Climate & Energy

Taking charge of energy prices

Our chance to escape the tightening fossil-fuel vise

With or without climate policies, energy prices seem set to rise. The question is, Who will get the money? Auctioned cap-and-trade gives us the opportunity to take charge of price increases and share the benefits widely -- even while we safeguard the climate and stimulate local jobs. Big chances like this don't come along often! To see what a golden opportunity this is, we've got to briefly review recent fossil-fuel price increases.

There will be oil

Oscar-nominated film depicts oil production realistically

Anyone interested in oil should see There Will Be Blood, since it is a great film that tells a fascinating and detailed story of the early days of the oil industry in California. Okay, it's Oscar week. I try to see all the Best Picture nominees, which is much tougher now that I have a one-year-old daughter. I missed Atonement [so far], but my wife read the book, so half credit. And lord knows after seeing No Country for Old Men, I don't need to see another downbeat movie -- uh, sorry for the spoiler, but if you thought a movie titled No Country for Old Men (or Atonement) was upbeat, you get out even less than I do these days. I don't think There Will Be Blood is the best picture of the year -- but it is very good. Certainly the performance by Daniel Day-Lewis should take the Oscar, and the cinematography and music are fantastic. But as a depiction of the grueling work of producing oil, it has no equal. Assuming you've read The Prize by Daniel Yergin, this is a must-see. Just leave five minutes before the end and you'll be happy. This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Hell, no, we won't, um, participate in a pollution permit trading system!

Cali EJ groups reject cap-and-trade in strong terms

A big coalition of environmental justice groups in California just came out with a strong statement opposing a cap-and-trade system and urging “fees” (i.e., taxes) instead. (Here’s L.A. Times‘ coverage.) Their points are fairly familiar. Most of the opposition seems to be based on the well-documented failures of the European trading system — which, as far as I know, every U.S. legislator is aware of. There’s also something about the revenue from auction not being used to help low-income people: Meszaros said she didn’t trust an auction system. “We’re concerned that proceeds from an auction won’t be applied to transitioning …

Why I titled my book <em>Hell and High Water</em>

‘Climate change’ and ‘global warming’ are not scary-enough terms

Andy Revkin of the NYT has a good blog post on one of the main problems with climate messaging by scientists, environmentalists, and the like. In short, it sucks! One problem is the name "global warming" or "climate change." It sounds like a vacation, not a crisis. Indeed, one of the main reasons I titled my book Hell and High Water is that I thought it was a better term -- more accurate of what is to come if we don't act, more descriptive, more visceral -- and I hoped (faintly) it might become more widely used. But other than being projected onto the Washington Monument by Greenpeace, nada! Names do matter. As conservative message-meister Frank Luntz wrote a few years ago in an infamous memo, that explains precisely how a politician can sound as if he or she cares about global warming but doesn't actually want to do anything about it: "Climate change" is less frightening than global warming. As one focus group participant noted, climate change "sounds like you're going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale." While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.

Massey incest

Mining CEO so insinuated in W. Va. politics that they can’t find judges to hear his case

So, you may recall that loathsome mountaintop-removal mining outfit Massey was hit with a $50 million judgment a while back. They appealed it up to the W. Va. Supreme Court, which overturned it. Later, it turned out that Massey CEO Don Blankenship (an evil bastard) had been photographed frolicking with one of the judges in Monte Carlo, accompanied by, um, female consorts. So that judge dropped out of the case. Now the WSJ brings word that another judge is recusing himself — Justice Larry Starcher had criticized Massey and Blankenship publicly, so Blankenship bullied him off the case. Said Starcher: …

Let buildings heat and cool themselves

How to kill coal in 10 years

We know that coal is the enemy of the human race, what with carbon emissions, deadly air pollution, and unsafe and destructive mining practices. The supply of coal is becoming more problematic as well: recently, a Wall Street Journal article described a "coal-price surge," and Richard Heinberg has warned that coal may peak much sooner than most people expect. So what's to like? Not much. But since coal-fired plants provide almost half of our electricity, we can't get rid of coal unless we find either a way to replace it or a way to reduce the use of electricity. Recently, Gar Lipow has discussed how friggin' cheap it would be to replace coal, and Bill Becker has pointed to several studies that show how renewables could replace coal. I will argue in this post that if buildings could produce all the space and water heating, air conditioning, and ventilation that they need, we wouldn't need any coal. Heating and cooling buildings and water now consume 30 percent of our electricity and 32 percent of our natural gas. If, for instance, geothermal exchange units (also known as geothermal heat pumps) were installed under every building, and an appropriate amount of solar photovoltaics were installed on roofs in order to power those units, we wouldn't need to burn 60 percent of our coal because we would not need 30 percent of our electricity. And because we could redirect our natural gas from warming and cooling into electricity generation, we could get rid of the remaining coal, replacing it with natural gas. In other words, the buildings would both destroy electrical demand and free up natural gas, until renewables come online and replaced natural gas in turn. If we did this within a 10-year timeframe, we could generate millions of green-collar jobs, create new industries, and help the rest of the world kill off the rest of coal. All of the data that I use in this post is available online in a spreadsheet I created called "EnergyUse." It has tabs for electrical use, natural gas use, my calculations concerning coal, and some notes on the data, all of which comes from the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA). So let's get electricity literate, and take a look at how electricity (and natural gas) are used in this country, so that we can figure out how to kill coal:

British Columbia unveils carbon tax

The Canadian province of British Columbia has announced it will implement a carbon tax beginning in July that could lead to a cut in greenhouse-gas emissions of about 3 million tons in the next five years. The tax is expected to bring in as much as $1.8 billion over the next three years by increasing the price of almost all fossil fuels in the province, though it’s designed to be revenue neutral and won’t raise funds for clean energy like Quebec’s carbon tax. Instead, to enhance its appeal to consumers, B.C.’s carbon tax is being paired with a $100 rebate …

Notable quotable

“I think this is a landmark decision in North America as far as government addressing global warming. The B.C. government has decided to use one of the most powerful incentives at its disposal to reduce pollution.” – Ian Bruce of the Suzuki Foundation, on the carbon tax just implemented by the provincial government of British Columbia

Weasel of the week

Tim Kaine burns national ambitions in coal furnace

Virginia's Democratic governor Tim Kaine, often mentioned as a possible vice presidential nominee, seems to be flushing his ambitions for national office down the toilet by actively working to build yet another coal-fired power plant for one of his biggest campaign donors. Tim Kaine. Photo: Kaine has tried to present himself as a green, forward-thinking governor by proposing a "Virginia Energy Plan" he claimed would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent. True, Kaine is going ahead with plans to purchase 27,000 compact fluorescent bulbs (which will save the amount of electricity used by -- wait for it -- 1300 [!] homes). But when it comes to things that actually matter -- like where Virginia gets its energy -- he's actively backing the construction of a new greenhouse-gas- and toxic-pollution-belching coal-fired power plant in Virginia's Wise County. Behind this coal plant is Dominion Power, which has contributed over $135,000 directly to Kaine's campaign and inaugural funds. Is the governor acting on behalf of Virginia or the country's well-being, or is he offering quid pro quo for financial support? As it is, Kaine is looking a lot like a dinosaur pol, practicing a kind of politics eerily similar to the Republican culture of corruption.

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