Climate & Energy

DeSmogBlog owes Obama three apologies

Obama is in no way ‘George Bush Lite’

I am a big fan of the climate website, DeSmogBlog. So I was shocked when, the day after his unprecedented victory in Iowa, DeSmogBlog gave Barack Obama "the inaugural 2007 SmogMaker Award for blowing smoke on global warming." Gimme a break. How could anyone win that award any year -- let alone in its inaugural year -- when George W. Bush is still president? [Not to mention a year in which Lomborg and Inhofe continue their influential disinformation compaigns!] After all, the "Prize honors those who sow confusion and delay on Climate Change." Seriously. Bush is easily the confuser and delayer of the year ... and the decade ... and he surely will be on the short list for the entire century. Yet DeSmog says Obama is "looking like George Bush lite." How can they make that claim? By misreading -- or failing to read -- Obama's terrific climate plan. DeSmogBlog claims: But he is campaigning on a greenhouse gas reduction "target" that the U.S. won't have to meet for 42 years ... While the world's leading scientific bodies tell us we need to act immediately to avoid catastrophic climate disruption, Obama has set his own target date at 2050, long past any opportunity for voters to hold him accountable. Uh, no. In fact, his plan (PDF) explicitly states: Obama will start reducing emissions immediately in his administration by establishing strong annual reduction targets, and he'll also implement a mandate of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Based on the links in their post, DeSmogBlog's research on Obama's climate apparently consists of reading a one-paragraph story on BusinessWire with Obama's statement on Bali -- which they link to not once, but twice! They claim he is an unrepentant coal supporter, based on a June 2007 Washington Post article about his support for his state's coal industry. And yet in his climate plan he bluntly commits:

Carbon policy in tonight's Dem debate

Obama puts the 100 percent auction idea into the mainstream

There were presidential debates on both sides tonight. I don’t have cable, so I didn’t watch them. However, a friend sent along this bit of transcript from the Dem, from a question on climate policy: GIBSON: All right. Let me turn to something else. Reversing — you invoked the name of Al Gore a few moments ago — reversing or slowing global warming is going to take sacrifice. I’m sort of sorry Chris Dodd isn’t here because he’s talked a lot about a carbon tax in this election. Al Gore favors a carbon tax. None of you have favored a …

Peter Barnes' cap-and-dividend plan is fatally incomplete

An effective climate plans needs to incorporate intelligently regulated energy efficiency standards

Andy Revkin at the NY Times has given a lot of ink to the cap-and-dividend plan (see here and here) by Peter Barnes, a founder of Working Assets. Revkin says Barnes "has long studied various bills and proposals for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide to limit global warming. He sees fatal flaws in every one." I don't see any fatal flaws in either Obama's plan or Mrs. Clinton's -- they are both terrific and comprehensive, unlike Barnes'. His goal is the same as theirs -- to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050. But his solution is fatally incomplete: He proposes a "cap and dividend" system that charges a rising fee on sources of greenhouse-gas emissions (to propel a long-term shift away from such pollution) and returns the revenue to citizens, rich or poor, through a direct payment not unlike the checks that Alaska residents get every year from fees paid to the state by oil companies. That's pretty much it. What caught my attention in Revkin's piece is Barnes' answer to the last question posed: What about laws such as better efficiency standards? (Nancy Anderson) N.Y. Times columnist Tom Friedman has made a crucial distinction between incremental policies and transformative ones. Cap-and-dividend is transformative. It will get us to 80% emission reductions and create a clean energy infrastructure in the process. Raising efficiency standards for autos, appliances and buildings is a good thing to do, but it won't transform our economy or cut emissions 80%. That is, ironically, almost exactly backwards. Barnes apparently thinks plans like Obama's and Clinton's are loaded up with things like much tougher fuel economy standards and utility decoupling and federal clean-tech programs because the senators just love regulations and government spending (I know many of you conservatives out there think that). In fact, trying to stabilize at 450 ppm only using a price for carbon, as Barnes proposes, is wildly impractical and a political non-starter. That's because, at its most basic level, a price for carbon most directly encourages fuel-switching (especially from coal), but does not particularly encourage efficiency. That's why most traditional economic models require a very high (read "unduly brutal" and "politically unacceptable") price for carbon to get deep reductions.

