Climate & Energy

United Nations calls climate change a matter of human rights

If climate change is a “largely unscientific hoax” and “political concoction” (in the words of Republican strategist Mary Matalin), it’s a hoax and concoction that could threaten the rights of millions of people. Or so said the United Nations deputy high commissioner for human rights this week. “Ultimately climate change may affect the very right to life of various individuals,” said Commissioner Kyung-wha Kang, adding that countries have an obligation “to prevent and address some of the direst consequences that climate change may reap on human rights.”

Lutz strikes back

GM exec defends calling climate change a ‘crock of shit’

A couple weeks back, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, at a roundtable with reporters, casually mentioned that he thinks global warming is a "crock of shit." (His point was that it makes sense to develop an all-electric vehicle either way.) Lots and lots of people, mainly bloggers, got in a huge uproar about it. Yesterday, Lutz wrote a defiant post on GM’s blog addressing the controversy. His point is that it doesn’t matter a bit what his personal beliefs are; what matters is what he does, and what GM does. And he claims GM is on the ball: General Motors …

Companies not following through on pledge to lobby for carbon reduction

Companies participating in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership have pledged to lobby for a mandatory cap on U.S. carbon emissions, but — and there’s always a but — many of those same corporations are working behind the scenes to undermine greenhouse-gas regulation. Just a few examples: USCAP members General Electric and Caterpillar sit on the board of a group called the Center for Energy & Economic Development, which opposes greenhouse-gas regulations. USCAP member Duke Energy has joined notorious coal lobbying group Americans for Balanced Energy Choices. Eight USCAP members sit on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which …

Staying hooked on oil is expensive, too

Gas pricing, Big Oil, and carbon pricing

Apropos of British Columbia's big announcement, I have some ranting to get off my chest. One of the most frustrating things about U.S. climate policy is the reflexive fear that if we ever raise the price of gas -- or of driving generally -- people will riot in the streets or something. This makes it exceedingly difficult to rearrange the economy away from oil and its carbon contents. But, of course, the price of gas keeps rising anyway. In fact, crude oil prices have more than tripled over the last half-dozen years, with futures closing above $100 recently. To be sure, there's a silver lining to higher prices: they really do dampen demand, despite what you hear all the time. But it's a silver lining to a dark and ugly cloud: high energy prices mean that consumers are taking it on the chin -- and especially low-income consumers. And worse, all the revenue from the high prices goes to the energy companies. If prices had risen because of taxes or carbon fees, then the public could be reaping the windfall that big oil is raking in now. For a decade, lawmakers have balked at the prospect of $20-per-ton carbon taxes (a figure that is sometimes kicked around as a price that would get us on the right track). Eighty dollars per ton sets off screaming and wailing. But those figures translate into an additional 20 to 78 cents, respectively, per gallon at the pump. In the time that we've all been afraid of those comparatively modest figures, the price at the pump has jumped $2 or more. We could have been intentional about getting ourselves off oil, and about protecting consumers from price spikes. But instead, we've opted for the expensive and volatile route: we'll do nothing and hope for the best. Now let's just hope we can figure out a cap-and-trade program that doesn't send any price signal to drivers.

Tasty hatin’

All you Lieberman-Warner haters will not want to miss David Sassoon’s "The 10 Dominoes Toppling Lieberman-Warner."

It's the economics, stupid

How to make the case against coal

Synapse Energy Economics has recently put together a report for NRDC that ought to be required reading for anyone who objects to dirty or expensive power (e.g., coal-fired, central station power). The report, entitled "The Risks of Participating in the AMPGS Coal Plant" (PDF), is ostensibly only about a specific 960MW plant that AMP wants to build in Ohio. But their report speaks volumes about the larger economic and environmental challenges to coal-fired central station power, and provides a wealth of hard data to those who (admittedly, like me) believe that we have vastly cheaper and cleaner options to serve our growing power needs. It is also notable for its self-restraint, arguing against the plant in purely economic rather than moral terms. For this reason among others, it ought to be mandatory reading for any environmentalist looking for a framework to support cleaner power.

Alternate futures

Two huge power plants offer different paths forward

In Sweetwater, Texas, a company called Tenaska has applied to build what will be the nation’s first bona fide "clean coal" plant — an IGCC plant that will capture and sequester CO2 emissions. (Said emissions will be used to pump more oil out of the Permian Basin oil fields, which will then be burned and create more CO2, but who’s counting?) The 600MW plant is projected to be completed in 2014. Meanwhile, Spanish engineering firm Abengoa has signed a deal with the Arizona Public Service Co. utility to build what will be the largest solar power plant in the U.S. …

There was no consensus about global cooling in the ’70s, says study

The scientific consensus in the 1970s about “global cooling” is a beloved argument of global-warming skeptics — and little more, says a survey of scientific literature between 1965 and 1979. During that time period, seven peer-reviewed articles supported global cooling, while 44 predicted global warming. “There was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that the Earth was headed into an imminent ice age,” says coauthor Thomas Peterson. “A review of the literature suggests that, to the contrary, greenhouse warming even then dominated scientists’ thinking about the most important forces shaping Earth’s climate on human time scales.” Glad that got cleared …

Quick, change more lightbulbs!

China kicks off the coal-to-liquids rush

Looks like China is about to uncork the CTL genie, opening a plant to produce liquid fuel from coal. This won’t be the last: A study last year by the Chinese Academy of Sciences said: “Production of liquid fuels from coal is practically the most feasible route to cope with the dilemma in oil supply.” It concluded: “Establishing large-scale CTL [coal-to-liquids] plants on the pitheads of several main coalfields is feasible and competitive when oil price is well over US$25 per barrel.” Well, we’re screwed I guess. A couple of things from the article are (darkly) humorous. Like this line: …

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