Primaries Move GOP to the Right (On Climate)

On August 26, 2010, in Uncategorized, by joshwilson

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University


One hundred percent of New Hampshire GOP senate candidates agree that man-made climate change has yet to be proved. Sen. Murkowski of Alaska appears to have lost the GOP primary to further right candidate Joe Miller, whoisn’t convinced climate change is happening at all.

In another upset, Rick Scott won the GOP primary for governor in Florida. Unlike the current governor of that state, Scott does not believe in climate change.

Also in Florida, with help from tea party activists and others, Mark Rubio became the GOP candidate for Senate. It’s a post he has a good chance of winning in the general election versus democrat Kendrick Meek and independent (and former governor) Charlie Crist. Rubio does not believe in anthropogenic global warming. Even his centrist opponent Crist appears to be cooling on the subject.

Climate Bill Autopsy

A study by the Center for Responsive Politics asserts the oil and gas industry out-spent environmental groups by a factor of 8:1 in the run-up to the defeat of the climate bill in the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnelldeclared cap-and-trade “dead,” but the United Auto Workers and the BlueGreen Alliance don’t seem to have received that memo. The White House has apparently removed references to cap and trade from its energy and environment website.

Kochtopus!

The New Yorker’s lengthy exploration of the political contributions of Koch Industries includes the Koch brothers’ funding of various bodies hostile to action on climate, and was helpfully summarized in a number of different places.

Fun fact: Koch Industries’ sinister nickname, “Kochtopus,” was invented, not by left-wing pundits, but by other libertarians whom it pushed out of leadership positions at the CATO Institute.

Is the Stimulus Bill Paying Green Dividends?

The White House issued a report, echoed by Vice President Joe Biden, arguing the energy stimulus is already working, but even champions of green tech are skeptical the incompletely distributed funds could be having an effect so quickly.

New Battlegrounds: National RES, Cali’s Prop 23, EPA Ozone Standards

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) points out two-thirds of the states already have a renewable energy standard; he wants a national Renewable Energy Standard.

The battle over California’s anti-Kyoto-style emissions standards ballot initiative Prop 23 is getting more expensive – adding in the out-of-state donors, the total bill could come to $100 million split between the Texas oil companies in favor of the proposition and the broad coalition of environmentalists and clean tech companies / investors who are against it. One anti-prop 23 executive predicted:

“If AB32 survives and Jerry Brown gets elected governor I think you’ll have cap and trade nationally by 2013.”

The EPA’s new rules aimed at reducing acceptable levels of smog, which are likely to accelerate the shuttering of aging coal-fired power plants, have been delayed, possibly because of a letter from seven senators who argued that the new rules would be damaging economically.

Energy Everywhere: An Explosion of New Sources

Iraq has so much oil it might hurt the development of the electric car, if the country doesn’t implode first. The first hints of oil – but not oil itself – have been found off the coast of Greenland.

A geothermal industry group estimates that Nevada has enough geothermal energy projects in development – 86 in total – to power all the homes in the Las Vegas metropolitan area.

The United States’ booming shale gas production has made natural gas competitive with coal in many parts of the world, says the U.S. Department of State. Israel, long devoid of any fossil fuel resources, is also experiencing an unexpected gas boom of sufficient scale that the country may become an energy exporter.

AustraliaFrance and many countries in the Middle East all announced major (some say “massive”) investments in renewable and/or nuclear energy.

Europe is making a rapid transition to renewable energy, with 18.4 percent of its power coming from renewables. The world’s largest tidal power turbine, the AK-1000, which looks like it was designed by Michael Bay (director of Transformers, etc.), will be a part of that mix.

…But is The Energy Transition Happening Fast Enough?

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory says Americans used 40 percent more wind energy in 2009 compared to 2008, as well as significantly less coal, though the drop in coal was due mostly to an overall drop in economic activity and a shift to natural gas. Looking forward, The Department of Energy predicts CO2 emissions will rise 3.4 percent in 2010 compared to 2009.

Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute finds the growth of wind power heartening, and compares future adoption of renewable power to the exponential adoption curve that came with the PC revolution – a comparison that one of the fathers of that revolution, Bill Gates, has warned is a false and dangerous analogy. In a wide-ranging interview, Gates argued the low-hanging fruit for emissions reductions “are not scalable.” Says Gates:

“…if X or Y or Z gets you a 20 percent reduction, then you’ve just got the planet, what, another three years? Congratulations! I mean, is that what we have in mind: to delay Armageddon for three years?”

