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Tagged with Post-election hangover: Whither climate?


Here’s why you shouldn’t bet that Obama will approve the Keystone XL pipeline

Moody's Investor Service thinks it has a tip for its friends in the field of finance. From The Hill:

“We believe the White House will reverse course and approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would ship crude from Canada’s western oil sands to the Gulf Coast,” the ratings agency said in a wide-ranging report Monday on the implications of the elections.

At least one industry group agrees, imagining that the president's campaign rhetoric signals a change of heart. From the Financial Times:

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s lobby group, said after the election that Mr Obama had moved “about 180 degrees” in his rhetoric towards support for oil and gas production.

Insiders in Mr Obama’s campaign had “implicitly promised he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline”, Mr Gerard said. He added: “It will be a threshold test as to how serious the president is about producing America’s oil and natural gas.”

Keystone XL opponents would be forgiven for responding with a hearty, "Keep dreaming." After all, it was only 10 months ago that President Obama rejected a permit to build the pipeline.

Clearly the API and Moody's would like to see the pipeline move forward -- but it's not at all clear why the president would change his mind.

Josh Lopez / tarsandsaction


California will start selling carbon allowances tomorrow

Get out your wallets, Christmas shoppers! At 10 a.m. tomorrow, the California Air Resources Board will start auctioning carbon credits. (Not sure what the hell I'm talking about? Read this.)

From the San Jose Mercury News:

The event comes six years after former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB32, the law that required California to lower its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to 1990 levels -- the equivalent of a 17 percent reduction.

"It's the largest carbon market in the United States, and the second largest in the world, behind the European Union," [CARB spokesman Stanley] Young said. …

The air board estimates the regulation will add 10 cents per gallon to the price of gas for every $10 per ton that industry pays for allowances. On Friday, the futures market pegged the price at $12 a ton, which could result in a 12-cent per gallon increase.

"Son, you're gonna need an allowance to burn those here in Santa Monica." - A Santa Monica cop, I guess.


2012: Hot, costly, and ready for action (on climate change)

2012 has been, to date, the hottest year on record. Again, we must note: This record is almost certainly only temporary. Do not read this fact and then spend the next three decades telling everyone about how 2012 was the hottest year ever; by then, it will probably rank somewhere around 30th.

Entirely coincidentally, it has also been one of the most disastrous.

With about six weeks remaining in the year, there have already been 11 natural disasters that have cost $1 billion or more in damage, bringing 2012 to second place on the list of top billion-dollar disaster years. The current record-holder is 2011, when there were 14 billion-dollar disasters. The widespread and intense drought — which as of Nov. 6 still covered at least 60 percent of the lower 48 states — and Hurricane Sandy are expected to go down in history as two of the most costly weather-related disasters since 1980. …

The statistics for this year so far are preliminary, and come from news accounts and insurance industry estimates. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which issues the official numbers, has opted to only release the final figures when they are available, rather than keep a running tally as they have done in previous years.

Probably to avoid spreading panic.

Jeff Cutler
Sandy would appreciate it if you paid attention to her, Congress.


Lame duck Congress may decide whether to save lame duck wind industry

Michael Lemmon

Today, a bunch of politicians who lost their jobs last week are headed back to Capitol Hill to vote on legislation. It's a weird artifact of democracy, that people who voters have decided they don't want representing them are going to Washington to represent them, but: what're ya gonna do.

It's also weird because lame duck sessions often deal with things that no one wanted to figure out right before an election. So these unwanted politicians (well, not all unwanted, but certainly all unpopular) will make final decisions on some of the most controversial issues. But on the plus side, at least maybe they'll pass some legislation.

Among the topics expected to be discussed: our old friend the wind production tax credit. The PTC, as we old hands call it, provides an incentive to energy providers to use wind energy, a long-standing effort to level the playing field with fossil fuels. But since fossil fuels would rather not have that playing field be level, they've vehemently opposed renewal of the PTC, which expires at the end of the year. The American Wind Energy Association believes that failing to renew the PTC could cost as many as 37,000 jobs, to which fossil fuel companies say: "Meh."


Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist thinks a carbon tax might make sense — with some caveats [UPDATED]

Grover Norquist has strong opinions on taxes, in the sense that a serial killer has strong opinions on human life. Norquist is the demure, restrained gentleman who once said he wanted to shrink government down until it was small enough to drown in a bathtub, though that would mean we'd probably lose a lot of wars.

Gage Skidmore
Mr. Norquist, staring wistfully into the middle distance as he imagines a tax-free world.

As head of Americans for Tax Reform (where "reform" means "gleeful obliteration"), Norquist has for years held conservative politicians hostage to a commitment to oppose any new taxes. This pledge -- an actual, physical signed pledge to not raise taxes -- instilled a de facto obstructionism that helped kill any bipartisan compromise during last year's budget talks.

Therefore, this report from the National Journal is a surprise.

In a step that may help crack open the partisan impasse on climate change, Grover Norquist, the influential lobbyist who has bound hundreds of Republicans to a pledge never to raise taxes, told National Journal that a proposed “carbon tax swap” -- taxing carbon pollution in exchange for cutting the income tax -- would not violate his pledge. …

[C]reating a new “energy tax” would be viewed by some as political suicide. And Republicans who have signed Norquist’s pledge would be barred from supporting it.

That’s where the “swap” side of the policy comes in: The new carbon tax would be paired with a cut in the income tax -- something Republicans have long sought. The idea essentially would be to cut the tax on income and move it over to carbon pollution -- keeping the proposal revenue-neutral.


You be the pessimist! Here’s why the election gives me hope

If you want to feel optimistic about the possibilities for climate action in the wake of the election, here are the tea leaves to read.

Nineteen percent of voters were beneath the age of 30, something no one in D.C. expected. Young voter translates into "not primarily obsessed with my Medicare, hence able to think about the world." So the pros know this is the demographic that cares about climate.

Meanwhile, 41 percent of voters told exit pollers that the response to Sandy was an important factor in their vote. The climate silence of the campaign was broken by ... the climate. And then Obama got about the biggest cheer of his victory speech with a reference to wanting to save America from the destructive power of a warming planet.

Of course, if you want to feel pessimistic, there’s always: Sandy, which demonstrated we’ve waited a long time to get started. Not to mention the warmest year in American history, now concluding. Not to mention our epic drought. Or the small fact that this was the year we broke the Arctic.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Climate should be Obama’s No. 1 priority, say lots of people who aren’t tree-hugging enviros

In this week's New Yorker, editor David Remnick congratulates President Obama on his reelection and then tells him to get his ass in gear and get moving on climate change:

Barack Obama can take pride in having fought off a formidable array of deep-pocketed revanchists. As President, however, he is faced with an infinitely larger challenge, one that went unmentioned in the debates but that poses a graver threat than any “fiscal cliff.” ...

Last week, in his acceptance speech, Obama mentioned climate change once again. Which is good, but, at this late date, he gets no points for mentioning. The real test of his determination will be a willingness to step outside the day-to-day tumult of Washington politics and establish a sustained sense of urgency. There will always be real and consuming issues to draw his and the political class’s attention: a marital scandal at the C.I.A., a fiscal battle, an immigration bill, an international crisis. But, all the while, a greater menace grows ever more formidable. ...

The effort should begin with a sustained Presidential address to the country, perhaps from the Capitol, on Inauguration Day. It was there that John Kennedy initiated a race to the moon—meagre stakes compared with the health of the planet we inhabit.

And it's not only latte-sipping Manhattan liberals calling for action. Republican Christine Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and head of the EPA under George W. Bush, has this to say:


Obama limits oil-shale development OK’d by Bush

Oil shale is a weird energy source. It’s a rock that contains shale oil, a type of hydrocarbon that differs from regular petroleum in part because it needs to be heated in order to be released. And it differs from the sort of shale in the Bakken Formation that’s feeding North Dakota’s oil boom — it's much harder to extract. So hard to extract, in fact, that oil companies don't even really try any more.

