Climate & Energy

The high costs of doing nothing, part II

True costs of fossil fuels make renewables seem cheap in comparison

This post is by ClimateProgress guest blogger Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project. ----- In November 2006, California voters rejected Proposition 87, a ballot initiative to raise the oil industry's taxes by $4 billion for research into renewable energy. Four months before the ballot, a survey (PDF) by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 61 percent of likely voters favored the idea, including 51 percent of Republicans. What changed between the survey and the vote? The oil industry pumped more than $60 million into a campaign to defeat the measure. Proposition 87 contained a specific provision that would have forbidden oil companies from passing the tax along to consumers. Nevertheless, a central part of the industry's message was that Proposition 87 would raise the price of gasoline. On the Hill and in the voting booth, the specter of higher costs and taxes is the big weapon in the fossil-fuel industry's arsenal against climate action. The question is, what's the defense? It is important to acknowledge and to anticipate that putting a price on carbon will raise energy prices. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released an estimate (PDF) last November that carbon pricing to achieve a modest 15 percent reduction in emissions would cost the poorest fifth of the population between $750 and $950 a year on average. That's big money to a family living on $13,000 -- and fossil-energy costs presumably would grow as carbon caps get stricter. But we can mitigate those costs:

On the road again?

Radiohead’s Thom Yorke on carbon-heavy touring

Wired this month features an interesting conversation between Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and musician David Byrne. In it, Yorke, a longtime vegan whose 2006 solo effort focused on global warming, mentions his carbon-related guilt about touring. Here’s the relevant clip: Yorke: … [At] the moment we make money principally from touring. Which is hard for me to reconcile because I don’t like all the energy consumption, the travel. It’s an ecological disaster, traveling, touring. Byrne: Well, there are the biodiesel buses and all that. Yorke: Yeah, it depends where you get your biodiesel from. There are ways to minimize it. …

Green groups will sue over feds’ missed polar-bear deadline

Discontented with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s announcement that it will not meet its deadline for deciding whether to list polar bears as a threatened species, the Big Three green groups — Greenpeace, NRDC, and the Center for Biological Diversity — have notified the government that they plan to sue.

Clinton and McCain win New Hampshire primaries, attract green voters

Unseasonably warm weather brought out a record number of voters in New Hampshire’s primary on Tuesday — and is it mere coincidence that the majority of them voted for candidates with real plans to tackle climate change? Well, OK, probably yes. Hillary Clinton was the victor on the Democratic side; she’s got a strong platform on climate and clean energy (though her main Democratic opponents, Barack Obama and John Edwards, do too). In the GOP primary, John McCain was the winner; he’s the only Republican candidate who’s actually spelled out a strategy for coping with climate change, and he cosponsored …

Talk about targeting!

Here’s a blog devoted entirely to geothermal energy in Washington state. Apparently there’s a need: The hot zone of California, Nevada (the Saudi Arabia of geothermal), Idaho and Oregon could produce tens of thousands of megawatts along the spine of the Sierra Nevadas and Cascades. Washington state sits on the edge of this hot zone. The 34 thermal hot springs throughout the state are just the surface of our potential. Yet, Washington state has zero megawatts of geothermal. “It also has zero planned, proposed or within the plant approval process, even though we have excellent potential,” laments Susan Petty, one …

Shiny plants will save the climate, say researchers

You thought fighting climate change was going to be hard? Pssh — all we gotta do is plant some peppers and we’ll be home free. OK, it might not be that easy, but California scientists say they’ve hit on an unusual climate-change solution: shiny plants. Encouraging farmers to plant foliage that reflects the sun’s heat back into space could reduce maximum daytime temperatures in agricultural regions by as much as 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit, claim researchers, who say their idea will be published in an academic journal later this year. At which point, no doubt, the shiny-plant subsidies will begin to …

The future is ... less far in the future

New nanoantennas capture sun’s energy 24-7; are cheap; are not yet for sale

Via SolveClimate, the latest whiz-bang new gonna-change-the-world solar technology: nanoantennas! They harvest the sun’s energy even at night! They’re cheap "as inexpensive carpet"! They’re printed on thin, flexible sheets! They’re … in a lab somewhere. Here’s hoping.

The high costs of doing nothing, part I

Spending on adaptation and mitigation now is an investment, spending later is a waste

This post is by ClimateProgress guest blogger Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project. ----- A dirty little secret of climate change is that somebody wants us to pay much higher taxes and higher energy bills. But it's not the advocates of climate action. It's the other guys. Make no mistake: The costs of switching to clean energy and an energy-efficient economy are far less than the costs of doing nothing. A study released by the University of Maryland last October helps bring the cost issue into clearer focus. It concludes that the economic costs of unabated climate change in the United States will be major and nationwide. Climate change will damage or stress essential municipal infrastructure such as water treatment and supply; increase the size and intensity of forest fires; increase the frequency and severity of flooding and drought; cause billions of dollars in damages to crops and property; lead to higher insurance rates; and even increase shipping costs in the Great Lakes-St Lawrence seaway because of lower water levels. And that's just a sampling. "Climate change will affect every American economically in significant, dramatic ways, and the longer it takes to respond, the greater the damage and the higher the costs," lead researcher Matthias Ruth told ScienceDaily. How big are those costs?

WCI and transportation fuels

Why the West should worry about transportation emissions

Well, Clark and I are traveling to Portland for a batch of meetings related to the Western Climate Initiative. On the off chance that you'll miss us, I thought I'd share some of what we're working on with WCI. Our biggest obsession right now is transportation fuels. Namely, we believe it's critically important that transportation fuels be covered by an "upstream" cap in the first phase of the program. Here's more: Why should the WCI cover transportation fuels in an economy-wide cap? More than half of all fossil fuel emissions in the WCI states come from transportation. In contrast, electricity generation represents 26 percent of fossil fuel CO2 in the region -- only about half of the emissions from the transportation sector. If the WCI region is to reduce its emissions by 80 percent by 2050, it will have to start dealing with transportation as soon as possible. Is it complicated to cap transportation fuels? It's actually fairly straightforward to include transportation fuels in an economy-wide cap. As with all aspects of cap-and-trade, the politics may be tricky. But technically, covering transportation fuels may be simpler than electricity -- and certainly simpler than load-based regulation of the electricity sector. How would it work? The fuel supply chain has several "choke points," well upstream from consumers and filling stations. At a chosen choke point, fuel handlers -- either purchasers or sellers -- would be required to track fuel volumes, and obtain emissions permits for the carbon that will be released when those fuels are burned. What "choke points" would work for transportation fuels? We'd suggest two possibilities:

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