Climate & Energy

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?

How bad is peak oil, really?

Would the biosphere care?

Recently we've had a couple of discussions here at Gristmill concerning various aspects of peak oil; that is, the assertion that very soon (if it hasn't happened already) the global supply of oil will peak, and even though demand is going up, supply will start to come down, so prices will skyrocket. It seems to me that some of the contention in these discussions boils down to the question: would it really be so bad if the oil started running out? After all, we would stop mucking up the planet with the pollution, carbon emissions, and infrastructural damage we have been inflicting for these hundred-years-plus of the petroleum age. Wouldn't it force humanity to live within our means if gasoline was $10 or even $20 dollars per gallon, as it will eventually be? As it so happens, I've recently been investigating the question of what kind of civilization we would need to have if we wanted to live without fossil fuels, and I wanted to know how we are currently using oil in order to understand how to live without it. Using government data detailing the use of oil, in dollars, the conclusion I came to was this: over 90 percent of petroleum in the U.S. is burned by internal combustion engines. So the question needs to be reframed: would it really matter if we couldn't use internal combustion engines? The answer, in the long run, is that it would be much better if we didn't use internal combustion engines. But that leads to another question: How do we get from here to there, and how will that transition affect the planet?

Dave's First Law of Sustainability Politics

Sustainability doesn’t just happen

Tom Friedman is fond of the theory that high oil prices will drive investment in renewables and spur reform in corrupt governments. He’s not alone — some peak oil types believe that oil price spikes …

Everything you need to know about liquid coal

In a nutshell

Business types discuss various subjects at industry confabs: best practices, new marketing strategies, changes in the regulatory environment, etc. They discuss how better to compete. When representatives of the coal-to-liquids industry get together, they talk …

Climb every submerged mountain

Backpacker’s global warming issue

About six months too late to be part of our "oh look, all the glossies are going green" trend piece, Backpacker magazine has put together its own global warming issue. And yes, before y’all ask, …

Naked photo shoot on melting glacier

A little skin for ice shrinking thin

Saturday in Switzerland, hundreds posed naked for a photo shoot on the shrinking Aletsch glacier. Greenpeace said it hoped to "establish a symbolic relationship between the vulnerability of the melting glacier and the human body."

Regular oil cleaner than ethanol

Saving and restoring forests better for climate than switching to biofuels

A new study in the journal Science ($ub req'd) validates what many have been saying here in Gristmill: Biofuels, especially those from the tropics, are far worse for the planet than regular old crude oil. The study finds that we could reduce global warming pollution two to nine times more by conserving or restoring forests and grasslands than by razing them and turning them into biofuels plantations -- even if we continue to use fossil fuels as our main source of energy. That's because those forests and grasslands act as the lungs of the planet. Their dense vegetation sucks up far more carbon dioxide and breathes out far more oxygen than any biofuel crop ever could. When you destroy that wilderness, much of the carbon stored in its living matter is either burned or otherwise oxidized -- which is why the destruction of tropical forests accounts for more than 20 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions (more than China produces). Meanwhile, we'd be saving all the creatures that rely on those wildlands for habitat. The scale is huge: replacing even 10 percent of our gas with biofuels would require 43 percent of U.S. arable land. Are you listening George Soros? What about you, Center for American Progress? And you, Barack Obama? If you don't have access to Science, here's the free write-up from The New Scientist (and you can take action on this issue here).

A hot time in the old town tonight

And that’s not cool, man

This is a very, very big deal. If nukes have to go offline just when you need them most, that's a huge monkey wrench in plans for a nuclear resurgence. Given that this much-discussed (if less observed) resurgence centers on precisely those states most likely to suffer crippling heat waves, this is a huge problem for investors. The last thing anyone wants after dropping two big ones ($2B) on a nuke plant is to have to buy juice at more than $100/mWh on the spot market during a heat wave. Given the likely temperature trends that we've already unleashed, this is bad news; without air conditioning, most of the South is already damn near uninhabitable; if we use more coal to make the A/C work, then we're not just shooting ourselves in both feet -- we're heading north at that point, blasting away.

Coal myths

They’re still common, but they make no sense

A little while back I praised Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for opposing new coal plants in his home state. Now he’s clarified his position: he opposes new coal plants anywhere in the world. …

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