Climate & Energy

Umbra on nuclear vs. coal

Dear Umbra, I work for a certain large environmental organization, and I have often had to deal with the issue of nuclear and coal-fired power plants. If ever asked which is better, we are officially supposed to say “neither.” But I think a response like that doesn’t always work for the real world, so I’d like to ask you, oh answerer of environmental questions, which type of power plant do you think is best (or, least worst) for the environment, nuclear or coal? And your answer can’t be neither! MF San Francisco, Calif. Dearest MF, You are evil. I publish …

Me on the radio

I was on RFK Jr.’s Air America radio show “Ring of Fire” the other day, talking about the lay of the land in the presidential race, climate-wise. Should you be so inclined, you can hear it here.

California withdraws proposal to potentially override private thermostats

Strenuous public objection has forced the California Energy Commission to withdraw a proposal that new buildings in the state have radio-controlled thermostats that would allow utilities to override customers’ temperature settings in the case of a power emergency. Some saw the plan as way too Big Brother; energy commission member Arthur Rosenfeld described it as minor private sacrifice for the public good. “If you can control rotating outages by letting everyone in the state share the pain,” he explained, “there’s a lot less pain to go around.” The commission will not leave the programmable thermostats off the table completely, but …

The high costs of doing nothing, part III

Climate change disrupts ecosystems that provide valuable services

This post is by ClimateProgress guest blogger Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project. ----- If you are one of those people who loves the quiet communion of hiking in the high-country forests of Colorado, you'd better get there fast. In three years, those forests may be gone. The Rocky Mountain News reported this week that every large, mature forest of lodgepole pines in Colorado and southern Wyoming will be dead in three to five years. Some 1.5 million acres of pine forest already have been destroyed since 1996. State and federal foresters call the loss "catastrophic." What's causing the massive die-off? The root cause appears to be global climate change. Winters are warmer. That allows pine bark beetles to survive. The lodgepoles are less able to defend themselves because they have been stressed by years of drought. As a result, a rice-sized bug is felling vast expanses of forests in Colorado. Similar die-offs are underway elsewhere in the western United States and in Canada. (Forest management practices -- mainly fire suppression in past years -- also are to blame. Dense vegetation allows the beetles to spread more quickly and older trees are more susceptible to the bug.)

Notable quotable

“Environmentalism isn’t a communist plot.” – Colorado resident Dave Peterson, on the polarization of opinion on new state rules for oil and gas production

A one-legged man in a butt kickin' contest

Gingrich’s further explications of green conservatism do not inspire confidence

The more I see of Newt Gingrich’s "conservative environmentalism," the less impressive it seems. The guy’s offering run of the mill, crony capitalist conservatism with a shabby green paint job. The two top-tier public policy approaches to fighting climate change are: supporting green industries, practices, technologies, and infrastructure via subsidies, tax breaks, or mandates, and restricting and reducing GHGs via regulation. The first is the carrot and the second is the stick. Most greens want to use some combination of the two, though they might quibble about the relative priority. Gingrich’s big innovation is to insist that we should use …

Assault and battery

Chinese workers pay for our cadmium-battery habit

In the last 20 years, the United States has essentially dismantled its industrial base, moving production of consumer goods south to Mexico and east to Asia. This has not only dramatically lowered the cost of goods, fueling a consumer boom; it has also helped make our economy less energy-intensive, and lowered our exposure to industrial waste. But net gains for the environment and worker health have been imaginary. We’ve merely shifted the burdens of industrial production onto other lands and other people — most recently, China. Don’t be a Cad. Photo: iStockphoto I think this is the most important political-ecological …

Pragmatists v. environmentalists, part III

Hybrids and biofuels: The road ahead

Many people make the mistake of comparing apples to oranges. One has to compare futures to futures and current status to current status. All technologies improve, but some improve more than others. The Prius gets 46 mpg, while a similar-sized Toyota Corolla gets 31 mpg. One of our investments (Transonic) is trying to make an engine that (if it works!) can be placed in a Prius to produce a vehicle that will have lower carbon emissions than the hybrid Prius at below $1,000 in marginal cost. Other efficient engine efforts abound. If battery technology efforts like Seeo (one of our investments), EEstor, silicon nanowire batteries (or similar efforts that others have funded and many we are evaluating) are successful, we will get the same effect (better petroleum mpg) with a plug-in -- if we can also clean up our grid at the same time! From my perspective, if I have to pick between a 5-10 times lower cost/performance battery and a cleaned-up electrical grid in the next 5-10 years (or even 20-25 years), or pick cellulosic fuels in 50 percent more efficient ICE engines, I consider the latter lower risk and significantly more probable. I am confident that cellulosic biofuels without significant land-use impact or biodiversity impact can achieve costs of $1.25/gallon in less than five years and below $1.00 per gallon in 10 years (more details on that, especially on land use / biodiversity and sources of biomass, in a upcoming paper). At this price point, the technology will be adopted broadly and rapidly worldwide, even if oil prices decline substantially.

Dem debate in Nevada

Well, the Dem debate in Nevada this evening was largely an excruciating affair, thanks to the world-historical vapidity, ignorance, and pettiness of moderators Tim Russert and Brian Williams. Before you do anything else, go read Matt Yglesias’ new piece, “The Unbearable Inanity of Tim Russert.” It could not be more right on. In what, as far as I can tell, was the only even mildly interesting, Grist-relevant moment in the debate, John Edwards unambiguously rejects nuclear power:

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