It turns out that huge traffic jam in China is a result of that country’s need to move massive amounts of coal by truck. A proposal for the U.S. and China to collaborate on carbon capture and storage was floated.

Geoengineering: No Silver Bullet for Sea Level Rise

Even large-scale efforts at geoengineering have little power to stop the coming sea level rise, argues a new analysis echoed in a recent political cartoon.

Assigning the Blame for Losses Due to Natural Disasters

Climate change isn’t affecting property loss due to natural disasters as much as the rapid expansion of at-risk property, statistically speaking.

Meanwhile, more landslides are in store for China, Pakistan braces for even more flooding, and the former head of the UK meteorological office declares that global warming means Pakistan will face this kind of tragedy again.

Saying Nyet to Putin

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin does not appear to share President Medvedev’s concern about climate change; voicing his opinion netted him a curt correction by a German climate researcher.

Mark Your Calendars for These Upcoming Climate Change Impacts

A warmer planet means predators, as well as herbivores, tend to shrink. Increased drought is limiting plants’ ability to soak up excess CO2; lack of water and warmer temperatures are also hurting already marginal forests in Alaska.

Dilbert on Green Building

On the off chance you missed it, the travails of Dilbert creator Scott Adams in his quest to build the greenest house on the block are a handy reminder that balky builders, opaque power metering and unfriendly local regulations are just some of the reasons that energy efficient homebuilding in the U.S. trail similar efforts in, for example, Germany.

 

Coal, Climate Skepticism and Apple Pie

On August 19, 2010, in Uncategorized, by joshwilson

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University


First things first: Pakistan

Ghassem Asrar, director of the World Climate Research Programme and World Meteorlogical Organization, is the most prominent climate scientist to declare the seemingly unmitigated disaster in Pakistan – one-fifth of the country is now under water – a consequence of climate change. After explaining the proximate causes (weather) that precipitated the event, he concluded:

“The connecting factor is that clearly the warming is a driver for all these events.”

Other climate scientists spoke in terms of warming increasing the odds of Pakistan’s floods, rather than direct attribution, but everyone seems to agree that it foreshadows more, and worse,weather-related disasters to come. (The Times also tied all the past week’s extreme weather up in a climate change-shaped package.)

As the full impacts of the flood begin to play out – including displacement and disease – Time speculated that it would further weaken not only the Pakistani economy but also ability of President Asif Ali Zardari to respond effectively.

Coal, Climate Skepticism and Apple Pie

A number of GOP candidates are testing a new (old) message – that even if climate change is happening, it’s not due to human activity. Pat Michaels, climatologist at George Mason University and the CATO institute, chatted with an all-star cast of pundits about the the political viability of the scale of proposed emissions targets.

Grist did a roundup of the biggest non-CO2 threats to coal from the EPA, implying a bleak future for coal, while the AP did some enterprise reporting indicating that “Utilities across the country are building dozens of old-style coal plants that will cement the industry’s standing as the largest industrial source of climate-changing gases for years to come.” Similar expansions of coal-fired power are set to go forward in the UK.

Perhaps that’s why clean coal remains a priority for the Obama administration, even as it continues to focus on jobs and ‘clean’ energy rather than climate. At present, Cleantech is still only 0.6% of the U.S. workforce.

The Illinois town that was to be the home of the country’s first clean coal plant backed out of the deal.

In the wake of Federal inaction, states are looking to the EPA for guidance in constructing individual carbon caps. A Federal task force declared a price on carbon “necessary” in order to realize Carbon Capture and Storage, a.k.a. Clean Coal, which was followed shortly by a be-careful-what-you-wish-for essay by the CEO of one of the few recycled energy companies in the U.S., which argued that the regulatory monopolies that we call electricity markets could prevent a carbon price from working.

Activists gearing up for the battle over California’s emissions cap-killing Proposition  23 are casting it as California clean tech vs. Texas big oil, amidst calls for environmentalists to try being more like the NRA or at least less like eggheads.

