Pools of Oil, Plumes of Gas

NI logoFirst Things First: The Washington-to-Beijing diplomatic shuttle shows no sign of slowing down. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke visited China this week to prod collaboration on clean energy technology. Chu announced the U.S. would contribute $15 million to a partnership that will study how to capture carbon dioxide emissions and trap them underground. The Wall Street Journal‘s “Environmental Capital” blogger Keith Johnson sums up mutual perceptions nicely by citing headlines in his paper (“Chu Warns China on Emissions”) and the China Daily (“Steven Chu: U.S. Ready to Lead on Climate Change”).

The New York Times reports that China is taking the lead on clean energy. The Washington Post surveys business trends there and in other Asian nations, places that “could outpace the programs in Obama’s economic stimulus package or in the House climate bill.” A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory official agrees that the U.S. is already left behind in some areas. And the number of U.S. “green jobs” is on the uptick–thanks to enterprising foreign firms.

The U.S. energy industry delivered a surprise this week. Exxon announced a plan to spend $600 million on research into fuel manufactured from algae. These simple plants, which include pond scum and seaweed, are a darling of many scientists and venture capital firms. Exxon’s investment further boosts the fortunes of maverick scientist Craig Venter, whose Synthetic Genomics is a partner in the project. Just a few years ago, Exxon’s previous CEO called ethanol “moonshine,” denigrating such projects, although it should be pointed out that moonshine is largely ethanol.

Count your carbs, count your carbon: Sweden assumed the presidency of the European Union earlier this month. The nation has had a carbon tax since the early 1990s, and continues to take the climate initiative, which now extends to food labeling.

With food or anything else, counting carbs is tricky business. Every facet of the climate story this week demonstrates why. In perhaps the most direct example, the Securities and Exchange Commission will take “a very serious look” at if or how to mandate that publicly traded companies disclose their climate risks.

Elsewhere, economic modeling spats continue. In California, small-business groups funded a study that suggests that, uh, small businesses will lose more than $180 billion in output –10 percent of the total–as a result of the state’s climate law. The California Air Resources Board says the study posits the climate law would bring no savings from increased efficiency or benefits from innovation and entrepreneurship, a supposition that “contradicts the track record of three decades” of state history.

Scientists are in the profession of keeping other scientists honest, theoretically. Computer simulations are such an easy activity to squawk at, scientists themselves do, in the most rarefied places, when they see less-than-rigorous studies published. As commentary on niche modeling, Nature publishes this paper that simulates the effects of climate change on Bigfoot habitats in North America.

The Washington Post runs another op-ed that pretends that climate change does not exist. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin pens this op-ed. She writes, “Westerners literally sit on mountains of oil and gas.” Climate Post usually thinks of mountains as solid, oil as liquid, and gas as gas. The latter two phases of matter seem harder to sit on.

Palin quotes Warren Buffett, the famed investor, describing predicted burdens the bill will have on low-income Americans. Buffett himself comes under scrutiny elsewhere. Bloomberg Columnist Eric Pooley untangles the assumptions in Buffett’s statements and those of David Sokol, chairman of MidAmerican Energy Holdings.

The next day, the WP ran an editorial supportive of the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, last week, possibly to balance the decision to run Palin’s op-ed the day before.  Guardian columnist, and now backseat economist, George Monbiot takes a calculator to the aspirational agreements struck last week among G8 nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and prevent more than two degrees C of warming. The developed world would meet their targets in part by offsetting their emissions with credits generated by projects in the developing world. To generate enough offset credits, Monbiot calculates, developing nations would have to reduce their emissions by 125 percent.

Climate legislation allows regulated firms to meet their carbon caps by “offsetting” emissions–buying pollution credits generated by (mostly) forestry and agriculture projects. A comprehensive Greenwire article places offsets within the wider context of how markets can find efficient ways to protect ecosystem services–the many natural processes that clean water, or air, shuttle nutrients about, or cool the climate. Two Nicholas Institute colleagues are cited in the piece.

Summer Days:Exceptional drought” sears central and southern Texas, draining crops and straining herds. Just one of 12 boat ramps at Lake Travis, near Austin, can reach water, which is down 40 feet. Plus side: Young children can wade safely in nearby river.

Officials, scientists, and at least one reporter in Macon, Georgia, have read the White House’s June report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, which predicts a future of twice as many 90-degree days, with the hottest days 10 degrees hotter than usual. “When I read those numbers, I think about what that means to me and my family and my lifestyle, and that’s a very different picture of the South than what I grew up with,” a Georgia Tech scientist said.

The summer sun has desiccated San Joaquin Valley in California, and the U.S. need only look south to consider the effects of poorly managed water.

Dryness is crippling farming in India’s massive farming sector. Bhopal residents, all 1.8 million of them, are allowed 30 minutes of water every other day, in rationing undertaken in October. Downpours and flooding in Mumbai couldn’t help Mumbai, where officials cut water use by 30 percent given a drop in lake levels.

BBC reports from Char Atra, a beleaguered island in the Ganges, where “hardcore poor” residents cope as they can with natural hydrology. Villagers have rebuilt one woman’s home because last year, “there was so much water in her hut that she had to tie her children to their bed at night to stop them from rolling and drowning.”

Does he still count?: Love him or hate him, leading NASA climatologist James Hansen has become an embattled figure. ClimateWire turns in a thoughtful analysis of just how relevant the grandfather of global warming is or isn’t in his activist period, a skeptical complement to the lighter fare published by the New Yorker recently.

Hansen and Al Gore held a colloquium in Hell, which itself, apparently, has seen a 3.8 degree average temperature rise since 1955. “[O]ccupants of Hell who in 1955 were standing night and day in boiling pitch up to their knees report that, owing to the expansion of pitch at higher temperatures, they now must endure the torment all the way up to mid-thigh, or even higher, during Hell’s warmer seasons,” writes Ian Frazier, a satirist, the New Yorker’s tongue-in-cheek “Shouts and Murmurs column.”