Climate & Energy

E.U. says it will be mindful of sustainability in boosting biofuels

Realizing that biofuel production can have negative social and environmental consequences, the European Commission says it will propose “strict conditions that biofuels used in the European market are produced in a sustainable way” instead of barreling ahead willy-nilly (because really, that would be crazy). The commission will announce specific climate-change mitigation plans later this month; it previously declared a goal for biofuels to make up 10 percent of all E.U. transportation fuel by 2020, but E.U. Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas says it would be better to miss that target than to meet it by harming the poor or the land. …

Antarctica ice melt more widespread and faster than thought, says study

Antarctica holds about 90 percent of the Earth’s ice, so it’s a bit problematic that the continent seems to be melting faster than expected. Not only is large-scale ice loss more widespread than thought, but the rate of meltiness has accelerated over the last decade, says a study in the journal Nature Geoscience. The West Antarctic ice sheet lost about 132 billion tons of ice in 2006, compared to some 83 billion tons of ice in 1996. Unfortunately, many computer models of future climate impacts assume that Antarctic ice levels will be stable — and thus may underestimate sea-level rise.

Pandering in Michigan

Romney and McCain treat Michigan workers like credulous children

Romney and McCain are campaigning furiously in Michigan, and it’s tight. Romney, for whom Michigan is make-or-break, seems to have decided it’s in his best interests to sell fantasies: Mr. Romney criticized the energy bill signed into law last month by President Bush that requires cars and trucks sold in the United States to achieve a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Substantial majorities in both parties in both houses of Congress approved the measure. Mr. McCain voted for it. Mr. Romney said he opposed the new mileage standard, describing it as an anvil tossed to Detroit …

BigThink

Smart people talk about serious questions

Check out this cool new site, BigThink. It’s a collection of short video interviews with notable or famous people, asking them a series of common questions. Strangely addictive. The environment section is fairly anemic thus far (the site just launched a few weeks ago), but you can watch Mitt Romney, Dennis Kucinich, John McCain, and Bill Richardson all answering the question, Is ethanol overhyped? (Hint: Cellulosic! Cellulosic!) Also, I really like Gillian Caldwell, exec. director of Witness, on whether climate change is a human rights issue. [UPDATE: I'm told Caldwell is no longer with Witness, but is now heading up …

Pragmatists v. environmentalists, part I

Prius: Green or greenwash?

I have been accused of dissing hybrids. I was mostly discussing Prius-type parallel hybrids and all the support they get, when one can get the same carbon reduction by buying a cheaper, similar-sized and -featured car and buying $10 worth of carbon credits. I was objecting to greenwashing (powered by a large marketing machine) that suggests hybrids can solve our problems. Corn ethanol, which has been heavily maligned in the mainstream media, reduces carbon emissions (on a per-mile-driven basis) by almost the same amount as today's typical hybrid. Despite the similar environmental profiles, one is a media darling and the other is demonized, despite its more competitive economics. My main complaint has been the lack of critical analysis in this space. Corn ethanol (which I don't believe is a long term solution) has been framed by the oil companies' marketing machine, farm policy critics, and impractical environmentalists (though the NRDC and Sierra Club support corn ethanol's transition role as I do, subject to certain constraints). The Prius and hybrids have been positioned by Toyota's marketing machine. The public is gullible. I am open and hopeful, especially longer term, on serial plug-in hybrids (a point I'll address in Part III). Price still remains a major issue. Even for serial hybrids, the ability to keep cost, or at least monthly payments, close to that of a regular ICE (internal combustion engine) car is unclear. Maybe another blogger with knowledge of practical automotive costs can detail the likely trajectory of serial hybrid costs (say, with a typical 40-mile "battery range"), as this remains the critical question. The Prius is the corn ethanol of hybrid cars, and we should recognize that. It has increased investment in battery development, but beyond that it is no different than Gucci bags, a branding luxury for a few who want the "cool eco" branding (70%+ of Prius buyers make more than $100k per year). In this series, I will try to lay out my views on hybrids as a whole -- what I believe hybrids are good for and what they are not. (My paper on Biofuels Pathways (PDF) delves into the details.)

Coal is not cheap, part XVXIV

Clean coal plants are dying on the drawing board. Why? Because … stop me if you’ve heard this one … coal can be cheap or clean, but not both.

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