Climate & Energy

Priorities

Here’s a nice little graph showing U.S. R&D spending in various types of energy compared to spending in Iraq for 2007 (click on the image for background): This is what we, collectively, deem important.

Hear some trains a-comin'

Public transit will be necessary for CO2 reductions

At the end of October, both New Jersey Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg and, believe it or not, Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott, passed their cosponsored bill in the Senate to allocate $1.9 billion per year for six years to expand passenger rail in the U.S. According to Parade magazine (yes, the one that's inserted into Sunday newspapers), the main goal is "to develop high-speed, short-haul rail corridors modeled on the European city-to-city routes. They could run between Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, N.C.; Portland and Seattle; Chicago and Detroit; Miami and Jacksonville, Fla." In addition, the Senate wants to give Amtrak a solid long-term financial foundation. (Imagine!) The same Parade article, entitled "A better way to travel," extols the benefits of rail: Many transportation experts insist that the best answer to transportation gridlock is efficient intercity rail travel. Trains use one-fifth less energy than cars or planes ... Amtrak ridership was up for the fifth year in a row, reaching record levels -- despite the fact that a third of trains arrived late last year ... Severe weather will further add to the transportation turmoil, leading travelers to look for alternatives to air travel. And what about global warming? The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) released a report in September 2007, "Public Transportation's Contribution to Greenhouse Gas Reduction" which directly addresses the issue. According to their calculations, public transit, use saves 37 percent of the CO2 that would have been emitted had private transportation been used (19.2 million metric tons, including traffic congestion) instead of public transit ( 12.3 million metric tons). And that's including a lot of diesel-powered trains and buses.

What is a smart grid?

Interview with smart grid expert Steve Pullins, part one

For nearly 30 years, Steve Pullins has worked in and around the utility industry, in capacities ranging from systems engineering to project development to high-level consulting. He currently works at SAIC, where he heads the Modern Grid Initiative for the National Energy Technology Laboratory. I spoke with him at the Discover Brilliant conference in Sep. 2007. He stressed that he was speaking to me as a concerned private citizen, not as a representative of the MGI. —– DR: What is the Modern Grid Initiative? SP: It’s a team, first sponsored by Senator Byrd of West Virginia, now institutionalized within the …

Carbon sequestration and the precautionary principle

A guest essay from Peter Montague raises questions about the rush to sequestration

The following is a guest essay from Peter Montague, executive director of the Environmental Research Foundation. —– In response to a relentless stream of bad news about global warming, a cluster of major industries has formed a loose partnership with big environmental groups, prestigious universities, philanthropic foundations, and the U.S. federal government — all promoting a technical quick-fix for global warming called "carbon sequestration." "Carbon sequestration" is a plan to capture and bury as much as 10 trillion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide deep in the ground, hoping it will stay there forever. (A ton is 2,000 pounds; a metric …

IPCC to hammer out summary of climate science for policymakers

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is meeting this week in Valencia, Spain, to distill the panel’s three massive scientific climate-change reports released earlier this year into a concise 25-page summary for the world’s governments. Expect environmentalists and others concerned about climate-change’s effects to lobby for strong language clearly spelling out the expected perils of doing little or nothing. Some governments, meanwhile — likely including the United States, China, and others — will negotiate to play down many of the threats posed by climate change, emphasize uncertainties, and extol the efficacy of voluntary actions. Ahead of the meeting, the head …

A green wave lifts all boats

Van Jones looks to sustainability for pathways out of poverty

Will the burgeoning "green" economy have a place in it for everyone? To a packed auditorium in Seattle last Wednesday, Van Jones said: It can. And to be successful, it has to. In the chorus of voices against climate change, his message rings true and clear: "We have a chance to connect the people who most need work with the work that most needs to be done." Van Jones is a civil-rights lawyer and founder and executive director of an innovative nonprofit working to ensure that low-income, working poor, and minority youth have access to the coming wave of "green-collar" jobs. Jones -- brought to Seattle by Climate Solutions, King County, El Centro de la Raza, Puget Sound Sage, and Earth Ministry -- made a compelling case that social justice is the moral anchor required to fuse the climate movement into a powerful and cohesive force. He sees that the solutions to global warming are the solutions to the biggest social and economic problems in urban and rural America. His point is this: You can pass all the climate legislation you want, but you have to provide the local workforce to make it happen on the ground. "We have to retrofit a nation," he says. "No magical green fairies are going to come down and put up all those solar panels." This is going to take skilled labor. "We can make a green pathway out of poverty." And it gets better, he says. These jobs can't be outsourced. "You can't put a building on a barge to Asia and weatherize it on the cheap." This is about kitchen table issues: jobs, industry, manufacturing, health, education.

Kansas newspaper parodies coal industry attack ad

Remember the xenophobic attack ads the coal industry ran against Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius? The ones funded by energy giants Sunflower and Peabody? The ones they subsequently refused to apologize for? The Kansas newspaper Wichita Eagle, rather than indulging in the outraged harumphing featured on sites like, uh, this one, decided to go the parody route. They’ve not only got a funny editorial up, but created a funny parody video, which you can see by clicking the image below: (via Dot Earth, which has really kicked ass since starting up a little while ago — kudos to Andy)

Larry Craig's climate views belong in the toilet

Sen. Craig believes a cap-and-trade system is pointless

OK, maybe it's a good thing that the morally-challenged senator is on the other side of the debate. He recently said: My position is perfectly clear: a cap and trade system is obsolete in its approach to green house gas reductions, it has not worked, and I do not see it working. Yes a very good position for a delayer, since a carbon tax is a political nonstarter (and dubious for other reasons), while a technology-only strategy can't do the job.

Beijing Dispatch: China's carbon harbingers

Plans for reducing emissions in China

David linked to the Reuters report about China's refusal to accept binding emissions caps in any international agreement. On the topic of China and climate change, last week I got some face time with the head of the World Bank's energy unit in Beijing, Dr. Zhao. Too much for one blog post, but here are some highlights: According to his research, the World Bank's go-to guy on these matters believes: "It will be difficult or even impossible for China to reduce CO2 emissions in absolute terms." Depressing conclusion. As he saw it, "The question now is, what can be down to reduce China's growth rate [of CO2 emissions]?" While refusing to sign international agreements on carbon caps, Beijing has issued some fairly ambitious goals of its own. One is to have 15 percent of energy come from renewable sources by 2020. Of course, whether this target is based in reality is another question. As Dr. Zhao told me, "In most other countries, you do the analysis first, then set goals. In China, you set the goal first, then you do the research and set the policy to try to achieve it." Translation: the temptation to fudge numbers to reach preordained conclusions is dangerously high.

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