Climate & Energy

Boucher for Obama

The latest in a string of endorsements for Obama from red-state Dems

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), notorious champion of Big Coal, has endorsed Barack Obama. Some greens are no doubt going to use this as evidence that Obama is too close to coal. I share the concern, but I don’t think it’s the most sensible interpretation of this case. Boucher’s endorsement is just the latest in a string of endorsements from Democrats in red states — including, crucially, popular Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. (Two other prime Va. Dems — Sen. Jim Webb, widely discussed as a VP candidate, and former governor Mark Warner, who was rumored to be mulling a run for …

Biomass, part I

Where will biofuels and biomass feedstocks come from?

When it comes to biofuels we have choices. We can do it poorly, using short-run approaches with no potential to scale, poor trajectory, and adverse environmental impact. Or we can do it right, with sustainable, long-term solutions that can meet both our biofuel needs and our environmental needs. We do need strong regulation to ensure against land-use abuses. I have suggested that each cellulosic facility be individually certified with a LEEDS-like "CLAW" rating, and that countries which allow environmentally sensitive lands to be encroached be disqualified from CLAW-rated fuel markets. We think a good fuel has to meet the CLAW requirements: C -- COST below gasoline L -- low to no additional LAND use; benefits for using degraded land to restore biodiversity and organic material A -- AIR quality improvements, i.e. low carbon emissions W -- limited WATER use. Cellulosic ethanol (and cellulosic biofuels at large) can meet these requirements. Environmentally, cellulosic ethanol can reduce emissions on a per-mile driven basis by 75-85% with limited water usage for process and feedstock, as illustrated later. Range, Coskata, and others currently have small-scale pilots projecting 75% less water use than corn ethanol, with energy in/out ratio between 7-10 EROI (though we consider this a less important variable than carbon emissions per mile driven). Sustainable land use The question about biomass production that arises first is about land use: how much will we need? What will it take? Is it scalable? For conservatism, I assume CAFE standards in the U.S. per current law, though I expect by 2030 to have much higher CAFE and fleet standards (hopefully up near 54mpg or a 100% higher that 2007 averages), which will dramatically reduce the need for fuel an hence biomass. Yes, this would include lighter vehicles, more efficient engines, better aerodynamics, low-cost hybrids, and whatever else we can get the consumer to buy that increases mpg.

Slowforestation

Decelerating growth in tropical forest trees, thanks to accelerating carbon dioxide

I meant to blog on this earlier, but lost track of it after failing to find the original study (for reasons that will become clear). The bottom line is: Global warming could cut the rate at which trees in tropical rainforests grow by as much as half, a new study based on more two decades of data from forests in Panama and Malaysia shows. The effects, so far largely overlooked by climate modelers, Nature magazine said, could severely erode or even remove the ability of tropical rainforests to remove carbon dioxide from the air as they grow. More evidence that the carbon sinks in the ocean and on the land may saturate sooner than scientists expected, which will inevitably lead to an acceleration of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (see below).

Study quantifies ecological debt owed to world’s poorest countries

New research has attempted to quantify the costs that richer and poorer nations inflict on each other through environmental degradation. And guess who gets dumped on more? Turns out, the poorest countries have endured more environmental strife from richer countries than the other way ’round. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on six environmental issues and their effects on low-, middle-, and high-income nations — agricultural intensification, climate change, deforestation, draining of coastal mangrove wetlands, overfishing, and ozone depletion — from 1961 to 2000. It concluded that low-income countries effectively subsidized higher-income …

The hybrid solar home

An alternative housing concept

Seattle is having a cold snap. It's 25 degrees outside. Our rare freezing winter days correspond with equally rare clear winter skies. Days like this make me wish I had a solar powered home that could harvest and store that free burst of energy for later use. The bottom line is that American homes are just too large to be cost effectively heated with solar energy. The push has been to get the cost of solar panels down. But, what would you get if you crossed an expensive solar heating and cooling system with an optimally sized home? By optimal, I mean not larger than you need. You would get an affordable solar powered home like the one shown above (click here to see the details). By affordable, I mean in the $150-200 thousand range excluding land, sewer, and water systems. Picture the north face with fancy wood and slate trim, a deck off of the loft doubling as a carport, double french doors, and lots and lots of windows (and window plugs). Essentially, this is a well insulated 10 x 40-foot park model trailer stocked with highly energy efficiency dual mode gas/electric appliances, and lots of diode lighting under a standardized solar energy system optimized for a given area of the country. Picture an entire neighborhood (or trailer park or commune) of these all facing south. Ninety percent of the people on this planet would jump at the chance to live in a home like that. Home size is relative, dependent on wealth and how far the "my house is bigger than yours" arms race has progressed. It's all a matter of perception.

Honoring Dr. King in the economic stimulus bill

A way for Congress to provide economic stimulus that is green and just

Forty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis, where he was assassinated, to help support the long struggle of the city's sanitation workers for decent jobs and dignity. He was also speaking out against the Vietnam War, organizing a Poor People's March on Washington, and crafting an Economic Bill of Rights, calling for massive government jobs programs to rebuild America's cities. In Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community, the last book he released before he was killed, he wrote: There is a need for a radical restructuring of the architecture of American society ... For the evils of racism, poverty and militarism to die, a new set of values must be born. Our economy must become more person-centered than property-and profit-centered. Our government must depend more on its moral power than on its military power. Let us, therefore, not think of our movement as one that seeks to integrate the Negro into all the existing values of American society. Let us be those creative dissenters who call our beloved nation to a higher destiny. Today, the struggles for economic and racial justice must merge with the struggle to stop global warming. Its worst effects will be visited on the poor, and the great economic opportunity a clean energy future offers should be shared fairly with them. Equal protection and equal opportunity was what King demanded in the 1960s. We should be demanding the same today.

Unstoppable disinformation every 15 minutes from Fred Singer

Climate denier contradicts self, facts, remains famous

So Kansas state House member Larry Powell has sent a copy of Fred Singer's lame denier treatise, Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years, to every Kansas legislator. Of course, he sent one to Governor Sebelius, who denied a permit for two large coal-fired power plants in his home county. Since I've been blogging regularly on Kansas, Kansas reporter Sarah Kessinger called me Friday for my opinion on Singer's book and what legislators should do to become informed on climate. The book has been widely debunked -- see this post on RealClimate. The most absurd thing about the book is that ... wait for it ... the Earth wasn't actually in a warm trend -- unstoppable or otherwise -- 1500 years ago! (Yes, during the Medieval Warm Period, parts of the earth were a bit warmer, but that peaked [below current temperatures] 1,000 years ago.) I thought the reporter would like that fact: "I don't think there's anybody in the scientific community who takes Fred Singer seriously," said Joseph Romm, a Washington scientist and author. Romm said the 1,500-year cycle theory isn't possible considering the earth wasn't in a warming trend 1,500 years ago. Duh! I mean, seriously: Every book contains at least a few small errors, but most real scientists, heck, even most global warming deniers try to avoid putting egregious factual mistakes in the title of the book. That is a pretty good sign you can skip the contents.

A picture worth many thousands of words

This ranks up there (and could have been included) with Bill Maher's terrific book, When you ride alone, you ride with Bin Laden.

Floatovoltaics

Land is -- and will always be -- expensive. Which is why someone should take this, and combine it with this. They could even sell the electricity back to DWR, whic uses an incredible amount of it to pump LA's drinking water up and over the Tehachapis. And if DWR would allow project developers to monetize the water savings from avoided evaporative loss, project economics would be even better.

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