Climate & Energy

Responsible development of fossil fuels?

The energy department’s strategic unconventional fuels fantasy

The DOE's Strategic Unconventional Fuels Task Force has issued its surreal final report: Responsible development of America's oil shale, tar sands, heavy oil, coal, and oil resources amenable to recovery by carbon dioxide injection, by private industry, supported and encouraged by government actions to reduce uncertainties and stimulate investment, could supply all of the Department of Defense's domestic fuels demand by 2016, and supply upwards of 7 million barrels [a day] of domestically produced liquid fuels to domestic markets by 2035. Seriously. How does the Task Force explain how one can have "responsible development" of resources to an extent that would spell certain doom for the climate?

The elephant in the environmental room

How do you solve a problem like Maria China?

It occurs to me that my response to Shellenberger & Nordhaus failed to address what they call the "elephant in the environmental room": China. They say that environmentalists ignore the subject and corporatists obsess over it for the same reason — it illustrates the futility of domestic carbon regulations (in isolation). China, they say, is not going to impose regulatory restrictions that will slow its economic growth. It will not shift from coal to clean energy until the latter cost less than the former, with or without a price on carbon. Ergo, the only thing we can do to help …

The growth of renewable energy markets

In which I come to the defense of Shellenberger and Nordhaus — sort of, anyway

I was planning on sitting out the Nordhaus/Shellenberger debate. But then I thought: Adam, you are not the top-rated Gristmill blogger (see list at left) for nothing. People want to hear from you. So, here's my take: The first place Nordhaus and Shellenberger go wrong is their predilection for publicity photos that resemble '80s album covers. After that, they get it mostly right. Carbon legislation is good and helpful, sure, but it's about 30 percent thought-through, enormously complicated, and anything that has a hope of actually getting signed is unlikely in the extreme to be sufficient to the task. Look at the list of companies that have signed up to the much-ballyhooed Climate Action Partnership. Do you think they are calling for "the federal government to quickly enact strong national legislation to require significant reductions of greenhouse gas emissions" because they think doing so will put them in any danger of having to fundamentally change the way they do business? Their "consensus principles and recommendations" have more wiggle room than Studio 54.

Congress to move ahead on climate legislation, Dems to send delegation to U.N. climate talks

Congressional leaders in the U.S. House and Senate have said they plan to push ahead in their attempts to pass cap-and-trade-type climate legislation, despite the Bush administration’s renewed call to reduce emissions through voluntary technology partnerships instead. On Wednesday, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell (D-Mich.) released a white paper about a possible cap-and-trade system, suggesting the U.S. should reduce emissions by between 60 percent and 80 percent by 2050. “The United States needs an economy-wide, mandatory greenhouse [gas] reduction program,” the paper said. In the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee …

Debunking Shellenberger & Nordhaus: Part II

Breaking the technology breakthrough myth

Do we need "disruptive clean-energy technologies that achieve non-incremental breakthroughs" to solve the global warming problem, as S&N (and Lomborg, and Bush, and his advisors) argue? Let's hope not -- for the sake of the next 50 generations. Why? Two reasons: Such breakthroughs hardly ever happen. Even when they do happen, they rarely have a transformative impact on energy markets, even over a span of decades. Consider that solar photovoltaic cells -- a major breakthrough -- were invented over 50 years ago, and still comprise only about 0.1 percent of U.S. electricity (and that amount is thanks to major subsidies). Consider that hydrogen fuel cells -- a favorite technology of the breakthrough bunch -- were invented more than 165 years ago, and deliver very little electricity (and what little they do deliver comes only because of major subsidies) and no consumer transportation. Consider fusion -- 'nuff said! I know this seems counterintuitive, when we see such remarkable technology advances almost every month in telecommunications and computers. But it's true -- and I will explain why in this post.

Why sustainable development is so damn hard: Philippines edition

Subsidized power leads to energy waste

Philippines president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo spoke at the opening plenary of the Clinton Global Initiative. Unintentionally, her remarks illustrated the challenge of sustainable development. First the good news -- green power: We are endowed with geothermal power and it fits very well with our Green Philippines program. We want to use clean energy, we want to have energy independence, and geothermal power gives us clean energy and energy independence. Just before coming here yesterday, I was in an island in Santro Philippines, in a geothermal field. In fact the biggest wet field of geothermal power in the world. And what we did was we presided over yesterday a turnover of a build, operate, and transfer project from the private sector to the government sector. I had a similar turn over a few weeks ago, and the private sector has been able to get, the investors have been able to get their money back before they turn it over to the national government. So it's been a well paying proposition for them, too. Now the bad news (which she thought was good news) -- subsidized power: