Climate & Energy

Lessons from an angry planet

Rebuilding in the wake of ‘extreme weather’

From the standpoint of global climate change, nature's incredible assault on the American heartland this year can be interpreted in one of two ways. Both offer lessons about the challenges of adapting to the climate we have created. As of June 13, 1,577 tornadoes had been reported in the United States, with 118 fatalities. The season started in January, unusually early, with more than 130 reported tornadoes in the upper Midwest. As if to send voters a reminder to ask the presidential candidates about their positions on climate change, 84 tornadoes broke out the week of Super Tuesday in Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee. As I write this post, record floods are inundating communities in the Mississippi River Valley at a level of intensity that may make the Great Flood of 1993 seem like an "ankle tickler," as riverside residents like to call minor flood events. On June 9 in Wisconsin, a breach in its dam emptied Lake Delton, a 245-acre man-made lake, into the Wisconsin River. My old stomping grounds in Wisconsin's Kickapoo River Valley suffered record flooding for the second time in a year. Among the inundated communities was Gays Mills, now threatened with extinction due to its repeated damages.

Texas hold 'em

McCain calling for offshore drilling, renewables, and conservation in energy speech

John McCain. John McCain will give a big speech on energy policy this afternoon to a group of oil executives in Houston, Texas. According to …

Calamity Kaine

Virginia Gov, possible veep, afraid of Big Coal

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine set a new standard for politician mealy-mouthedness with a letter to his Virginia Air Board (tip of the hat to Raising Kaine for digging this one up). Although he asserts that his letter isn't about any particular decision, everyone outside the governor's office knows that the letter is about one thing: The proposed massive coal-fired power plant being planned for Wise County, Virginia. His bureaucratic opacity (PDF) is sure to be taught in government schools around the world regarding how to say nothing through the written word: My intent in issuing this directive is not to influence the substance of any decision you may make but to assure consistency, certainty, and predictability in the process of issuing decisions. The directive is one of general application and not specific to any particular matter. Gov. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) offers sympathy to victims of extreme weather. The rest of the letter doesn't clear matters up any more -- but the situation is clear to most Virginia watchers: Kaine is terrified of Big Coal, personified (or rather, corporatified) here by Chicago-based Dominion Power (and financed by Citibank). So much so that even though the plant's incredibly high costs are actually projected to drive up electricity bills (PDF) (along with, of course, producing 5.3 million ton of carbon dioxide, more air pollution deaths (PDF), and the destruction of many of Southwest Virginia's remaining mountains), he's unwilling to take a clear stand against it (or, for that matter, for it) -- even though he is on record in favor of federal action on the climate crisis (for which he doesn't have any responsibility).

Mixed messages

McCain releases new climate ad ahead of speech calling for more drilling

John McCain unveiled a new climate-change ad today — hours before he’s scheduled to give an energy speech in Texas that will call for building …

How biofuels are like drugs

Not all biofuels are the same; we can do biofuel well or poorly

To my surprise, recently I found myself the subject of an editorial by the Wall Street Journal which characterized me as a strong advocate of subsidies for food-based ethanol, and as a recipient of "federal dole" who ought to "take a vow of embarrassed silence." I have not advocated subsidies for food-based ethanol. In fact, I strongly believe any nascent technology that cannot exist without subsidies beyond an introductory period will not gain market penetration, and is not worth supporting. I do look forward to the WSJ's complaints about oil's subsidy bonanza, from tax breaks for drilling, loopholes that allow royalty-free or below-market offshore oil leases, manufacturing tax breaks, as well as roughly $7 billion in subsidies in the wake of the Katrina disaster. At a recent WSJ Conference, 75 percent of the erudite audience "voted" (rightly) that oil was more highly subsidized than ethanol. Were these not such serious matters, the WSJ editorial would be laughable. But there are serious issues at stake. Should we not look past our noses to the larger issues of dependence on oil? The alternative of biofuels raises serious questions deserving more depth than the entrenched, one sided views of the Wall Street Journal.

Mildly different

Are McCain’s environmental views really so far from Bush’s?

The New York Times‘ Elisabeth Bumiller says, "On the environment … Mr. McCain has strikingly different views from Mr. Bush." Is that true? Bush wants …

It's not about the fuel

The case for fuel-agnostic efficiency

Those of us who care about energy and environmental policy have a bad habit: the lazy but rhetorically convenient tendency to refer to energy issues as if they were fuel issues. From solar to coal to uranium, we have developed a shorthand that uses these words to describe a whole fuel-chain, from raw fuel extraction/recovery to end-use consumption. But the language is dangerous. What matters is efficiency -- true, fuel-agnostic efficiency, applied equally to every possible fuel-chain we know. Not because efficiency is an alternative to any given fuel, but because any other energy policy is ultimately unsustainable, in every sense of the word.

Oil industry turns to PR offensive to diffuse anger over record prices

Faced with angry consumers incensed at high oil and gasoline prices, oil companies in the U.S. and Europe have turned to well-funded PR campaigns in …

More on the hockey stick

Previous warm periods don’t mean we’re not responsible for this one

For those interested in temperature reconstructions of past climates, in particular the kerfuffle over the hockey stick, I recently found a pretty good website. It contains a load of useful information, some of which I did not know. For example, consider this famous plot from the IPCC's First Assessment Report: Skeptics have used this plot to argue that today's warmth cannot be caused by humans because it was warmer one thousand years ago. The website does a good job of laying out the history behind the plot. For example, I learned that: