Climate & Energy

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:

Study touts environmental benefits of switchgrass-derived biofuel

Fast-growing switchgrass makes for a super-duper biofuel, says new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The five-year study of 10 Midwest farms concluded that switchgrass-derived biofuel can produce more than five times the energy consumed in manufacturing it, and emits 94 percent less greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline. “This clearly demonstrates that switchgrass is not only energy efficient, but can be used in a renewable biofuel economy to reduce reliance of fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and enhance rural economies,” says lead researcher Ken Vogel. Well, great! Now we just have to wait for cellulosic ethanol …

Warm in NH

Time has a nice little story on the "Eight Keys to New Hampshire." Number six: global warming. It may be Al Gore’s ultimate political triumph: climate change as a key election issue. Everywhere they go throughout the state, candidates from both parties field questions about global warming from voters who are looking for more than just platitudes. They want to hear about cap-and-trade, carbon tax, hybrid cars, and woe to the candidate who tries to side-step the issue. Last spring, 180 out of 234 townships in the state passed a resolution asking the federal government to address climate change. That …

Not stern enough

Stern says he underestimated climate risks

Via WSJ, Sir Nicholas Stern says he underestimated the risks of climate change in his influential report. "We underestimated the flow of emissions from developing countries, especially China," he said, observing that emissions of greenhouse gases from China over the next 25 years will equal the total emissions from the U.S. and Europe over the last century. Emissions from developing countries and developed countries must be capped, he said, but the ethics of allocating the pain are delicate. "If you’re consuming the goods, you can’t blame the location of the factory," he argued.

Canadian government rejects panel’s advice to implement carbon tax

Regarding an expert panel’s solicited advice that Canada strongly consider implementing a carbon tax: The Conservative government is just not that into it.

A solar grand plan

A roadmap to getting 70 percent of U.S. electricity from solar by 2050

OK, having spent an absurd amount of time bashing on a crappy article that came out while I was on vacation, let me turn my attention to an extraordinarily good one (via HillHeat): "A Solar Grand Plan," by Ken Zweibel (NREL), James Mason (Solar Energy Campaign), and Vasilis Fthenakis (Brookhaven National Photovoltaic Environmental, Health and Safety Research Center). Some flaw in my character leaves me much less able to analyze things I like, so mostly I’ll just urge you to go read it. Here are the nut concepts, though, via the Scientific American editors: • A massive switch from coal, …

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