Climate & Energy

All close together now

A post-petroleum American dream

"This craziness is not sustainable," concludes The New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert, and he's talking about the economy, not the environment. He continues: Without an educated and empowered work force, without sustained investment in the infrastructure and technologies that foster long-term employment, and without a system of taxation that can actually pay for the services provided by government, the American dream as we know it will expire. And without petroleum. Oil is shooting over $100 per barrel, caused ultimately by a looming decline in global supply, and exacerbated by rising demand in China and India, foolish policies such as the occupation of Iraq, and repressive regimes such as in Nigeria. And if we are serious about reducing carbon emissions to near zero in order to avert climate catastrophe, we must scale back our use of petroleum to near zero. While we're learning to live without petroleum, we need to rebuild the workforce, infrastructure, technologies, and tax system, as Herbert suggests. I will argue in this post that we can accomplish all of these goals by replacing internal combustion engines with electric motors, using other energy sources for other petroleum uses, and perhaps most importantly, by changing the arrangement of the buildings, production, and people in our society in order to eliminate the need for so much petroleum. In order to understand how to accomplish all of this, we need to know how petroleum is used, so let's look at some numbers!

China's emissions path: not so good

Projected CO2 emissions dwarf previous expectations

This recent paper on the likely path of China's CO2 emissions is striking in that the projections are much greater than once thought. They are so large that they dwarf any reductions by all other nations who have signed the Kyoto Protocol. On top of this is the fact that China doesn't have all that much non-fossil fuel energy potential and in fact is highly dependent on coal. The questions that need to be asked are these: Is it possible for China to actually decrease absolute emissions? If so, how, and how much will it cost? Who will pay for it? If China can't reduce absolute emissions, how much more do all the rest of us need to decrease our emissions to offset China's increase? Is this feasible? Within what time frame? And again, how, and how much will it cost? If we can't answer these questions, we really are in big trouble.

World’s pollutingest countries to meet for climate talks in Japan

The world’s 20 biggest-polluting countries will meet in Japan on Friday for a three-day climate conference designed as a run-up to the July G8 meeting where current G8 leader Japan wants to put climate at …

ECO:nomics: Immelt vs. the ideologues

GE CEO explains practical realities to free marketeers

The Wall Street Journal‘s ECO:nomics conference is taking place at the Bacara Resort, a gorgeous old Spanish-style complex perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Just outside, the cherry-red sun is setting as a …


Spitzer’s successor may continue doing good for green

Snark aside, the ascension of the former Lt. Gov. David Paterson could very well mean good things for environmental progress. He recently chaired the state's Renewable Energy Task Force, which recently recommended an increase in the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard. As he comes in without a direct voter mandate and has to deal with a fairly acrimonious legislative environment, what better way to establish a popular mandate than adopt something super popular -- say, solar energy, which polls in the 90th percentile and makes a lot of jobs at the same time -- as a signature issue? And if you want to play out this fantasy strategy further, the new Guv (who started, what, a few hours ago?) has to start thinking about getting reelected. And his potential challenger has already laid out a fairly ambitious solar agenda. So, in order to undercut his opponent's strength, Paterson really has no choice but to double down and announce a world-class solar program for the state. It's pretty much his only chance to be successful. Lemonade!

Other carbon tax shifts

A quick survey of carbon taxes outside of Cascadia

British Columbia's bombshell announcement of a carbon tax shift last month made me want some context. Here's a rundown of other carbon taxes elsewhere in the world. As I noted, none of them is as consistent and comprehensive as B.C.'s, though some do have higher tax rates. In most cases, these levies came in tax shifts that reduced payroll taxes, business taxes, or other energy taxes. B.C.'s starts at $10.10 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent and rises in steps to $30.30 in 2012. At least nine jurisdictions elsewhere in the world claim to have carbon taxes. (Good starting places for learning about them are the Carbon Tax Center and these dated but informative U.S. EPA sites.)

New Pew survey on energy shows big support for fuel efficiency and renewables

Last week Pew released a small survey on public attitudes toward energy policy. Some results: The two highest numbers are in support of raising fuel efficiency standards (90%) and "increasing federal funding for research on …

Biodiesel: coming soon to a stream near you?

Another black eye for the ‘green fuel’

Apparently, biodiesel makers are having trouble keeping their product from spilling into waterways — when they’re not actively dumping glycerin (a biodiesel product) into streams. That’s the message from an article in Tuesday’s New York …

Doing the math

Are solar incentives a subsidy for the rich?

The following is a guest essay by Tom Konrad, a financial analyst specializing in renewable energy and energy efficiency companies, a freelance writer, and a contributor to ----- One of the most common arguments against incentives to help people buy solar panels for their homes is that they are a subsidy for the rich, paid for by everyone. The argument is that only the rich can buy a photovoltaic system, which, even with subsidies, costs thousands of dollars. Why should everyone chip in to help rich people buy new toys? On the surface, this argument is persuasive. Why should everyone pay if only the rich get the benefit? Basic fairness dictates that society should only subsidize activities which create societal (rather than individual) benefit. On closer examination, however, we see that the bulk of the benefit for solar goes to society rather than the homeowner/installer. Let's look at the benefits of a photovoltaic system. Numbers are for a 4-kW system, installed for $8 per peak watt with the rebates currently available in to me in Colorado, plus the federal tax credit.

Got 2.7 seconds?

We've devised the world's shortest survey to find out what kind of actions our readers are taking. You know you want to.