Climate & Energy

Climate skeptics hold conference in New York City

A conference of climate-change skeptics gathered in New York City this week to congratulate each other for daring to challenge the accepted science of global warming. A range of high-profile deniers painted themselves as put-upon independent thinkers branded as heretics by the church of climate-change dogma. Films were shown. Speeches were made. Al Gore jokes abounded. But actual climate science was largely avoided. Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University geosciences professor, said that with the media and most policymakers now largely ignoring the climate skeptics, “they have to get together to talk to each other, because nobody else is talking to …


Nine Nobelists on the big problems

Saw a good DVD this evening, after what seemed like several weeks where all the worst things were unfolding faster and faster and I was looking for something not quite so grim as the current headlines. Nobelity is worth a look. Two ideas of special note for Gristies. The film starts off with a discussion with physicist Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas, whose Nobel was for figuring out the electroweak force that unified two of the four fundamental forces in nature. He talks about (among other things) climate change. In a very matter of fact way, he makes a hugely important point that pertains to all the so-called skeptics (paraphrase):

The natural resource curse is such a bitch

Oil and the status of women in the Middle East

I'm not sure this falls under my "campus news" beat for Grist, but I heard it at a seminar at a college campus, and it's compelling enough that I'm going to say that because it falls within academia, it counts. Michael Ross is a political scientist at UCLA who was published in the February 2008 American Political Science Review with the assertion (PDF) that much of the gender inequality in the Middle East relative to the rest of the world can be explained not by traditional Islam, but by the presence of oil. Photo: iStockphoto The quick version is that Ross makes a strong case that women are hurt by a previously unappreciated effect of the infamous "resource curse" that imperils democracy in countries with abundant fossil fuels.

Falling elephants

View the winners of the ’60 Seconds to Save the Earth’ ecospot contest

The Alliance for Climate Protection and Current TV had a contest for provocative ecospots: short video messages to motivate friends, community, and government to get involved in solving the climate crisis. The winner created a great visual metaphor:

Blackout Sabbath

Rufus Wainwright’s energy campaign

Popera sweetheart Rufus Wainwright has done Judy! Judy! Judy! and now he’s doing Blackout Sabbath — emphasis on the out. This newest venture isn’t a tribute album; it’s an energy conservation campaign. Inspired by the NYC blackout in 2003, Wainwright is proposing we all turn out our lights and unplug appliances for 12 hours starting at noon on June 21, 2008, the summer solstice. He’s also asking for donations of refrigerator magnets to be handed out at an upcoming unamplified candlelit Blackout Sabbath benefit concert. The connection? He suggests lighting a candle as darkness falls that night so that you …

Vicious life cycles

Can we trust carbon labeling?

About a year ago, I was cautiously bullish on British supermarket giant Tesco's pledge to start putting carbon labels on its food. But I think that their progress so far -- which I'll get to in a minute -- suggests an important lesson about the policy risks of treating a fuzzy exercise as if it were completely reliable. Tesco's idea was that the chain and its suppliers would pay for objective, comprehensive reviews of the greenhouse-gas emissions from the foods on the store's shelves. The analyses would cover all major steps in bringing food from farms to the checkout line -- everything from running farm machinery, to food processing, to transportation, to refrigeration. Then, each item in the store would be labeled with the climate-warming emissions that could be traced to that particular product. This sort of exercise is called "life cycle analysis," and it's been used for decades to great effect, to shed light on all sorts of questions: paper vs. plastic (for bags), cloth vs. disposable (for diapers), hybrids vs. hydrogen (for cars), and a host of others. Last week, a nifty article by Michael Specter in The New Yorker reported on Tesco's progress so far. The results? There's still only one product on the shelves with a carbon label -- a single brand of potato chips, or "crisps" in British parlance. You see, as it turns out, life cycle analysis can be really, really difficult. And to make matters worse, it may be that the whole enterprise is chock full of uncertainty. Where carbon is concerned, it can be hard to trust the label.

Cellulosic ethanol: not likely to be viable

New study from mainstream ag economists at Iowa State

Cellulosic ethanol represents a beacon on the horizon — the justification cited by wiseguys like Vinod Khosla for dropping billions per year in public cash to prop up corn ethanol production. Corn ethanol, you see, is a bridge to a bright cellulosic future. But the beacon is looking more and more like a mirage, a ghost, a specter; the bridge we’re hurtling down may well lead to a chasm. A quiet consensus seems to be forming among people you’d think would know the facts on the ground: cellulosic ethanol, touted as five years away from viability for decades now, may …

Americans using less gasoline

Well, it’s finally happened: Americans are starting to use less gasoline. It took a weakened economy and record oil prices — crude hit an all-time high of $103.95 a barrel Monday — but in the past six weeks, U.S. gasoline consumption has fallen by an average 1.1 percent from 2007 levels, the most sustained drop in at least 16 years (excepting the dropoff that followed Hurricane Katrina). As Americans move to mitigate their gas-pump pain by seeking out more fuel-efficient cars, migrating into walkable neighborhoods, and riding public transit, analysts are suggesting that reduced gasoline use could be a long-term …

AEC chooses renewables and efficiency over coal

New across the transom, from Sierra Club (no link yet): Today, Associated Electric Cooperative, one of the nation’s largest and most respected rural electric cooperatives announced they are “postponing indefinitely” their plans to build a massive new coal-fired power plant near Norborne in Northwest Missouri. Associated Electric will pursue wind, energy efficiency and natural gas instead. Sweet.

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