Monkey Business

NI logoFirst Things First: The American “century” began 150 years ago today, when a salt water drill slipped into a crevice 69 feet below the surface, essentially striking oil for “Colonel” Edward Drake and the backers of his unlikely expedition. The find made Titusville, Penn., the first global capital of the oil industry.

After Drake & Co., the earliest winners in the rise of the oil industry were, of course, the whales, who had always selfishly preferred to use their illuminating oil as a buoyancy-control mechanism. But after them, hundreds of millions of people, billions, would win with oil. The small decisions of individuals, families, and businesses lifted many from subsistence agriculture to lives better than much of history’s royalty. In the process, it created what may be our thorniest “tragedy of the commons,” as Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz writes in his recent essay, “Tyranny for the Commons Man.”

Many solutions to the “tragedy” are well known and often discussed, such as the transition from oil addiction to “energy independence.” That medicine goes down only with heavy swallowing in the original Saudi Arabia of energy: Saudi Arabia. Former U.S. and U.K. ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal pens a defense of his nation during the price escalations of recent years, instead blaming, “civil strife, failed investments, or in the case of Iraq, a U.S. invasion,” and hedge fund managers. Production trends in 1998 suggested that by 2008, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, and Venezuela would together produce 18.4 million barrels per day. Last year, they managed 10.2 million barrels. Parts of his essay resonate with U.S. energy pundits, who point out that what’s attainable is “energy security,” not “energy independence,” which is much harder.

Hello, Goodbye: The article appears amid a star-studded lineup in Foreign Policy‘s Special Report, “Oil: The Long Goodbye.” Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates and author of The Prize, writes the magazine’s lead piece, and looks at new trends in the oil industry since the early 90s. Two developments dominate: the rise of oil not only as a commodity, but as a financial instrument; and the challenge of climate change.

The U.S. energy industry continues to gird for a fight in the Senate. The American Petroleum Institute funded a study [slide show pdf] that concluded climate legislation would shrink jobs and U.S. investment in the sector, which famously hasn’t built a new refinery in 30 years. These effects would cause the U.S. to demand more, not less, oil from foreign producers. In Brazil, modern wildcatters celebrated the approach of the Drake anniversary by making the biggest Western Hemisphere oil discovery in 30 years.

Look Who’s Talking: “Oil is not even the most important energy issue between China and the United States. It is coal,” Yergin says in his FP story. In a carbon-constrained global economy, the two largest polluters must find a way out of their own prisoner’s dilemma. They are working hard at it.

China and the U.S. may be tip-toeing toward some kind of deal, though it likely wouldn’t be as monumental as environmentalists hope. Developing nations are extremely unlikely to cap their greenhouse gas emissions, but might take on stronger efficiency and renewable power standards. Domestically, some Chinese firms are taking their own baby steps. This month saw the first time a Chinese company bought carbon credits, a laudable, but not earth-shattering development. (More than half of the offsets that feed into the Kyoto carbon trading system originate in China.)

China is investing in renewables at an accelerating rate, even as it builds coal-burning power plants and cars. Keith Bradsher of the New York Times continues to document these trends, this week with a look at how China is running ahead in solar power. Many news gathering operations can no longer afford to staff overseas offices, and many lack the interest in foreign news if they could. This means that there are fewer “eyes on the ground” competing with each other to explain what’s going on. In their absence, blogging observers can fill in gaps.

In international talks, as in physics, a three-body problem is always much harder than a two-body problem. India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, announced in Beijing–after the two nations’ first ministerial climate talks–that he and his counterparts agreed to coordinate their positions before major climate negotiations. They also admonished against trade protectionism of the sort included in the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which passed the House in June. The Hindu notes that the only conciliatory flicker toward the West was a reference to “looking at peaking [of emissions] some time in the future.”

The international conversation is heard in Washington. Two U.S. Cabinet secretaries, Gary Locke at Commerce and Tom Vilsack at Agriculture, told visiting groups that the U.S. needs a climate bill to take to the Copenhagen negotiations in December. The administration sent a confusing signal this week to legislators. The president’s revised budget proposal maintained a line for $627 billion in income from 2012 to 2019 from the auctioning of greenhouse gas emission permits. During his presidential campaign, then-Senator Barack Obama pledged to sell all carbon credits at auction. That proved too difficult a goal for Democratic legislators in the House to meet, and the Waxman-Markey climate bill freely allocates about 85 percent of the credits.

