Climate & Energy

Lemonade

Spitzer’s successor may continue doing good for green

Snark aside, the ascension of the former Lt. Gov. David Paterson could very well mean good things for environmental progress. He recently chaired the state's Renewable Energy Task Force, which recently recommended an increase in the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard. As he comes in without a direct voter mandate and has to deal with a fairly acrimonious legislative environment, what better way to establish a popular mandate than adopt something super popular -- say, solar energy, which polls in the 90th percentile and makes a lot of jobs at the same time -- as a signature issue? And if you want to play out this fantasy strategy further, the new Guv (who started, what, a few hours ago?) has to start thinking about getting reelected. And his potential challenger has already laid out a fairly ambitious solar agenda. So, in order to undercut his opponent's strength, Paterson really has no choice but to double down and announce a world-class solar program for the state. It's pretty much his only chance to be successful. Lemonade!

Other carbon tax shifts

A quick survey of carbon taxes outside of Cascadia

British Columbia's bombshell announcement of a carbon tax shift last month made me want some context. Here's a rundown of other carbon taxes elsewhere in the world. As I noted, none of them is as consistent and comprehensive as B.C.'s, though some do have higher tax rates. In most cases, these levies came in tax shifts that reduced payroll taxes, business taxes, or other energy taxes. B.C.'s starts at $10.10 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent and rises in steps to $30.30 in 2012. At least nine jurisdictions elsewhere in the world claim to have carbon taxes. (Good starting places for learning about them are the Carbon Tax Center and these dated but informative U.S. EPA sites.)

New Pew survey on energy shows big support for fuel efficiency and renewables

Last week Pew released a small survey on public attitudes toward energy policy. Some results: The two highest numbers are in support of raising fuel efficiency standards (90%) and "increasing federal funding for research on wind, solar and hydrogen technology" (81%). Supporting public transit is in third, with 72%. Republicans and Democrats differ on nuclear power and oil exploration (including in the Arctic Refuge). Support for more ethanol research is still high, but slipping from its peak last year. In terms of relative priority, since 2001 "protecting the environment" has sunk about 10 percentage points and "developing new energy" has …

Biodiesel: coming soon to a stream near you?

Another black eye for the ‘green fuel’

Apparently, biodiesel makers are having trouble keeping their product from spilling into waterways — when they’re not actively dumping glycerin (a biodiesel product) into streams. That’s the message from an article in Tuesday’s New York Times. According to industry dogma, biodiesel is "nontoxic, biodegradable and suitable for sensitive environments," The Times reports. Not so fast. According to a Canadian scientist, quoted in the article: [A]s with most organic materials, oil and glycerin deplete the oxygen content of water very quickly, and that will suffocate fish and other organisms. And for birds, a vegetable oil spill is just as deadly as …

Doing the math

Are solar incentives a subsidy for the rich?

The following is a guest essay by Tom Konrad, a financial analyst specializing in renewable energy and energy efficiency companies, a freelance writer, and a contributor to AltEnergyStocks.com. ----- One of the most common arguments against incentives to help people buy solar panels for their homes is that they are a subsidy for the rich, paid for by everyone. The argument is that only the rich can buy a photovoltaic system, which, even with subsidies, costs thousands of dollars. Why should everyone chip in to help rich people buy new toys? On the surface, this argument is persuasive. Why should everyone pay if only the rich get the benefit? Basic fairness dictates that society should only subsidize activities which create societal (rather than individual) benefit. On closer examination, however, we see that the bulk of the benefit for solar goes to society rather than the homeowner/installer. Let's look at the benefits of a photovoltaic system. Numbers are for a 4-kW system, installed for $8 per peak watt with the rebates currently available in to me in Colorado, plus the federal tax credit.

BYOBlue

Wear blue for Earth Day 2008 to vote for no coal!

(high-res version here; free for distribution) Earth Day 2008 is going to be historic. We, along with numerous other groups around the nation, are calling on everyone to wear blue during Earth Day 2008 to signify a vote for no coal. Events will be happening around the world from April 19-22, so ...

A glass potentially more than half full

What’s right with the WCI?

Last week, my colleague Eric de Place dinged the Western Climate Initiative -- an effort by Western states and provinces to develop a carbon market with a strict, declining cap -- for kicking the can down the road on transportation fuels. Of course, the WCI has not ruled out the possibility of capping emissions from the transportation sector. They've just delayed a decision until they run some more economic analysis. So there's no reason to gnash our teeth over a lost opportunity -- not yet, anyway. Still, it's hard to tell whether the glass is half full (transportation fuels haven't been ruled out -- hooray!) or half empty (transportation isn't clearly in yet -- boo!). However, I listened in on a WCI climate conference call yesterday -- and I gotta say, I really like what they've done with electricity! The WCI floated a draft proposal last week. And in my view, at least, the glass is about as full as it can get:

Climate justice: yes. Carbon trading: no.

Carbon offsetting is not the best way for the global north to subsidize the global south

Okay, my last post summarized Tom Athanasiou and Paul Baers' arguments in favor of drastic cuts in emissions. They place responsibility on the rich and to some extent the middle class rather than the poor. As you might expect, I agree with both these points. I disagree with their arguments that carbon trading and even offsets are the best way for the global north to subsidize the global south. Tom and Paul's argument: the rich countries are responsible for cuts exceeding 100 percent. The only way to meet that obligation is by paying for cuts in the poor nations; Tom & Paul suggest buying offsets from them. Why use offsets? Tom and Paul argue that the size of the cuts makes it essential to use the absolutely cheapest methods, and emissions trading tends to the produce the cheapest cuts. I have argued in the past that emissions trading may be less expensive statically, but not dynamically. Compare rule-based regulation with stringency increases against a cap-and-trade with a cap that tightens.

Climate change has it out for transportation infrastructure, says report

Climate change is likely to wreak havoc on U.S. transportation infrastructure, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Research Council. Think bridge joints weakened by too-high temperatures, flooded tunnels, shipping disrupted by heavy storms, roads threatened by erosion, and much, much more! Coastal regions are likely to be especially hard hit, as more and more folks move in and demand infrastructure in vulnerable areas. Says report contributor Henry Schwartz, Jr., “The time has come for transportation professionals to acknowledge and confront the challenges posed by climate change and to incorporate the most current scientific knowledge into the planning …

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