Climate & Energy

Going, going ...

Record global glacial melt

"Record Glacier Thinning Means No Time to Waste on Agreeing New International Climate Regime," said the U.N. Environment Programme on Sunday. That statement is based on the data of the World Glacier Monitoring Service, which "has been tracking the fate of glaciers for over a century. Continuous data series of annual mass balance, expressed as thickness change, are available for 30 reference glaciers since 1980." Here's the mean annual specific net balance:

Smart grid to rock Boulder

City selected for largest U.S. smart grid project

When Xcel Energy announced a few days ago that it had selected Boulder, Colo. as "the nation's first fully integrated Smart Grid City," it represented a vitally important step toward creating a low-carbon energy network. Photo: Aidan M. Grey Xcel previously announced its intention to stage the largest and most comprehensive deployment of smart grid technologies in the U.S. ever, and now it says it has targeted Boulder for a several-year effort that will cost up to $100 million. The aim at a comprehensive system is precisely what makes this a breakthrough. Smart grid technologies exhibit the classic network effect. Deployed individually, some can still have valuable benefits, as the personal computer did before the internet. To maximize benefits, however, they must be put together. Because this requires an overall systems transformation, and because such changes generally pose all sorts of chicken-and-egg challenges, the smart grid has been slow to catch on in the U.S. (France and Italy, who have more centrally managed electrical systems, have managed to advance farther.)

Electric cars could impact water supplies, says analysis

Converting most U.S. vehicles to run on electricity could have an impact on water supplies, according to an analysis to be published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Generating the needed electricity would require more water than producing gasoline, the report found — that is, if the nation’s electricity grid continues to be powered by coal and other fuels that require a lot of H2O for processing and cooling. “If we use only wind or solar energy, water use would be essentially zero,” says coauthor Carey King. The report emphasized that we definitely shouldn’t abandon a quest for largely …

Why a climate bill in 2008? Part III

The world is waiting for us to lead the way

This is the third in a series on why we should push for climate legislation this year. See also Part I and Part II. Why push for a climate bill in 2008? I've already offered some reasons in my previous posts: the politics will be much the same in 2009 (Okay, David offered that one), we don't want to squander the current momentum, and in any case, we simply can't afford to wait. But if those aren't reason enough, here's another: The world is waiting for us to act. To solve the global warming problem, China and other developing countries also must cap their emissions, and they won't do this until our own cap is in place. From a New York Times report: "China is not going to act in any sort of mandatory-control way until the United States does first," said Joseph Kruger, policy director for the National Commission on Energy Policy, a bipartisan group in Washington. Along with India and other large developing countries, China has long maintained that the established industrial powers need to act first because they built their wealth largely by burning fossil fuels and adding to the atmosphere's blanket of greenhouse gases. If the U.S. -- the wealthiest country on Earth -- won't establish a cap, how can we expect developing countries to do it?

Misplaced priorities

Thoughts from a cellulosic ethanol agnostic

Photo: rsgranne and danipt via Flickr. "If America can win a race to the moon, we can win a race for a battery," Bill Clinton said last night on TV, stumping for Hillary. He also pointed out that if our cars got 100 mpg, the rise in fuel prices -- which is inevitable -- will have a much smaller economic impact. In short, he thinks America needs to get its shit together and start leading the world again with innovation. Easier said than done, in my opinion. We seem to be going backwards at present. All three of the remaining presidential hopefuls claim to be big supporters of corn ethanol. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as commercially produced cellulosic ethanol, so the following is based on an assumption that may never come to fruition. Imagine for a moment that the picture to the right, a power plant being fed a continuous supply of coal, is instead a cellulose ethanol refinery, and instead of coal in those cars, you have cellulose. Now, instead, assume it is a power plant again, but keep the cellulose in the train cars.

Ship pilot charged in San Francisco oil spill

The pilot of the ship that spilled more than 50,000 gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay in November has been charged with criminal negligence, harming federally protected birds, and violating the Clean Water Act. If found guilty, Capt. John Cota could face up to 18 months in jail and more than $100,000 in fines.

Sail-powered cargo ship returns home, wave-powered vessel sets off

A cargo ship partially powered by a gigantic kite-like sail has completed a 12,000-mile roundtrip voyage across the Atlantic. Captain Lutz Heldt, who says the ship used around 20 percent less fuel thanks to kite power, says, “We can once again actually ‘sail’ with cargo ships, thus opening a new chapter in the history of commercial shipping.” Not to be outdone, a Japanese sailor has embarked on his own bon voyage: a 4,400-mile trip in a recycled-aluminum, wave-powered boat.

Climate change will make Ireland less green, says well-timed report

It’s St. Patty’s day — so you just knew someone would do a study on the impact of climate change on Ireland, didn’t you? Sure enough, the Irish American Climate Project has issued a report entitled “Changing Shades of Green,” warning that decreased rainfall could necessitate a nickname change for the Emerald Isle, and summer droughts could bring about Potato Famine II. “You tell people in Dublin that the climate might be like the Mediterranean coast and their initial reaction is, ‘So what? That’ll be nice in the summer,'” says project leader Kevin Sweeney. “Then in about five minutes, it …

G20 climate meeting ends, accomplishing nothing

In case you’ve been wondering what happened at this weekend’s gathering of the G20 biggest-polluting countries, the answer is: pretty much nothing. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair formally announced his goal to eke out a meaningful climate agreement, and declared, “We have reached the critical moment of decision on climate change. There are few, if any, genuine doubters left.” There is, however, plenty of disagreement over just how climate change should be tackled, and no breakthroughs were made this weekend.

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