Climate & Energy

The natural resource curse is such a bitch

Oil and the status of women in the Middle East

I'm not sure this falls under my "campus news" beat for Grist, but I heard it at a seminar at a college campus, and it's compelling enough that I'm going to say that because it falls within academia, it counts. Michael Ross is a political scientist at UCLA who was published in the February 2008 American Political Science Review with the assertion (PDF) that much of the gender inequality in the Middle East relative to the rest of the world can be explained not by traditional Islam, but by the presence of oil. Photo: iStockphoto The quick version is that Ross makes a strong case that women are hurt by a previously unappreciated effect of the infamous "resource curse" that imperils democracy in countries with abundant fossil fuels.

Falling elephants

View the winners of the ’60 Seconds to Save the Earth’ ecospot contest

The Alliance for Climate Protection and Current TV had a contest for provocative ecospots: short video messages to motivate friends, community, and government to get involved in solving the climate crisis. The winner created a great visual metaphor:

Blackout Sabbath

Rufus Wainwright’s energy campaign

Popera sweetheart Rufus Wainwright has done Judy! Judy! Judy! and now he’s doing Blackout Sabbath — emphasis on the out. This newest venture isn’t a tribute album; it’s an energy conservation campaign. Inspired by the NYC blackout in 2003, Wainwright is proposing we all turn out our lights and unplug appliances for 12 hours starting at noon on June 21, 2008, the summer solstice. He’s also asking for donations of refrigerator magnets to be handed out at an upcoming unamplified candlelit Blackout Sabbath benefit concert. The connection? He suggests lighting a candle as darkness falls that night so that you …

Vicious life cycles

Can we trust carbon labeling?

About a year ago, I was cautiously bullish on British supermarket giant Tesco's pledge to start putting carbon labels on its food. But I think that their progress so far -- which I'll get to in a minute -- suggests an important lesson about the policy risks of treating a fuzzy exercise as if it were completely reliable. Tesco's idea was that the chain and its suppliers would pay for objective, comprehensive reviews of the greenhouse-gas emissions from the foods on the store's shelves. The analyses would cover all major steps in bringing food from farms to the checkout line -- everything from running farm machinery, to food processing, to transportation, to refrigeration. Then, each item in the store would be labeled with the climate-warming emissions that could be traced to that particular product. This sort of exercise is called "life cycle analysis," and it's been used for decades to great effect, to shed light on all sorts of questions: paper vs. plastic (for bags), cloth vs. disposable (for diapers), hybrids vs. hydrogen (for cars), and a host of others. Last week, a nifty article by Michael Specter in The New Yorker reported on Tesco's progress so far. The results? There's still only one product on the shelves with a carbon label -- a single brand of potato chips, or "crisps" in British parlance. You see, as it turns out, life cycle analysis can be really, really difficult. And to make matters worse, it may be that the whole enterprise is chock full of uncertainty. Where carbon is concerned, it can be hard to trust the label.

Cellulosic ethanol: not likely to be viable

New study from mainstream ag economists at Iowa State

Cellulosic ethanol represents a beacon on the horizon — the justification cited by wiseguys like Vinod Khosla for dropping billions per year in public cash to prop up corn ethanol production. Corn ethanol, you see, is a bridge to a bright cellulosic future. But the beacon is looking more and more like a mirage, a ghost, a specter; the bridge we’re hurtling down may well lead to a chasm. A quiet consensus seems to be forming among people you’d think would know the facts on the ground: cellulosic ethanol, touted as five years away from viability for decades now, may …

Americans using less gasoline

Well, it’s finally happened: Americans are starting to use less gasoline. It took a weakened economy and record oil prices — crude hit an all-time high of $103.95 a barrel Monday — but in the past six weeks, U.S. gasoline consumption has fallen by an average 1.1 percent from 2007 levels, the most sustained drop in at least 16 years (excepting the dropoff that followed Hurricane Katrina). As Americans move to mitigate their gas-pump pain by seeking out more fuel-efficient cars, migrating into walkable neighborhoods, and riding public transit, analysts are suggesting that reduced gasoline use could be a long-term …

AEC chooses renewables and efficiency over coal

New across the transom, from Sierra Club (no link yet): Today, Associated Electric Cooperative, one of the nation’s largest and most respected rural electric cooperatives announced they are “postponing indefinitely” their plans to build a massive new coal-fired power plant near Norborne in Northwest Missouri. Associated Electric will pursue wind, energy efficiency and natural gas instead. Sweet.

Biofuel blight: tastes great, less filling

Alcohol refinery may enhance tourist industry

Tourists, bird watchers, and native cattle herders in Kenya's Tana River delta may soon have a spanking-new alcohol refinery in the middle of their wetland. Granted, the wetland will be slightly less wet because a third of its water will be diverted to cropland. Always one to look for a silver lining, I would hope that this refinery will include an air-conditioned bar where tourists and herders alike can gather for happy hour after a long, hot day of wildlife viewing and cattle herding. Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya (and might I add, a real pessimist) claims: Large areas would become ecological deserts. The Delta is a wildlife refuge with cattle herders depending on it for centuries as well. There is no commitment to mitigation for the damage that will be done and no evidence that local incomes will be in any way improved. *Cough*loser*cough*! Excuse me. Here, Richard Branson, after publicly admitting that his investments in corn ethanol were a mistake, goes on to say: "But, ah, there are countries in the world like Africa [actually a continent], um, like Mozambique, where they have got sugarcane plantations lying wasted, doing nothing ..."

You're ridin' high in April, shot down in May

Climate change skeptics say we should note, not hype

Revkin: Mr. Morano, in an e-mail message, was undaunted, saying turnabout is fair play: "Fair is fair. Noting (not hyping) an unusually harsh global winter is merely pointing out the obvious. Dissenters of a man-made 'climate crisis' are using the reality of this record-breaking winter to expose the silly warming alarmism that the news media and some scientists have been ceaselessly promoting for decades." And then there's this: "Earth's 'Fever' Breaks: Global Cooling Currently Under Way." That should answer Barry Ritholtz's question (h/t to sunsetbeachguy): If the above long term chart was a stock, would you short it? Apparently the the Republican minority on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee would.