Climate & Energy

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 …

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 …

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. …

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 …

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?

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?

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