Climate & Energy

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: …

Giant pythons could spread in southern U.S., say feds

You may think you’re prepared for climate change — solar-powered fan, flood insurance, nostalgic polar-bear picture, check, check, check — but are you prepared for 20-foot, 250-pound snakes? Giant Burmese pythons could find some one-third of the United States to be habitable climate by 2100, according to a new map published by the U.S. Geological Survey. The pythons, which were originally dumped in the Florida Everglades by disenchanted pet owners and now number in the thousands, aren’t generally a threat to humans, but do count deer, bobcats, and alligators among their squeeze-‘n’-gulp prey. However, alligators also eat pythons. But before …

A sci-fi writer and an environmental journalist explore their overlapping worlds

Pump Six and Other Stories, by Paolo Bacigalupi. Science fiction writer Paolo Bacigalupi, author of the new collection Pump Six and Other Stories, envisions a future filled with environmental terrors. His characters move through worlds transformed by climate change, genetic engineering, drought, and toxic waste — places that seem exotic at first, but on second glance are just a few unwitting steps beyond today’s headlines. As Bacigalupi’s Colorado neighbor, I’ve watched his work evolve — and watched with interest as he borrowed themes from environmental journalism. So I sat down with him to discuss the complicated relationship between environmental reporting …


The media was all abuzz when a bunch of big corporations got together to form USCAP, a coalition supporting the implementation of a mandatory cap on carbon emissions in the U.S. Why, big business has gone green! So the headlines said. However, as a great BusinessWeek story today explains, many of those same companies are working hard behind the scenes to thwart or neuter the very efforts USCAP claims to support. Trust but verify, as they say.

McCain vs. Hillary vs. Obama vs. Bingaman, Bernie, and Boxer

What makes a good climate change plan?

'Tis the season for climate plan meta-analysis. I get asked a lot about the presidential candidates' environmental bona fides, which has led me to put together the following long, dense, and absolutely riveting primer on what to look for in a good climate change plan. These principles apply to cap-and-trade style programs, because that's what all the presidential candidates are proposing. 1. Go deep The "cap" part of cap-and-trade refers to the emissions level mandated by the legislation. Good legislation considers both the short term and the long term. The available science indicates we need an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050. For a variety of reasons (CO2 is a long-lived pollutant; the initial cuts will be easiest, etc.) we should start cutting quickly. Twenty percent by 2020 is a reasonable interim target. Use these figures as a benchmark, but don't obsess over them. A climate change plan that calls for an 87 percent cut is not necessarily better than one calling for an 84 percent cut. Our understanding of climate change will progress over the next several decades, and we'll adjust accordingly. The important thing for now is that the planned cuts are sufficiently deep and predictable to stimulate a cascade of infrastructure improvements.

Couldn't happen to a nicer enemy of the human race

Another bad week for coal

The following post was first published on Passing Through, The Nation‘s guest blog, where I will be posting all month. Regular readers of Grist know that coal is the enemy of the human race. They may also know that coal is on the ropes and, despite its recent PR blitz, in something of panic. Let’s take a look at some news from just the past week or so. A new report from gas, coal, and power consulting firm Wood MacKensie says that "the rate of coal plant cancellations accelerated during 2007 to the point that more than 50% of the …

Did we say ‘beyond petroleum’?

Never mind.

Change your lightbulbs …

… or else a giant Burmese python will eat your children!!1!

Carbon on the half shell

A lighthearted look at biosequestration

A semi-recent issue of High Country News carried a feature on the deep-rock carbon sequestration potential in the northwestern U.S.: it's maybe possible to inject CO2 captured from power plants into the basalt that underlies the region, producing inert calcium carbonate. If so, there's apparently enough basalt to capture centuries of the region's carbon emissions. It's safe to say the research has its doubters. And carbon sequestration in general deserves the hairy eyeball: even if proven both ecologically and geologically viable and economically feasible, if it leads to the continued destruction of Appalachia and vast tracts of the West for coal, count me out. Elsewhere, a study's findings added to the body of evidence that shellfish, like clams, oysters, and mussels (oh, and plankton, crustaceans, and corals), will start growing more slowly or dissolving altogether due to anthropogenic ocean acidification (from all of the excess CO2 we produce that goes into oceanic solution), which would dissolve their shells. Fewer/smaller/weaker shellfish would have economic effects, but also much greater impacts on marine life: they're an important food source for everything from fish to whales and birds. My point? These critters fix carbon ("biosequestration") in their shells, so we could start losing an important piece of the ocean's ability to maintain its natural alkalinity, plus its tendency to sequester carbon, just when they're most needed. My disinterested and clear-eyed proposal, then, is increased aquaculture of mollusks in bays, sounds, estuaries, sloughs, etc. We're already growing tens of millions of pounds of clams alone each year in the U.S., and unlike most other forms of aquaculture, you don't get the massive energetic losses like with the feeding of fish meal to top-of-the-food-chain finfish.

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