Climate & Energy

California board to vote on requiring fewer zero-emission vehicles

On Thursday, the California Air Resources Board will vote on whether to require fewer zero-emissions vehicles on the state’s roads in coming years. As it …

Sachs gets it wrong

Since when is regulation optimal?

I like Jeffrey Sachs, and I generally agree with what he has to say about poverty, health, and the obligations of the rich to look after the poor. But he gets it dead wrong in the current Scientific American: Even with a cutback in wasteful energy spending, our current technologies cannot support both a decline in carbon dioxide emissions and an expanding global economy. Says who? Why can't we find ways to dramatically lower our primary energy use per dollar of GDP? Not because we're already so perfectly balanced. And not because the electric industry (amounting to 40 percent of U.S. GHG emissions) has done a damn thing to increase their energy efficiency in the last 50 years. Even if every industrial facility in the country had optimally designed their factories for energy efficiency (they didn't), we still would need to confront this reality: an optimal capital allocation when natural gas was $3/MMBtu, coal was $1/MMBtu, oil was $20/bbl, and electricity was 6 cents/kWh looks pretty suboptimal when natural gas is up to $10, coal is pushing $3, oil is north of $100, and electric is running towards 9 cents. Yes, technology is good. But we have to get beyond the idea that regulation is optimal, all capital is optimally deployed, and there are no significant opportunities for energy efficiency.

The biggest source of mistakes: carbon vs. carbon dioxide

A factor of 3.67 makes a big difference when discussing climate

The biggest source of confusion and errors in climate discussions probably concerns "carbon" versus "carbon dioxide." I was reminded of this last week when I saw an analysis done for a major environmental group that confused the two and hence was wrong by a large factor (3.67). The paragraph I usually include in my writing: Some people use carbon rather than carbon dioxide as a metric. The fraction of carbon in carbon dioxide is the ratio of their weights. The atomic weight of carbon is 12 atomic mass units, while the weight of carbon dioxide is 44, because it includes two oxygen atoms that each weigh 16. So, to switch from one to the other, use the formula: One ton of carbon equals 44/12 = 11/3 = 3.67 tons of carbon dioxide. Thus 11 tons of carbon dioxide equals 3 tons of carbon, and a price of $30 per ton of carbon dioxide equals a price of $110 per ton of carbon.

Meanwhile ...

Not looking good for ice shelf in the Antarctic

... over there: While the area of collapse involves 160 square miles at present, a large part of the 5,000-square-mile Wilkins Ice Shelf is now supported only by a narrow strip of ice between two islands, said CU-Boulder's Ted Scambos, lead scientist at NSIDC. "If there is a little bit more retreat, this last 'ice buttress' could collapse and we'd likely lose about half the total ice shelf area in the next few years."

We'll always have Hollywood

No American-made car meets China’s fuel standards

The Toronto Star reported an alarming factoid earlier this month: No gasoline-powered car assembled in North America would meet China's current fuel-efficiency standard. That's mainly because: Currently, their standard is much higher than ours. Their standard is a minimum-allowable efficiency standard rather than a "fleet-average" standard like ours. Our lame car companies don't make their (relatively few) most efficient vehicles in this country. As for our much-hyped new 35-mpg (average) standard -- in 2020, it will take us to where the Chinese are now (but not even to where Japan and Europe were six years ago). If we don't rescind it, that is. So whether you believe in human-caused global warming or peak oil, America remains unprepared to capture the huge explosion in jobs this century for clean, fuel-efficient cars. Oh, and by 2010, China will be the world leader in wind turbine manufacturing and solar photovoltaics manufacturing. No worries, though: our TV and movie sales overseas still kick butt. For now.

Giant Antarctic ice chunk collapses

A 160-square-mile chunk of ice — that’s seven times the size of Manhattan — has collapsed off of the Wilkins ice shelf in Antarctica. The …

ECO:nomics: A chat with Jim Rogers

Duke Energy CEO defends the need for free permit allocations

One of the most interesting political dynamics emerging around climate policy is the clash between coal utilities and utilities that rely more on natural gas …

How do you make people change?

What behavioral economics has to offer

Many critics of economists contend that because people aren't rational, economics has little predictive power. This is wrong for two reasons. First, people act relatively rational in many (if not most) circumstances; second, the deviations from rationality are predictable. As one of my professors at Berkeley used to say, it's not enough to say that people don't always act like perfect utility maximizers; the question is whether they do on average, and when they don't, what directions they take. It turns out that irrationality is not at all random, as claimed by some. What does this mean for environmentalists? A lot. Dealing with climate change and other major environmental issues will require major changes in behavior, and this is where behavioral economics comes in. There is an interesting piece in today's NYT on ways to get people to change their energy use; pay special attention to the "Further Reading" section near the top. And Monday on NPR, there was an hour-length program on behavioral economics entitled "Predictably Irrational," which offered a nice introduction to the field of behavioral economics. Educate yourself and enjoy.

Coal is not cheap: Kansas edition

Independent financial analysis finds that coal is a stinker of an investment for Kansas

We’ve been following the ongoing battle over coal in Kansas closely. (The latest is that Gov. Sebelius vetoed a bill that would have moved the …

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