Alberta's tar sands got yet another huge black eye this week when as many as 500 ducks died after simply landing on a giant pond full of highly toxic oil sands tailings. Only five were said to have survived their toxic plunge. A member of a Canadian environmental watchdog group described the water found in the ponds as follows: Drinking a glass of water from a tailings pond would be like drinking a diluted glass of oil or gasoline. Whether the bitumen is cooked in situ while still underground or scraped off, carted away, and processed elsewhere -- either process requiring both huge amounts of energy and water -- millions of tons of global warming pollution are produced and nearly unfathomable amounts of toxic wastewater and tailings are left behind. Indeed, it is estimated that producing one barrel of oil from tar sands requires between 2 and 4.5 barrels of water. Last year alone, the Alberta tar sands industry was permitted water withdrawals totaling a staggering 119.5 billion gallons.
Two new coal-fired power plants will not be built in western Kansas due to a failed attempt to override the governor’s veto. The coal-plant saga …
The right-wing Heartland Institute has been making a big fuss about "500 Scientists with Documented Doubts of Man-Made Global Warming Scares." Five hundred skeptical scientists? …
(I write this post with some sadness. I would not have expected a major progressive politician who obviously cares about global warming to propose a gas tax holiday, which has no public benefits whatsoever and at the same time undermines the entire rationale behind a national climate strategy that includes, as it must, a pricing mechanism for greenhouse gases. Kudos to Sen. Obama for opposing this absurd proposal -- double kudos because it might cost him a few votes.) The gas tax holiday proposed by McCain and Clinton is indefensible. That, of course, is why just about every independent observer has criticized it. The Washington Post and, separately, Huffington Post have catalogued an impressive list of serious critiques, starting with the rather obvious point that in a demand-driven price shock, a gas tax holiday probably won't even save consumers a penny -- it will just enrich the poor, suffering oil companies:
You know we're living in strange and perverse times when ExxonMobil can post a $10.9 billion quarterly profit and still fall short of expectations. This past quarter marked the second most profitable quarter ever for the most profitable company in the history of the world -- a 17 percent increase in year-on profits. And like its competitors at BP and Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon managed to increase its profits despite no increase in production. (Funny what happens when the price of oil literally doubles.) Nevertheless, Wall Street was disappointed and the company's shares fell sharply in early trading yesterday.
Is it possible to divert war spending into green investment? (David is skeptical.) The current military budget for fiscal year 2008 is around 650 billion dollars, not including supplemental requests, which so far have been made every year since the Iraq war started. That $700 billion-plus total compares to the around $400 billion of military spending in 2001. Given the current unpopularity of the Iraq war, would it really be politically impossible to gain public support for reducing our military budget back to pre-Operation Clusterf*ck levels? (I'd like to see much deeper cuts, but let's look a mere $300 billion reduction for the moment.)
A coworker lent me an amazing piece of work called A Global Warning? It does an excellent job illustrating the chaotic nature of terrestrial climate and explaining the theories behind some of the most dramatic climate transitions. It's not a perfect movie, but if you won't read With Speed and Violence, it's probably the best thing there is. It gets into both ocean clathrates (methane hydrate crystals) and the melting permafrost (more methane). Best of all, not a single denialist or confusionist in the whole thing. It simply says "most scientists," cites the IPCC (the only appearance by Gore is him picking up the Nobel), and makes a strong case that while climate may undergo some rapid changes without us, we have our collective finger on the trigger on the climate howitzer. No James Hansen, but lots of Lonnie Thompson (Ohio State), whom people will recall from The Weather Makers and other good books on the climate crisis.
Recently, I pointed out that emission prices do in fact get passed along to consumers. However, it's important to add that making low carbon alternatives cheaper won't by itself ensure that they are adopted. My online book Cooling It! No Hair Shirt Solutions to Global Warming documents numerous profitable-but-overlooked energy-saving alternatives. Numerous other people have pointed out the same thing. The Rocky Mountain Institute produces megabytes of examples. Economists refer to the fact that profitable opportunities to save energy tend to be overlooked as "low demand elasticity." You can find out more about why this tends to occur in an annotated bibliography I put together, currently posted as a Word doc at the Carbon Tax center website. Just to correct some ambiguities, this is not to say that an emissions price won't accomplish anything or is not needed - simply that it is not sufficient. That if we want the problem solved without absurdly high carbon prices, we need to use other policy tools, and not limit ourselves to putting a price on emission.
If you can overlook the silly “price gouging” bit, this strikes me as an enormously effective push-back against Clinton’s attacks: