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When people ask silly questions

"If fossil fuels are the problem, wouldn't running out of them be good?" There's an old joke about economists and other Panglossians that bears on this question: A man leaps off the top of a skyscraper and, as he passes by each floor, true to his optimistic tendencies, he says, "Well, so far, so good." Running out of fossil fuels is like this man running out of floors. The critical thing is not to jump ... i.e., not to commit all that carbon to the atmosphere in the first place. The spreading realization that "peak coal" might be a lot …

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Canucks 1, US 0

Turns out that springing forward a month early didn't save any electricity at all in the U.S. From Reuters: But other than forcing millions of drowsy American workers and school children into the dark, wintry weather three weeks early, the move appears to have had little impact on power usage. "We haven't seen any measurable impact," said Jason Cuevas, spokesman for Southern Co., one of the nation's largest power companies, echoing comments from several large utilities. The reason? Even though people used less energy for lighting at night, they used more for heating and lighting when they dragged themselves out …

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A review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Sixty Days and Counting

Sixty Days and Counting, by Kim Stanley Robinson. I waited for the release of Kim Stanley Robinson's new book, Sixty Days and Counting, like a computer geek awaiting the release of the PS3: standing outside the door of the store, in the snow, having cleared my calendar for a few days so I could dive right in. I'm a fan of Robinson's voluminous work because environmental themes usually animate the characters and move the plot. The "Three Californias" trilogy presented "future histories" with different environmental, technical, and social scenarios, while the Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning "Mars" trilogy traced that planet's transformation …

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Bipartisan bill calls for intelligence assessment of climate impacts

How might U.S. national security be threatened by mega-droughts, coastal flooding, killer hurricanes, food scarcity, and the other ecological calamities scientists widely predict will occur if global warming continues apace? Is climate change the real ticking bomb? Photo: iStockphoto No one knows, but Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) think it's time to find out. Last week, the bipartisan duo introduced a bill that would require federal intelligence agencies to collaborate on a National Intelligence Estimate to evaluate the security challenges presented by climate change. The bill's debut is well-timed. First, it comes just before the official release …

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The ubiquitous Richard Heinberg talks with Acres USA

Interesting interview with Richard Heinberg about the effects of peak oil on U.S. agriculture, in Acres USA, "A voice for Eco Agriculture."

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A big picture statement the world’s big problems

I'm on a listserv, where somebody made the fateful mistake of casually asking me, "from a Gristy environmental point of view, wouldn't it be a good thing if fossil fuels ran out?" In return, they received ... a whole bunch of words. Then I thought, "hey, wait, I just wrote a bunch of words without putting them on the blog! What the eff am I thinking!?" So, without further ado, here's a whole bunch of words: ----- I don't particularly consider myself an environmentalist as such, and I wouldn't presume to speak for Grist. I just consider myself a progressive …

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Who are the green power leaders? NREL tells us

DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) yesterday released its annual ranking of leading utility green power programs: Customer choice programs are proving to be a powerful stimulus for growth in renewable energy supply. In 2006, total utility green power sales exceeded 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), about a 30% increase over 2005. More than 500,000 customers are participating in utility programs nationwide, up more than 10% from 2005 Some highlights follow. Ranked by renewable energy sales, the green power program of Austin (Texas) Energy is first in the nation (580,580,401 kWh/year), followed by Portland General Electric, Florida Power & Light, PacifiCorp …

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How can 3 percent be important?

Consider this argument often made by climate skeptics: Water vapor is the most important gas, contributing 97 percent of the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide is only small percentage. Therefore, regulating carbon dioxide will have no impact on our climate. WhileEven if these numbers are generally correct, there are lots of problems with this argument. For example, it disregards the fact that climate forcing by water is really a feedback, and that changes in carbon dioxide are amplified by the water vapor feedback. Then there's this problem: the argument includes an implicit assumption that a small fractional change of any quantity …

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This one will hit harder in the global south

Climate change is affecting the oceans in any number of unpredictable ways. For example, under pressure from rising ocean temperatures (and toxic waste), coral reefs -- those glorious engines of biodiversity -- are degrading. I knew that. But this one was new to me: They also become breeding grounds for poisonous algae. And that poison accumulates in the big fish that eat the little fish that eat the algae -- making coral-dwelling fish toxic and sometimes even deadly for humans. So reports AP environmental writer Michael Casey in a recent piece. If we reach a point where coral-dwelling fish become …

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Biofuel facilities that use fossil fuels help no one, waste resources.

The Onion, America's Finest News Source (TM), once told of a special device for dealing with a lost TV remote: a remote you could use to make the other TV remote beep, so you could find it underneath the discarded pizza boxes and such. Little did the Onion writers know that Big Coal and Corporate Agribusiness would apply that same principle to produce a horde of monsters, the so-called "biofuels plants," facilities with a voracious appetite for fossil fuels, particularly yummy coal. I spent yesterday at with a group of earnest environmentalists, nearly all of whom loudly applauded a set …

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