Climate & Energy

Climate change is back, baby!

Where is the media coverage of February’s incredible warming and extreme weather?

Well, that record cooling trend in January, which was solid evidence (to some) that human-caused global warming was at an end, melted away as fast as the summer ice in the Arctic. Not only did February begin a frighteningly unsustainable warming trend for this year, it saw a record number of tornadoes. Climate change is making a comeback! In your face, delayer-1000s! And as Jon Stewart -- or the Pope -- might say, damn you, polluters! But where is the news coverage? This is just more proof (as if we needed it) that the media is fundamentally conservative. Let's start with the temperature. NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies has their monthly global temperature dataset out through Feb. 2008 (it starts in Jan. 1880). January was only 0.12 degrees C above the 1951-1980 mean (for that month) and a full 0.74 degrees C colder than Jan. 2007 (the warmest January record). But Feb. 2007 was 0.26 degrees C above the monthly mean, and a mere 0.37 degrees C colder than Feb. 2008. The "legitimate science writer" David Appell explains the staggering implications (if we used the same reasoning as typical delayers): ... the world is warming up at 0.14 degrees C/month, or 3 degrees F per year, or a dramatic 30 degrees F per decade! By 2018, Fairbanks Alaska will be like Atlanta was this year. Atlanta will be ... well, like Hell ... More seriously, this February ripped the tornado record books to shreds as if they had been caught in a giant whirlwind whose intensity had been amplifed by global warming. The country suffered through a stunning 232 tornadoes -- almost triple the previous record, a mere 83 tornadoes in 1971. (Reliable records go back to 1950.) There is some recent research by NASA that "the most violent severe storms and tornadoes may become more common as Earth's climate warms." More interestingly, the famed blogging nonalarmist meteorologist Jeff Masters explains:

Killing the electric car, again: Part I

Is CARB up to its old tricks?

The following post is by Earl Killian, guest blogger at Climate Progress. ----- If you've seen the movie Who Killed the Electric Car? (which is ranked No. 8 on Netflix in documentary rentals), then you know the EV story up to 2003. What you might not know is that it looks like one of the players in the movie, the California Air Resources Board, is up to no good again. In killing Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) the first time, they put off progress on this front for a decade. Now they are preparing, at their March 27 meeting, to kill BEVs a second time and probably waste another decade. We don't have another decade. In Part 2 you will find information on what you can do to let CARB know what you think. This post provides background on the CARB's sorry zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) legacy. For background on BEVs, PHEVs (plug-in hybrid EVs), and FCVs (fuel cell vehicles) see Joe's January post on plug-in hybrids and electric cars. The major automakers are likely to produce plug-in hybrids on their own, but not ZEVs, and yet eventually we want ZEVs to be a part of the fleet to get the greenhouse gas reduction necessary in 2050. Back in 1990, to help fix chronically unhealthy air in California cities, CARB required that 2 percent of California new vehicle sales have zero emissions by 1998. Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) were then supposed to reach 3 percent by 2001, and 10 percent by 2003, and it was presumed that ZEV meant BEV. In 1996, under automaker pressure, CARB removed the 2 percent and 3 percent requirements but left the 10 percent goal in place. It also allowed low emission vehicles (misleadingly called Partial ZEVs or PZEVs) to substitute for some ZEVs. In 2001 they tinkered again and added a new category, Advanced Technology (AT) PZEVs, which are essentially hybrids. They also changed the 10 percent goal to 2 percent ZEVs, 2 percent AT PZEVs, and 6 percent PZEVs. The program began to resemble a Rube Goldberg contraption at this point, with gold, silver, and bronze categories. The program's complexity has continued to grow since.

Should we laugh or cry?

Florida Power & Light on wind power

Florida Power & Light is fairly notorious as a utility that embraces competition so long as it doesn't happen in their service territory. On the regulatory side, they have worked pretty hard to make sure that no one can build power in their state except themselves. But on the unregulated side, their sister company FPL Energy has been one of the leading installers of wind turbines. (Not coincidentally, you will find that they tend not to do projects anywhere near Florida. Mind the hand that feeds you ... ) Needless to say, there are some conflicts there. Which have recently come back to bite them.

Oh, Canada!

More on B.C.’s carbon tax shift

On February 19, one of my colleagues at Sightline applauded British Columbia's new carbon tax shift. I've now had time to digest the plan. It's even better than we said, and the province could tweak it to make it better still. This policy is the purest instance of a tax shift that I've ever seen. It's an exceptionally faithful implementation of tax shifting -- a policy innovation Sightline has been promoting since 1994 and especially since our 1998 book. (A small brag: Gordon Campbell read the book that year and told me he was going to shift taxes in his second term as premier. I didn't hold my breath, but now he has delivered.) The carbon tax shift (as opposed to the larger government budget it's wrapped in) is almost entirely untarnished by handouts to special interests. It is built on four principles:

Thirty years later, they still won't make us safer

The history of the ‘safety valve’ debate

The new publication from E&E News, ClimateWire, ($ub. req'd), has a long article on the "safety valve" debate and its history. I will reprint it in its entirety below because The issue is important and not going away. It is the most thorough piece I've seen. I was interviewed at length for it. One of my quotes they used is not something I would have said in a short interview. First, some background: I have blogged repeatedly on why a safety valve is a bad idea. However, the reporter called me because he said that a number of people in the Clinton administration said I was a key player in the discussions leading up to Kyoto, in which the administration ultimately rejected a safety valve (or price ceiling on carbon emissions permits). The No. 1 highlight of my time in the administration was at the October 6, 1997, "White House Conference on Climate Change," during my brief tenure as acting assistant secretary of energy for energy efficiency and renewable energy. At 12:40 p.m. [I kept the ticket and wrote the time and the quote on the back], the president said, "I'm convinced the people in my Energy Department labs are absolutely right." He was talking about the 5-Lab study that I oversaw, which found that the United States could return to 1990 levels of carbon dioxide emissions by 2010 without raising the nation's overall energy bill -- if we had an aggressive technology deployment effort. Rather than me giving a solipsistic explanation of what happened, you can read an account by Art Rosenfeld (the first article, his autobiography), now California energy commissioner, then science adviser to the assistant secretary. Or not. I was certainly proud of my role in the administration. Economic agencies like the Treasury Department and Council of Economic Advisers rarely lose policy debates. But they did this time. That said, I was hardly the main reason they lost. In fact, as I recall, President Clinton explained at the Georgetown conference that the main reason he didn't believe his economic agencies' gloomy predictions for the economic impact of Kyoto was this: They had made similarly gloomy predictions about the impact of his balanced budget bill, which, instead of causing an economic slowdown as predicted, created millions of jobs. That said, the subsequent incident described in the ClimateWire article is the No. 2 highlight of my time in the administration, although I foolishly didn't keep the piece of paper. Anyway, here is the article (for ease of reading, I won't bother indenting it):

E.U. likely to cut subsidies for farmers

With crop prices through the roof and scientific concerns being raised about the greenness of biofuels, various European countries have cut back tax breaks and …

Denver hopes to reduce car emissions by encouraging better driving

The city of Denver has unveiled a “Driving Change” pilot program designed to reduce vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions by encouraging drivers to ease off the lead …

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.