Climate & Energy

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Billionaire Branson regrets mindless biofuel support

Time was when biofuels, including corn-based ethanol, had no stauncher supporter than Richard Branson, the U.K. airline and entertainment magnate. Now, according to the BBC, he "regrets his investments in biofuels on economic and environmental grounds." In the above video, the billionaire deplores the lameness of corn ethanol. For the record, I think he’s being naive by suggesting that sugar plantations in Africa represent some sort of panacea compared to U.S. cornfields. Still, at least he’s seeing the light on corn ethanol.

A trillion here, a trillion there

Another day, another trillion dollars for the clean-tech industry

It seems that a day doesn't slip by without someone raising the stakes in the alternative-energy poker game. The most recent bombshell wager: Cambridge Energy Research Associates report that alternative energy investments will -- hold on to your hats! -- top $7 trillion by 2030. That's an audacious number by any measure, and normally it would be enough to suck the oxygen right out of a convention of wind-farm enthusiasts. But that's not the half of it. The most startling aspect of the report is that it barely raised a ripple in the investment community. And why should it?

This is how dumb they think you are

Walker/Cat’s coal-happy ads in rural West Virginia

Prompted by Pompey Road in comments, I went looking for some commercials that have been running in rural West Virginia, put out by a company called Walker/Cat that makes heavy machinery for coal operations. (George W. Bush spoke at their Belle plant in 2002.) Turns out they’re right here. They have to be seen to be believed. Here, Miss Bug explains that heck no, blowing up mountains, dumping the rubble in streams, and covering the result with a thin layer of soil and grass monoculture doesn’t "bug" her at all, ha ha! In fact, life fairly blossoms in the wake …

In case you’re wondering

Yes, Thursday night’s Democratic debate will once again be sponsored by the coal industry.

Why solar?

The numbers add up for solar power, whether you’re in Seattle or Albuquerque

The New York Times published an article yesterday titled "Silicon Valley Starts to Turn Its Face to the Sun": "This is the biggest market Silicon Valley has ever looked at," says T. J. Rogers, the chief executive of Cypress Semiconductor, which is part-owner of the SunPower Corporation, a maker of solar cells in San Jose, Calif."The solar industry today is like the late 1970s when mainframe computers dominated, and then Steve Jobs and I.B.M. came out with personal computers," says R. Martin Roscheisen, the chief executive of Nanosolar, a solar company in San Jose, Calif. Why all the excitement? You need only look at a few numbers and a graph to get the picture.

Tax-and-rebate vs. auction-and-rebate

The major differences between carbon pricing plans are political

Putting a price on carbon is probably an unavoidable part of phasing out fossil fuels to fight global warming and air pollution. For years, Peter Barnes has advocated a brilliant means of mitigating many of the harmful economic side effects: take the revenue from carbon taxes or auctions and rebate it back to the people, dividing it equally among each citizen. Barnes advocates doing this via an auctioned permit system. However,the same thing could be done with a carbon tax. Instead of auctioning permits, simply tax those same embedded emissions and rebate that revenue to consumers. Raise the tax periodically to lower emissions. Inevitably, with either a tax or auctioned permits, the price charged for carbon will be passed down the supply chain to consumers. By rebating the revenue back to consumers, you minimize the impact of those price increases. They have to pay more, but they have more money to pay with. You get the price signals to affect behavior, without lowering consumer net income.

ILSR, spinning like a top

This is really, really sad. A group, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which has done stalwart work on relocalizing the economy, has let their pro-local passion overcome their principles. Now they simply embarass themselves, beating the drums for corn ethanol, using flackery techniques that would do any corporate PR shop proud. Let's start in:

Castro resigns

… and Bush talks big

A year and a half after ceding Cuba’s reins (and reign) to his brother Raul, Fidel Castro has apparently officially resigned after nearly 50 years at the helm. For me, the news brought to mind the eye-opening piece we ran by Erica Gies shortly after Castro first stepped down in 2006. It explores the green aspects of life in Cuba — and inspired some passionate reader comments. Take a look. As for the latest development inspiring passionate comments, we get this from our own esteemed leader: “The United States will help the people of Cuba realize the blessings of liberty.” …

Eliminating fossil fuels is friggin' cheap, pt. 2

Some numerical comparisons

My last post argued that based on the figures Scientific American projected for a slow, partial phaseout of fossil fuels, we could do a full, fast, near-total elimination for between 170 and 240 billion dollars a year -- somewhere less than a third, possibly even less than a quarter, of our military budget. I'd like to offer some other comparisons to put those numbers into perspective: We spent $840 billion buying fossil fuels in 2004, according to page 72 of the 2006 Annual Energy Review (10 Meg PDF). So a 95% reduction in U.S. fossil fuel use will pay back a $170 billion annual investment by a nearly 5 to 1 ratio, and a $240 billion a year investment by well over a 3 to 1 ratio. Yes, the time value of money reduces this a great deal -- but you still end up with a return exceeding that of the stock market during the bubble. Another comparison: we sometimes talk about needing a commitment equal to what it took to win WWII. U.S. war spending grew from less than 2% of our national GDP just before Pearl Harbor, to around 5% immediately after, to around 37% at the peak of WWII defense spending. Yet in the scenarios under discussion, we advocate spending between 1% and 2% of the 13.3 trillion dollar U.S. GDP to fight global warming. So we are not talking about anything like a WWII-level commitment economically. And we don't have to shoot anybody, or get shot by anybody, or drop any bombs. It's about green jobs, clean air, and a cure for our fossil fuel addiction. I think the politics are doable. If the public backs this strongly enough, they can walk right over any of the fat cats who try to get in the way.

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