Climate & Energy

Be car-ful?

Giving up car-lessness for Rob Lowe’s plug-in hybrid

This essay is part of a series on not owning a car. ----- The weekend before Halloween, my car-less family got a loaner plug-in hybrid-electric car to try. You see, the City of Seattle and some other local public agencies are testing the conversion of some existing hybrids to plug-ins to accelerate the spread of these near-zero-emissions vehicles. As a favor and, perhaps, for some publicity (this post), the city's program manager offered me four days' use of the prototype -- previously driven by actor Rob Lowe. Enthusiasm about plug-in hybrids -- like their now-almost-mainstream siblings the gas-electric hybrids -- has been running high of late. For example, the California Air Resources Board is among the toughest air quality regulators in the world. When members of the board's expert panel reviewed the evidence on plug-in hybrids, they issued a boosterish report predicting widespread adoption and fast market penetration. The Western Governors' Association is similarly smitten (MS Word doc). The tone of some popular press reports makes it seem that the vehicular second coming may be at hand. For this auto (pictured in our back yard, with our Flexcar visible out front), I wondered, would my family give up its car-less ways? Would the joy of these 100+ mpg wheels cause us to end our 21 months of car-free-ness, emulate Rob, and buy our own plug-in? The short answer? No. Plug-in hybrid-electric cars hold great promise, as long as we can fix the laws. And the technology. Oh, and the price. None of those fixes are "gimmes." Without fixing the laws -- and specifically, without a legal cap on greenhouse gases -- plug-ins could actually do more harm than good. And without the second two fixes -- working technology and competitive prices -- plug-ins won't spread beyond the Hollywood set. (Echoes of this point are in Elizabeth Kolbert's latest article in The New Yorker.) But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

Technology alone won't alleviate climate change

NYT’s Andy Revkin and E. O. Wilson get suckered by Newt Gingrich’s phony techno-optimism

Newt Gingrich is an anti-environmentalist who spreads disinformation and has done more than any politician in the last two decades to thwart a sensible climate policy that includes a major clean technology component, as I have explained. Absent serious regulations, no technology-only strategy can possibly avoid catastrophic global warming (as we should have learned in the 1990s). Some well-meaning people, like The New York Times' first-rate climate reporter Andy Revkin and the great conservation biologist, E.O. Wilson, have gotten taken in by Newt's new-clothes rhetoric. Why? They don't know the history of climate technology policy that I and others have written about -- and they don't understand the explicit Luntz/Bush strategy of trying to get political credit on the climate while blocking the crucial regulatory (and technological!) solutions by talking about "technology, technology, blah, blah, blah," as I put it. I am in 100 percent agreement with David's analysis on this. Gingrich is most certainly not part of a "move to the pragmatic center on climate and energy," as Revkin writes -- especially not an imaginary center that Revkin claims includes Bjørn Lomborg and Shellenberger & Nordhaus (for a debunking of these folks, click here and follow the various links). Gingrich and Lomborg are not classic global warming deniers -- since they realize denial is now politically and scientifically untenable -- which is why I label them delayers. (I will come back to S&N's ongoing disinformation campaign in a future post.) Gingrich and his coauthor are not "realists and visionaries" -- the phrase Wilson uses in a foreword to their book, A Contract with the Earth (you can read the foreword -- and, if you're clever and have a huge amount of time, the whole book -- for free if you click here [reg. may be req'd]). I have emailed Wilson -- whom I don't know -- my earlier Gingrich post. I'll focus on Revkin, since I do know him, and he has a blog where he is fighting back against David (and others) who criticize him.

L.A. bereft of clouds, rain; climate change the culprit?

I arrived in L.A. yesterday in the midst of an unusual meteorological phenomenon. The sky seems to have been wiped out, replaced entirely with a deep, featureless expanse of turquoise blue. And that’s not the weirdest part. All day long, a strong, bright light was falling from the sky on inhabitants, as though we were all in a big room with a huge full-spectrum bulb … only outside. The natives are doing a remarkable job of remaining calm and orderly during the crisis. Is global warming to blame? When is the MSM going to pick up this story?

IPCC Synthesis Report coming out Saturday

Policymakers of the world, get ready. Tomorrow, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases its Synthesis Report that will attempt to summarize the world’s climate-y plight in a language governments can understand. Saturday’s report will be the official abbreviated version of the 2,500 pages of scientific reports the IPCC churned out earlier this year. The summary aims to walk the fine line between polite appeals for action and making sure governments know just how screwed we are in the face of inaction on climate change.