MmmmmBiodiesel: During these hot summer weeks, nothing could be more refreshing than plunging our choppers into a juicy slice of thick, pink watermelon. And now, cars can enjoy the same simple pleasures of summer. Sort of. Perhaps watermelon diesel can be more successful than salmon diesel. Perhaps not. Either way, let’s hope fuel crops don’t take over every inch of earth, as the farmers would have to cut down their apparently still-sizable tree cover.

Inherit the Trade Wind: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to hold a public hearing about its proposed finding that greenhouse gas accumulation presents a mortal danger to Americans. If the agency fails to do so, the Chamber is threatening “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century,” according to William Kovacs, senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs. The case would put climate science on trial in a fashion as spectacular as the proceedings that inspired the play and movie, Inherit the Wind. In 1925, school instructor John Scopes was put on trial for violating a prohibition on teaching evolution. Clarence Darrow unsuccessfully defended Scopes against William Jennings Bryan, who demonstrated to the court that evolution is Biblically false.

Credit where credit is due. With this lawsuit threat, the Chamber has opened a door not only to greater public understanding of global warming, but to a greater understanding of humanity as evolution’s current greatest show on Earth. Scientists are only beginning to understand how changing living conditions, on land, in the sea and air, could affect many of the world’s 1.8 million or so known species, for better and for worse. Arthur Weis of the University of California, Irvine, has shown that mustard seeds gathered in 1997 and preserved grow more robustly than seeds from 2004 grown under the same conditions. His conclusion: Some organisms might be able to evolve more quickly than others to changing conditions.

Let’s hope our economy is one of them.

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist.

Would 1.21 Gigawatts a Day Get Us Back to the Future?

NI logoFirst Things First: Research continues apace to find definitions of “clean tech” and “green jobs” that sound more meaningful than campaign rhetoric. In a new report [pdf], the Pew Charitable Trusts pinned down its working description of “clean energy economy” and analyzed 10 years of jobs data, through the 50 states, looking for trends. Analysts found that clean-economy jobs grew at an annual rate of 9.1 percent, compared with 3.7 percent job growth economy-wide. Growth came in both the white- and blue-collar sectors, including professionals “from scientists and engineers to electricians, machinists and teachers.”

Major legislation, such as a climate bill or the current health care initiative, motivates groups who believe they have the most to gain or lose. Here, that means the extractive industries. About 3,500 people converged on a major Houston theater to rally against anticipated Senate climate change legislation. Many attendees work in the energy industry, and major energy firms and business groups backed the event. Similar rallies are expected in 19 states in the next few weeks. An NGO sneaked around the grounds, concluding the event was a large “company picnic.”

The conversation moves to Washington next month. A career-long interest in environmental issues and climate change, coupled with his mien as a senior statesman in the Senate, make Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) likely to play a consensus-building role in this fall’s climate debate. Bloomberg files an overview of the state of play, leading with former Sen. Tim Wirth’s (D-Colo.) objections to the recent House bill. A new National Academies report takes a close look at what the Capitol, literally, can do about its own internal energy policy.

Negotiators left Bonn, where they held pre-COP-15 talks, without much progress toward a new global agreement. Says Anders Turesson, Sweden’s lead climate negotiator: “What we’re talking about is a profound change of industrial civilization. It would be surprising if there weren’t stumbling blocks.”

Seeking Non-Fox to Guard Henhouse: U.K. officials arrested nine people and charged them with conducting fraudulent international carbon-market trades to evade taxation.

Among the many issues that legislators must confront as they draw up climate policy is the carbon market itself, its rules and oversight. The Economist weighs in on this question, and how insubstantial “activist complaints” are steering the conversation awry. Debate is yielding to pre-legislation positioning. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission is a strong contender to oversee the carbon market and laid another preliminary stake to this claim by looking at activity in a voluntary carbon market, the Chicago Climate Exchange. (Nicholas Institute colleagues several months ago prepared a backgrounder [pdf] on the topic.)