Predictions for 2008: III

The renewable portfolio standard will return

The Renewable Portfolio Standard will return to Congress. Multiple Dems have vowed that the RPS will return as a separate bill when Congress is back in session. I believe them exactly 87 percent. Despite the recent energy bill debacle, the RPS is not entirely political poison. Some 29 states have adopted one (a confusing patchwork!) and a 10 percent RPS actually passed in the Senate in 2005, only to be rejected by the House (the inverse of what happened this year). The "one size fits all" complaint is largely baseless; a well-designed RPS would be an economic boon for every …

Bad combo

Cheap coal and $100 oil

Amid vague talk of how $100/barrel oil might represent a kind of sea change, inspiring corporations and individuals to lower their carbon footprints, the smart money is betting on another direction: the burning of more coal. That’s a harrowing trend. As NASA climatologist James Hanson recently put it: Coal will determine whether we continue to increase climate change or slow the human impact … Increased fossil fuel CO2 in the air today, compared to the pre-industrial atmosphere, is due 50% to coal, 35% to oil and 15% to gas. Hanson must be frowning at recent reports of a coal boom …

For every 1 degree Celsius globe warms, some 21,000 people could die, says study

For every 1 degree Celsius of anthropogenic global warming, some 21,000 people worldwide could die, including more than 1,000 in the U.S., says a new study in Geophysical Research Letters. According to computer modeling by researcher Mark Jacobson, increased air pollution due to rising carbon-dioxide levels will lead to more fatalities. “This is a cause and effect relationship, not just a correlation,” says Jacobson. Cities that already experience high air pollution will have the highest mortality rates. California, which has six of the 10 smoggiest cities in the U.S., “bears the brunt of climate change in terms of air pollution …

Shorter winters weaken forest carbon sinks

New study says trees are absorbing less CO2 than predicted

Forests have gained a lot of attention in the climate change conversation because of their ability to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Individuals can buy "reforestation" offsets on the internet. There's talk of including credits for carbon stored in trees and wood products as part of many proposed cap-and-trade systems. Cities and businesses are even planting trees as part of their efforts to slow climate change. But forest ecosystems are, by their nature, unpredictable. And new research shows carbon sinks are weaker than predicted. There's no doubt that forests, and their tremendous ability to store carbon, can play a role in protecting the climate. But we have to be cautious about that role. Forest ecosystems are, by their nature, unpredictable -- - there's simply no way to know how much carbon a forest will store over the long haul. Worse, climate change itself magnifies those uncertainties. If a warmer climate makes forest fires more frequent -- as some people believe is possible -- then a lot of "offsets" will simply go up in smoke. Or consider BC's devastating pine beetle infestation -- an example of how ecosystem disruption can fell more trees than any chainsaw. And there's troubling news today that makes us more cautious than ever: A new global study by researchers at the University of Helsinki shows that trees are absorbing less CO2 than predicted, as the world warms and vegetation patterns shift.

For reals?

Toshiba said to have developed mini nuclear reactor

Says Next Energy News: Toshiba has developed a new class of micro size Nuclear Reactors that is designed to power individual apartment buildings or city blocks. The new reactor, which is only 20 feet by 6 feet, could change everything for small remote communities, small businesses or even a group of neighbors who are fed up with the power companies and want more control over their energy needs. The 200 kilowatt Toshiba designed reactor is engineered to be fail-safe and totally automatic and will not overheat. Unlike traditional nuclear reactors the new micro reactor uses no control rods to initiate …

California stats say state emissions-reduction plan far more effective than federal law

When the U.S. EPA denied California the right to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles, the agency reasoned that the just-passed energy bill’s boost to national fuel-economy standards would be stronger emissions-reduction policy than the state’s plan. California, which has sued, would beg to differ, and has released statistics refuting the EPA’s claim. For example: The new federal law will cut greenhouse-gas emissions in California by 8 million tons by 2016; if California’s plan was allowed to go forward, emissions would be reduced 17 million tons in the same time period. If 12 other states adopted California’s law (as 12 other …

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