Climate & Energy


How smart climate policy can cut our energy costs

True confessions: I love weatherstripping. And programmable thermostats. And insulation -- all kinds. Oh, and efficient shower heads with "Navy shower" shut-off valves. And high-efficiency appliances. And waste-water heat recovery systems. You get the idea: I actually enjoy the process of making buildings more energy wise -- enjoy as in, "Yippee, it's Saturday! Where's my caulk gun?" So today's topic is especially near to my heart: the role in climate policy of low-income weatherization programs and related efficiency upgrades for working families. A quick review: climate change is economically unfair by nature; it punishes those least to blame. Auctioned cap-and-trade can counteract this injustice. I've already written about two ways to seize this opportunity: distribute the money from the auction of carbon allowances as equal dividend checks to every citizen ("cap-and-share"), or make sure dividends get to low-income families who are hardest hit by rising energy prices ("cap-and-buffer"). A third option is to invest auction proceeds in energy efficiency in ways that specially benefit working families, by weatherizing homes, for example, or improving the efficiency of household appliances. (Let's call it "cap-and-caulk.")

Green power empowerment

Events in Seattle and Portland sure to inspire

Renewable energy installations in remote communities of developing nations encourage indigenous and rural communities to stay put and keep their traditions alive. With remarkably small power systems, these underserved villages can store vaccines in a refrigerator, pump water, light a clinic at night, or contact the outside world. One of the key grassroots groups doing this work is Green Empowerment, which approaches all of their projects in Central/South America and Southeast Asia through a lens of generating social as well as environmental progress for communities with renewable energy & potable water delivery. GE interviews community members about what their power or water procurement needs are, recommends a system that would be appropriate -- including small hydropower, biomass, wind or solar -- supply the system, and then train a team of community members to plan, install, and maintain that system. That team can then help neighboring communities do the same, while maintaining its own. GE is bringing two of their inspiring partners, engineer/activists from the Philippines who run NGOs there, to give folks in Seattle this Friday and Portland next Thursday a better sense of the huge possibilities of their shared projects. Highly recommended!

Dispatches from the heart of oil country

I am here in sunny Houston today with Carl Pope, our executive director, who will be addressing today's huge energy confab. Oil City USA is about what you'd expect. (I have some expertise on the subject, having briefly called Houston home a few years ago.) Instead of expanding public transport to its rapidly-growing Western suburbs, Houston decided that spending billions to tear down buildings and seize land within a thousand feet on either side of a 20-plus mile stretch of the freeway and expanding it to an even more obscene size was the better option. I can only assume that my daily cursing of the D.C. Metro's foibles resulted in the karmic payback of being forced to crawl along in my rented Prius at ten miles per hour or less today for the better part of an hour as I headed to the conference. (I spent this time dipping into my reserve of outrage as I listened to the President's press conference and his contradictory answers on skyrocketing gas prices and ridiculous attacks on the renewables tax package that the House passed by sizable margin yesterday.) I'll be providing updates on the goings-on here throughout the day. They cap off with a speech this evening from Sen. Hillary Clinton. If the barrage of campaign ads from Hillary, Obama, and even Ron Paul is any measure, the battle for Texas ahead of March 4 is pretty fierce and I am quite interested in her remarks to these energy heavyweights.

Don't get burned

The dangers of funding new coal-fired plants

Indeed. This paper (PDF) on the risks of investing in new coal-fired power plants is worth reading.

Suboleski withdraws; remaining Appalachian mountaintops breathe sigh of relief

A while back I noted that Bush had nominated one Stanley Suboleski for the position of assistant secretary for fossil energy at the DOE, where he would "oversee projects such as developing clean-coal technologies and …

Horsepower vs. mpg

A timeline of changes in automotive fuel economy

This should be perfectly obvious, but automotive technologies have changed an awful lot over the last few decades. From about 1975 through 1987, federal standards prompted massive and surprisingly rapid improvements in fuel economy. Cars designers focused on nimbleness and efficiency over raw power, and the fuel savings were enormous. But since the late 1980s, most engineering advances have focused on making cars more muscular, and fuel efficiency has taken a back seat. For graphic proof, take a look after the jump at a nifty chart ...

NYC unveils new stepped-up emission standards for ‘black taxis’

New York City has unveiled new emission standards for its fleet of 10,000 “black taxis” (aka, limos and town cars) that service mostly corporate clients. The plan effectively mandates shifting to hybrid vehicles by 2009 …

John McCain and Exxon Valdez

Mr. Straight Talk voted against requiring double-hulled tankers after the biggest oil spill

You’re likely aware that the notorious Exxon Valdez case is back in court yet again. Yesterday, the Most Profitable Company of All Time argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that it shouldn’t have to pay …

The problem with tar sands

Could Canadian oil be the most destructive on earth?

Check out this new report from Environmental Defence Canada. The title sort of says it all: "Canada's Toxic Tar Sands: The Most Destructive Project On Earth" (PDF). I found the title a bit overheated at first, but take a look before you decide. The claim may be debatable, but it's also not mere hyperbole: the tar sands oil extraction very well could be the most destructive project on earth. In fact, it's already yielding catastrophic results for human health, not to mention for a vast swath of North America's ecology. (In any case, I've had the privilege of working on climate policy a bit with one of the authors, Matt Price, and I can attest that he's a smart guy, not prone to exaggeration.) I won't summarize the study here, but just point out that among the many problems with tar sands oil, is that it can only be extracted and processed with very large energy inputs (which means huge carbon emissions):