1.21 Gigawatts!: Whatever course legislation and markets do or do not take, certain things are true: Meeting emissions targets are likely to become only more difficult as greenhouse gases accumulate. And what it might take to meet the challenge is rarely talked about, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and philanthropist Steve Kirsch writes. His back-of-the-envelope analysis is prompted by this Atlantic piece, in which CalTech’s Nathan Lewis suggests the world needs 13,000 gigawatts of clean energy to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide levels below 450 parts per million. That’s one gigawatt a day for the next 25 years, or “[i]f we were to build a large nuclear plant every single day for the next 30 years, that would still not be enough to avert the 450ppm limit,” Kirsch writes. CNET weighs in on how to finance a green tech transformation.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong: Scientists are carefully tracking the illness and death of some ocean ecosystems. Global warming’s “evil twin,” is ocean acidification, a subject lately seeing a steady uptick both publicly and academically. Environmental Science and Technology demonstrates this resurgence with an anecdote from a quadrennial scientific conference about coral reefs. In 2004, acidification was ranked 38th out of 39 threats to reefs. In 2008, “Acidification was mentioned almost everywhere.” reports that it’s becoming a problem more rapidly in the Arctic.

Ocean acidification’s “evil twin,” global warming, is sometimes called “global heating” to convey the potential seriousness of the matter. Climate Central analyzed model projections of heat waves under a “conservative warming scenario” and concluded that by 2050, Augusts could become much hotter, with three times the number of days above 95 degrees and double the number above 100 degrees in many U.S. cities. (For some background on modeling see this, this, or this pdf.)

Oliver Morton notes a report that sulfur pollution from shipping should decrease soon. The International Maritime Organization is reducing its cap on sulfur dioxide from 4.5 percent today, to 0.5 percent in 2020. If successful, the rule could reduce premature deaths from pollution from 87,000 to 46,000 a year, with a downside: Atmospheric sulfur dioxide scatters sunlight and helps “cool” the planet. Removing it has the unintended consequence of incrementally worsening global warming, which is why adding even more sulfur to the atmosphere is an idea taken increasingly seriously as a way to mitigate future warming.

When Unbiased Is Biased: Robert S. Boyd of McClatchy Newspapers turns in a surpassing example of how moneyed-interest groups, in this case the Heartland Institute, can earn much-sought-after column-inches by casting doubt on firm, but complicated science and, even more importantly, on climate risk analysis. The Heartland Institute poo-poos much of climate science and this summer even ran newspaper ads saying that “High levels of carbon dioxide actually benefit wildlife and human health.” (Presumably far below concentrations that cause suffocation.) The article looks at the question, confusing enough to lay people, of how we know the globe is warming if the hottest year to date was 1998.

The highest recorded global temperature average indeed occurred in 1998. The top 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1997. A recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report explains how it is possible to have a decade of sub-record breaking temperatures within a warming trend [see pp 23-24 here]. The Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media takes a whack at the issue, too.

The McClatchy piece is not obtuse or even “biased” as far as misguided he-said, she-said reporting goes. But it does allow the Heartland Institute to create debate on grotesque and silly premises. The scientists interviewed by Boyd state the case well enough, but they speak technically and in a way that might lose readers. Which are you likelier to remember:

“It’s entirely possible to have a period as long as a decade or two of cooling superimposed on the long-term warming trend,” said David Easterling, chief of scientific services at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.


[MIT’s Richard Lindzen] calls the case for action against global warming “silly” and “grotesque.”

Climate change is ultimately a story of risk, and how we confront it or don’t. Demonstrating that a problem is occurring can never tell us what, if anything, we should do about it. But a newspaper (company) that won’t directly acknowledge that an entire discussion is false, is not helping a complex nation cope with a complex problem. The story’s headline, “Drop in world temperatures fuels global warming debate,” would be accurate if the word “debate” were changed to “confusion” or “disinformation.”

As the NYU media analyst Jay Rosen wrote in a Twitter post today, “When reality is the wedge issue, journalists have to take sides.”

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist.

Grid, for Lack of a Better Word, Is Good

NI logoFirst Things First: Cars, trucks, planes, and other things that go add more greenhouse gas to the atmosphere than any other sector where end-users burn their own fuel. And transportation added more energy-and-climate headlines this week than any other sector, driven by an emergency congressional payout to continue the “cash-for-clunkers” program and General Motors’ promotional campaign for the Chevy Volt, its plug-in hybrid electric-and-gas car.

GM’s message is simple enough: “230.” That’s the number of miles that the carmaker says the Volt can travel per gallon of gas, news greeted with a mix of exuberance and skepticism. Many reporters, analysts, and bloggers see symbolism in Chevy’s very announcement, namely, that the company has chosen to speak of its future in the language of the past. By measuring the Volt against the traditional miles-per-gallon yardstick, GM is  fixing the electricity-powered car in the framework of gasoline. The Volt is expected to cost about $40,000 and go on sale at the end of 2011. Question: Could a “cash-for-chargers” program be far behind? Another question: If it’s true, as a former GM official once famously said, that “you don’t roll out a new product in August,” what does an August roll-out say about GM’s enthusiasm for this project?

GM faces nascent and possibly significant competition from upstart companies, such as Coda Automotive and Bright Automotive, who are trying to forego the Detroit business model of having all aspects of production and distribution under one corporate roof.

Department of Chickens and Eggs: The benefits of moving away from gasoline- and diesel-powered automobiles, toward non-polluting energy, are well-known: lower carbon dioxide emission levels; extrication from petro geopolitics; diminishing numbers of car explosions in summertime Hollywood blockbusters. For a fleet of electric cars or hybrids to succeed in replacing them, there must be enough electricity. And the trouble with electricity is that producers find it difficult, once they’ve generated it, to pour it into a pipeline, supertanker, or a hazmat truck. What they need are power lines, which are unsightly, and batteries, which are commercially immature.

If Americans will charge their electric cars at home 90 percent of the time, as predicted, then electric and hybrid fleets will require that much more electricity be conveyed to homes. Power companies will need to both meet new demand for power and manage it wisely. That’s where the “smart grid” comes in. The smart grid is a suite of technologies and behaviors to help power flow smoothly and predictably from generator, to grid, to users (and if they generate more than they need, back to the grid). The clean tech firm GridPoint’s development of software to help utilities monitor and predict plug-in owners’ charging habits is a quieter parallel development to GM’s launch of its Volt campaign.

Beyond batteries and new generation transmission, there are plenty of “clean tech” stories to go around while the solar industry works out its monumental supply glut. And venture capitalists familiar with these developments are finding themselves in influential positions–even in the public sector.

A Clunker of a Program (Full Stop?): An emergency $2 billion tranche will sustain the popular “cash for clunkers” program after it depleted its initial $1 billion treasury. Three criticisms tend to arise: the mileage of approved replacement cars is too low; the program rewards “bad” choices—buying inefficient cars; and marginal auto efficiency improvement are unlikely to produce benefits in financial savings as large as those generated by reducing buildings’ energy waste, or promoting healthier lifestyles.

Part economic stimulus, clunkers-inspired car buying lifted sales 2.4 percent in July and led Ford to ramp up production. The auto sales spike could not alone carry overall retail sales into positive territory. The LAT lays out a loophole in the clunkers legislation, large enough to drive, um, a truck through. The Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS), the actual name of the legislation, exempts cars built before 1984, a request by the antique auto-parts lobby: “The final wording of the bill, including the provision requested by the interest group, was ironed out in a legislative conference committee and attached to a military spending bill.” A New York Times lede and a Los Angeles Times photo suggest a marketing trend of dealerships displaying “clunkers” in dumpsters as a signal that they are participating in the program. The NYT Web headline, “A Clunker of a Program?”, demonstrates the time-tested practice of a publication adding a question mark to a non-neutral statement of opinion to make it look like a neutral query.

Senate Climate Bill Goes Down Down Under: The Australian Senate defeated legislation that would have set up a national carbon emissions trading program. Climate change down under divides national political parties on a level the topic has not yet reached in the United States.

Though their political situations have little in common with the Australians, the Democratic leadership of the U.S. Senate also faces obstacles to passage of a climate bill. For one, this week included an estimate that puts the program’s ten-year bureaucratic price tag at $8 billion (The costs of inaction are more difficult to quantify with a pat number). Looming larger, president Obama faces opposition in the Senate from Democrats whose states rely on coal for electricity and manufacturing for jobs. Ten Democratic senators signed a letter to the Obama administration, requesting relief in legislation in the form of border tariffs on goods from countries without climate policies and rebates to offset higher energy costs.

