Climate & Energy

Palm oil may be certified sustainable, some greens skeptical

Hoping to quell criticism from biofuel bashers, palm-oil producers have drawn up criteria for certifying their product as sustainable. It’s a nice idea, but green group Friends of the Earth has threatened to withdraw its support of the standards, saying that Malaysia and Indonesia — which together produce nearly 85 percent of the world’s palm oil — are using the voluntary initiative as an excuse to keep from legislating against rainforest-pillaging palm plantations.

The cash nexus

Is there really so much money in environmental devastation that it can’t be stopped?

In the Nov. 12 New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert published an article (unavailable online; abstract here) typical of her style: spare, restrained, vivid, cogent, devastating. The topic was Canada’s tar sands, now being profitably exploited by the major oil companies: Shell, Conoco-Phillips, Chevron, and ExxonMobil. And they’ve only just begun. According to Kolbert, the oil majors intend to invest more than $75 billion over the next five years in building infrastructure to transform a little bit of Canada into fuel for our cars. "Thanks in large part to what’s happening in the tar sands," Kolbert reports, "Canada has become America’s No. …

Response to Jeremy Carl, part one

Developing nations will not remain immune to the need for sustainable development

I want to thank Jeremy Carl of Stanford’s Program on Energy and Sustainable Development for dropping by and making the case for coal — or rather, the case for holding our nose, accepting that coal’s growth is inevitable, and working to make it cleaner (Jeremy’s posts are here and here). I hope the conversation will be ongoing. As I see it, the core case has still not been made. Lemme try to clarify what I see as The Coal Question and the range of answers on offer. Jeremy is absolutely right that the question is ultimately about China and India. …

Leaving Las Vegas

What’s the ecological footprint of the gambling industry?

I won't explain how it came to pass that -- only two days after a trip to NYC to present Greenhouse Development Rights at a meeting of the UN's Committee for Development Policy -- I went to Las Vegas. I will say that that my wife, an Aussie, wanted to see the place, that we have a 11-year-old boy, and that the Hilton contains an installation honoring the United Federation of Planets. (The flag of which has a notable similarity to the one displayed in the UN's own, rather more dilapidated, halls.) Some quick thoughts:

Men again?

A study on gender equality as a prerequisite for sustainable development — debunked!

Lord knows we men are to blame for most things -- but global warming? Yes -- according to a major new report (PDF) by Gerd Johnsson-Latham for the Environment Advisory Council of the Environment Ministry of ... wait for it ... Sweden. The report's focus: What we know about the extent to which women globally live in a more sustainable way than men, leave a smaller ecological footprint and cause less climate change. Ouch! Don't look at me -- I telecommute; my wife takes the car. If gender equality is in fact a prerequisite for sustainable development, it's definitely be time to buy property on high ground. Fortunately, the theory is debunked by a best-selling nonfiction book: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. This is fatal to Gerd's theory. After all, which of those two planets is cold -- and which is "a 900-degree inferno" with a "runaway greenhouse effect," to quote a 2002 NASA study? The defense rests.

Australia elects prime minister who wants to ratify Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol climate treaty may soon welcome a new industrialized country to the fold. Australia’s newly elected prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has announced he will act in the next few weeks on a campaign promise to have Australia ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which would make the United States the only industrialized country in the world not to agree to making mandatory reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions under the treaty. Showing just how eager the new prime minister is to get busy reducing greenhouse gases, Rudd met with government officials about ratifying Kyoto the day after his decisive electoral victory over …

Kucinich, Clinton, and Edwards on climate and energy

Grist presidential climate forum: full transcript and video

Last week, I offered my impressions of the candidates at our presidential forum on climate. Now the complete transcript (PDF) and full video are available. Make your own judgments and share your own impressions in comments. (This video will be permanently available here.) You can embed the videos on your own site: If you’d like to embed the full (four segment) video player, use the following code: <iframe width="520" scrolling="no" frameborder=”0″ src="http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1321305880&quot; height="587"></iframe> Or you can embed the videos individually by clicking “menu” on the appropriate video and choosing “code.” Copy the resulting code and paste it into your site.

Hamsters for baseload power

Innovative idea may reduce renewable energy costs

A study done at Stanford and published in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology is described by its lead author, Cristina Archer, this way: ... each in a separate cage with a treadmill. At any given time, some hamsters will be sleeping or eating and some will be running on their treadmill. If you have only one hamster, the treadmill is either turning or it isn't, so the power's either on or off. With two hamsters, the odds are better that one will be on a treadmill at any given point in time and your chances of running, say, your blender, go up. Get enough hamsters together and the odds are pretty good that at least a few will always be on the treadmill, cranking out the kilowatts. The combined output of all the hamsters will vary, depending on how many are on treadmills at any one time, but there will be a certain level of power that is always being generated, even as different hamsters hop on or off their individual treadmills. That's the reliable baseload power. Read the whole story here at Mongabay. Oh, wait a minute. My bad ...

Environmentalism and the future of coal, part two

Jeremy Carl looks at ways to clean up coal

This is part two of a guest essay from Jeremy Carl, a Research Fellow at the Stanford University’s Program on Energy and Sustainable Development. (Part one is here.) —– So if coal is going to be a major part of our energy system for the foreseeable future, what should we do about it? First, some of coal’s problems may be solved in unexpected ways through sharp regulation and smarter R&D. Several boiler manufacturers are attempting to design C02 scrubbing retrofits for power plants. Greenfuel is doing the same with an emissions-to-biofuels strategy. Figuring out a way to capture significant portions …

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