Climate & Energy

Whither the energy bill?

Rep. Ed Markey looks down the road on climate and energy

The Center for American Progress hosted Rep. Ed Markey at a roundtable for reporters to give a sort of primer for what to expect in the run-up to and during the marathon of international climate-change events in the coming week. He was, to my ear, a little bit sanguine about the energy bill, which he expects will be completed and sent to the White House this fall, in time for the Congress to then turn its attention to a climate-change bill. Markey said, "The NRDC estimates that that bill, if it was signed by the president, would meet 25 percent of the greenhouse-gas goals of the United States by 2030." It's unclear, though, whether he was talking about the NRDC's ambitious benchmarks or the president's laughably dubbed "aspirational goals" for long-term greenhouse-gas reduction. And in any case, it would depend upon all of the emissions-mitigating provisions of the bill -- some now in the House version, some in the Senate version -- finding their way into the final version that emerges from the conference committee.

A methane feedback from the past strikes again

Bogs, not oceans, may have been the source of an increase in atmospheric methane

What triggered the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) about 55 million years ago, which saw the fastest period of warming documented in Earth's geological history? The PETM is associated with a rapid rise in greenhouse gases, particularly methane -- but the big question is where did the methane come from? The most common answer has been the ocean (methane hydrates), but new research in Nature ($ub. req'd) casts doubt on the ocean theory -- instead finding chemical evidence that the methane came from terrestrial sources, bogs, which were themselves stimulated by rising temperatures -- an amplifying feedback. The lead author says: A lot of temperate and polar wetlands are going to be wetter, and of course warmer as well [because of current climate change]. That implies a switch to more anaerobic conditions which are more likely to release methane. That's what's predicted, and that would be a positive feedback -- and we have evidence now that this is what happened. Indeed, research from last year found "thawing Siberian bogs are releasing more of the greenhouse gas methane than previously believed." Why should we care about the source of the PETM?

Dirty hippies at it again

Another agrofuel protest hits City Hall

Candace Heckman, writing for the Seattle P-I Big Blog, put up a brief post about the protest yesterday by Duff Badgley and his rag-tag group against local biodiesel-refiner Imperium Renewables. Imperium is getting downright defensive: Imperium spokesman John Williams said this afternoon that the company is actively looking at "feedstocks" other than palm oil, and that for the next year-and-a-half, the City of Seattle would not be buying biodiesel made from palm. This blog post "makes it sound like at some point we might sell palm biodiesel to the city. We haven't, we don't and we won't." Get the violins and hankies out: Williams said his company is being unfairly targeted ... [ahem] Although, Imperium is not in the position to completely swear off palm as the company grows into a global corporation. Imperium has no choice. It has to make a profit. It has to try to pay back its investors. It is pointless to harp at Imperium. The power lies entirely in the hands of the consumer who can choose not to purchase food crop based agrodiesel. The problem is with our local politicians. They have mandated its use, subsidized its profit margin, and to ice the cake, have allowed millions of dollars of retirement funds to be invested in Imperium. This was all done with money taken from consumers via taxes. Adding insult to injury, these same consumers have to buy back this environmentally destructive fuel from the government at whatever cost every time they take a bus or ferry. Our politicians may have good intentions, but the road to hell is starting to look like a parking lot.

Green world unites behind auctioning carbon allowances

New U.S. Pirg report recommends 100 percent of allowances be auctioned

Speaking of auctioning the permits under a cap-and-trade system, yesterday U.S. PIRG released a new report: “Cleaner, Cheaper, Smarter: The Case For Auctioning Pollution Allowances In A Global Warming Cap-and-Trade Program.” It argues for auctioning 100% of permits: Auctioning all allowances under a cap-and-trade program is fair, reduces the societal cost of achieving emission reductions compared to giving allowances to polluters for free, and promotes a transition to a clean energy economy. For those reasons, allowances should be auctioned in any global warming cap-and-trade program. Here’s a statement of support for that position, signed by a gazillion green and progressive …

Is this an emergency?

Is global warming the moral equivalent of World War II?

From Al Gore to Lester Brown, writers concerned about preventing the worst of global warming have proposed that our "commitment will need to be of a scale comparable to what we did during World War II." But the parallels never go beyond a vague reference. PBS is about to run a series, premiering this Sunday, called "The War," so it might be a good time to think a little more deeply about the connection. There are two main questions that need to be asked: Is global warming -- or more generally, the assault on the biosphere, including the wholesale destruction of ecosystems and species -- an emergency, as was World War II? In other words, do we have to do something quickly? Second, what was done in World War II to meet the emergency, and what lessons can we learn from that response?

Land-use decisions a key factor in emissions reduction, says analysis

How to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions? Building compact, mixed-use neighborhoods would be just as effective as much-touted policies like boosting fuel economy, cleaning up power plants, and building green, says a new analysis from the Urban Land Institute. The U.S. population is expected to grow 23 percent by 2030; under the sprawl-encouraging status quo, driving is expected to increase 59 percent in the same time period. But it doesn’t have to be that way, says the ULI: some two-thirds of homes and other buildings expected to be needed by 2050 have yet to be built, and they don’t have to …

Adventures in the smart grid no. 3

Who will lead on advancing smart-grid technologies?

To bring on the amounts of variable wind and solar energy and plug-in vehicles needed to meet our vast energy challenges, we will need a smart grid capable of managing much more complex power flows. Outside of some progressive exemplars, however, don't expect leadership to come from the utility sector. Instead, changes will be forced by new policies and players, including some you might not expect, like big box retailers. Those were my key takeaways from the stellar line-up of smart grid speakers at the Discover Brilliant sustainable technology conference in Seattle this week. David has been blogging away from the conference, so I don't want to go over too much of the same turf. Instead I'm going to synthesize what I heard across a number of sessions and offer my interpretations. A few statistics from the conference underscore the sluggishness of the electric utility industry when it comes to advanced technologies:

Forget the light bulbs: Part II

Tidwell responds to scientists responding to Tidwell

The following is a guest essay by Mike Tidwell. It's a response to "The Power of Voluntary Actions," written by a phalanx of social scientists, which was itself a response to Tidwell's "Consider Using the N-Word Less." Tidwell is director of the U.S. Climate Emergency Council and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network based in Takoma Park, Md. ----- My Sept. 4 essay on the merits of voluntary versus statutory responses to global warming triggered quite a firestorm of debate. Lots of readers agreed with me: All those happy lists in magazines and on web sites -- "10 things you can do to save the planet!" -- actually trivialize the scale of the problem. We'll never solve the climate crisis one light bulb at a time. What we need, à la the civil rights movement, are ten historic statutes that ban abusive and violent practices like the manufacture of gas-guzzling cars and inefficient light bulbs. Other people -- including a whole panel of PhDs from around the world -- were critical of this point of view. They accused me -- wrongly -- of dismissing altogether the virtues of voluntary change. As I type this essay from my solar-powered house, with a Prius in the driveway and a vegetarian lunch in the oven, I assure you I view voluntary measures as very important. They just won't save us in time, that's all. The Arctic ice is melting way too fast.

Utility will pay for solar on Habitat for Humanity houses in California

Recognizing that solar electricity is a good investment in the long run but a bit spendy up front, utility Pacific Gas and Electric has agreed to pay for solar power on some 65 houses built by Habitat for Humanity in northern and central California next year. PG&E will donate about $1.2 million for panels and installation; low-income residents will see radically reduced electric bills. “For us it’s not so much an environmental thing — it’s a cost issue,” says Mark Crozet of Habitat. “It’s a piece of their income that these families don’t have to spend on electricity. It’s a …

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