Climate & Energy

The debate heats up

Is geoengineering worth a second look?

Until recently, I was under the impression that scaling back carbon emissions 80% by 2050 might forestall the worst of effects of global warming. But with news like yesterday's,  with California up in flames, and with the Arctic ice cap shrunken to an all-time low, I'm beginning to wonder if we've already done so much damage that a technological fix might be necessary. In today's Times, Ken Caldeira, of the Global Ecology Department at Stanford makes his case: If we could pour a five-gallon bucket's worth of sulfate particles per second into the stratosphere, it might be enough to keep the earth from warming for 50 years. Tossing twice as much up there could protect us into the next century. Geoengineering has never received much love from environmentalists, and understandably so. Too often it just diverts attention from the core problem: that our fossil-fuel fed lifestyles are unsustainable. Surely, if we're going to consider these types of projects at all, they must be one weapon among many in our arsenal. And Caldeira agrees: This is not to say that we should give up trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ninety-nine percent of the $3 billion federal Climate Change Technology Program should still go toward developing climate-friendly energy systems. But 1 percent of that money could be put toward working out geoengineered climate fixes like sulfate particles in the atmosphere, and developing the understanding we need to ensure that they wouldn't just make matters worse. What do you think?

Sprawling homes susceptible to flames in California

The impact of the still-raging California fires on humans and their homes is tragic and lamentable — but far from unexpected, thanks to homeowners’ tendency to sprawl out and nestle right up to the fire line. Some two-thirds of new building in southern California in the past decade was on tinder-dry, fire-susceptible land, says historian Mike Davis. “You might as well be building next to leaking gasoline cans,” he says. Many homeowners are not deterred. “We’ll stay,” says Richard Sanders of Escondido from a fast-food restaurant, awaiting news of how his house fared. “We like the community, we like the …

A taste of what's to come

Global warming and the California wildfires

Global warming makes wildfires more likely and more destructive -- as many scientific studies have concluded. Why? Global warming leads to more intense droughts, hotter weather, earlier snowmelt (hence less humid late summers and early autumns), and more tree infestations (like the pine beetle). That means wildfires are a dangerous amplifying feedback, whereby global warming causes more wildfires, which release carbon dioxide, thereby accelerating global warming. The climate-wildfire link should be a special concern in a country where wildfires have burned an area larger than the state of Idaho since 2000. I write this as my San Diego relatives wait anxiously in their hotel room to find out if their Rancho Santa Fe home has been destroyed. This is a beautiful home that I lived in for a month when I moved to the area in the mid-1980s to study at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Can we say that the brutal San Diego wildfires were directly caused by global warming? Princeton's Michael Oppenheimer put it this way on NBC Nightly News Tuesday:

Slow down

China has not officially endorsed a carbon price

As I mentioned yesterday, a new report from the InterAcademy Council advocates for a price on carbon (among many other things). I started reading it last night, and it’s fantastic — more on it later. The report was commissioned by China and Brazil. The foreword is by Lu Yongxiang, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Somehow, our own Charles Komanoff extracts from this slender evidence that "China has put its weight behind a carbon tax — or a carbon cap-and-trade system that would also impose a carbon price." Next thing you know, Portolio.com says "China approves of cap-and-trade" and …

Energy storage, anyone?

Some good news for wind and solar

For those who have long been frustrated with the pace of progress in energy storage for electricity, we are happy to finally report a bit of good news. Two weeks ago, Jason moderated a panel at "Investing in Energy Storage Technologies," a conference in New York City sponsored by Financial Research Associates, LLC. Unlike most industry conferences on storage (meetings where we all sit around preaching to the already converted), bona-fide, real-life energy tech investors attended this one. Plus -- and here's where it gets exciting -- there were actually two presentations that together could very well signal the increase in interest and investment needed to commercialize energy storage technologies for our electricity grid.

Pearce on Gore

Socially progressive publishing house Beacon has a new blog, Beacon Broadside, where its authors post. One of the first posts is from Fred Pearce, author of, among other books, With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change. It’s called "Al and Me,” and defends Gore against the charge that he exaggerated the dangers of climate change in his movie. Quite the contrary, says Pearce.

Armenia and global warming

Climate change signals in the Caucasus Mountains

The following is a guest essay from Eric Pallant, professor of environmental science at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., and codirector of the NATO Advanced Study Institute on Integrated Water Resources Management. He is reporting from the National Disasters and Water Security conference in Yerevan, Armenia. ----- October 20, 2007 The last time there was dramatic climate change in Armenia, Noah built an ark, floated for 40 days and nights, and disembarked on Mount Ararat. Armenians insist they have a piece of his old boat in a local museum. Mount Ararat serves as a useful backdrop, snowcapped and picturesque, for the NATO meeting on Natural Disasters and Water Security. Mount Ararat makes an appearance in the morning light. (Photo: Eric Pallant)

White House accused of watering down CDC testimony on climate change

The White House is being accused anew this week of improperly interfering with the dissemination of information on climate change. Critics allege that officials at the White House Office of Management and Budget significantly edited the prepared testimony that CDC head Julie Gerberding gave to a congressional panel concerning the impacts of climate change on disease and public health. The length of Gerberding’s prepared testimony was cut in half and, post-edit, focused almost entirely on the CDC’s preparations for a warming world. Largely left out of the edited testimony, but present in the draft given to OMB, were details on …

California delays lawsuit against EPA due to wildfires

Photo: Kevin Labianco The lawsuit California threatened to file against the U.S. EPA for delaying a pending decision on the state’s 2005 vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions law was not filed today as expected. It’s been stalled due to raging wildfires.

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