Why Solar Can’t Go Mainstream Without Sarah Palin

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Solar-power buying club One Block Off the Grid makes a case on its blog that of the millions of American households that could be saving money with solar, only a fraction are – and the secret to getting the rest on board is convincing folks like Oprah, Jim Cramer and Sarah Palin solar is mainstream.

The Most Compelling Reason to Put a Price on Carbon … We’re Running out of It

Ever since the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook report came out last week, the mainstreaming of “peak oil” has proceeded at a rapid clip. Its implications for climate policy could not be more profound. Bill Chameides, dean of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, points out the IEA says putting a price on carbon and encouraging the use of renewables means more oil will stay in the ground, and its future price spikes, which will play an important role in future economic contractions, will be less severe.

Meanwhile, China is suffering a shortage of diesel fuel – ironically, as a result of efforts by the state to curtail energy use – and India’s prime minister announced his country’s demand for hydrocarbon fuels will increase 40 percent in the next 10 years.

The Brookings Institute argues a second reason to put a price on carbon is the revenue from it could help address fiscal shortfalls.

Murkowski Claims Victory as Write-in Candidate

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will be returning to the Senate, though her status as the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee remains in doubt. But what’s happening in the house, where a GOP win means all new committee heads?

The most likely candidate, by seniority, is Fred Upton (R-Mich.), but Rep. Upton has drawn criticism for his past support of energy-efficient light bulbs. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) is also campaigning for the post. Shimkus has in the past used theological arguments to contend climate change does not threaten humans.

Whither EPA Regulations of Carbon?

Whether you’re terrified of the awful power the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could wield or ecstatic it might pick up where Congress failed with the climate bill, the first hints of what the EPA plans to do are likely to please no one. David Roberts of Grist offers an explainer in which he argues the EPA’s alternatives are to be either very mild or quite draconian in its efforts to curtail emissions, and the agency appears to have gone with the milquetoast option – not that this will please its critics.

On the legislative front, four Republicans and 21 Democrats are backing an effort to get a federal renewable energy standard passed during the lame duck session of Congress, but it’s a long shot, says Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones.

So Are We Getting Our Scopes Monkey Trial on Climate Science, or What?

In the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert predicts a GOP-led House will put climate science itself on trial, but Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the representative who had originally threatened the inquiry, is already backing away from the idea.

Drill Baby Drill – in the Arctic

The Pew Environment Group cites multiple hazards and the Gulf oil spill in a report calling on Congress to block drilling for oil in the Arctic. Simultaneously, Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is pushing for a meeting with the Obama administration and threatening hardball tactics if oil companies aren’t allowed to proceed with exploratory offshore drilling in his home state.

Greenland has its own vast mineral and oil wealth to unlock, but it’s going about it in a different way – the country is demanding companies that wish to drill in its coastal waters must set aside $2 billion (in some cases, in advance) in order to cover the cost of cleaning up any potential spills.

The Polarizing Effect of Electric Vehicles

Motor Trend just named the Chevy Volt its “Car of the Year,” but columnist George Will hates the government subsidies offered to buyers of the vehicle.

The CEO of Nissan predicts his company will sell 500,000 electric cars a year by 2013. General Electric might take delivery of a not insignificant portion – the company has promised to buy 25,000 electric cars by 2015, the largest-ever purchase of such vehicles.

Yet Another Pro-Technology “Post-Partisan” Energy Proposal

In what’s becoming a trend, a new group called the Coalition for Green Capital proposes a broad plan for financing renewable energy.

Challenges for a Host of Green Technologies

Peak oil or no, the aviation industry is giving up on hydrogen-powered planes. The federal government probably isn’t going to renew its tax credit for investment in solar, which would mean more bad news for financing in that industry.

Makers of the PBS documentary on the future of energy Beyond the Light Switch report one of the most surprising discoveries they made in researching their film was the fact carbon capture requires 20-30 percent of the power produced by a plant.

Food Prices up 20 Percent on Speculation, Bad Weather

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Climate Scientists: It’s War

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

“We are taking the fight to them because we are … tired of taking the hits,” Scott Mandia, professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College in New York, told the Chicago Tribune. “The notion that truth will prevail is not working. The truth has been out there for the past two decades, and nothing has changed.”

