Climate & Energy

Windfall beneath his wings?

McCain might not be as opposed to a windfall profits tax as his fellow Republicans

Via the Democratic National Committee’s blog, this video makes it seem like John McCain might not be as opposed to a windfall profits tax on …

EPA plans to loosen air-quality rules near national parks

Photo: Wolfgang Staudt Call us crazy, but rewriting the Clean Air Act to ease the way for new coal plants near national parks seems to …

Them's the breaks

‘Energy and Tax Extenders Act’ clears committee, heads to House floor

The House advanced legislation yesterday that would renew billions of dollars in tax breaks for wind, solar, biomass, and other renewable energy sources, and extend …

Cap-and-trade or carbon tax? Both!

Five ways BC’s carbon tax shift can strengthen Cap and Trade

The Vancouver Sun gives some ink to a cluster of issues that I've been pondering of late: how BC's carbon tax shift fits with Cap and Trade. I'm famously infatuated with carbon tax shifting. I'm also a zealot for auctioned Cap and Trade. The good news is that with careful policy design, Cap and Tax can be better than either Cap or Tax. The Tax toughens the Cap, the way steel rebar strengthens concrete. The bad news is that without careful design, the two could weaken each other. The challenge for policy makers is gaming -- firms' aptitude for subverting market rules established with good intentions. Remember how Enron and its ilk manipulated the California electricity market in 2001? The interaction of a carbon tax in British Columbia with a regionwide carbon Cap-and-Trade system in the West could open channels for such profiteering. In the worst case, gaming could both undermine and discredit the policies, risking their political survival. Fortunately, such gaming is preventable, as I'll explain in a moment. First, though, the upsides:

Who's zooming who?

Subsidies for wind power pale beside subsidies for nuclear

I long ago swore off the Wall Street Journal's editorial page -- the last straw for me was their cruel swipe at departed "dope fiend" Jerry Garcia back in 1995. But on Monday a friend forwarded me a WSJ editorial whaling away at renewable power's production tax credit: Solar energy is subsidized to the tune of $24.34 per megawatt hour, wind $23.37 and ... nuclear power $1.59. Wind and solar have been on the subsidy take for years ... Now, they insinuate, it's time to kick wind and solar out of the nest to fly (or not) on their own, just like Uncle Nuke did, decades ago. What's up?, my pal asked, knowing that I not only have a thing for wind power but used to be a walking encyclopedia of nuclear power costs. After a quick trip down memory lane, pencil in hand, here's my brief on federal subsidies for windmills and nukes. The score (in 2007 dollars): Reactor subsidies, 1950-1990: $154 billion, or $3.75 billion a year. Wind power subsidies, 1983-2007: $3.75 billion 25-year total.

Cause and effect

Human-caused warming is resulting in a broad range of impacts across the globe

Nature has published the first article to "formally link observed global changes in physical and biological systems to human-induced climate change, predominantly from increasing greenhouse gases." See news story here and the article, "Attributing physical and biological impacts to anthropogenic climate change" (subs. req'd, abstract below). NASA's discussion of the piece here explains, "human-caused climate change has made an impact on a wide range of Earth's natural systems, including permafrost thawing, plants blooming earlier across Europe, and lakes declining in productivity in Africa." The image at right: "Impacts from warming are evident in satellite images showing that lakes in Siberia disappearing as the permafrost thaws and lake water drains deeper into the ground." The lead author explained:

Subsidize my love

Grist asks McCain about contradictory messages on nuclear subsidies

John McCain hosted a call-in with bloggers today following his address in Columbus, Ohio, in which he outlined his priorities for a first term in …

Stop me if you've heard this one

The eternal cycle of liquid coal reincarnation

Ali Velshi on CNN, Wednesday morning: "What if you could take a lump of coal and turn that in to your gasoline?" What if, indeed? A brief (very brief) stroll through the archives...

Our tails get in the way

The problems and principles of energy descent

"How did you get there, Roo?" asked Piglet. "On Tigger's back!  And Tiggers can't climb downwards, because their tails get in the way, only upwards, and Tigger forgot about that when we started, and he's only just remembered.  So we've got to stay here for ever and ever -- unless we go higher.  What did you say, Tigger?  Oh, Tigger says if we go higher we shan't be able to see Piglet's house so well, so we're going to stop here." -- A.A. Milne, "The House At Pooh Corner" My kids were out climbing trees yesterday, supervised by Eric and our visiting friend and my honorary brother, "Uncle" Jesse.  Isaiah really wanted to climb up to a particular spot, but couldn't get there on little four-year-old legs.  Jesse helped him up part of the way, and then told him he had to do it himself or be content with where he could get to.  Jesse observed, "I wanted to give him a boost, but only up to a place he could get back down from himself." I was struck by what a useful metaphor and perhaps even principle was embodied in that casual statement.  I was also reminded, perhaps because I've now read Winnie the Pooh to my children approximately 1,000 times, of the classic representation of what happens when you climb up and can't climb down. If you can forgive the cuteness, it does seem apt. Let us imagine ourselves climbing up a rather steep and precarious tree, boosted up by fossil energies into a place we simply could never get to without them. The problems we are facing right now all originate in our fundamental inability to voluntarily set limits -- that is, at no point did most of us even recognize the basic necessity of stopping at a point at which we could get down on our own, without our petrocarbon helpers. So right now we look like Tiggers high in the trees -- we can climb up, but we can't climb down. Is the problem our fear or that our tails (our structural addictions to energy) get in the way? It can be hard to tell. But what is not terribly hard to tell is that one way or another, we have to come down -- and probably quite rapidly. The goal is to avoid a painful "thud" upon descent.