New analysis of legislation by lobbying groups means, among other things, more fodder for he-said, she-said political rhetoric. (He said:) The National Association of Manufacturers rolled out its cost modeling of the House climate-and-energy bill that passed in June, projecting 2 million U.S. job losses and a 2 percent drop in GDP by 2020. The assumptions that went into the modeling are not yet released but (she said:) the Environmental Defense Fund is eager to discredit them. See this for a lengthy treatment of last year’s tete-a-tete between NAM and EDF and why not all economic models are equal, but are sometimes presented that way in quickly written, grotesquely simplified paragraphs like this one.

Attention to the particulars of climate policy will ramp up as the fall legislative season begins, and the Senate tears into its version of the House bill. Seed magazine is ahead of the game, offering an explainer about “carbon offsetting,” that includes views of five experts, including colleague Brian Murray, the Nicholas Institute’s director of economic analysis and an IPCC economist.

The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Bath: People enjoy the oceans both because they are pretty and because they absorb anthropogenic carbon dioxide, slowing its atmospheric accumulation and trapping of heat. Thanks, oceans. That said, ocean creatures enjoy their water at specific temperatures, depths, salinity, and alkalinity.  As the seas absorb increased carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, oceans’ chemistry changes, becoming less alkaline–or, as it has become commonly known, more acidic. Scientists are studying the effects of ocean acidification on creatures large and small, hoping to glean what this monumental change could mean for the fate of the human presence on and in oceans, marine ecosystems, and by extension the path of carbon from deep Earth, to power plant, to sky, to sea.

Coming off the Earth’s second hottest July in recorded history (about 150 years), it’s nice to think about ice, keeper of its own recorded history (about 800,000 years). One thing that makes climate so difficult to write about is that so much of potential change is clear and so much of it is not clear. If only there were a way to democratize science, so that sitting at your desktop you can see the ice for yourself, where it comes from, and how scientists study it.

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist.

Maybe It’s All in Your Head

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First Things First: At the risk of stating something innocuous that sounds controversial, coal, natural gas, and man-made refrigerant chemicals never did anything to anyone. Oil just sat there for (in some cases) 50 million years. Water vapor is just as happy in lakes and aquifers as in the atmosphere. People burning them, releasing them, or letting them evaporate causes the problem. If you accept these observations as fact, then perhaps Pogo was right: Our behavior matters.

Key climate insights have emerged over the last few years, as neuroscientists, anthropologists, behaviorists, and legions of other -ologists, have peered under our thinking caps and traded hypotheses on what’s going on inside. This week the American Psychological Association dropped a draft, 225-page (double-spaced!) report on how that community can study, educate, and inform climate issues [pdf]. Nature Reports: Climate Change puts the human element on its cover this month, positing, in the words of University of Minnesota’s Jeffrey Broadbent, that climate change’s “only solution lies in a level of global cooperation that humanity has never seen before.” The report explores themes raised less comprehensively, though more memorably, before, as in Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert’s provocative essay from a couple of years ago.

As the report, Global Warming’s Six Americas 2009, stated earlier this year, different populations understand climate change in discernible ways. And that’s true of nations, too. The University of Maryland’s just turned in some thought-provoking results: In the U.S., political leadership tugs at a generally ambivalent population, but in India, public interest in climate policy might be greater than what leadership can bear. Disagreement over climate change can be traced to core beliefs about the world. Scientific American runs a short piece identifying four main beliefs many people maintain about nature. [For longer treatment see previously linked articles from the New York Times and Seed magazine.]

Capitol Ideas: No where is behavior and thought (or some facsimile thereof) more scrutinized these days than in Washington.

The Democratic health care initiative may overwhelm Senate efforts to pass a climate change bill before the Copenhagen talks at the end of the year, Politico reports. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Finance Committee, has indicated his panel will weigh in on the distribution of emission allowances in the carbon market. Baucus is also the lead negotiator on health care legislation. Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Mont.), chairman of the Agriculture Committee, and key Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), are both also deeply involved in the health care debate. Oddly for a Senate story, the first prominent quotation in the story comes from a senior House figure, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who is chairman of the Agriculture Committee. He says of health care, “The reality is [it] is going to happen before cap and trade.” Even so, interest groups have already positioned themselves to speak to a climate bill that still needs to be written.

Some supporters of a Senate bill are rolling out the risks climate change poses to national security, echoed by renewed interest in the Navy to study that topic.

The Charlottesville Daily Progress broke news of a political scandal, in which a lobbyist or lobbyists at Bonner & Associates sent to Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) fake letters made to look like they came from a local NAACP chapter and the Hispanic network Creciendo Juntos. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, announced his panel would investigate the matter. By mid-week, the number of fake letters found grew to a dozen, sent also to Reps. Chris Carney (D-Penn.) and Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Penn.). The American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy and the Hawthorn Group, which had both hired Bonner & Associates, denounced them. The episode spotlights what has become known in Washington as an “astroturfing“–an inorganic political push manufactured to look like a grassroots initiative.

Eternal Questions, Part MCMLXIV, “At What Cost?“: The Energy Information Administration reviewed the climate bill passed in June by the U.S. House of Representatives, and found its costs largely in line with projections run by the Congressional Budget Office and the Environmental Protection Agency. The report, here, projects that by 2020, household energy costs could rise by $114 and a gallon of gas could jump 20 cents. These studies tend not to quantify benefits of legislation, because it is difficult to estimate the savings from maintaining the climate that enabled modernity to emerge.

Nicholas Institute colleagues shed light in a new Policy Brief on a common question for any major legislation: “Who will be regulated?” The House bill would cover a small percentage of emitters, but in so doing encompass the overwhelming majority of U.S. emissions. About 1.3 percent of 350,075 manufacturing facilities might qualify for regulation–and that would cover 82.5 percent of the industry’s emissions [pdf].

Slouching Towards Copenhagen: The international conversation continues apace, with negotiators meeting this week in Bonn inching toward a still foggy potential agreement at the COP-15 climate conference in Copenhagen. China’s lead negotiator, Yu Qingtai, beaned developed nations for not setting or fulfilling emissions targets, even as he emphasized his optimism for a global deal. Yvo De Boer, the U.N.’s climate chief, shared with a Pacific islands conference his increasing concern that the year is ticking by without demonstrable progress. An AFP photographer demonstrates the all-too-common practice of photographing world leaders against a backdrop of circular institutional logos as in saint iconography.

Taking the Car out of “Carbon” (or vice versa…): Two leading voices of American business–venture capital giant John Doerr and General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt–unite on the Washington Post op-ed page to warn of the crisis in the U.S. energy sector. It has fallen behind China, a nation “which understands the importance of controlling its energy future.” The U.S. by implication lacks such an understanding. They put forth a five-point plan to boost U.S. energy innovation, to address, for example, China and India eating America’s lunch on solar. Doerr and Immelt are not writing in a vacuum, as some industries and trade groups are already rallying for trade measures that would encourage rule-based global green trade.

Congress had set aside $1 billion to fund a “cash-for-clunkers” program, in which Americans can turn in their inefficient cars and receive a break toward ones with better gas mileage. The hugely popular program needs an emergency tranche of funding to meet continued demand. The Associated Press crunches numbers and concluded that the program is not making a dent in greenhouse gas emissions: The program is an expensive way to save just one hour’s worth of emissions from the U.S. economy. President Barack Obama returned to beleaguered northern Indiana this week to launch a $2.4 billion initiative to populate roads with electric cars.

Debate over nuclear power has long been so controversial that the word “radioactive” is a commonly used adjective affixed to politically complicated subjects. The question of nuclear power plant safety continues to rile critics. Increasingly, the economics of nuclear power eclipse the traditional safety debate. The WSJ‘s “Environmental Capital” spots developments in Italy, which has shunned nuclear power since Chernobyl but now hopes to build four reactors much more cheaply than any plan discussed in the U.S.

“In a Word, ‘Good.’ In Two Words, ‘Not Good.'”: The Christian Science Monitor catches the grim moment in an otherwise upbeat story. Science magazine last week published research showing that efforts to help marine ecosystems recover from decades or centuries of exploitation are paying off. Most fish stocks around the world still need much support, but marked improvement abounds. That is, absent significant changes in marine chemistry brought about by changing atmospheric chemistry. The absorption of carbon dioxide makes the oceans less alkaline (or more acidic). This change can disrupt biological processes of pivotal shell-making organisms, corals, and others (See this subs. req. New Yorker piece). One of the study’s lead authors told the now Web-only newspaper: “All bets are off with climate change, particularly ocean acidification.”

If you feel confused about how to respond appropriately–studies show–you’re not alone.

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available at Grist.