Climate & Energy

Greenland glaciers melting at an alarming rate

Depressing climate news, version 17,354: Greenland’s two-mile-thick ice sheet is melting at a rate unforeseen to scientists and climate models. Chunks of ice breaking off are so huge that they’re triggering earthquakes; the glaciers are adding some 58 trillion gallons of water annually to the oceans, more than twice as much as they were 10 years ago. In total, Greenland’s ice holds enough water to raise global sea levels by a terrifying 23 feet. The melting may also disrupt weather patterns on the west coast of the U.S., making much of California drier and bringing more precipitation to the Northwest …

Backseat policy-making

Ex-heads of state tell current heads of state how to solve climate crisis

If you're into exclusive clubs, check this one out: the Club de Madrid, membership limited to former heads of state. (Actually, even heads of state can get blackballed.) Those former heads of state are trying to get their successors to do what they couldn't and tackle the climate crisis. In collaboration with the United Nations Foundation, the Club today released their recommendations for what the world should do on the next round of climate crisis. The ex-heads acknowledge the severity of the crisis and call for current leaders to facilitate rapid reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, or face massive disaster: Avoiding such a future requires global greenhouse emissions to peak in the next 10-15 years, followed by substantial reductions of at least 60% by 2050 compared to 1990 -- a formidable task that requires international cooperation and collective action without further delay. The cost of taking action now, however, is small -- about 1% of global GDP, according to the Stern Review -- and the benefits are large compared with the much heavier penalties of postponing action. The costs of both mitigation and adaptation will rise substantially with delay. They call for all countries, developing and developed, to take on concrete greenhouse-gas-emission targets, but note that that will only happen if the next round is perceived to be equitable (i.e., the United States and other rich countries make cuts themselves and don't just lecture poor countries about what they should do). Here's the crux of their recommendation: All countries should commit to reduce collectively global emissions by at least 60% below the 1990 level by 2050. Developed countries should take the lead in emissions reduction by adopting effective targets and timetables. As a first step, this could include a commitment to reduce their collective emissions by 30% by 2020. Rapidly industrializing countries should commit to reduce their energy intensity [greenhouse gas emissions per unit of economic growth] by 30% by 2020 (an average of 4% per year) and agree to emissions reduction targets afterwards. They also call for an international carbon tax system, but are light on details of how this would work. They argue that carbon taxes are "easier to implement than cap-and-trade schemes and are economically efficient. A system of harmonized, universal carbon taxes should be agreed by the international community." Uh, if we can't even get cap-and-trade, how are we going to get a carbon tax? And how do we deal with the problem that carbon taxes don't provide certainty about exactly how much reductions will be achieved -- maybe people will just to decide to bite the bullet, pay more taxes, and keep on polluting. More info and discussion below the fold.

Battling the Borg

Some reviews and criticism of Bjorn Lomborg’s new book Cool It

I was all geared up to recommend this review of Bjorn Lomborg’s new book Cool It, written by The Weather Makers author Tim Flannery, but it turns out to be pretty bad. It’s kind of scattered all over the place a makes no coherent, forceful critique. Much better is Eban Goodstein’s review in Salon, which drills in on the subject of tipping points, which Lomborg totally ignores: But this really is not the point. The glaring error in “Cool It,” and the one that disqualifies the book from making a serious contribution, is that Lomborg ignores the main concern driving …

Will polar bears go extinct by 2030? Part I

On the myth that polar bear populations are flourishing

Human-caused global warming is poised to wipe out polar bears. The normally staid U.S. Geological Survey -- studying whether the bear should be listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act -- concluded grimly last Friday: Projected changes in future sea ice conditions, if realized, will result in loss of approximately 2/3 of the world's current polar bear population by the mid 21st century. Because the observed trajectory of Arctic sea ice decline appears to be underestimated by currently available models, this assessment of future polar bear status may be conservative. That's right -- this grim prediction is optimistic, a best-case scenario. In the next post, I'll examine why polar bears are likely to go extinct by 2030 if not 2020. But first I need to dispense with a myth that polar bears are doing well -- a myth propagated by people like Bjorn Lomborg in his new book, Cool It.

Solar-powered plane breaks world record for longest unmanned flight

Ooh, fancy: A lightweight solar-powered plane has smashed the official world record for the longest-duration unmanned flight. The plane flew for 54 hours, through two sunless nights, and was controlled remotely from the ground and by autopilot. And manned (excuse us, personed) flights are on the horizon: A Swiss man has plans to circumnavigate the globe aboard a solar-powered plane in 2010.

Bringing the Doddmentum

Dodd doesn’t have the boldest climate goal, but he’s got the boldest policy proposals

Chris Dodd says the right things. To my mind, he's every bit as good on climate change as John Edwards and Bill Richardson, if not better. Putting aside political feasibility and the electability of any of these candidates, what's the best way to look at their policy proposals? I think there are two important things to note. The first and most obvious is a policy's particular goals. On that score, Richardson wins. He calls for a 90 percent reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050, which is better than Dodd and Edwards who call for 80 percent reductions over the same time span. The second, though, is the likely effectiveness of the policies themselves, and here Dodd is second to none. Unlike Richardson, he's not biochemically averse to the idea of tax hikes, so he's combined a cap-and-trade program with a carbon tax and increased CAFE standards -- and in doing so, has compiled the boldest menu of emissions-fighting tactics of any of the candidates. What may be unanswerable is the question of how much invisible impact setting more ambitious goals has. In a strictly academic exercise like this one, it may not matter. (And I'd be stuck in a state of inconsolable joy if any of these plans became national policy.) This is all just to say that Dodd deserves his share of support from environmentalists. Postscript: The other question that may not be answerable is how sincere Dodd or any of his peers are about environmental issues. This funny little exchange, though, suggests at the least that Dodd hasn't been thinking about this issue very long or in great depth: [AGL]: What environmental achievement are you proudest of in your career? [Dodd]: That's a good question. It's been a lot of support for things rather than anything I've actually initiated. You know, the issue dealing with the Alaskan, you know, the ... [AGL]: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? [Dodd]: Yeah, I've been a strong supporter of that. Yeah, that one!

To everything, turn turn turn

One inconclusive set of international meetings yielding weak climate resolutions ends — another begins.

'Smooth the transition'

Carbon sequestration is a costly alternative to renewables, not a transition to them

Half the reason I wrote this post was to respond to this article, and then I forgot to mention it. Check this out: Developing commercially viable carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology should be a major priority for companies and governments all over the world because renewable energy sources will not be able to replace oil and gas quickly enough, a senior executive at Royal Dutch Shell PLC said Tuesday. “Without CCS, fossil fuel use would have to be cut by more than half,” Malcolm Brinded, Executive Director of Exploration and Production at the Anglo-Dutch company, said at the …

CTL follies

Coal-to-liquid is a dead end if there’s a price on CO2

One final post on this week's liquid coal hearing. Forbes wrote up the hearing and got my bluntest quote: "Coal-to-liquid is just a dead end, from a climate perspective," added Joseph Romm, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress. "Liquid coal will not have a future in this country, no matter how much money Congress squanders on it." Well, I guess "liberal-leaning" is better than "liberal." Why is liquid coal a dead end? Because, as I explain in my testimony, even a relatively low price for carbon dioxide is fatal to liquid coal's economics, as made clear in two recent report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration: