Climate & Energy

Dispatches from the heart of oil country

I am here in sunny Houston today with Carl Pope, our executive director, who will be addressing today's huge energy confab. Oil City USA is about what you'd expect. (I have some expertise on the subject, having briefly called Houston home a few years ago.) Instead of expanding public transport to its rapidly-growing Western suburbs, Houston decided that spending billions to tear down buildings and seize land within a thousand feet on either side of a 20-plus mile stretch of the freeway and expanding it to an even more obscene size was the better option. I can only assume that my daily cursing of the D.C. Metro's foibles resulted in the karmic payback of being forced to crawl along in my rented Prius at ten miles per hour or less today for the better part of an hour as I headed to the conference. (I spent this time dipping into my reserve of outrage as I listened to the President's press conference and his contradictory answers on skyrocketing gas prices and ridiculous attacks on the renewables tax package that the House passed by sizable margin yesterday.) I'll be providing updates on the goings-on here throughout the day. They cap off with a speech this evening from Sen. Hillary Clinton. If the barrage of campaign ads from Hillary, Obama, and even Ron Paul is any measure, the battle for Texas ahead of March 4 is pretty fierce and I am quite interested in her remarks to these energy heavyweights.

Don't get burned

The dangers of funding new coal-fired plants

Indeed. This paper (PDF) on the risks of investing in new coal-fired power plants is worth reading.

Suboleski withdraws; remaining Appalachian mountaintops breathe sigh of relief

A while back I noted that Bush had nominated one Stanley Suboleski for the position of assistant secretary for fossil energy at the DOE, where he would "oversee projects such as developing clean-coal technologies and …

Horsepower vs. mpg

A timeline of changes in automotive fuel economy

This should be perfectly obvious, but automotive technologies have changed an awful lot over the last few decades. From about 1975 through 1987, federal standards prompted massive and surprisingly rapid improvements in fuel economy. Cars designers focused on nimbleness and efficiency over raw power, and the fuel savings were enormous. But since the late 1980s, most engineering advances have focused on making cars more muscular, and fuel efficiency has taken a back seat. For graphic proof, take a look after the jump at a nifty chart ...

NYC unveils new stepped-up emission standards for ‘black taxis’

New York City has unveiled new emission standards for its fleet of 10,000 “black taxis” (aka, limos and town cars) that service mostly corporate clients. The plan effectively mandates shifting to hybrid vehicles by 2009 …

John McCain and Exxon Valdez

Mr. Straight Talk voted against requiring double-hulled tankers after the biggest oil spill

You’re likely aware that the notorious Exxon Valdez case is back in court yet again. Yesterday, the Most Profitable Company of All Time argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that it shouldn’t have to pay …

The problem with tar sands

Could Canadian oil be the most destructive on earth?

Check out this new report from Environmental Defence Canada. The title sort of says it all: "Canada's Toxic Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project On Earth" (PDF). I found the title a bit overheated at first, but take a look before you decide. The claim may be debatable, but it's also not mere hyperbole: the tar sands oil extraction very well could be the most destructive project on earth. In fact, it's already yielding catastrophic results for human health, not to mention for a vast swath of North America's ecology. (In any case, I've had the privilege of working on climate policy a bit with one of the authors, Matt Price, and I can attest that he's a smart guy, not prone to exaggeration.) I won't summarize the study here, but just point out that among the many problems with tar sands oil, is that it can only be extracted and processed with very large energy inputs (which means huge carbon emissions):

Disputing the 'consensus' on global warming

Climate science doesn’t rely on a consensus of opinion

Salon liked my post "How do we really know humans are causing global warming?" but wanted something more in-depth and ... serious. The result is "The cold truth about climate change: Deniers say there's no consensus about global warming. Well, there's not. There's well-tested science and real-world observations [that are much more worrisome]." James Hansen read the first draft and wrote me back, "Very important for the public to understand this -- why has nobody articulated this already?" I don't know the answer. All I can say is that while I was writing the article, the central point dawned on me:

Why economic analysis of Lieberman-Warner will be flawed

Global warming solution studies overestimate costs, underestimate benefits

Dan Weiss, the Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress, has written an excellent piece on why we can expect a series of flawed economic analyses of the Lieberman Warner Climate Security Act (S. 2191) in the coming months: Many of these studies will likely predict that the reductions of greenhouse gases required by the cap-and-trade system will lead to huge hikes in electric rates, reductions in jobs, and all sorts of other economic havoc. But these studies also have one other common element: They will eventually be proven wrong once the program is underway. These studies base their cost assumptions on existing technologies and practices, which means that they do not account for the vast potential for innovation once binding reductions and deadlines are set. The Lieberman Warner Climate Security Act anticipates the need for innovation and creates economic incentives to spur engineers and managers to devise technologies and methods to meet the greenhouse gas reduction requirements more cheaply. This isn't the first time that pollution control studies have produced inaccurate predictions about the future. Remember what analysts predicted about acid rain controls from 1989 to 1990? And the article continues on to review that history and then look at the important reports of McKinsey & Co and Nicholas Stern, which makes clear the cost of action is far, far lower than the cost of inaction. If you're interested in the IPCC's take on this -- they explain why the literature is clear that action is not costly -- this post summarizes what they report.

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