Climate & Energy

All you need is <del>love</del> sun

Solar thermal company says its generation/storage combo can power the nation

A new design for solar thermal electric generators could bust the technology out of niche status and supply the country’s entire electric load, according to … people who make solar thermal electric generators. … physicist …

Capping carbon: Is nothing better than something?

On whether to advocate weaker climate change bills

This post is by ClimateProgress guest blogger Bill Becker, Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project. How fearsome must the headlines be about tomorrow before people change their ways today? -- Nancy Gibbs, TIME In Greenland today, the ice is thawing at a pace that is alarming climate scientists. Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., Congress remains frozen on the issue of carbon pricing. And that may be a good thing. Carbon pricing, as most readers of Gristmill know, is the idea that some portion of the costs of greenhouse-gas emissions should be reflected in the price consumers pay for carbon-intensive fuels. The energy that is causing global climate change would cost more than the energy that isn't, and the marketplace would become the ally of climate stabilization. There are two schemes on the table. The first is a carbon tax -- simple, straightforward and, according to conventional wisdom, political suicide. The second approach is carbon trading. Carbon emissions would be capped; polluters would buy and sell emission permits. Carbon trading is more complex and would take longer to make a difference, but because it is not a tax, it appears to be the favored approach in Congress. Several cap-and-trade bills have been introduced in Congress, some setting tougher goals than others. The word on the street is that the leading bill will be proposed soon by Senators Warner and Lieberman. It reportedly will call for a 15 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, compared to current levels. Therein lies the rub. Is the glass (of melted ice) half empty or half full?

Sprawl and global warming

Land-use and development decisions are crucial in the fight against climate change, says new report

Living closer to where you work will do more to fight climate change than buying a Prius and living in the ‘burbs. We’ll never beat climate change until we change the way we structure our …

Alan Greenspan is very overrated: Part II

Greenspan on climate change

If you thought Greenspan was confused about energy, his discussion of global warming in The Age of Turbulence is downright stupefying. He opens well (p. 454): There can be very little doubt that global warming is real and man-made. But the next sentence is (I kid you not): We may have to rename Glacier National Park when its glaciers disappear, in what now looks to be 2030, according to park scientists. That's what all the fuss is about -- we'll have to rename one of our national parks in 23 years. This is the Lomborg view. The movie version might be called A Minor Inconvenience.

Alan Greenspan is very overrated: Part I

Greenspan on energy

Greenspan is no polymath, to go by the discussions of energy and climate in his instant bestseller, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World. During his nuclear power love-fest, he writes (p. 453): Nuclear power is not safe without a significant protective infrastructure. But then, neither is drinking water. Wow! That's an analogy I bet you never heard before. Greenspan is actually comparing drinking water infrastructure -- which is needed mainly to protect the water from us (i.e. from human pollution) -- with nuclear power's infrastructure; which is needed to protect us from nuclear material, which (unlike water) is inherently dangerous. I guess this economic guru is the only person in the country who would rather live next to a nuclear power plant than a reservoir. Even more annoying (p. 446): For example, after the initial surge in the fuel efficiencies of our light motor vehicles during the 1980s, reflecting the earlier run-up in oil prices, improvements slowed to a trickle.

Sanders-Boxer TKO

New WRI report compares climate bills

The World Resources Institute has a new report out comparing the various climate bills floating around Congress. Here’s what you need to know (click for larger version): This confirms what we already knew, that Sanders-Boxer …

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.