Back on the Hill, green groups launched a website showing how much oil money all our politicians get and a consortium of environmentalists and unions declared war on GOP “obstructionism.” Al Gore urged readers of his blog to take to the streets.

Death and Energy Transitions

The leading science journal in the U.S. devoted a significant part of an issue to a package on the spectacular challenges of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy, including a paper on the possibility of nuclear power plants with all-new designs. Bill Gates, who recently said that when it comes to this energy transition, “We’ve all been spoiled and deeply confused by the IT model,” happens to be an investor in TerraPower, one of the companies pursuing these new nuclear technologies.

The Obama administration is being sued over secrecy surrounding its subsidies of the nuclear power industry, and Forbes explores the reasons that Iran is now more likely to build a new nuclear plant than the U.S. The Guardian argues that talk of a renaissance or no, nuclear power is being phased out world-wide, new plants planned for the UK and Egypt notwithstanding.

States’ Renewable Energy Standards deserve credit for nearly tripling the amount of installed renewable power in the U.S. between 2000 and 2008. Worldwide, emissions of greenhouse gasses were down 1.3 percent in 2009 thanks to reduced economic activity.

Consumers Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

Most Americans are clueless about energy efficiency, yet 750,000 of them already live off the grid, and a new plug-and-play solar panel system purports to make producing your own solar power a contractor and electrician-free affair.

Europe’s Desertec consortium proposes to produce a significant portion of the EU’s energy from solar arrays in the deserts of North Africa, something Algeria is already working on. The world’s largest solar power plant, which was to be built by a U.S. company in China, probably won’t happen and may be an object lesson for other firms trying to crack that market.

Hybrid retrofits are coming to fleet vehicles (trucks, etc.). California wants to pay large customers who can switch off their power consumption at a moment’s notice as if they were actual power producers.

Lessons for the Present from 450 Million Years Ago

Scientists announced that the Ordovican, a period spanning 460 to 445 million years ago, had CO2 levels comparable to those we see today, considering that era’s dimmer sun. It’s a finding with significant implications given that the end of the Ordovican (and Permian) saw the greatest mass extinction in the history of the planet.

Greenland is now losing 350 cubic kilometers of ice per year, “more than twice the ice in all the glaciers in the Alps.”

On the other pole, increased snowfall is projected to offset the melting of the Antarctic ice cap, but the process will reverse near the end of the 21st century as precipitation over the Southern Ocean turns to rain.

Some good news: the loss of phytoplankton in the world’s oceans could reduce hurricane activity. The bad news is that the same phytoplankton are the base of the marine food chain andproduce half the planet’s oxygen.

This week’s quote comes to us from the former editor in chief of Harper’s:

“Most of the journalism debate is really a narrow arc. I don’t find much difference between the opinions on the left and the opinions on the right. They’re both kind of worrying to death some fairly obvious fault in mankind.

Bonus, from Scientific American’s environment editor:

“Can we drink enough scotch to make biofuel from its byproducts viable? I don’t know, but i’m willing to try. Who’s in?”

 

First, They Came for the Bill; Now, the EPA

On August 12, 2010, in Uncategorized, by joshwilson

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University


First things first:

Some environmental groups are giving up, for now, on a cap and trade bill. Sen. Dick Lugar predicted that the EPA, which is moving forward on efforts to curtail emissions of greenhouse gasses via its rule-making authority, would see a “rebellion” that would lead to its powers being “substantially curtailed.”

Some of that rebellion could come from an unexpected quarter – environmental groups themselves, who are incensed that the EPA is “backtracking” on regulation of greenhouse gasses.

Sen. Kerry has already proposed a new bill designed to fund clean energy, possibly for the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress that Rep. Tom Price of Georgia failed to prevent from convening.

In order to pass a bill full of financial aid to the states, Congress “borrowed” $1.5 billion from its renewable energy loan guarantee program. Al Gore is not happy. Nancy Pelosi has been “assured” by the administration that the money will be returned, along with the $2 billion borrowed last August to fund the “Cash for Clunkers” program.

Wags pointed out that Cap and Trade was originally a Republican invention brought about under George Bush Sr., and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu resuscitated a second innovation of the elder Bush, a 12-member political advisory boardstacked with beltway insiders.

