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Basic Strategy

How can we deal with ocean acidification? Step one: Study it.

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Don't you love soda makers? You push a bottle of plain ol’ tap water up to a nozzle that spurts CO2 into your water, making it bubbly and delicious. Now picture that happening to the oceans, all day, every day, and the result is distinctly less effervescent: Dissolved CO2 turns into carbonic acid turns into dissolving shellfish, stressed-out fish, fewer clouds, plummeting biodiversity, collapsed ecosystems, total annihilation.

I may be leaving out a few details with the seltzer metaphor, but it turns out I’m not the only one short on particulars. There are still a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to ocean acidification. Which is why -- despite the apparent snoozeworthiness of the words I am about to use -- it is important that a group of federal agencies led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released a new strategic plan to coordinate and expand ocean acidification research.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling: Bad for greens, good for Kochs

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You’ve got to feel bad for the Koch brothers. All of their billions of dollars, all of their schemes for world domination, and they’ve been limited to only donating $48,600 to all federal candidates and $74,600 to party committees every two years. They might as well be mere millionaires. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that the Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court has freed the super-wealthy to fully participate in the political process. Score one for democracy!

On Wednesday, in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled that those spending limits will no longer apply. The current $2,600 limit per candidate is still in place. But the court held that the de facto limitation on the number of candidates you could give to violates the First Amendment. Billionaires who have made their money extracting fossil fuels, cutting down trees, and cooking up dangerous chemicals -- the Koch brothers, for example -- will now be able to give the maximum to every congressional candidate in the country. (Or, to be more precise, every Republican candidate, plus maybe a few Democrats they carry around in their pockets, like Mary Landrieu.) If someone gave the maximum to one candidate in each House and Senate race every two years, it would cost $1,216,800 -- a small price to pay for control over the most powerful country in the world.

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Vermont expands solar net metering, gives finger to ALEC

Solar panels in Vermont
Tim Patterson

Bad news for the polluter-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, but wonderful news for the planet.

In 2012 and 2013, ALEC tried to roll back states' renewable energy standards, and failed. Now it's trying to roll back solar net-metering programs, which let homeowners sell electricity from their rooftop panels into the grid, and that campaign isn't going so well either.

Case in point: In Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) just signed a bill that will expand the state's net-metering program, allowing solar panel owners to sell more of their clean electricity into the grid.

The bill will nearly quadruple the size of a cap on the amount of solar power that utilities must be willing to buy from their customers. It also creates pilot projects that could allow for solar projects as large as 5 megawatts to be built under the scheme. The AP reports:

Alternative energy proponents pushed for the increased cap after some Vermont utilities had reached the 4 percent cap and stopped taking new net-metered power.

"Our success exceeded our wildest dreams," Shumlin said before signing the bill into law, noting that since he took office in 2011 the state had quadrupled the amount of solar energy on the state's electric grid.

Vermont's increased use of alternative energy has helped the state to become the nation's per-capita leader in the number of solar energy jobs.

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Congress members ask EPA to reopen three fracking investigations

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A crew of Democratic House members are calling on the EPA to do its damned job -- specifically, to investigate potential links between pollution and fracking in three states where groundwater has been mysteriously poisoned.

Rep. Matt Cartwright's (D-Pa.) letter, sent Tuesday to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy with signatures from seven other lawmakers, follows the agency's disturbing decisions to drop three investigations into possible connections between fracking and water contamination.

In mid-2012, the EPA dropped an investigation into water pollution in Dimock, Pa., despite internal warnings from one of the agency's scientists that methane levels jumped in aquifers following drilling -- "perhaps as a result of fracking." In early 2013, the agency dropped its investigation into water pollution in Parker County, Texas -- despite lacking confidence in the quality of water tests conducted by the frackers themselves. And in the middle of last year, the EPA dropped its investigation into water contamination around Pavilion, Wyo. -- despite findings in a draft report that fracking chemicals were likely to blame.

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ExxonMobil: Carbon caps? Fat chance. We’ll just keep on drilling.

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Shaw Girl

If you thought ExxonMobil might take climate risks seriously, think again.

Last week I explained why sustainability-focused investor advocacy organizations pressured Exxon to release a report on how government regulation of greenhouse gases would affect its bottom line. The hope was that Exxon would admit that if governments get serious about climate change, the company's vast reserves of oil and gas would become unprofitable to exploit. That, in turn, would make it see the light on renewable energy and shift business strategies.

No such luck. Exxon released a report to shareholders on Monday and -- much to the activists’ dismay -- denied that it has a problem. Rather than discussing what would happen to it if governments force the necessary 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from a 1990 baseline, Exxon argues that it won’t happen. So the company will be just fine, thanks.

“Our analysis and those of independent agencies confirms our long-standing view that all viable energy sources will be essential to meet increasing demand growth that accompanies expanding economies and rising living standards,” said William Colton, ExxonMobil’s vice president of corporate strategic planning, upon releasing the report. “All of ExxonMobil’s current hydrocarbon reserves will be needed, along with substantial future industry investments, to address global energy needs.”

That’s corporate code for: “Governments will allow us to keep extracting and burning fossil fuels because the economy.”

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee talks climate solutions

Editor's note: The chat is over, but you can watch a replay below. 