Oil and water don't mix. (Oil shale isn't this kind of oil, but, still.)

But that doesn't mean they're not irritated that the government intends to lock away federal land that sits over oil shale. After all, oil companies are ridiculously thin-skinned and greedy and use any opportunity to score political points. From The Hill:

The Interior Department on Friday issued a final plan to close 1.6 million acres of federal land in the West originally slated for oil shale development. …

Interior’s Bureau of Land Management cited environmental concerns for the proposed changes. Among other things, it excised lands with “wilderness characteristics” and areas that conflicted with sage grouse habitats.

Under the plan, 677,000 acres in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming would be open for oil shale exploration. Another 130,000 acres in Utah would be set aside for tar sands production. …

“This is another step in the wrong direction that limits development and investment in one of the nation’s most energy-rich areas and goes against a prior government decision that would allow for research and development over a much wider geographical area," [said some jerk from the American Petroleum Institute.]


Grist’s theme for November: What’s next for the climate?

A vehicle makes its way through a flooded street of Milford, Connecticut

Beginning today I'm excited to introduce a new thing here at Grist: monthly themes!

As you may surmise, this is something that will happen every month. And every month has its own theme.

You can't hum our themes. (At least I think.) But you'll be able to see them play out each month in different aspects of our coverage, our posts, our tweets and Facebook postings, our chats, and everything else we do.

Our theme for November is: What's next for the climate? Now that we know who'll be sitting in the White House and running Congress come 2013, and now that we've seen a devastating storm pummel our most populous city, it's time to take stock.

We'll have our own Grist team as well as smart observers and movement leaders weigh in on what's going to happen -- and what should be happening -- as the Earth's warming becomes an ever more tangible presence in our lives.

Think of it as our post-election hangover survival guide. In fact, that's one of the pieces we've got in the works. Here's a smattering of the other stuff we've got on tap:

  • Bill McKibben and other environmental leaders lay out their visions for the next year's conversation around climate.
  • U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) explains his carbon-tax bill.
  • Alex Steffen will debut Carbon Zero, his vision for how the city of the future can solve today's climate dilemmas.
  • Author Steven Johnson talks with us about his new Future Perfect and what the "peer progressive" movement has to offer the climate.
  • What sort of effect will the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations have on clean energy, green jobs, and the environment?

You can find all of our theme-related pieces here.

We'll do our best to pull together the strands of this theme and those to follow -- and, this being Grist, to keep them funny wherever we can. As we do all this, we want to hear from you, of course. In comments below, or in email, by telepathy -- whatever works for you! -- tell us how you think we should approach this month's theme, and what other themes you think we should be tackling in coming months.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Climate science is Nate Silver and U.S. politics is Karl Rove

Ashley Bischoff / WBEZ / Shutterstock

Throughout this long, crazy campaign, there's been a tension simmering between empiricists like Nate Silver and Sam Wang, who cited poll data showing Obama with a small but durable lead, and pundits who trusted their "guts" and the "narrative," both of which indicated that Romney had all the momentum after the first debate.

In the face of model projections like Silver's, Jonah Goldberg said that "the soul ... is not so easily number-crunched." David Brooks warned that "experts with fancy computer models are terrible at predicting human behavior." Joe Scarborough said "anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue." Peggy Noonan said that "the vibrations are right" for a Romney win. All sorts of conservative pundits were convinced the Romney campaign just felt like a winner.

You know how that turned out. Jon Stewart put it way better than I could:

Empiricism won. It didn't win because it's a truer faith or a superior ideology. It won because it works. It is the best way humans have figured out to set aside their perceptual limitations and cognitive shortcomings, to get a clear view of what's happening and what's to come.

As it happens, there's another issue in American politics where empiricists are forecasting the future and being ignored. Here's what the Nate Silvers of climate science are up to: