Climate & Energy

Carbon policy details: Part 1

Carbon policy is close to getting the macro right, but plenty of smaller decisions remain

My recent exchange with Gar has made it clear that there is a wide gulf between those details of carbon policy that are theoretically optimal and those which actually impact carbon reductions. Or, to be blunt, those that come up in our weekly staff meetings as actually affecting our decision to consider potential carbon reduction projects and those which simply elicit groans around the conference room of the "great intent, why did they screw up the execution?" variety.* From our perspective, the good news is that our policy does finally appear to be moving not only toward putting a price on CO2 emissions, but getting the really important details (like auction vs. allocation) right. The bad news is that most of the other details are still wrong.

Good gone wild

700 college students and the Clinton Global Initiative in New Orleans for spring break

Commitments to start social-change initiatives and spirited discussions of global issues -- these aren't typical results of 700 college students heading to New Orleans during spring break season. But last weekend, students from a diverse group of colleges, several dozen university presidents, and prominent social change agents -- not to mention Bill Clinton -- spent a day and a half on Tulane University's campus for Clinton Global Initiative University (with a cameo by Brad Pitt). Trying to live-blog an event while you're also trying to finish your senior thesis -- not a good idea. Nonetheless, a belated report from the Clinton Global Initiative's new youth event:

NYT offers special section on green biz

The Sierra Club is embarking on its first product endorsement, putting its logo on Clorox’s new Green Works cleaning products. Various businesses are aiming to bypass carbon neutrality and move straight on into carbon negativity. …

On carbon: Tax, and spend wisely

What investments should be made with carbon tax revenue?

Monica Prasad had an op-ed in The New York Times yesterday called "On Carbon: Tax, Don’t Spend." It’s … peculiar. This basic pitch: "if reducing emissions is the goal, then a carbon tax is a …

California board to vote on requiring fewer zero-emission vehicles

On Thursday, the California Air Resources Board will vote on whether to require fewer zero-emissions vehicles on the state’s roads in coming years. As it stands now, automakers must sell 25,000 zero-emission vehicles by 2014 …

Sachs gets it wrong

Since when is regulation optimal?

I like Jeffrey Sachs, and I generally agree with what he has to say about poverty, health, and the obligations of the rich to look after the poor. But he gets it dead wrong in the current Scientific American: Even with a cutback in wasteful energy spending, our current technologies cannot support both a decline in carbon dioxide emissions and an expanding global economy. Says who? Why can't we find ways to dramatically lower our primary energy use per dollar of GDP? Not because we're already so perfectly balanced. And not because the electric industry (amounting to 40 percent of U.S. GHG emissions) has done a damn thing to increase their energy efficiency in the last 50 years. Even if every industrial facility in the country had optimally designed their factories for energy efficiency (they didn't), we still would need to confront this reality: an optimal capital allocation when natural gas was $3/MMBtu, coal was $1/MMBtu, oil was $20/bbl, and electricity was 6 cents/kWh looks pretty suboptimal when natural gas is up to $10, coal is pushing $3, oil is north of $100, and electric is running towards 9 cents. Yes, technology is good. But we have to get beyond the idea that regulation is optimal, all capital is optimally deployed, and there are no significant opportunities for energy efficiency.

The biggest source of mistakes: carbon vs. carbon dioxide

A factor of 3.67 makes a big difference when discussing climate

The biggest source of confusion and errors in climate discussions probably concerns "carbon" versus "carbon dioxide." I was reminded of this last week when I saw an analysis done for a major environmental group that confused the two and hence was wrong by a large factor (3.67). The paragraph I usually include in my writing: Some people use carbon rather than carbon dioxide as a metric. The fraction of carbon in carbon dioxide is the ratio of their weights. The atomic weight of carbon is 12 atomic mass units, while the weight of carbon dioxide is 44, because it includes two oxygen atoms that each weigh 16. So, to switch from one to the other, use the formula: One ton of carbon equals 44/12 = 11/3 = 3.67 tons of carbon dioxide. Thus 11 tons of carbon dioxide equals 3 tons of carbon, and a price of $30 per ton of carbon dioxide equals a price of $110 per ton of carbon.

Meanwhile ...

Not looking good for ice shelf in the Antarctic

... over there: While the area of collapse involves 160 square miles at present, a large part of the 5,000-square-mile Wilkins Ice Shelf is now supported only by a narrow strip of ice between two islands, said CU-Boulder's Ted Scambos, lead scientist at NSIDC. "If there is a little bit more retreat, this last 'ice buttress' could collapse and we'd likely lose about half the total ice shelf area in the next few years."

We'll always have Hollywood

No American-made car meets China’s fuel standards

The Toronto Star reported an alarming factoid earlier this month: No gasoline-powered car assembled in North America would meet China's current fuel-efficiency standard. That's mainly because: Currently, their standard is much higher than ours. Their standard is a minimum-allowable efficiency standard rather than a "fleet-average" standard like ours. Our lame car companies don't make their (relatively few) most efficient vehicles in this country. As for our much-hyped new 35-mpg (average) standard -- in 2020, it will take us to where the Chinese are now (but not even to where Japan and Europe were six years ago). If we don't rescind it, that is. So whether you believe in human-caused global warming or peak oil, America remains unprepared to capture the huge explosion in jobs this century for clean, fuel-efficient cars. Oh, and by 2010, China will be the world leader in wind turbine manufacturing and solar photovoltaics manufacturing. No worries, though: our TV and movie sales overseas still kick butt. For now.

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