Climate & Energy

Send this to your local government and public works department

Finally, something to do with all the damn asphalt

This sounds like a great idea! Seems like every school has a ginormous parking lot, as does every city and county building -- and think of the asphalt in residential streets.

Plans for new U.K. coal plant move forward

It’s the week o’ ill-advised energy choices in Britain, where nuclear power may soon get a boost and plans for the first new coal-fired power plant in decades are inching forward. A local government authority has recommended that Business Secretary John Hutton give the go-ahead to utility E.ON’s proposal for a coal plant; concerned that Hutton might just do so, critics have already come out with scathing statements. Says energy-policy professor Dieter Helm: “The fact people are going to build new coal plants now illustrates how badly the government has planned environmental policy over the last 10 years.” Agrees Greenpeace’s …

A negative-carbon corn ethanol plant?

Cogeneration and ethanol production

I am not the biggest fan of corn ethanol. But I am the biggest fan of cogeneration, also known as combined heat and power, or CHP (well, maybe the second-biggest fan). It is probably the single most overlooked strategy for sharply cutting greenhouse-gas emissions while reducing overall energy costs. Now a new EPA report finds that running an ethanol plant on natural gas CHP can, with the right design, result in negative net CO2 emissions (click on figure to enlarge). Important caveat: "Impact of Combined Heat and Power on Energy Use and Carbon Emissions in the Dry Mill Ethanol Process" (PDF) does not examine the energy consumed (or emissions generated) from growing and harvesting the corn or from transporting the corn or ethanol. Still, with CHP, corn ethanol can actually generate significant CO2 reductions compared to gasoline. If Congress is serious about promoting ethanol in a manner that actually reduces GHGs, they should require all new ethanol plants to cogenerate. This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

U.S. miscalculates threat of global warming

Sea-level rise at our doorstep; puts nation at risk

What the scientific community has failed to communicate, and the public has failed to grasp, is that the U.S. is particularly vulnerable to very small increments of sea-level rise. The IPCC Fourth Assessment projects a sea-level rise of 0.18 meters to 0.59 meters this century. Even though the report includes a caveat that this range does not include any significant contribution from the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets, global warming skeptics continually characterize those who mention a six-meter sea-level rise as scaremongers. There is also a common notion in circulation, advanced by the media and many studies on the impacts of climate change, that wealthier countries in the West will be able to adapt, while underdeveloped countries will bear the brunt of the impacts. It is no wonder then that global warming scarcely registers as an issue in the presidential election. Until the American public understands that the U.S. is directly threatened by impacts resulting from global warming, little meaningful action to curb our greenhouse-gas emissions will take place. With just one meter of sea-level rise, the U.S. will be physically under siege, with calamitous and destabilizing consequences.

Predictions for 2008: II

The Lieberman-Warner bill will … happen

((2008predictions_include)) The Lieberman-Warner climate bill will go to the Senate floor. After a largely uneventful committee hearing, LW is set to be introduced on the floor of the Senate in the early months of 2008, where it will face a bruising battle. Of that I feel certain. Subpredictions about which I feel only certain-ish: Inhofe will put on a clown show. He and other fossil fuel dead-enders will introduce hundreds of amendments attempting to water the bill down. Some small fraction of the amendments will pass. The coal industry will run a multimillion-dollar ad campaign trying to convince the public …

Barnes answers questions about the Sky Trust

I hope everyone read the essay from Peter Barnes et al that we published last night. If you’re interested in the notion of an atmospheric trust, you might also check out Dot Earth today, where Barnes answers questions from readers.

One-hundred-dollar oil

The Oil Drum had a few comments yesterday on $100 oil:

Creating an Earth Atmospheric Trust

A system to control climate change and reduce poverty

The following is a guest essay. ----- Stabilizing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere at a level that will fulfill the mandate of the UN Framework Concentration on Climate Change to avoid "dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system" will require drastic departures from business as usual. Here we introduce one attractive response to this challenge that may seem visionary or idealistic today but that could well become realistic once we reach a tipping point regarding climate change that opens a window of opportunity for embracing major changes. No silver bullet exists capable of solving the complex and interdependent problems of climate change, sustainability, and economic development. A consensus is emerging, however, that solving these problems will require major changes in existing governance arrangements to eliminate or at least alleviate what the 2006 Stern Review (1) calls the "greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen" -- the failure of the market to send proper signals about the real costs of using the atmosphere as a repository for greenhouse gases. This case exhibits the defining features of market failures surrounding open-access resources (2-6). Because emitters allowed to use the atmospheric commons as a repository for the wastes associated with burning fossil fuels at no cost, they have every incentive to use as much of this free factor of production as possible. But the present and future costs to society of this practice are enormous. Estimates of these costs vary. But there is compelling evidence that the eventual costs will exceed the cost of changing our current practices to limit emissions of greenhouse gases by a large margin (1). Analysts have proposed a variety of forms of carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems as policy measures to deal with this problem (7, 8). A few measures, like the European Emission Trading Scheme, have been implemented to some degree. But the measures under consideration at present are deeply flawed. In this article, we present an alternative system that has several attractive features, including the capacity to deal fairly with the regressive nature of most carbon taxing systems, to protect the new governance arrangements from political manipulation or corruption, and to contribute to the alleviation of global poverty. Working out the details of the general plan will be an ambitious task, but we think it is important to take the first step and propose a broad strategy having the six principles laid out below. The core of this system is the idea of a common asset trust (9, 10). Trusts are widely-used and well-developed legal mechanisms designed to protect and manage assets on behalf of specific beneficiaries (11). Extending this idea to the management and protection of a global commons, such as the atmosphere, whose owners/beneficiaries include all people alive today as well as future generations, is a new but straightforward extension of this idea. Because the atmosphere is global, the Earth Atmospheric Trust would be global in scope. Initial implementation at a regional or national scale may be necessary and appropriate, however, as we build toward a global system. We cannot examine in detail the path that implementation of the system might take, or how the many institutional, political, and administrative details would be addressed. Our purpose here is to present an integrative idea that has many positive features as the basis for further discussion in the post-Kyoto world. The trust arrangement we envision has six basic features together with four special features and precautionary measures. Basic features:

Two years after Sago Mine explosion, many mine-safety standards still not implemented

In January 2006, 12 coal miners were killed when an explosion in West Virginia’s Sago Mine trapped them underground. In response, Congress passed legislation strengthening mine safety standards. Two years later, many of the standards have yet to be implemented, to the frustration of the United Mine Workers union. Says union president Cecil Roberts, “[The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration], quite frankly, for some time now, since about 2001, has not been the agency that it was mandated to be by Congress to protect the coal miners in this country.” You do the math.