A group of some 700 climate scientists have agreed to speak out as experts on questions about global warming and the role of man-made air pollution. While James Hansen from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies says scientists are bowing to pressure to be conservative in their pronouncements, leading them to under-play the rate of future sea-level rise, which he now projects will be “on the order of meters on the century timescale.”

Meanwhile, regional planners who must help their areas adapt to climate change aren’t waiting for the level of public concern to reach a fever pitch.

Peak Oil Happened in 2006, Says the International Energy Agency — Get Ready for the Climate Disaster That Is Unconventional Fuels

The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook for 2010 is out, and it says we’re never going to produce more conventional crude oil than we did in 2006, when production peaked at 70 million barrels per day.

Simultaneously, a new study suggests we’ll run out of oil approximately 90 years before adequate replacements are ready.

Fatih Birol, head of International Energy Agency, projects rather than a Kunstlerian collapse of civilization or an Amory Lovins-esque graduation to a future of efficiency and renewables, what comes next is a steady ramp up of unconventional fuels, including the tar sands of Alberta and “natural gas liquids.” Look for today’s oil fields to go from around 70 million barrels of oil a day today to around 20 million barrels a day by 2035.

To the extent biofuels are a part of that mix, a new paper says they are even worse than conventional fossil fuels because of the land-use changes they will cause the conversion of “69,000 square km of wild land into fields and plantations, depriving the poor of food and accelerating climate change.”

This November, the Biggest Winner of All Was … Coal!

By now most of us know West Virginia just replaced veteran senator Robert C. Byrd, who had begun to voice concerns about the intersection of coal and climate change, with Joe Manchin, a candidate who gave us one of the campaign season’s most memorable ads, in which he shot the climate bill. It’s part of a larger trend in state, federal and even global politics, says author Jeff Goodell, who also argues the more or less unmitigated explosion of the use of coal is driven as much by campaign contributions as its status as the world’s cheapest fuel.

Speculation is rampant Manchin is being courted to switch parties by the GOP. Notable among the goodies supposedly being dangled in front of Manchin include support for one of his “pet projects” — a plant for turning coal into diesel automotive fuel.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) thinks now that the climate bills introduced by legislators have been declared finally, totally, utterly and completely dead, there’s plenty of opportunity for bipartisan action on energy, as long as it’s limited to nuclear power, electric vehicles and clean coal.

Failure at Copenhagen Upped the Price of Avoiding Klimakatastrophe $1 Trillion

Last year’s International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook pegged the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions so as to avoid exceeding 450 parts per million of atmospheric carbon dioxide (the threshold the UN has set as the upper limit for a “safe” climate) at $10.6 trillion. Failure at Copenhagen has boosted that price to $11.6 trillion, which suggests Mother Nature is engaging in some seriously usurious carbon accounting.

Is Europe Going to Tax Our Dirty Carbon-Emitting Goods?

“If countries such as the United States continue to avoid climate cuts, while the EU [European Union] keeps making its industry pay for permits to emit carbon dioxide, trade imbalances will start to occur. Some EU companies are already calling for border tariffs to be slapped on imports to restore the balance.”

Battle for the Soul of the Clean Air Act

Everyone wants to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to prevent it from regulating greenhouse gases, even though its powers are already constrained. Food and farm groups have joined forces with the oil industry to sue the EPA over what they say is inadequate research into whether or not the new 15 percent blend of ethanol is safe for people and cars. In a preview of 2011, the war of words between the EPA and Congressional Republicans continues to escalate.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Earth Will Take 100,000 Years to Recover From Midterm Elections’ Effects on Climate Policy, Say Geologists

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

In a week where a new Speaker of the House was elected who once expressed outright disbelief about scientists’ claims regarding the threat of climate change, geologists published a paper suggesting the Earth will take 100,000 years to recover from the effects of the global warming resulting from our current emissions trajectory.

In an election season characterized by some acts of questionable taste, the lack of climate as an issue in most campaigns could be considered a blessing. Notable exceptions include Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), whose defeat was largely due to his collaboration with the Obama administration on the climate bill, says his former chief of staff. Rookie Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello, a vocal proponent of the climate bill, was also defeated.

An analysis by Dow Jones Newswires argued a “yes” vote on the climate bill hurt at least 12 Democrats who lost their seats on Tuesday, but paradoxically, Democrats who voted against the bill “actually fared worse proportionally — 27 of the 43 who opposed it lost.”

