An article published in The New York Times today describes a proposal to use carbon in the atmosphere to make gasoline. The principle itself is quite simple -- similar ideas have been proposed before. According to the article: Air would be blown over a liquid solution of potassium carbonate, which would absorb the carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide would then be extracted and subjected to chemical reactions that would turn it into fuel: methanol, gasoline or jet fuel. This process could transform carbon dioxide from an unwanted, climate-changing pollutant into a vast resource for renewable fuels. The closed cycle -- equal amounts of carbon dioxide emitted and removed -- would mean that cars, trucks and airplanes using the synthetic fuels would no longer be contributing to global warming. The idea is purely theoretical at this point -- no factories or prototypes have been built. But even as pure speculation there's one major hurdle; the process requires large amounts of input energy. And where would this energy come from?
In a bizarre twist, the conservative Washington Times, which would normally be critical of fuzzy environmental strategies like carbon offsets, is actually attacking the candidates for not offsetting all their campaign emissions. Opening with an absurd headline, "Green crusades lot of talk," the Times writes: Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama have called for strict mandatory limits to control greenhouse gases but they aren't leading by example -- each has failed to pay for offsets to cover all of his campaign's carbon emissions. How does not taking (dubious) voluntary actions carry any implications about one's commitment to serious mandatory limits? Advocating mandatory limits is based on an understanding that two decades of the voluntary approach has not reversed emissions trends. And again and again we've seen how offsets provide at best a limited environmental benefit. Surely the WT can find more things stories to write about. I've heard it said that Senator McCain has called for carbon limits that are in fact mandatory, but he refuses to call them mandatory. Nah, no story there ... This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Mark your calendar for March 29, when cities around the world will switch off non-critical lights at 8:00 p.m. for an awareness-raising Earth Hour. At present, 24 cities — with a total population of some 30 million people — plan to participate in the energy-saving symbolism, from Toronto to Tel Aviv, Bangkok to Brisbane, Canberra to Copenhagen, and first Earth Hour participant Sydney to copycat event holder San Francisco. Thousands of individuals and businesses have also signed on to come to the dark side.
With or without climate policies, energy prices seem set to rise. The question is, Who will get the money? Auctioned cap-and-trade gives us the opportunity to take charge of price increases and share the benefits widely -- even while we safeguard the climate and stimulate local jobs. Big chances like this don't come along often! To see what a golden opportunity this is, we've got to briefly review recent fossil-fuel price increases.
Anyone interested in oil should see There Will Be Blood, since it is a great film that tells a fascinating and detailed story of the early days of the oil industry in California. Okay, it's Oscar week. I try to see all the Best Picture nominees, which is much tougher now that I have a one-year-old daughter. I missed Atonement [so far], but my wife read the book, so half credit. And lord knows after seeing No Country for Old Men, I don't need to see another downbeat movie -- uh, sorry for the spoiler, but if you thought a movie titled No Country for Old Men (or Atonement) was upbeat, you get out even less than I do these days. I don't think There Will Be Blood is the best picture of the year -- but it is very good. Certainly the performance by Daniel Day-Lewis should take the Oscar, and the cinematography and music are fantastic. But as a depiction of the grueling work of producing oil, it has no equal. Assuming you've read The Prize by Daniel Yergin, this is a must-see. Just leave five minutes before the end and you'll be happy. This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
A big coalition of environmental justice groups in California just came out with a strong statement opposing a cap-and-trade system and urging “fees” (i.e., taxes) instead. (Here’s L.A. Times‘ coverage.) Their points are fairly familiar. Most of the opposition seems to be based on the well-documented failures of the European trading system — which, as far as I know, every U.S. legislator is aware of. There’s also something about the revenue from auction not being used to help low-income people: Meszaros said she didn’t trust an auction system. “We’re concerned that proceeds from an auction won’t be applied to transitioning …
Andy Revkin of the NYT has a good blog post on one of the main problems with climate messaging by scientists, environmentalists, and the like. In short, it sucks! One problem is the name "global warming" or "climate change." It sounds like a vacation, not a crisis. Indeed, one of the main reasons I titled my book Hell and High Water is that I thought it was a better term -- more accurate of what is to come if we don't act, more descriptive, more visceral -- and I hoped (faintly) it might become more widely used. But other than being projected onto the Washington Monument by Greenpeace, nada! Names do matter. As conservative message-meister Frank Luntz wrote a few years ago in an infamous memo, that explains precisely how a politician can sound as if he or she cares about global warming but doesn't actually want to do anything about it: "Climate change" is less frightening than global warming. As one focus group participant noted, climate change "sounds like you're going from Pittsburgh to Fort Lauderdale." While global warming has catastrophic connotations attached to it, climate change suggests a more controllable and less emotional challenge.
So, you may recall that loathsome mountaintop-removal mining outfit Massey was hit with a $50 million judgment a while back. They appealed it up to the W. Va. Supreme Court, which overturned it. Later, it turned out that Massey CEO Don Blankenship (an evil bastard) had been photographed frolicking with one of the judges in Monte Carlo, accompanied by, um, female consorts. So that judge dropped out of the case. Now the WSJ brings word that another judge is recusing himself — Justice Larry Starcher had criticized Massey and Blankenship publicly, so Blankenship bullied him off the case. Said Starcher: …
We know that coal is the enemy of the human race, what with carbon emissions, deadly air pollution, and unsafe and destructive mining practices. The supply of coal is becoming more problematic as well: recently, a Wall Street Journal article described a "coal-price surge," and Richard Heinberg has warned that coal may peak much sooner than most people expect. So what's to like? Not much. But since coal-fired plants provide almost half of our electricity, we can't get rid of coal unless we find either a way to replace it or a way to reduce the use of electricity. Recently, Gar Lipow has discussed how friggin' cheap it would be to replace coal, and Bill Becker has pointed to several studies that show how renewables could replace coal. I will argue in this post that if buildings could produce all the space and water heating, air conditioning, and ventilation that they need, we wouldn't need any coal. Heating and cooling buildings and water now consume 30 percent of our electricity and 32 percent of our natural gas. If, for instance, geothermal exchange units (also known as geothermal heat pumps) were installed under every building, and an appropriate amount of solar photovoltaics were installed on roofs in order to power those units, we wouldn't need to burn 60 percent of our coal because we would not need 30 percent of our electricity. And because we could redirect our natural gas from warming and cooling into electricity generation, we could get rid of the remaining coal, replacing it with natural gas. In other words, the buildings would both destroy electrical demand and free up natural gas, until renewables come online and replaced natural gas in turn. If we did this within a 10-year timeframe, we could generate millions of green-collar jobs, create new industries, and help the rest of the world kill off the rest of coal. All of the data that I use in this post is available online in a spreadsheet I created called "EnergyUse." It has tabs for electrical use, natural gas use, my calculations concerning coal, and some notes on the data, all of which comes from the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA). So let's get electricity literate, and take a look at how electricity (and natural gas) are used in this country, so that we can figure out how to kill coal: