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  • Expanding on Barbara Boxer's principles for climate legislation

    This post is by Bill Becker, Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project.

    Sen. Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced earlier this month that she hopes to have a cap-and-trade bill blessed by her committee by the end of the year. Her announcement left room for criticism.

    Action advocates wished Boxer had been more specific about goals for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. The Wall Street Journal posted a piece suggesting the Senator's new principles were vague and stale.

    Moreover, if we want Uncle Sam to wow the world with new-found religion on climate action and to do so in time for the U.S. to take its seat at Copenhagen in a morally upright position, then a committee vote by year's end will be too little too late. A better goal would be affirmative votes by the House and Senate well before Copenhagen, along with aggressive, progressive energy legislation and continuing bold action by the Obama Administration this spring and summer.

    Still, if we want principled action, then principles are a good place to start. Boxer's are as follows:

  • Geoengineering is risky but likely inevitable, so we better start thinking it through

    The following is a guest essay from Jamais Cascio, a cross-disciplinary futurist specializing in the interplay between technology and society. He co-founded Worldchanging.com, and now blogs at OpenTheFuture.com.

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    With the recent release of a detailed comparison between different geoengineering strategies and the launch of a German-Indian joint experiment in ocean-iron-fertilization, the debate over whether geoengineering will have any place in our efforts to combat global warming is one again churning. I've been writing about the geoengineering dilemma since 2005, and Grist's David Roberts -- no big fan of geoengineering -- asked me to give my take on where the issue stands today. My top-line summary?

    Geoengineering is risky, likely to provoke international tension, certain to have unanticipated consequences, and pretty much inevitable.

    Just to be clear, here's what I want to see happen over the next decade: An aggressive effort to reduce carbon emissions through the adoption of radical levels of energy efficiency, a revolution in how we design our cities and communities, a move away from auto-centered culture, greater localism in agriculture, expanded use of renewable energy systems, and myriad other measures, large and small, that reduce our footprints and improve how we live.

    This plan, or something very much like it, is required for us to have the best chance of avoiding disastrous climate disruption. Could we make it happen within the next decade? Definitely. Are we likely to do so? I really want to say yes ... but I can't.

    And that's a real problem, because we're not exactly overburdened with global warming response plans that have a solid chance of actually doing something about it in time. We all know that half-measures and denial masquerading as caution certainly won't be enough to avoid disastrous warming; unfortunately, neither will the kinds of ideas still coming out of the world's capitals. Although clearly better than nothing, they simply won't get carbon emissions down far enough fast enough to avoid a catastrophic climate shift.

    Here's why: No matter what we do, even if we were to suddenly cut off all anthropogenic sources of carbon right this very second, we are committed to at least another two to three decades of warming, simply due to thermal inertia. Add to that the feedback effects from environmental changes that have already happened: ice cap losses increasing polar ocean temperatures, accelerating overall warming; melting permafrost in Siberia releasing methane, which can be up to 72 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide; overloaded carbon sinks in oceans and soil losing their ability to absorb CO2. These factors combine in a way that could make even our best efforts too slow to avoid disaster.

    So what would we do?

  • Your choice vs. the 'expert' choice in video contest

    The following guest post was written by Keith Gaby, communications director for the Environmental Defense Fund's national climate campaign. This was originally posted on Climate 411.

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    Who is right when a national environmental group holds a video competition and the public and the "experts" disagree on who should win?

    At the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, the jury of film experts chose Forty Shades of Blue as the best dramatic film. The Audience Award went to Hustle & Flow. I don't know which was a better film, but I do know Hustle & Flow went on to earn $20 million in wide release in the U.S., while Forty Shades of Blue topped out at $75,000. I'm sure it doesn't always happen that way, but it goes to show that the experts don't always know what will succeed in the marketplace of ideas.

    We at Environmental Defense Fund just finished something a bit like a film festival -- a competition that challenged participants to make a 30-second ad that explains how capping greenhouse gas pollution will help cure our national addition to oil. This week we announced two winners, one selected by our staff and another chosen by thousands of voters online. Like at Sundance, the voters and the judges chose different winners ... in fact, the video chosen by us "experts" came in dead last in the online voting.

    I thought it might be interesting to explain our decision and see what others think.

  • Proposed renewable-energy bill is better than nothing

    The following is a guest post from Tom Casten, chairman of Recycled Energy Development LLC.

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    Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, along with Rep. Todd Platts (R-Pa.), has introduced legislation calling for 25 percent of U.S. electricity to come from clean energy by 2025. What will such legislation do to electricity costs?

    Most pundits assume the current system is optimal, and thus claim that any mandate to change this "best of all possible worlds" will raise the price of delivered electricity. It is hilarious to think the protected and regulated electric system is optimal, but depressing to realize no one is laughing. Consider two questions:

    1. Do market forces drive electricity suppliers to lowest-delivered-cost solutions?
    2. What is the delivered cost of clean energy from various generation options?

    What market forces? All electricity distribution systems and many generation plants enjoy monopoly protection. Subsidies abound. Profits are guaranteed. Old plants can legally emit up to 100 times the pollution of a new plant. A century of rules reward and protect yesterday's approaches and the resulting vested interests.

    Congressman Markey has never seen current generation as optimal, and now that he chairs the relevant subcommittee, he proposes to mandate cleaner and, in our view, cheaper electricity generation. Yes, we said cheaper. Anyone interested in some facts?