Primaries in advance of November elections suggest that the eight House Republican “turncoats” who voted for the House version of the original climate and energy bill have successfully fended off the resulting attacks from opponents within their own party. Rep. Waxman, on the other hand, is happy to see “difficult” Democratic opponents of energy legislation lose their seats in the upcoming election.

November will also see Californians voting on Proposition 23, designed to undo the state’s Kyoto-inspired caps on emissions, but not if the newly politically engaged folks at Google have anything to say about it.

Birthday of “Global Warming” Celebrated With Countless Environmental Disasters

It’s the 35th anniversary of the coining of the term “global warming,” and the Earth celebrated by disgorging a 240 square kilometer, 16 megaton glacier from Greenland that is four times the size of Manhattan. The “unstoppable” iceberg could take up to two years to melt and could threaten shipping lanes and Canada’s oil platforms.

At a House hearing, scientists pointed out that more significant than the glacier itself is the overall trend in arctic warming and sea-ice loss, which, according to NASA’s Robert Bindschadler, will contribute 1 meter to global sea level rise by 2100 – enough to engulf 232,000 square miles of North America and turn the Walrus into the next poster child for global warming.

Meanwhile, in absolute terms July was the hottest month ever, with records set and broken in the Middle East, Sudan, Russia and Asia. In ChinaPakistan and Indonesia, flooding continues, and scientists are ready to attribute both Russia’s conflagration and the inundation of Asia to climate change. As a near-arctic country, Russia’s warming is anticipated to continue to outpace trends in more southerly lattitudes.

The Atlantic remains significantly hotter than usual, setting up conditions for an active hurricane season.

Elevated night-time temperatures are leading to declining productivity of rice in Asia, and populations forced to migrate by climate change are likely to further degrade inland ecosystems.

The (next) big threat to the world’s oceans you probably haven’t heard of isn’t elevated temperatures or ocean acidification, it’s “a looming oxygen crisis.”

Fallout From Climate Bill Worse Than Russia’s Burning Chernobyl-Contaminated Forests and Germany’s Radioactive Boars Combined

In an interview guaranteed to hurt somebody’s feelings, Deutsche Bank’s Kevin Parker said that his employer has given up on investing in alternative energy in the U.S.:

“You just throw your hands up and say … we’re going to take our money elsewhere,” said Kevin Parker in an interview with Reuters. “They’re asleep at the wheel on climate change, asleep at the wheel on job growth, asleep at the wheel on this industrial revolution taking place in the energy industry.”

Using similar logic, Chicago’s Climate Exchange is firing employees. On the other hand, insurance companies are financing green energy, and Wal-Mart released a roadmap for accounting for its emissions.

Innovation Marches On

New solar panels use the sun’s heat as well as its light, and a transparent sticker with an elaborate micro-structure makes existing solar panels up to 10% more efficient.

George Bush Jr.’s ‘FutureGen’ carbon-capturing coal-fired power plant has been resurrected as a retrofit to an existing plant, and the coal industry, not content with next-generation supercritical steam processes, presses on with new“Ultrasupercritical” coal fired plants that should be even more efficient.

Biorefineries are hurting, and a new study suggests their transgenic feedstocks’ custom genes are impossible to contain. Opponents of biomass power plants are raising serious questions about the renewability of this fuel source.

Portland just installed America’s first public quick-charge station for electric vehicles, a critical piece of infrastructure for their eventual adoption, and hybrid vehicles that use hydraulics instead of electrical components are slashing fuel use on dump trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles by up to 50%.

Meanwhile, Overseas

China is shutting down 2,000 of its least energy-efficient factories in a bid to decrease the energy intensity of its economy, Portugal went from 17 percent to 45 percent of its electricity produced from renewables in just five years, and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said it was unlikely the world would reach a new global climate change agreement at the upcoming conference in Cancun.

 

Beating a Dead Climate Bill

On August 5, 2010, in Uncategorized, by joshwilson

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University


First things first:

The U.S. won’t be getting even a significantly stripped-down climate and energy bill, or won’t until September at the earliest, at least in part because of a debate over the provision that would have eliminated the liability cap of $75 million on offshore drilling. The White House says a bill could still be passed this year, and Senate majority leader Reid says it might be a broader bill than the one that was originally slated to be voted on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s fallback effort to regulate carbon emissions via existing EPA authority under the clean air act is under heavy bombardment. Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia wants to amend any energy bill to delay EPA action on carbon emissions for two years, which, according to a White House spokesperson, would lead to a veto. Rockefeller says this amendment will come up again, attached to any number of other bills.

