Climate & Energy


Smart people talk about serious questions

Check out this cool new site, BigThink. It’s a collection of short video interviews with notable or famous people, asking them a series of common questions. Strangely addictive. The environment section is fairly anemic thus far (the site just launched a few weeks ago), but you can watch Mitt Romney, Dennis Kucinich, John McCain, and Bill Richardson all answering the question, Is ethanol overhyped? (Hint: Cellulosic! Cellulosic!) Also, I really like Gillian Caldwell, exec. director of Witness, on whether climate change is a human rights issue. [UPDATE: I'm told Caldwell is no longer with Witness, but is now heading up …

Pragmatists v. environmentalists, part I

Prius: Green or greenwash?

I have been accused of dissing hybrids. I was mostly discussing Prius-type parallel hybrids and all the support they get, when one can get the same carbon reduction by buying a cheaper, similar-sized and -featured car and buying $10 worth of carbon credits. I was objecting to greenwashing (powered by a large marketing machine) that suggests hybrids can solve our problems. Corn ethanol, which has been heavily maligned in the mainstream media, reduces carbon emissions (on a per-mile-driven basis) by almost the same amount as today's typical hybrid. Despite the similar environmental profiles, one is a media darling and the other is demonized, despite its more competitive economics. My main complaint has been the lack of critical analysis in this space. Corn ethanol (which I don't believe is a long term solution) has been framed by the oil companies' marketing machine, farm policy critics, and impractical environmentalists (though the NRDC and Sierra Club support corn ethanol's transition role as I do, subject to certain constraints). The Prius and hybrids have been positioned by Toyota's marketing machine. The public is gullible. I am open and hopeful, especially longer term, on serial plug-in hybrids (a point I'll address in Part III). Price still remains a major issue. Even for serial hybrids, the ability to keep cost, or at least monthly payments, close to that of a regular ICE (internal combustion engine) car is unclear. Maybe another blogger with knowledge of practical automotive costs can detail the likely trajectory of serial hybrid costs (say, with a typical 40-mile "battery range"), as this remains the critical question. The Prius is the corn ethanol of hybrid cars, and we should recognize that. It has increased investment in battery development, but beyond that it is no different than Gucci bags, a branding luxury for a few who want the "cool eco" branding (70%+ of Prius buyers make more than $100k per year). In this series, I will try to lay out my views on hybrids as a whole -- what I believe hybrids are good for and what they are not. (My paper on Biofuels Pathways (PDF) delves into the details.)

Coal is not cheap, part XVXIV

Clean coal plants are dying on the drawing board. Why? Because … stop me if you’ve heard this one … coal can be cheap or clean, but not both.

Watch the 'Face It' webcast

There is a silver-bullet solution to global warming

The dialogue between this country's youth and key decision-makers during the important Focus the Nation (FTN) event on January 31st has the potential to become diluted and confused. If it does, another opportunity to move a segment of the country towards seriously addressing climate change will have been wasted. Shotgun Approach Falls Short Although every personal effort at reducing energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions is laudable and helps change the way we think about global warming, taking the shotgun approach to emissions reductions is simply not enough. Time is extremely short, and we must act immediately and boldly if we are to avert a climate crisis. The Silver Bullet Contrary to what many are saying, there is a "silver bullet" solution to global warming, and it is time we, as a nation, faced up to it.

McCain on climate and coal in Michigan

Rubber, meet road

So, McCain made a big deal out of climate change before the New Hampshire primary, sucking up to the state’s independents. Now the Republicans are heading to Michigan, where there’s an epic fight going on between environmentalists and massive rush of proposed new coal plants. Think McCain will take sides in that struggle?

Modestly right, not interestingly wrong

The right way to interpret Shellenberger & Nordhaus

Matt Yglesias has a review of Shellenberger & Nordhaus’ book in the NYT Sunday Book Review. It contains a good insight and a fairly crucial mistake — albeit a mistake common to those enter S&N’s hall of mirrors for the first time. The insight is twofold. First, that the core and most valuable part of S&N’s book is about messaging: "We know from extensive psychological research," they write, "that presenting frightening disaster scenarios provokes fatalism, paralysis and … individualistic thoughts of adaptation, not empowerment, hope, creativity and collective action." Insecurity, they argue, is an emotional pillar of reactionary politics, not …

Mayor may not

Climate treaty among mayors often honored in the breach

Seven cities in the San Diego region signed on to the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, but some didn’t do much more than sign it. I imagine it wouldn’t be difficult to find other MCPA participants for whom signing was little more than an empty gesture. That should come as no surprise: it’s a voluntary treaty with no mechanism for enforcement or even monitoring, asking politically difficult feats of more than 750 mayors. One should have realistic expectations. The promise of the MCPA has never been that all 750 mayors will muster the ingenuity and sheer cussedness to crank the city …


Leader of group fighting Cape Wind project makes $203,000 last year (WTF?), quits this year to go work in the wind industry (WTF?), and hands over leadership of the group to a former coal executive (WTF?).

Green groups sue over DOE’s plans for electric transmission corridors

Green groups are suing the Department of Energy over its plans for electric transmission corridors in the U.S. Southwest and Mid-Atlantic regions. The groups say the DOE violated environmental laws by failing to take into account the potential impacts of the high-voltage transmission lines on air quality, wildlife, and habitat; the corridors encompass dozens of state and national parks, refuges, and recreation areas. In addition, say the groups, boosting the electric-transmission network is a not-so-subtle OK for the U.S. to continue largely sourcing its power from Big Coal. Christopher Miller of the Piedmont Environmental Council suggests, “Reducing both peak and …

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