Starting at 3 p.m. PT / 6 p.m. ET, watch Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) discuss the push for climate action along the West Coast. This Climate Desk event will also feature Grist's David Roberts (not an April Fool's Day joke, we swear!), Bloomberg correspondent Paul Shukovsky, and University of Washington College of the Environment Dean Lisa Graumlich. Chris Mooney of Climate Desk will moderate.

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Republican’s bill calls for weather forecasting, not climate forecasting

Bridenstine squirrel
Scott Gentzen

If Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) were a squirrel, he'd have starved over the winter.

Like a maladapted rodent that's too short-sighted to save any nuts for the lean season ahead, the climate denier is sponsoring legislation that would force NOAA to focus on short-term weather forecasting at the expense of long-term climate modeling. The Hill reports that the bill, which now has 13 Republican and seven Democratic cosponsors, could get its first real hearing this week.

Bridenstine introduced the bill after 48 Oklahomans were killed by a brutal string of tornadoes last spring. "My state has seen all too many times the destructive power of tornadoes and severe weather," Bridenstine said at the time. Then he staged a bizarre tirade on the House floor in which he demanded that President Barack Obama apologize for spending "30 times as much money on global warming research as he does on weather forecasting and warning."

That would be quite the funding imbalance, were it true. But it's not. The figure is just plain wrong.

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Risk game: What a warmer planet means to the bottom line

Kate Gordon
Photo by Next Generation

Kate Gordon has been described as Tom Steyer’s "secret weapon," but it turns out that finding her is as simple as making a phone call and then riding up the elevator to her office in San Francisco’s Financial District. Here, Gordon is managing Risky Business, an ambitious project that aims to quantify the financial risks that climate change poses to the American economy.

The report, which is slated to be released this June, is headed by Steyer, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and features input from an eclectic Risk Committee of former cabinet members and other political heavy-hitters.

A former housing activist, Gordon has taken an unconventional path to environmentalism. Before she became the vice president and director of the energy and climate program at Next Generation, Steyer's nonprofit policy think tank, Gordon spent a decade drawing up strategies for boosting green jobs and manufacturing, some of which found their way into state and federal policy -- most notably in President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

I recently met with her in Next Generation's offices to talk about quantifying disaster risk, the fate of the "green jobs" boom, and finding hope in numbers.

Q. The first thing I'm curious about is, what kind of climate change data are out there? What do you have, and what would you like to see more of?

A. The climate risk data just isn’t out there. The reinsurance industry is the big exception. They were doing a lot of work around climate risk because they had to -- they were insuring the insurers.

But most of the reinsurers -- who have been talking about this since the '80s -- are based in Europe. The reason we decided to do this project was to have a very U.S.-focused, business-focused, and investor-focused approach to climate risk, which wasn’t really available outside of some private institutions.

The five sectors we’re looking at are agriculture, public health, energy systems, coastal infrastructure, and then labor productivity -- which isn’t exactly a sector. Of those, the ones that have been most studied from a risk perspective are agriculture and coastal infrastructure, and that’s largely because of private industry.

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Leaked IPCC stunner: Going bald slashes your carbon footprint, offsets Arctic ice loss

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Update: Apologies to the George Constanzas of the world: This was an April Fools' Day post. Your baldness isn't fighting climate change. 

Walter White may have been a sociopathic drug kingpin, but he knew how to lower his carbon footprint, according to a leaked U.N. report. Preliminary handwaving analysis suggests that if every adult male in the world shaved his head, it would entirely offset the enhanced warming from Arctic sea ice loss.

This week, the media has been focused on the official release of the second of four planned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, on Impacts and Adaptation.

But Grist has obtained a draft of the third report, on "Mitigation" or how to reduce the amount of warming humanity experiences. Sure there is the usual boring stuff about how solar and wind power have reached grid parity, how energy efficiency is the cheapest carbon-free power available, and how we could harness an infinite supply of free zero-point energy through cold fusion if the fossil fuel companies weren't keeping the technology bottled up in their labs. Zzzzzz.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Is this man the greenest governor in America?

When Jay Inslee was elected governor of the state of Washington in November of 2012, climate campaigners rejoiced. As a congressman, Inslee had a top-tier environmental record, and not just that: He knew climate and clean energy issues inside-out. The coauthor of the 2007 book entitled Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy, he also worked closely on the 2009 passage of cap-and-trade legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives and was a cofounder of the House's Sustainable Energy Caucus. No wonder that upon his election in Washington, the League of Conservation Voters declared that Inslee was poised to become "the greenest governor in the country."

Sure enough, Inslee's term got off to a great start: Last October, he joined the governors of Oregon and California and the premier of British Columbia in endorsing the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy which pledges that those states (or, in B.C.'s case, that province) will set a consistent price or cap on carbon dioxide emissions (something California and British Columbia have already done), adopt low-carbon fuel standards, and more.

But there's just one problem: Shortly after Inslee's election, two Democrats elected to caucus with the Republican minority in the Washington state Senate, thus thwarting what otherwise would have been a Democratic majority in both houses. Instead of holding a 26-23 majority in the Senate, Democrats instead became a de facto 25-24 minority. And that razor-thin edge in the Washington state Senate is currently blocking Inslee from achieving many of his objectives.