Climate & Energy

Cities run into roadblocks in attempts to reduce CO2

Announcing an ambitious plan to reduce a city’s greenhouse gases is the easy part; when it comes to putting goals into action, local officials tend to run up against significant roadblocks. To take just a few examples: The subprime mortgage crisis has left taxpayers across the country unable to fund efficiency-minded proposals. Across the country, homeowners’ associations have vetoed plans for home solar panels on aesthetic grounds. In one city, police pushed back against plans for less-polluting cop cars, saying it would restrict needed speed. And everywhere, individuals are resistant to changing their habits. “They’ve seen the Al Gore movie, …

Biofuels bombshell

Researchers find corn ethanol, switchgrass could worsen global warming

Some very respected researchers today have lobbed a real bombshell into the energy public policy world: they have concluded that ethanol produced both by corn and switchgrass could worsen global warming. In other words, Congress really blew it last year when it mandated a massive increase in biofuels (an action coated with green language but really an effort by both political parties to cater to farm states). This is also a slap at President Bush's effort to paint himself as something other than an oil man. The new findings, led by separate teams from Princeton University and the University of Minnesota conclude that the land use-based greenhouse gas emissions would overwhelm possible emission reductions.

Cap-and-trade and fairness for working families

A second opportunity to make climate pricing fair

Climate policy offers an enormous opportunity not only to undo our fossil-fuel addiction and build a stable energy future, but also to reverse the natural unfairness of climate change itself. I've said it before: energy prices are going up no matter what, with or without climate policy. But smart policy can turn rising costs into broadly shared benefits. It can shield working families, fund a shift to a clean future of new technologies, compact communities, and a trained, green-collar workforce. Building economic fairness into climate policy is a no-brainer: there are several viable ways to make it happen. In my last post, I described a means to it called "Cap-and-Dividend," in which most public proceeds from auctioning carbon emissions permits finance a program of payments to each citizen. Another approach that shields working families from high energy prices (PDF) comes from Robert Greenstein, founder and chief of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. CBPP is the Washington, DC-based think tank that bird-dogs the federal budget on behalf of poor families. Greenstein wrote the plan with colleagues Sharon Parrott and Arloc Sherman. In short, in this plan climate dividends go only to families with very low incomes, to buffer them from cost increases. It's Cap and Dividend, but only families who need it most get a dividend. Call it "Cap and Buffer." Greenstein suggests compensating the poorest fifth of families for energy price increases and also providing some assistance to those in the second fifth of the income ladder. These families, according to Greenstein, stand to pay between $750 and $950 extra each year for fuel and other goods, once climate policy boosts energy prices enough to reduce emissions by an initial 15 percent. (Without climate policy in place, the only dividends from rising prices are going to energy companies.)

Clean, safe nuclear power

The hunt for fuel: With minimal public notice and no formal environmental review, the Forest Service has approved a permit allowing a British mining company to explore for uranium just outside Grand Canyon National Park, less than three miles from a popular lookout over the canyon’s southern rim. If the exploration finds rich uranium deposits, it could lead to the first mines near the canyon since the price of uranium ore plummeted nearly two decades ago. A sharp increase in uranium prices over the past three years has led individuals to stake thousands of mining claims in the Southwest, including …

An interview with Google’s green energy czar, Bill Weihl

The phrase “to Google” has become synonymous with “to search.” But soon it may connote something altogether different: “to green.” That is, if the internet titan can successfully pull off its latest world-changing endeavor. Bill Weihl. In late 2007, the dot-com giant announced its intention to make renewable energy cheaper than coal. The RE<C program aims to produce one gigawatt of electricity generating capacity — enough to power the city of San Francisco — from clean, green sources “within years, not decades.” The man responsible for making it happen, and for making the company carbon neutral, is Bill Weihl, Google’s …

Sell-off of oil leases in polar-bear habitat brings record bidding

The Bush administration’s sell-off of leases for oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s polar-bear-harboring Chukchi Sea raised a lot of controversy — and a lot of moola. The sale brought in a record $2.66 billion in bidding, well beyond the $67 million the feds had expected and budgeted for. Royal Dutch Shell was the big winner, with the highest bid for a single tract; the polar bear, which is awaiting a decision on its endangered status, is likely the big loser. However, drilling won’t commence in the area for at least a decade, so maybe there won’t be any polar …

New <em>Nation</em> post

Will the media give McCain a free ride on climate?

My latest post on The Nation is up, asking: Will the media give McCain a free ride on climate? I know there’s a sense out there that because McCain is relatively sane on climate, this race might pose the opportunity to have a serious discussion of the issue. But my fear is the opposite: that because the candidates (seem to) agree on the issue, the media will ignore it, focusing instead on areas where there’s controversy. That’s basically what happened in 2000, as my post points out. Will it happen again? If there’s a difference, it’s that this year, unlike …

'You should shudder a little bit ...'

According to Bush adviser, Bush actually serious about mandatory climate controls

This ($ub req'd) just in from Captain Environmental Compassion, Bush adviser James Connaughton: Bush is serious about climate change. Seriously! Surprised? Read on, for excerpts from this newsflash ...

Next market bubble: farmland!

Thanks to the ethanol boom, big investors are plowing cash into corn country

Big investors seem to have forgotten how to exist without some sort of speculative bubble. In the last decade, they’ve whipped cash from tech stocks to bonds to emerging markets to real estate to junk mortgages. With the latter bubble now deflating rapidly, they’ve turned to … Midwestern farmland? Yes, big cornfields. Here’s a Chicago asset manager talking about who’s buying up farmland, quoted in USA Today: It’s everybody from the person concerned about the stock market to large government and corporate pension funds, insurance companies, hedge funds. [!] Investors do like a sure bet. With the 2007 Energy Act …

Welcome to the new Grist. Tell us what you think, or if it's your first time learn about us. Grist is celebrating 15 years. ×