today, hotter than it was the last time the world was ice free and sea levels were some 250 feet higher (see here). This research supports the IPCC prediction that as global average temperature increase (PDF) exceeds about 3.5°C (relative to 1980 to 1999), model projections suggest significant extinctions (PDF) (40-70 percent of species assessed) around the globe. But really, who needs other species anyway? What have they ever done for us?

Notable quotable

Hm, oversold by who?

“[Carbon capture and sequestration] as a magical technology that solves the carbon problem for coal plants is oversold. … I think there is a lot …

350.org up and running

Go get your grassroots on

350.org has officially launched, in eight languages. Grassroots actions are now being planned around the world, from the Great Wall of China to the Eiffel …

Thinking outside the Oxfam

Four short films explore how climate change affects women worldwide

“Is climate change a feminist issue?” NewScientist enviro blogger Catherine Brahic asked last week, then answered, “[F]or me, climate change is not a gender issue. …

Mother Earth's triple whammy

Why North Korea was a global crisis canary

This essay was originally published on TomDispatch and is reprinted here with Tom's kind permission. ----- Gas prices are above $4 a gallon; global food prices surged 39 percent last year; and an environmental disaster looms as carbon emissions continue to spiral upward. The global economy appears on the verge of a TKO, a triple whammy from energy, agriculture, and climate-change trends. Right now you may be grumbling about the extra bucks you're shelling out at the pump and the grocery store, but, unless policymakers begin to address all three of these trends as one major crisis, it could get a whole lot worse. Just ask the North Koreans. In the 1990s, North Korea was the world's canary. The famine that killed as much as 10 percent of the North Korean population in those years was, it turns out, a harbinger of the crisis that now grips the globe -- though few saw it that way at the time. That small Northeast Asian land, one of the last putatively communist countries on the planet, faced the same three converging factors as we do now -- escalating energy prices, reducing food supplies, and impending environmental catastrophe. At the time, of course, all the knowing analysts and pundits dismissed what was happening in that country as the inevitable breakdown of an archaic economic system presided over by a crackpot dictator. They were wrong. The collapse of North Korean agriculture in the 1990s was not the result of backwardness. In fact, North Korea boasted one of the most mechanized agricultures in Asia. Despite claims of self-sufficiency, the North Koreans were actually heavily dependent on cheap fuel imports. (Does that already ring a bell?) In their case, the heavily subsidized energy came from Russia and China, and it helped keep North Korea's battalion of tractors operating. It also meant that North Korea was able to go through fertilizer -- a petroleum product -- at one of the world's highest rates. When the Soviets and Chinese stopped subsidizing those energy imports in the late 1980s and international energy rates became the norm for them too, the North Koreans had a rude awakening.

A climate hero: The testimony

A look back at James Hansen’s seminal testimony on climate, part two

Worldwatch Institute is partnering with Grist to bring you this three-part series commemorating the 20-year anniversary of NASA scientist James Hansen's groundbreaking testimony on global climate change next week. Part one is here; part three is here. ----- An unprecedented heat wave gripped the United States in the summer of 1988. Droughts destroyed crops. Forests were in flames. The Mississippi River was so dry that barges could not pass. Nearly half the nation was declared a disaster area. The record-high temperatures led growing numbers of people to wonder whether the climate was being unnaturally altered. Meanwhile, NASA scientist James Hansen was wrapping up a study finding that climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, appeared inevitable even with dramatic reductions in greenhouse-gases. After a decade of studying the so-called greenhouse effect on global climate, Hansen was prepared to make a bold statement. Hansen found his opportunity through former Sen. Tim Wirth (D-Colo.), who chose to showcase the scientist at a Congressional hearing. Twenty years later, the hearing is regarded as a turning point in climate science history.

Trust as first sight

Public trusts Obama more than McCain on gas prices, global warming, energy

Interesting results from a new ABC/WaPo poll. Who do Americans trust more on the economy? Obama 52%, McCain 36% How about gas prices? Obama 50%, …