Shameless self-promotion

RED positioned to fund $1.5 billion of recycled energy projects

While humility makes it awkward for me to be posting this, David said it would be OK. (I swear!) More seriously, this is a day of great pride at RED and I wanted to share a bit with you -- and perhaps explain the lack of time I've had for more insightful posts lately. We've just completed a pretty substantial equity raise, with funds available to invest in recycled energy projects that convert waste heat to power. The target for our investments are places where we can simultaneously generate profits, lower energy costs, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions - in other words, all the things I've blogged about here before. But now instead of just being an academic idea, we have the financial resources to go out and prove the concept. And, it bears noting, quite a bit of financial pressure to do so. More important than that, though, is that we have a platform to change the way the world makes power. Lots of good press today in Bloomberg, the Chicago Tribune, and The International Herald Tribune, among others. (Or, if you're a stickler for original source material, our press release is here.) But perhaps the best piece -- and the one that really gets what we're out to do -- is on the Dow Jones newswire, printed below the fold ($ub req'd, or else I'd give the link).

Made for the USA?

On who is accountable for Chinese greenhouse-gas emissions

Yesterday a D.C. nonprofit, the Center for Global Development, released an inventory of the world's power plants. Its nifty database shows that on a national level, China trails only the the U.S. in total emissions of greenhouse gases, and not by much. This will disappoint the global warming proponents at the National Review, who have been predicting for months that China will surpass the traditional emissions champ -- the United States -- this year. But both the scoffers on the right and the worriers on the left may be overlooking a central question, which was broached this Monday in a news story from The Wall Street Journal. Simply put: a high percentage of Chinese emissions are produced in factories making products for buyers around the world. Shouldn't that be considered in the emissions accounting? The vast majority of the world's MP3 players are made in China, where the main power source is coal. Manufacturing a single MP3 player releases about 17 pounds of planet-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. iPods, along with thousands of other goods churned out by Chinese factories, from toys to rolled steel, pose a question that is becoming an issue in the climate-change debate. If a gadget is made in China by an American company and exported and used by consumers from Stockholm to São Paulo, Brazil, should the Chinese government be held responsible for the carbon released in manufacturing it? The story hints at the complexity of fault-finding when it comes to emissions, which we as a nation and as a species have barely begun to unpack. Not only must we contend with the fact that carbon dioxide is indivisible -- and equally warming no matter if it's emitted in a Communist nation such as China, a capitalist nation such as the U.S., or a third-world nation such as India -- but there is also what The Stern Review calls the "intergenerational" aspect of emissions. Carbon released today may have catastrophic effects thirty years from now, when the original emitters are long dead. Who will the children of today blame then? But to continue with Jane Spencer's thoughtful, probing story:

Notable quotable

“It certainly appeared a year ago that we were going to have a national push on ethanol, and we wanted to have the vehicles ready. But we always knew that food-based ethanol would not be the answer. The shift to cellulosic ethanol has been slower than we were led to believe. If we don’t end up with cellulosic ethanol quickly, we are going to hit the wall on ethanol.” – William Clay Ford, Jr., chairman of Ford Motor Co.


What will it take to reduce Washington state GHG emissions 10 million tons by 2020?

Earlier this year, the governor of Washington set an ambitious goal (PDF): reducing the state's greenhouse-gas emissions by 10 million tons by 2020. That would put the state's emissions back to about where they were in 1990 -- roughly an 11 percent decline, all told, from today's levels. Of course, that's only a start. Real climate leadership will require reductions on the order of 80 to 90 percent by the middle of this century. Still, a 10-million-ton reduction in annual CO2 emissions seems like a tall order -- especially since the U.S. Census Bureau projects that the state's population will grow by 20 percent between now and 2020. Measured per person, Washingtonians' greenhouse emissions will have to fall by about one quarter by 2020 to meet the goal. The Washington Department of Ecology recently asked us what it would take to meet that 10-million-ton goal. Based on emissions data compiled by the state (PDF), here's what we came up with:

The price of oil will go ... down

We have $100-a-barrel oil due to speculation and fear

As this Foreign Policy article points out, there is no fundamental rationale for the current prices; oil should be between $40-$60 a barrel, but because of speculation and fear the price has been driven up much higher. The peak oil people love to say "I told you so" when the price goes up. What are they going to say when the price goes down? I expect crickets.

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