Climate & Energy

If you build it ...

Green building may be quickest path to decreased emissions

Reuters has the skinny on a new report on green building. The report concluded that building green would reduce greenhouse emissions more quickly than any other approach. According to the article: North America's buildings release more than 2,200 megatonnes, or about 35 percent of the continent's total, of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. If the construction market quickly adopted current and emerging energy-saving technologies, that number could be cut by 1,700 megatonnes by 2030, the report said. Alas, there are "obstacles" preventing the rapid adoption of green building techniques: One is the so-called split incentive policy, where those who construct environmentally-friendly buildings do not necessarily reap the benefits of using them.Also, governments and other institutions separate capital and operating budgets instead of budgeting for the lifetime of a construction project, creating a disincentive to build "green," the report found. Oh well, I guess I'll have to make do with a nice cozy place on the Street of Dreams until green building catches on. Uh, scratch that.

Not just good policy: practical politics, too

Shifting military spending to fund green infrastructure

Last Saturday, I spoke at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference. I argued that diverting military spending to green infrastructure is not only good policy but good politics as well. This is a Google presentation version of the PowerPoint slide show I gave. I gave a second short PowerPoint comparing emissions trading to rule-based regulation, also now a Google presentation. Please note that, though web-based, Google presentations are not standard web pages. They need as much screen real estate as you can give -- usually including zooming your browser to full-screen mode.

Tony Blair to lead international climate team

Photo: Monika Flueckiger / World Economic Forum Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he’s heading up a new international climate team with the goal of securing a meaningful agreement on climate change in the next two years. Blair said he thought he could get the major emitting countries of the world, including the United States and China, to agree to a plan to cut carbon emissions 50 percent by 2050. “The fact of the matter is that if we do not take substantial action over the next two years, by 2020 we will be thinking seriously about adaptation rather …

ECO:nomics: Overload

Good lord. Today was overwhelming. There were about 10 sessions, every one thought-provoking. I interviewed Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy. I saw energy advisers from all three presidential campaigns offer substantive comparisons of the candidates’ climate positions. I saw in-depth discussions of carbon trading, green automobiles, shareholder resolutions, and the structure of cap-and-trade systems. I talked to journalists, people working on water and carbon trading, the guy who runs the X-Prize foundation, heads of NGOs, and representatives from Wal-Mart and Exxon. It’s friggin’ wonk heaven. I’m half-drunk and I’ve lost my voice from talking so much. Over the next …

Climate change is back, baby!

Where is the media coverage of February’s incredible warming and extreme weather?

Well, that record cooling trend in January, which was solid evidence (to some) that human-caused global warming was at an end, melted away as fast as the summer ice in the Arctic. Not only did February begin a frighteningly unsustainable warming trend for this year, it saw a record number of tornadoes. Climate change is making a comeback! In your face, delayer-1000s! And as Jon Stewart -- or the Pope -- might say, damn you, polluters! But where is the news coverage? This is just more proof (as if we needed it) that the media is fundamentally conservative. Let's start with the temperature. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies has their monthly global temperature dataset out through Feb. 2008 (it starts in Jan. 1880). January was only 0.12 degrees C above the 1951-1980 mean (for that month) and a full 0.74 degrees C colder than Jan. 2007 (the warmest January record). But Feb. 2007 was 0.26 degrees C above the monthly mean, and a mere 0.37 degrees C colder than Feb. 2008. The "legitimate science writer" David Appell explains the staggering implications (if we used the same reasoning as typical delayers): ... the world is warming up at 0.14 degrees C/month, or 3 degrees F per year, or a dramatic 30 degrees F per decade! By 2018, Fairbanks Alaska will be like Atlanta was this year. Atlanta will be ... well, like Hell ... More seriously, this February ripped the tornado record books to shreds as if they had been caught in a giant whirlwind whose intensity had been amplifed by global warming. The country suffered through a stunning 232 tornadoes -- almost triple the previous record, a mere 83 tornadoes in 1971. (Reliable records go back to 1950.) There is some recent research by NASA that "the most violent severe storms and tornadoes may become more common as Earth's climate warms." More interestingly, the famed blogging nonalarmist meteorologist Jeff Masters explains:

Killing the electric car, again: Part I

Is CARB up to its old tricks?

The following post is by Earl Killian, guest blogger at Climate Progress. ----- If you've seen the movie Who Killed the Electric Car? (which is ranked No. 8 on Netflix in documentary rentals), then you know the EV story up to 2003. What you might not know is that it looks like one of the players in the movie, the California Air Resources Board, is up to no good again. In killing Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) the first time, they put off progress on this front for a decade. Now they are preparing, at their March 27 meeting, to kill BEVs a second time and probably waste another decade. We don't have another decade. In Part 2 you will find information on what you can do to let CARB know what you think. This post provides background on the CARB's sorry zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) legacy. For background on BEVs, PHEVs (plug-in hybrid EVs), and FCVs (fuel cell vehicles) see Joe's January post on plug-in hybrids and electric cars. The major automakers are likely to produce plug-in hybrids on their own, but not ZEVs, and yet eventually we want ZEVs to be a part of the fleet to get the greenhouse gas reduction necessary in 2050. Back in 1990, to help fix chronically unhealthy air in California cities, CARB required that 2 percent of California new vehicle sales have zero emissions by 1998. Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) were then supposed to reach 3 percent by 2001, and 10 percent by 2003, and it was presumed that ZEV meant BEV. In 1996, under automaker pressure, CARB removed the 2 percent and 3 percent requirements but left the 10 percent goal in place. It also allowed low emission vehicles (misleadingly called Partial ZEVs or PZEVs) to substitute for some ZEVs. In 2001 they tinkered again and added a new category, Advanced Technology (AT) PZEVs, which are essentially hybrids. They also changed the 10 percent goal to 2 percent ZEVs, 2 percent AT PZEVs, and 6 percent PZEVs. The program began to resemble a Rube Goldberg contraption at this point, with gold, silver, and bronze categories. The program's complexity has continued to grow since.

Should we laugh or cry?

Florida Power & Light on wind power

Florida Power & Light is fairly notorious as a utility that embraces competition so long as it doesn't happen in their service territory. On the regulatory side, they have worked pretty hard to make sure that no one can build power in their state except themselves. But on the unregulated side, their sister company FPL Energy has been one of the leading installers of wind turbines. (Not coincidentally, you will find that they tend not to do projects anywhere near Florida. Mind the hand that feeds you ... ) Needless to say, there are some conflicts there. Which have recently come back to bite them.

Oh, Canada!

More on B.C.’s carbon tax shift

On February 19, one of my colleagues at Sightline applauded British Columbia's new carbon tax shift. I've now had time to digest the plan. It's even better than we said, and the province could tweak it to make it better still. This policy is the purest instance of a tax shift that I've ever seen. It's an exceptionally faithful implementation of tax shifting -- a policy innovation Sightline has been promoting since 1994 and especially since our 1998 book. (A small brag: Gordon Campbell read the book that year and told me he was going to shift taxes in his second term as premier. I didn't hold my breath, but now he has delivered.) The carbon tax shift (as opposed to the larger government budget it's wrapped in) is almost entirely untarnished by handouts to special interests. It is built on four principles:

Thirty years later, they still won't make us safer

The history of the ‘safety valve’ debate

The new publication from E&E News, ClimateWire, ($ub. req'd), has a long article on the "safety valve" debate and its history. I will reprint it in its entirety below because The issue is important and not going away. It is the most thorough piece I've seen. I was interviewed at length for it. One of my quotes they used is not something I would have said in a short interview. First, some background: I have blogged repeatedly on why a safety valve is a bad idea. However, the reporter called me because he said that a number of people in the Clinton administration said I was a key player in the discussions leading up to Kyoto, in which the administration ultimately rejected a safety valve (or price ceiling on carbon emissions permits). The No. 1 highlight of my time in the administration was at the October 6, 1997, "White House Conference on Climate Change," during my brief tenure as acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy. At 12:40 p.m. [I kept the ticket and wrote the time and the quote on the back], the president said, "I'm convinced the people in my Energy Department labs are absolutely right." He was talking about the 5-Lab study that I oversaw, which found that the United States could return to 1990 levels of carbon dioxide emissions by 2010 without raising the nation's overall energy bill -- if we had an aggressive technology deployment effort. Rather than me giving a solipsistic explanation of what happened, you can read an account by Art Rosenfeld (the first article, his autobiography), now California energy commissioner, then science adviser to the assistant secretary. Or not. I was certainly proud of my role in the administration. Economic agencies like the Treasury Department and Council of Economic Advisers rarely lose policy debates. But they did this time. That said, I was hardly the main reason they lost. In fact, as I recall, President Clinton explained at the Georgetown conference that the main reason he didn't believe his economic agencies' gloomy predictions for the economic impact of Kyoto was this: They had made similarly gloomy predictions about the impact of his balanced budget bill, which, instead of causing an economic slowdown as predicted, created millions of jobs. That said, the subsequent incident described in the ClimateWire article is the No. 2 highlight of my time in the administration, although I foolishly didn't keep the piece of paper. Anyway, here is the article (for ease of reading, I won't bother indenting it):

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