Climate & Energy

Do they just not caribou?

BLM offers yet another plan for drilling on Alaska’s sensitive North Slope

In 1923, President Warren G. Harding designated 23 million acres on Alaska's North Slope as a national petroleum reserve. The ecologically sensitive northeast corner of the reserve -- which includes pristine Lake Teshekpuk and is vital habitat for breeding caribou, migrating birds, and Inupiat Eskimos -- was closed to energy development by the Reagan, Bush Elder, and Clinton administrations. But damned if the current administration won't pull out all the stops trying to access it! The Bushies tried in 2005. They tried in 2006 -- twice. Last fall, a judge blocked the administration from its quest, saying it had failed to consider environmental impacts of drilling in the area, and ordered the Bureau of Land Management to develop a new plan. Yesterday, the agency obliged, offering a vague proposal which suggests various options for development. The BLM will offer final recommendations after a two-month public-input period, which starts Friday. So get thee to inputting! sources: Reuters, Associated Press, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner comment on the plan: Bureau of Land Management website

Pricey oil, more carbon

From the Boston Globe, the dirty truth about ‘alternative energy’

Referring to high oil prices, the billionaire airline magnate Richard Branson recently declared, "Thank God it’s happened … A high oil price is what we needed to actually wake up the world" to the reality of climate change. (This from a man who openly pines for a techno fix that will allow us to burn through all the fossil fuel we want, and enjoy our climate, too.) David and others have made the point before, but it bears repeating: High oil prices do not by any stretch translate to lower carbon emissions. In fact, as an excellent essay by Drake …

A meter of sea level rise by 2100?

Sea levels may rise much faster and higher than predicted

Popular Science has published a terrific article, "Konrad Steffen: The Global Warming Prophet," about one of the world's leading climatologists. Steffen has spent "18 consecutive springs on the Greenland ice cap, personally building and installing the weather stations that help the world's scientists understand what's happening up there." The article notes: Water from the melting ice sheet is gushing into the North Atlantic much faster than scientists had previously thought possible. The upshot of the news out of Swiss Camp is that sea levels may rise much higher and much sooner than even the most pessimistic climate forecasts predicted. What is going on in Greenland? Steffen explains what he and NASA glaciologist Jay Zwally figured out from their study of fissures in the ice sheet (called moulins -- see figures above and below):

Big Ethanol

Economists say that only the largest ethanol producers will survive

Of all the arguments in favor of government backing for corn-based ethanol, only one seems even remotely reasonable to me: that it could lead to real economic development in depressed areas of the Midwest. The theory goes like this: When farmers pool resources and build their own ethanol plants, they’ll capture much higher profits than by merely selling corn to big buyers like ADM and Cargill. According to an article in today’s Wisconsin State Journal, that rationale for corn-based ethanol may be about to unravel. For about two generations, the Midwest’s farmers have seen the price for corn and other …

Cool Runnings

Effluent would be used to cool power plants in an innovative Maryland project Charles County, Md., is poised to be the first area in the U.S. to use treated sewage to cool down power-plant towers. A proverbial “win-win” scheme, the proposal would conserve groundwater, which is usually used for power-plant cooling, and would cut down on the amount of sewage being dumped into the Potomac River, which feeds into the beleaguered Chesapeake Bay. Power companies also like the concept because they can diffuse opposition to power plants if those plants will use less water. “This is a process that is …

Brit's Eye View: Are we too obsessed with climate change?

Other enviro issues are getting less attention

Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. Are we too obsessed by climate change? Over here, climate change is coming to completely dominate the sustainability agenda. This is true in politics, business, the media, and civil society. I was talking to our new secretary of state for the environment, Hilary Benn, the other day, about his department's strategy. He argued that all the other issues -- such as air quality, waste, water, and so on -- could all be dealt with under the climate change umbrella; government action on climate change would deliver for the other issues, and vice versa. When we talk to companies or public authorities, it is the same. All they want is advice on going low-carbon. And since this is where the money and political attention are going, the NGO activity seems to follow, reinforcing the trend. Of course, this is a good thing in many ways. Climate change is the major challenge we face. Sir David King, the U.K. Government's chief scientific advisor, was right when he reminded his government colleagues that "climate change is a far greater threat to the world than international terrorism." For those of us who want to see green thinking integrated into other areas of life, climate change works well. It can't be thought of as peripheral. It will affect everything, including how we run the economy and how we live our lives.

APEC's weak brew on climate

Pacific Rim countries vow to do … very little

Throughout the year, members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation group (APEC) — including the U.S., Japan, and Australia, among others — have had a series of meetings. In early September, they will announce their grand plans, which, according to a leaked draft (PDF) obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald, contain "aspirational" greenhouse-gas emission targets. Here’s what APEC will shoot for: • Setting up a Network for Energy Technology to promote collaboration on research on clean coal, nuclear power and renewable energy such as solar and wind power; • A non-binding, unenforceable 25 per cent reduction in energy intensity (energy consumption …

RFF must-read: The Stern Report got it right

Climate change mitigation costs less than doing nothing about the problem

I have argued previously that the landmark Stern Report got the big picture right -- strong action now to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is economically justified, since the cost of action (i.e., mitigation), perhaps 1 percent of GDP, is far less than the cost of inaction (i.e., climate change impacts), which Stern estimates as at least 5 percent of GDP and possibly as high as 20 percent. In particular, I (and others) argued that Stern's much-criticized choice of a low discount rate, 1.4 percent, was in fact justified -- see here and here for a good discussion. Now perhaps the most mainstream economic policy think tank in the country -- Resources for the Future (RFF) -- has written a major report, "An Even Sterner Review" (PDF), with two key conclusions. First, "we find no strong objections to the discounting assumptions adopted in the Stern Review." Second: [T]he conclusions reached in the review can be justified on other grounds than by using a low discount rate. We argue that nonmarket damages from climate change are probably underestimated and that future scarcities that will be induced by the changing composition of the economy and climate change should lead to rising relative prices for certain goods and services, raising the estimated damage of climate change and counteracting the effect of discounting. What does RFF mean by "rising relative prices"?

Wouldn’t it be ironic …

… if we burned a bunch of oil, heated the atmosphere, melted the Arctic ice, and then had a war over who gets the oil beneath it?