Climate & Energy

Flaws in the Boucher bill

It would pre-empt state fuel efficiency laws

An energy bill is emerging from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, but it has some "unacceptable" provisions, according to leading energy and environmental experts. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality, has a draft bill online, along with summaries of key provisions. The bill has a variety of important provisions aimed at promoting energy efficiency in electricity and vehicles -- and some useful provisions to promote low carbon fuels. But it has at least two serious flaws. First, it helps subsidize coal to liquids, which is an irredeemably bad idea, as I have argued repeatedly (here and here). Yes, the bill would require carbon capture and storage, but even so, the process still generates high-carbon diesel fuel. Also, such storage would take up the space in underground geologic repositories that could otherwise be used for storing carbon dioxide from future coal plants, which results in carbon-free electricity -- vastly superior to high-carbon diesel fuel. Second, the bill would "prevent California and other states from taking independent action to regulate greenhouse gas emissions," as noted by Environment & Energy Daily (sub. req'd -- article reprinted below). In an email, David Hawkins, director of NRDC's Climate Center, called this provision "absolutely unacceptable." Others who question this provision can be found in today's E&E Daily:

What if Hurricane Katrina had hit the Persian Gulf coast?

Stormy weather ahead

Well, we might find out, according to an exclusive from The Oil Drum and Chuck Watson of KAC/UCF, also using a weather blog, where Margie Kieper writes: An unusual event is happening over the next 48 hours, as the first tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds, and major hurricane-force winds at that, is approaching the Gulf of Oman, to strike the eastern coast of Oman, curve northward, and make landfall on the coast of Iran. In the tropical cyclone best tracks and the modern era of weather satellites, there is no record of such an occurrence. As the Oil Drum writer comments:

China's unveils new climate change plan

Still a Great Wall to progress

On the heels of Bush's bluster of the week, China today released its first comprehensive plan for climate change. But as the NY Times reports, it too isn't much to sing about. Said Ma Kai, head of China's National Development and Reform Commission: Our general stance is that China will not commit to any quantified emissions reduction targets, but that does not mean we will not assume responsibilities in responding to climate change. Thus, the plan calls for improving energy efficiency, but doesn't include any hard caps on carbon emissions. This is pretty scary news, since by now we all know that no matter what the rest of the world does, we sink or swim with the decisions of China, and in the near future, India. On one hand, it's hard to blame China for protecting its booming economic growth -- after all, per capita, China still consumes only a fraction of the energy we do. On the other hand, the rationale seems myopic at best. Said Ma: The ramifications of limiting the development of developing countries would be even more serious than those from climate change. But with experts predicting vast numbers of climate refugees from the Yellow River basin due to shrinking glaciers, a sharp decline in arable land, and consequent overcrowding of the cities (with no food to eat), it's hard to imagine what that "more serious" would look like.

Spitting out the Kool-Aid

Condi Rice goes out on limbs

First she rides in an electric car, now she says disagreeing with your government is not unpatriotic? Condi better watch her back.

Or As We Like to Call It, Inept Development

Clean Development Mechanism comes under fire for incompetence World Environment Day not depressing enough yet? Check this out: the Clean Development Mechanism, a key emissions-reduction program under the Kyoto Protocol, is riddled with incompetence, rule-breaking, and possible fraud, The Guardian reports. The CDM allows nations to fund green-energy projects in developing countries instead of slicing their own emissions. But since its launch in January 2005, it has only offset some 55 million tons of greenhouse gases — roughly what Britain produces in one month. One source suggests that up to 20 percent of those “certified emissions reductions” may not be …

More on nuclear shillery

A while back I mentioned a great article by Diane Farsetta about the nuclear industry’s big PR push and the gullibility of the journalists covering it. Now there’s a similar piece in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, from Amanda Witherell, and it contains this delightful tidbit: A survey by Diane Farsetta, a senior researcher at the Center for Media and Democracy, came across 302 recent articles mentioning [Patrick] Moore and nuclear power as a possible option for mitigating the effects of global warming. Only 37 — a mere 12 percent — said he’s being paid to support nuclear power by …

Reflections from the scene of this weekend’s G8 protests

Michael Levitin is a freelance journalist living in Berlin. He has written for Newsweek, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times, among others. Tuesday, 5 Jun 2007 ROSTOCK, Germany If you dress head to foot in black, set cars on fire, launch stones and beer bottles at police, and brave hand-to-hand scuffles amid clouds of tear gas with choppers thundering overhead, best bet is you’ll make the evening news. Which is too bad, because in the case of Saturday’s late-afternoon riots in Rostock, the images of unrest have obscured and altered what most of us adults would have called the real …

Pumped hydro energy storage

A concise introduction

The great question about wind is intermittency, and the great answer is energy storage. There are a number of energy storage technologies out there; I suspect the right storage mechanism will differ from region to region. One of the most interesting storage options out there is pumped hydro. The concept is pretty simple: you build two reservoirs, one down low and one up high, connected by a pipe. In the pipe are energy-generating turbines. When you’re getting excess wind power, you can use it to pump water up to the top reservoir. When you’re not getting enough, you can drop …

Using Earth's magnetic field to eject CO2

A new solution from a plasma physicist

We've already thoroughly debunked geoengineering strategies like launching mirrors into space, seeding the oceans with extra iron, and loading the atmosphere with ray-repelling aerosols. But this idea, posed by a scientist last week at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, though still a long shot, is actually pretty ingenious. Alfred Wong, a plasma physicist at UCLA, says that we might be able to use Earth's natural magnetic field as a giant conveyor belt to catapult excess carbon dioxide into outer space. The CO2 must be ionized first, which Dr. Wong proposes could be done with lasers (generating less emissions than the process would remove). Once they are there, Dr Wong expects the incoming stream of charged particles that cause auroras to deliver the bonus that will make the whole thing work, by dumping some of their energy into the spiralling as well. This should happen through a process called stochastic resonance: the spiralling molecules get preferential treatment, so to speak, because they stand out in what is otherwise an environment of random movements. Blocks himself admits that the project is still in the incubator stage, and has a long way to go to be viable, but thinks it could be workable. Just don't tell the neighbors.