Multiple petitions filed by Peabody coal, Texas, Virginia and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce questioning regulation of greenhouse gases were flat-out rejected by the EPA, mostly on the grounds that “Climategate” isn’t a real scientific controversy. Texas responded by combining its objections to greenhouse gas regulation with its objections to the EPA overruling its use of “flexible air permits” when regulating air quality in general. The state has pledged non-cooperation with the federal government on both counts.

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing…

This week UN climate negotiators preparing for the next international climate meeting in Cancun met in Bonn, where they expressed pessimism in the wake of U.S. failure to pass climate legislation even as the U.S. re-affirmed its commitment to meeting its pledge to cut greenhouse gases. At the start of the meeting, researchers announced a new, more comprehensive CO2 emissions model describing exactly how much greenhouse gases can be emitted in order to stay below 2 degrees C of warming.

…after they’ve tried everything else.”

An analysis by Bloomberg news revealed that fossil fuel subsidies in the U.S. are twelve times as large as those for renewable energy, and a bipartisan coalition formed to block EPA regulation of coal ash – the stuff left over after burning coal – as hazardous waste.

Montana, a state rich in coal, upped its own renewable energy standard (RES) to 25 percent of electricity generated by 2025, while a coalition of appliance makers convened ahead of meetings with the Department of Energy, hammering out efficiency standards for dishwashers, refrigerators and other appliances that could lead to significant energy savings.

We’re #2

Behind China, U.S. was the second fastest-growing wind power market in the world in 2009, but 2010 is expected to be a slow year. Financing woes, general economic malaise and competition from Chinese firms mean that wind turbines are going for fire-sale prices.

Storage of the intermittent power from renewables got a boost when the DOE made its 14th loan guarantee, for $17.1 million, to A123 systems for grid-scale banks of batteries. (A123 is also providing batteries for the forthcoming Chevrolet Volt.) Xcel energy also announced a successful test of a gigantic 1 megawatt grid-scale battery. Dupont will build a factory in Virginia for domestic production of more-efficient batteries for electric vehicles.

Here Comes the Sun

The Department of Energy thinks grantee 1366 Technologies can produce silicon solar cells at half their current cost, Spain is cutting its solar incentives by 45 percent, and the UK’s incentives – specifically feed-in tarrifs – have made it the fastest-growing solar market. California is about to get its first commercial scale solar-thermal plant in twenty years.

Boulder’s experiment in building a Smart Grid is way over budget, Chicago is the first city in the U.S. with a subdivision sporting net zero energy homes and, on the other side of town, citizens are trying to shut down the city’s ancient coal fired power plants.

Overall, mostly late-stage renewable energy startups hit a record of $1.5 billion in investment in the second quarter of 2010.

Would the Real Culprit for the Death of The Climate Bill Please Stand Up?

A working paper from Yale argues that increased unemployment leads to decreased concern about the environment.

Climate Change Winners and Losers

The ongoing heatwave in Russia (this is Moscow’s hottest July ever) inspired prime minister Medvedev – who has in the past referred to climate change as a Western conspiracy – to do an about-face on the issue. The damage to Russia’s wheat crop (and projected flooding in Canada) contributed to the fastest rise in wheat prices since 1973.

Globally, NOAA declared it the hottest decade on record. Climate scientists pointed out that Philadelphia’s record July temperatures are predicted to be the norm by 2050.

Alaska’s growing season is getting longer, but climate scientists project agricultural “upheaval” this century for one of the world’s largest exporters of food, Australia.

Devastating floods struck Pakistan, and paleoclimatologist James White projected that sea level rise sufficient to swamp Miami is now unavoidable.

After the Climate Bill

Frank O’Donnel, president of the Clean Air Watch, is one of many activists turning their attention to all the other issues the struggle for a climate change bill pushed aside:

“It’s quite obvious for the last several years that the climate debate has sucked up all the oxygen from other environmental issues,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of the nonprofit group Clean Air Watch. “After the fighting and exhaustion of climate, there are a lot of other issues waiting in the queue.”