Climate & Energy

The states of high gas prices

How oil-intense is your state’s economy?

Last time I checked, oil prices were hovering just below $100 per barrel. This reminds me of something I used to obsess about: high oil prices hit some places harder than others. All else being equal, oil-efficient economies are more insulated from oil price shocks than are economies that require large oil inputs to function. I'm not talking about the amount of oil consumption, but about the "oil-intensity" of an economy. New York state consumes a lot of oil, and it also produces a lot of wealth. Other states, such as Louisiana, consume a lot of oil, but don't produce anywhere near as much wealth per unit of energy. (In fact, New York produces five times as much wealth per barrel of oil as Louisiana.) Just so, when oil prices skyrocket, Rhode Island suffers less pain than Texas. And Massachusetts feels less of a pinch than Wyoming. So at the risk of oversimplification, I'll propose a little schema for the future: If the future is likely to bring high oil prices, and we'd like to remain prosperous, then we should probably start weaning our economies from petroleum. Brilliant, I know. I guess one potential lesson here is that our big capital investments shouldn't expose us to decades of oil price shocks. (Yeah, I'm talking to you, highway.) They should insulate us from high oil prices. (Oh, hi there, compact walkable neighborhood.) So, how do all 50 states stack up? Find out below the jump ...

Indiana regulators approve coal plant

Apparently not having received the memo that denying coal plants is the hip thing to do, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission has approved an application from Duke Energy to build a coal-gasification plant in the city of Edwardsport. The bright side (if you can call it that): Duke will have to submit a plan on how to capture carbon-dioxide emissions from the plant. But still.

Environmentalism and the future of coal, part one

Jeremy Carl argues that coal will be with us for a long while

This is part one of a guest essay from Jeremy Carl, a Research Fellow at the Stanford University’s Program on Energy and Sustainable Development. A few weeks ago, I wrote a rather heated post keyed off an interview with Carl in Wired. He asked for an opportunity to respond; naturally I said yes. —– As I understand it, David’s primary problem with the article is that he believed we were just "assuming" coal’s future prominent role in our energy system. And in some sense he is right — as someone who is researching the global coal system every day, I …

The so-so Voluntary Carbon Standard

New standard for carbon offsets is unimpressive

As E&E News (subs. req'd)reports today: An industry group released standards yesterday for carbon dioxide offsets in the hopes of attracting existing and still-forming emission-trading markets. The Voluntary Carbon Standards (VCS) are aimed at evaluating clean-energy projects in developing countries that are used to offset industrialized nations' emissions of greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism. You can read all about the new standard on their website. I am not terribly impressed with this new standard. Among other things, it allows tree projects (no, and no!). They also didn't consult with a lot of environmental groups, and as I pointed out to E&E News and WWF, their website has this bizarre and I think inappropriate listing under board members: James Leape, WWF International (invited) Seriously. How do you list an invited -- but not accepted -- board member on your website? Especially from an organization that seriously criticized the previous draft of your offset standard. The rest of the E&E article, with quotes from me and WWF, is below:

The inaugural California Green Innovation Index

New report summarizes clean tech in California

Everything you could possibly want to know about clean technology in the Golden State can be found in an excellent new report, the California Green Innovation Index, published by Next 10, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. The report tracks the state's economic and environmental performance and analyzes key indicators to better understand the role green innovation plays in reducing emissions and growing the economy. California is a state where growth has always been built around innovation, as this figure from the report shows: I've often written about California's leadership policies in energy efficiency -- but the report points out a number of fascinating factoids I wasn't aware of:

French connections

Is it something in the air?

Interesting things are happening in the francophone world. Last week I reported that the Quebec government had decided to stop supporting any new ethanol plants based on corn as a feedstock. Now the French government, perhaps flowing out of its broad social dialogue on the environment (known as "Le Grenelle français de l'environnement"), is reported to be thinking of slashing subsidies benefiting the production of ethanol in the country. Ooh la la, what in the world is going on?

Industrialized countries’ GHG emissions near all-time high

Take it away, Yvo de Boer of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change: “Industrialized countries’ overall greenhouse-gas emissions rose to a near all-time high in 2005. Greenhouse-gas emissions between 1990 and 2000 went down, but then between 2000 and 2005 they increased again, by 2.6 percent.” Oy. Bali can’t come soon enough.

CCX marks the spot

House buys carbon credits through Chicago Climate Exchange

Perhaps this (sub. rqd.) is not the best strategy: The House purchased these carbon credits to offset the impact of 30,000 tons of carbon emitted by the U.S. Capitol's coal-burning power plant each year. The funds will be used on carbon reducing measures, such as planting trees and underground storage of carbon dioxide, as well as green technologies like wind and solar power. The auction was oversubscribed with a weighted average clearing price of $2.97 per ton. I hope they didn't plant a lot of trees -- they aren't the greatest offsets (see here also). And I really hope the underground storage carbon dioxide isn't used for enhanced oil recovery -- a very dubious offset. I personally wouldn't recommend the Chicago Climate Exchange for offsets -- too many environmental groups have doubts about it, and I have heard some serious concerns directly from people involved in their offset projects. At least the House is cleaning up its own act first: The House will become carbon neutral by purchasing wind power for the electricity it uses, and by substituting natural gas for coal to generate the House's portion of the electricity produced by the Capitol Power Plant. To offset the carbon emitted from burning natural gas, the House will purchase carbon offsets. That's much, much better than just trying to offset coal power with, say, trees. This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The salty, oily flavor of progress

80% by 2050? Try 2010.

Got a headache from all the recent back and forth over rhetoric and politics of climate change? Last week, Frito-Lay served up a refreshingly rhetoric-free reminder that the future is coming no matter what we might do to encourage (or stop) it. Under their net zero initiative, the salty snack behemoth will be taking an Arizona potato chip factory almost entirely off the grid, running it on renewable energy and recycled water. The project stands out to me mostly for what it is not:

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