In addition, perhaps the two most visible proponents of the climate bill — Sen. Barbara Boxer and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both managed to hold onto their seats in contested races.

Whatever the causes of the shift of power from Democrats to Republicans, the general result is an Obama administration doubtful it will get anywhere close to passing clean-energy legislation until the composition of Congress changes once again.

Political Megatrend Goes Unnoticed

In all the excitement over elections at the national level, a second, even more powerful political riptide went largely unnoticed: the GOP gained 680 state legislature seats, “giving the party unilateral control to remake the boundaries of 190 congressional districts.”

This level of state legislative control was last seen in 1952, and if the tendency for GOP candidates to view action on climate change unfavorably continues, it will shape climate and energy legislation for the next decade.

California Kneecaps Its Own Green Efforts with Prop 26

Californians who are in favor of greentech development celebrated the defeat of Prop 23, which would have neutralized the historic emissions reduction legislation passed under Gov. Schwarzenegger. But California’s other anti-environmental regulation, Prop 26, passed early Wednesday morning. The New York Times calls it Prop 23’s “evil twin” and says it could have almost as profound an effect on the greenhouse gas regulations.

Nissan LEAF Selling Like iPods; Too Bad about the Batteries

Don’t bother trying to get an all-electric LEAF, because the entire 20,000-vehicle run has sold out before a single one hits showroom floors. Lithium ion batteries like the kind used in electric cars age like humans do: irreversibly.

J.D. Power projects hybrid and electric vehicles will be “only” 7.3 percent of the global market in 2020.

Extreme Climate Change

Those of you who are used to looking at normal distributions are not going to believe how far off the norm Russia’s most recent heat wave was. The next century will see climate shifts so profound there will be no more Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park. Get ready for permanent drought over “most of the populated areas of the world” by the end of the century. Australia is already prioritizing the design and implementation of its climate change adaptation strategy.

Luckily, averting (simulated) catastrophe is as simple as making the right decisions inside a new computer game that simulates our climate future and is called, appropriately enough, Fate of the World.

This Won’t Be Controversial at All

Donald Brown, associate professor of environmental ethics, science and law at Penn State University, asks whether or not climate science disinformation is a crime against humanity.

Geoengineering has been banned by at least one international body, even though that body isn’t quite sure what constitutes geoengineering.

Climate denial is becoming a part of America’s school curriculum.

Roger Pielke Jr., not an economist, argues there is an “iron law” of economics that says countries forced to choose between growth and emissions reductions will always choose growth. The Economist reviews his latest book favorably; bloggers, not so much.

Once more, for the cheap seats: a majority of Americans are in favor of action on clean energy.

Only 30 percent of members of the Tea Party believe there is “solid evidence” the Earth is warming, compared to 79 percent of Democrats and 38 percent of Republicans, says a recent poll.


A weather system with a core of record-setting low pressure kicked up high winds over such a large area of land meteorologists were forced to invent a new name for it. Here’s a stunning image of the world’s first “landicane.”

If We’re Addicted to Oil, What’s the Energy Equivalent of Methadone?

“The state of Hawaii wants to reduce oil use by 70 percent, but no one knows how to do it.” The U.S. military wants to use photovoltaics to build a self-sufficient  “energy island” out of Camp Smith in Oahu.

Assault on the EPA

A surge of lawsuits challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act are being shot down by the Department of Justice, which argues only Congress can block the EPA’s authority in this matter.

Green Energy Business in the Doldrums

Wind power is growing no faster than it did in 2007, and greentech venture capital outlays are down 55 percent from the same quarter in 2009, with most of the money going to mature companies. Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that won a half billion dollars in federal aid, is laying off workers and closing one of its plants.

Meanwhile, South Korea is launching an $8.2 billion project to build a 500 turbine offshore wind farm capable of producing 2,500 megawatts of electricity.

The Good Kind of Gas Problem

Alaska has way less oil than previously estimated, because most of the underground reserves are in fact natural gas, which only adds to the current glut of gas in the country, due mostly to fracking for shale gas.

Our Little Secret

Some of the country’s largest emitters of heat-trapping gases, including businesses that publicly support efforts to curb global warming, don’t want the public knowing exactly how much they pollute.”